The 85-year history of the Academy Awards is rife with statistical oddities, and one that has the potential to play out this Sunday is among the most intriguing: a split between the films that win Best Picture and Best Director.
Though conventional wisdom has long held that only one film will walk away with both prizes on Oscar night, many pundits are predicting that the awards will instead go to two different movies this year, with "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron expected to snag the Best Director statuette, while "12 Years a Slave" (or "American Hustle," depending on where your loyalties lie) is the favorite to win Best Picture.
While such a split has occurred just 22 times since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started handing out trophies in 1929, four of the first five ceremonies produced a divide between the Best Director and Best Picture prizes. "Wings," dubbed the original Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards ceremony, didn't even receive a Best Director nomination for helmer William Wellman; instead, the trophy went to Frank Borzage for his film "Seventh Heaven." (In 2013, Ben Affleck would become the fourth director in Oscar history to be snubbed by the Best Director category only to see his film go on to win the big prize.)
And while we're on the subject of the inaugural Oscars, that year holds the distinction of honoring not just one, but two directors whose films didn't win the big prize. That was the first and last time the Best Director award was split in two: one trophy for Dramatic Direction, the other for Comedy Direction. Borzage is remembered as the sole Best Director winner that year because his movie landed on the Dramatic side, and the Comedy prize was scrapped for the following year's ceremony. But 1929 Best Comedy Direction winner Lewis Milestone ("Two Arabian Nights") would make up for that history book oversight by claiming the sole Best Director prize in November 1930 for "All Quiet on the Western Front" -- which, naturally, also won Best Picture.
All told, it's obviously far more common for Best Picture and Best Director to go to the same film, with splits happening just under 26 percent of the time throughout Oscar history. But, merits of each film aside, this year's predicted "12 Years a Slave"-"Gravity" split actually has a decent chance of happening when considering past patterns. History shows that the splits seem to come in bunches -- including seven times during the Oscars's first decade of existence, and five times in the past 15 years -- making the likelihood that we'll see one Sunday that much better.
As these 22 anomalies prove, anything can happen on Sunday night, when the ceremony could mark yet another idiosyncratic notch in Oscar's belt. Below, we recount every Director-Picture split from the past 85 years, with extended commentary for the most notable. All dates are the year the Academy Awards ceremony was held.
Best Picture: "Wings"
Best Director: Frank Borzage, "Seventh Heaven"
"Wings" director William Wellman was not nominated for Best Director, one of only four times that the eventual Best Picture winner's director was not a nominee himself.
Best Picture: "The Broadway Melody"
Best Director: Frank Lloyd, "The Divine Lady" (beats "Broadway Melody" director Harry Beaumont)
"The Divine Lady" was not nominated for Best Picture, marking the only time in Academy Awards history that the eventual Best Director winner went to a non-Best Picture nominee. (Sadly, 1929's Best Comedy Direction winner Lewis Milestone, whose film "Two Arabian Nights" was also shunned from that year's Best Picture category, doesn't technically share this
Best Picture: "Cimarron"
Best Director: Norman Taurog, "Skippy" (beats "Cimarron" director Wesley Ruggles)
Best Picture: "Grand Hotel"
Best Director: Frank Borzage, "Bad Girl"
"Grand Hotel" director Edmund Goulding was not nominated, one of only four times the eventual Best Picture winner's director was not a nominee.
Best Picture: "Mutiny on the Bounty"
Best Director: John Ford, "The Informer" (beats "Mutiny" director Frank Lloyd)
This was the first Best Director win for Ford, who'd go on to win the prize three more times. Only one of his wins coincided with the eventual Best Picture winner: 1942's "How Green Was My Valley," which famously edged out "Citizen Kane."
Best Picture: "The Great Ziefeld"
Best Director: Frank Capra, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (beats "Ziefeld" director Robert Z. Leonard)
Best Picture: "The Life of Emile Zola"
Best Director: Leo McCarey, "The Awful Truth" (beats "Emile Zola" director William Dieterle)
Best Picture: "Rebecca"
Best Director: John Ford, "The Grapes of Wrath" (beats "Rebecca" director Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times, but never won. He picked up an honorary Oscar, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, in 1968.
Best Picture: "Hamlet"
Best Director: John Huston, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (beats "Hamlet" director Laurence Olivier)
Best Picture: "All the Kings Men"
Best Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, "A Letter to Three Wives" (beats "Kings" director Robert Rossen)
Best Picture: "An American in Paris"
Best Director: George Stevens, "A Place in the Sun" (beats "American" director Vincente Minnelli)
Best Picture: "The Greatest Show on Earth"
Best Director: John Ford, "The Quiet Man" (beats "Greatest Show" director Cecil B. DeMille)
This was Ford's fourth Best Director win -- a record that still holds today -- and his third win that split with the eventual Best Picture winner.
Best Picture: "Around the World in 80 Days"
Best Director: George Stevens, "Giant" (beats "Days" director Michael Anderson)
Best Picture: "In the Heat of the Night"
Best Director: Mike Nichols, "The Graduate" (beats "Heat" director Norman Jewison)
Best Picture: "The Godfather"
Best Director: Bob Fosse, "Cabaret" (beats "Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola)
"Cabaret" set the record as the movie to win the most Oscars -- eight -- without also winning Best Picture.
Best Picture: "Chariots of Fire"
Best Director: Warren Beatty, "Reds" (beats "Chariots" director Hugh Hudson)
Best Picture: "Driving Miss Daisy"
Best Director: Oliver Stone, "Born on the Fourth of July"
"Driving Miss Daisy" director Bruce Beresford was not nominated for Best Director, one of only four times in Academy history that the eventual Best Picture winner's director was not a nominee, and the first time it happened since the 1930s.
Best Picture: "Shakespeare in Love"
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, "Saving Private Ryan" (beats "Shakespeare" director John Madden)
One of the most controversial splits of the modern Oscar era, "Shakespeare"'s Weinstein-fueled win over the critically favored "Private Ryan" still inspires heated debate to this day.
Best Picture: "Gladiator"
Best Director: Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" (beats "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott)
Best Picture: "Chicago"
Best Director: Roman Polanski, "The Pianist" (beats "Chicago" director Rob Marshall)
This was Polanski's third nomination and first win for Best Director, though he wasn't in attendance to collect it; the director has been in exile in Europe for decades following his admission of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Best Picture: "Crash"
Best Director: Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain" (beats "Crash" director Paul Haggis)
Another controversial split, "Brokeback" was such a heavy favorite to claim the top prize that even presenter Jack Nicholsonwas taken aback by the results, famously muttering "Whoa" after he opened the envelope and announced the winner. The crowd, which let out a collective gasp, was also stunned.
Best Picture: "Argo"
Best Director: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Lee's second win for Best Director was also the second time that his win was part of a Picture-Director split. "Argo" director Ben Affleck became the fourth -- and so far, most recent -- director to be snubbed by the Best Director category, only to have his movie win Best Picture.