The 94th Annual Academy Awards (The Oscars): Betting Odds and Top Picks

As March Madness rumbles on, the Oscars will steal a bit of basketball’s thunder on Sunday night. The 94th Annual Academy Awards will get underway at 8 p.m ET on ABC, and bettors can wager on the program in four states. Residents of Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and New Jersey can legally place a wager on the evening’s action, and we’ve broken down the top picks for each market below. Odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.

Top Markets: Best Picture

  • CODA: -135
  • Pick: The Power of the Dog: +105
  • Belfast: +1600
  • King Richard: +2300
  • Dune: +2800
  • West Side Story: +3500
  • Licorice Pizza: +5500
  • Don’t Look Up: +6500
  • Drive My Car: +6500
  • Nightmare Alley: +8000

Unlike last year, we have a contested race. CODA, Sian Heder’s film about the only hearing member of a deaf family, has moved from a +105 underdog to a -135 favorite since Thursday. The film displaced Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, a gritty Western, which was a -140 favorite heading into the weekend.

The surprising flip-flop feels somewhat unjustified. Although CODA did well at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards and the Producers Guild Awards, the film has only two other Oscar nominations. The Power of the Dog has 12.

We’ll lean on Ben Zauzmer’s analysis for this pick. Zauzmer, now Assistant GM of the New York Mets, penned Oscarmetrics: The Math Behind the Biggest Night in Hollywood, in which he developed a formula for identifying likely Oscar winners. By looking at factors such as how films and actors have done at other awards shows and how many (and what kind of) other nominations a production has received, Zauzmer approximates a winning percentage for each market.

Zauzmer gives Campion’s The Power of the Dog a 45.4% chance of winning, which sits below the 51.2% implied odds available on the betting market. However, that offers a much better deal than CODA, whose 57.5% implied odds dwarf the 14.5% chance Zauzmer gives it.

Best Director

  • Pick: Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog): -2400
  • Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza): +2300
  • Steven Spielberg (West Side Story): +2300
  • Kenneth Branagh (Belfast): +2300
  • Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car): +2900

Unlike the market for best picture, we don’t have much of a race for best director. Campion’s implied odds for this market sit at a steep 96%, and you’d need to wager $24 just to profit $1. I’ll pass.

That said, Campion deserves to be the favorite. The Directors Guild gave her the nod for its equivalent of Best Director a few weeks ago, and we rarely see the Academy stray too far from what the Guild hands out. However, Zauzmer’s model gives Campion only a 69.7% chance to win. Given the wide disparity between that number and the implied odds, I’m staying away from this market except for a possible longshot underdog. Campion is the correct pick for Oscar pools, though.

It’ll take a big upset for anyone other than Campion to win, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s 8.4% chance of winning for his work on Licorice Pizza looks a lot better than his implied odds of only 4.2%. If you want to pull for the underdog, back PTA.

Best Actor

  • Pick: Will Smith (King Richard): -600
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog): +650
  • Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!): +1100
  • Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth): +3500
  • Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos): +4800

Will Smith deserves to be a heavy favorite for his work in King Richard, in which he plays the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. The Academy loves biopics, and this is the perfect role for Smith to bring home Best Actor honors.

Smith has won most of the major acting prizes this award season — he got the nod for best actor at the BAFTAs, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes. That leads Zauzmer’s model to give him an 87.7% chance of winning, which, shockingly, is actually higher than his implied odds of 85.7%.

Of course, you won’t make a ton of money betting on Smith. It’d take $6 for you to secure even a $1 return, and you’ll have to think long and hard about how much you’re willing to wager for a 2% advantage against the books. However, this line makes a great addition to an Oscars parlay, and it should be an easy winner in your Oscars pool.

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye): -160
  • Pick: Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos): +380
  • Kristen Stewart (Spencer): +750
  • Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter): +750
  • Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers): +750

Once again, the Best Actress race looks like one of the best markets to target this year. Frances McDormand won this category as a +350-underdog last year, so another surprise winner could be in the cards on Sunday.

Jessica Chastain won Best Actress at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the SAG Awards for her role as Tammy Faye Messner, an American televangelist whose willingness to break from tradition and penchant for glamor often got her into trouble. However, Chastain lost the Golden Globe to Nicole Kidman, who played I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos.

Zauzmer’s model gives Chastain a 49.3% chance of winning, much worse than her implied odds of 61.5%. In contrast, Zauzmer gives Kidman a 21.9% chance of winning, which is right around her implied odds of 20.8%. I think Kidman’s role helps her here, too — playing a Hollywood legend in an industry this self-congratulatory should give her a slight edge. Kidman doesn’t offer as much betting value as McDormand did last year, but we’ll back the underdog anyway.


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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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