Do The Brits Really Dominate At The Oscars? We Did The Math

Jan 16, 2015 at 1:23 PM ET

Though the 2015 Academy Awards nominations have been rightfully criticized for their discouraging lack of ethnic diversity, they proved inclusive in at least one sense. The academy recognized a surprising number of (white) British stars—including Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley—who cornered a full quarter of the acting nominations. U.K. actors haven’t been this well represented at the Oscars since 2002.

But historically, the United Kingdom has proved an enduring darling of the academy. We found that in the Oscars’ nearly 90-year history, 72 percent of the 1,647 acting nominees have been American, 17 percent have been British and 11 percent hail from other countries. (Nationality is admittedly fluid—though many performers’ citizenship changed over the course of their lifetimes, we considered them to be from a given country if that’s where they lived through childhood and beyond, particularly if they launched their careers there.)

The 2010s actually pale in comparison to the ’60s, when more than a quarter of acting nominees were British (we’ve seen a rate of 17 percent since 2010). In fact, from 1965 to 1967, nearly 47 percent of all acting nominees were British, hitting a peak of 50 percent in 1966. Think Richard Burton, who earned nods for The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Julie Andrews, recognized for Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music in that era.

The percentage of British nominees and the percentage of foreign nominees from other nations declined in the 1970s and dropped even further to an all-time low of 12 percent in the ’80s. The ’90s—the era of The English Patient, Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day, Howards End, The Madness of King George and other Brit-heavy successes—saw an impressive recovery to 20 percent. Since then, things have tapered off slightly.

What’s arguably more interesting than any British invasion is the small but unmistakable growth in the number of nominees who aren’t from the United States or the United Kingdom in the last 30 years.

So what about those other countries? The second best-represented among acting nominees is Australia, thanks in part to the formidable talents of Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Nicole Kidman. As Hollywood inches all too slowly toward diversity, what was once a field occupied almost exclusively by Western European actors now sees occasional nominees from Africa (like Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o, last year’s best supporting actress) and Latin America (like Mexico’s Demián Bichir, who received a nod for A Better Life in 2012).