The Secret to Winning an Acting Oscar Might Be to Play a Real Person

Kimberley French / © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Kimberley French / © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Kimberley French / © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What’s the best way to increase your chances of winning an acting Oscar? Play a real person! As it turns out, portrayals of real-life historical figures, scientists, celebrities, political figures, and criminals have always been popular with Academy voters. And, in recent years, the number of actors nominated for portraying real people has risen dramatically.

According to National Geographic, approximately one-third of the Best Actress and Best Actor Oscars over the past 50 years have gone to performers playing real people. Since 2003, that number has increased to more than half of Best Actress winners and two-thirds of Best Actor winners. In order to illustrate just how much Hollywood seems to love biopics, National Geographic created an interactive chart that shows the exact distribution of acting nominations for both fictional and real characters since 1966. 

Over the years, actors and actresses have snagged Oscars for their portrayals of General George Patton, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ray Charles, Edith Piaf, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Hawking, Mahatma Gandhi, and more. Out of this year's 10 lead acting nominees, five are nominated for portraying real people. 

“I think that increasingly, there’s a move to reducing risk when producing in Hollywood studios,” The Biopic in Contemporary Film Culture co-editor Belén Vidal told National Geographic. “So that means that something like a biopic of a famous personality, especially if there’s a preexisting book or new story, is seen as more of a safe investment.” 

National Geographic's data chart serves as a fascinating overview of the history of both the Academy Awards and film in general. Check it out to see the characters, both real and fictional, the Academy has awarded over the last 50 years.

[h/t National Geographic]