Let’s Talk About The TIFF People’s Choice Award

As was widely predicted, The Fabelmans won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award this Sunday – with Sarah Polley’s Women Talking and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery placing second and third, respectively, beating out other widely beloved contenders such as Bros, The Whale, and The Woman King, among others – but what this means for the Best Picture race is still up in the air. There are a lot of people who have been trying to “call it” for The Fabelmans already (perhaps forgetting that the Best Picture award has not gone to a film by a director who has already won in almost 18 years, or that Best Picture so rarely goes to the “first frontrunner,” as BoyhoodLa La LandRoma, and Belfast can attest), but whether or not it actually does take home the top prize at the Oscars, this win is still undoubtedly a very good sign for a film we all expected big things from this awards season – and when you look at the history of the People’s Choice Award, it’s quite good news for Polley and Johnson, too.

The first time a Best Picture winner won this award was in 1981, with Chariots of Fire. In 1983, future Best Picture nominee The Big Chill won, and in 1984, another future Best Picture nominee won in the form of Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart. However, it would take 12 years for yet another Best Picture nominee to win (and prior to 2000, only the first place winner was ever announced, so we couldn’t even glean additional information from other placements), and that was 1996’s Shine. Two years later, Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful won – en route to a Best Picture nomination – and one year after that, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty won, which itself was headed towards a Best Picture win. Ang Lee kept this trend of success going when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won before scoring a Best Picture nomination the next year, but after that, it wasn’t until 2008 when eventual Best Picture nominees started winning the People’s Choice Award on a regular basis (though Brokeback Mountain and Juno “placed” in 2005, and 2007, respectively). So, let’s take a more in-depth look at the winners (and the films that placed) from 2008-2022.

  • 2008
    • 1. Slumdog Millionaire – Best Picture Winner
    • 2. More Than a Game
    • 3. The Stoning of Soraya M
  • 2009
    • 1. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Mao’s Last Dancer
    • 3. Micmacs
  • 2010
    • 1. The King’s Speech – Best Picture Winner
    • 2. The First Grader
  • 2011
    • 1. Where Do We Go Now?
    • 2. Starbuck
    • 3. A Separation
  • 2012
    • 1. Silver Linings Playbook – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Argo – Best Picture Winner
    • 3. Zaytoun
  • 2013
    • 1. 12 Years a Slave – Best Picture Winner
    • 2. Philomena – Best Picture Nominee
    • 3. Prisoners
  • 2014
    • 1. The Imitation Game – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Learning to Drive
    • 3. St. Vincent
  • 2015
    • 1. Room – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Angry Indian Goddesses
    • 3. Spotlight – Best Picture Winner
  • 2016
    • 1. La La Land – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Lion – Best Picture Nominee
    • 3. Queen of Katwe
  • 2017
    • 1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. I, Tonya
    • 3. Call Me by Your Name – Best Picture Nominee
  • 2018
    • 1. Green Book – Best Picture Winner
    • 2. If Beale Street Could Talk
    • 3. Roma – Best Picture Nominee
  • 2019
    • 1. Jojo Rabbit – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Marriage Story – Best Picture Nominee
    • 3. Parasite – Best Picture Winner
  • 2020
    • 1. Nomadland – Best Picture Winner
    • 2. One Night in Miami…
    • 3. Beans
  • 2021
    • 1. Belfast – Best Picture Nominee
    • 2. Scarborough
    • 3. The Power of the Dog – Best Picture Nominee

So, what do we see here? Well, for starters, seven Best Picture winners have won the People’s Choice Award since it started being given out in 1978 (Chariots of FireAmerican BeautySlumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave, Green Book, and Nomadland), and 10 – these seven plus Argo, Spotlight, and Parasite – have placed overall. We’ve had two Best Picture winners win rather recently (Green Book in 2018 and Nomadland in 2020) so does that mean we’re on a two-year interval now, and 2022’s The Fabelmans will follow in these two films’ footsteps? Not so fast, as before Green Book, the last TIFF People’s Choice Award winner to win Best Picture was 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, so there’s no easy pattern to predict here.

The more important stat to note is that, since 2008 – with the exception of 2011 – every People’s Choice Award winner has gone on to receive a Best Picture nomination. Now, we probably didn’t need this award to tell us that the “Steven Spielberg biopic” was a shoo-in for Oscar recognition, but hey, it’s worth noting nevertheless. And even more interesting is the fact that, since 2012, with the exception of 2014 and 2020, every People’s Choice Award winners line-up has included at least two eventual Best Picture nominees. That bodes well for Women Talking, given that it’s already been hailed as a major Best Picture player due to its strength in the acting categories and status as the current Best Adapted Screenplay frontrunner, and this should silence a few critics who thought that their own dissenting opinions on the film would kill its Oscar chances.

But what of Glass Onion? Well, 2019 is the only year in TIFF People’s Choice Award history where all three films that placed for the award went on to receive Best Picture nominations, so, at this juncture, I’m not sure I’d feel safe putting all three of these movies in my line-up just yet. There’s always the chance that Glass Onion is the second film after The Fabelmans in this line-up to receive a Best Picture nomination, but due to Women Talking‘s aforementioned strength in the acting and writing categories – to say nothing of the fact that it did actually place higher than Glass Onion here – I’m inclined to keep it above. Still, the fact that Glass Onion was able to place at all when its predecessor didn’t three years ago is a very strong sign for this murder mystery sequel, and with Netflix scrambling to figure out what their #1 awards priority is this season after BARDO stumbled, this could push the streamer to throw all their weight behind Rian Johnson’s latest wild ride.

So, in short, what the results for the TIFF People’s Choice Award tell us is that:

  1. The Fabelmans is probably a lock for a Best Picture nomination at the very least.
  2. The Fabelmans is a Best Picture frontrunner, but it’s not the frontrunner above all else just yet.
  3. You can bet on Women Talking or Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery joining The Fabelmans in the Best Picture line-up, but most likely not both.
Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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