An exploration of how Oscar winners express gratitude

Posted to Visualization  |  Tags: ,  |  Nathan Yau

Each year, Oscar speeches seem to follow a similar format, with familiar names and groups sputtered in 30 seconds. For her master's project, Thank the Academy, digital media student Rebecca Rolfe explored these patterns.

More than 200 Oscar speeches were pulled from the Margaret Herrick Library database and surveyed to understand the verbal and physical expression of gratitude, an under-studied emotion that’s difficult to test in lab settings. To be counted, the recipient had to be present to accept the award, and a video of the speech needed to be available for study. The research result is one intepretation of a framework for thanking.

For example, the above shows the number of times directors, producers, writers, etc. were thanked over the years. The most reoccurring names are below each bar.

You can also poke around at how the speech went, such as note usage, tears (which apparently grew more common in the mid-90s), or a cutoff by conductor (a rare occurrence among the actors and directors, but I bet common for every sound editor, which isn't shown). Here's the two-hand clutch:

Two-hand clutch

Finally, you can "write your own" speech by selecting who you want to thank and then see how it compares to past speeches. That's pretty fun.

Overall the visuals are straightforward and I did get lost a few times as I clicked around, but the (I'm guessing manual) data collection by reading speeches and watching videos comes through and the various facets of the data make the project interesting. [Thanks, Rebecca]


  • Male and Female Partner shouldn’t be split since none of the others are split by gender. Add together to have a “Partner” category and you get 70 which puts it above “Publicist.” The same goes for “Mother” and “Father” as “Parent’ and “Son” and “Daughter” as “Child.” Now those are at 107 and 89 respectively putting “Publicist” at the bottom, “Parent” tied with “Agent,” and “Child” between “Parent’ and “Partner.”

  • A fun and revealing view on this.

    I’d just like to offer the tool for saying Thank You, after the event, which we created for anyone to thank anyone else, publicly, on

    I hope Oscar winners will take advantage and use this. For example thanking the crew, the cameraman, the make-up artists, and more!

    Thank you.



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