Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Production Design

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

Today is Best Production Design. AKA Best Sets and Stuff.

Year Best Production Design Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 The Dove & Tempest Seventh Heaven


1928-1929 The Bridge of San Luis Rey Dynamite


The Awakening

The Patriot


1929-1930 King of Jazz Bulldog Drummond

The Love Parade


The Vagabond King

1930-1931 Cimarron Just Imagine




1931-1932 Transatlantic À nous la liberté


1932-1933 Cavalcade A Farewell to Arms

When Ladies Meet

1934 The Merry Widow The Gay Divorcee

The Affairs of Cellini

1935 The Dark Angel The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Top Hat

1936 Dodsworth Anthony Adverse

The Great Ziegfeld

Lloyd’s of London

The Magnificent Brute

Romeo and Juliet


1937 Lost Horizon Conquest

A Damsel in Distress

Dead End

Every Day’s a Holiday

The Life of Emile Zola

Manhattan Merry-Go-Round

The Prisoner of Zenda

Souls at Sea

Vogues of 1938

Wee Willie Winkie

You’re a Sweetheart

1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Alexander’s Ragtime Band



The Goldwyn Follies


If I Were King

Mad About Music

Marie Antoinette

Merrily We Live

1939 Gone With the Wind Beau Geste

Captain Fury

First Love

Love Affair

Man of Conquest

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

The Rains Came


The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights

1940 Black and White: Pride and Prejudice

Color: The Thief of Bagdad

Black and White: Arise, My Love


The Boys from Syracuse

Dark Command

Foreign Correspondent

Lillian Russell

My Favorite Wife

My Son, My Son

Our Town


The Sea Hawk

The Westerner

Color: Bitter Sweet

Down Argentine Way

North West Mounted Police

1941 Black and White: How Green Was My Valley

Color: Blossoms in the Dust

Black and White: Citizen Kane

The Flame of New Orleans

Hold Back the Dawn

Ladies in Retirement

The Little Foxes

Sergeant York

Son of Monte Cristo


That Hamilton Woman

When Ladies Meet

Color: Blood and Sand

Louisiana Purchase

1942 Black and White: This Above All

Color: My Gal Sal

Black and White: George Washington Slept Here

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Pride of the Yankes

Random Harvest

The Shanghai Gesture

Silver Queen

The Spoilers

Take a Letter, Darling

The Talk of the Town

Color: Arabian Nights

Captains of the Clouds

Jungle Book

Reap the Wild Wind

1943 Black and White: The Song of Bernadette

Color: Phantom of the Opera

Black and White: Five Graves to Cairo

Fight for Freedom

Madame Curie

Mission to Moscow

The North Star

Color: For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Gang’s All Here

This Is the Army

Thousands Cheer

1944 Black and White: Gaslight

Color: Wilson

Black and White: Address Unknown

The Adventures of Mark Twain

Casanova Brown


No Time for Love

Since You Went Away

Step Lively

Color: The Climax

Cover Girl

The Desert Song


Lady in the Dark

The Princess and the Pirate

1945 Black and White: Blood on the Sun

Color: Frenchman’s Creek

Black and White: Experiment Perilous

The Keys of the Kingdom

Love Letters

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Color: Leave Her to Heaven

National Velvet

San Antonio

A Thousand and One Nights

1946 Black and White: Anna and the King of Siam

Color: The Yearling

Black and White: Kitty

The Razor’s Edge

Color: Caesar and Cleopatra

Henry V

1947 Black and White: Great Expectations

Color: Black Narcissus

Black and White: The Foxes of Harrow

Color: Life with Father

1948 Black and White: Hamlet

Color: The Red Shoes

Black and White: Johnny Belinda

Color: Joan of Arc

1949 Black and White: The Heiress

Color: Little Women

Black and White: Come to the Stable

Madame Bovary

Color: Adventures of Don Juan

Sarabond for Dead Lovers

1950 Black and White: Sunset Boulevard

Color: Samson and Delilah

Black and White: All About Eve

The Red Danube

Color: Annie Get Your Gun

Destination Moon

1951 Black and White: A Streetcar Named Desire

Color: An American in Paris

Black and White: Fourteen Hours

House on Telegraph Hill

La Ronde

Too Young to Kiss

Color: David and Bathsheba

On the Riviera

Quo Vadis

The Tales of Hoffmann

1952 Black and White:  The Bad and the Beautiful

Color: Moulin Rouge

Black and White: Carrie

My Cousin Rachel


Viva Zapata!

Color: Hans Christian Andersen

The Merry Widow

The Quiet Man

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

1953 Black and White:  Julius Caesar

Color: The Robe

Black and White: Martin Luther

The President’s Lady

Roman Holiday


Color: Knights of the Round Table


The Story of Three Loves

Young Bess

1954 Black and White: On the Waterfront

Color: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Black and White: The Country Girl

Executive Suite

Le Plaisir


Color: Brigadoon


Red Garters

A Star is Born

1955 Black and White: The Rose Tattoo

Color: Picnic

Black and White: Blackboard Jungle

I’ll Cry Tomorrow

The Man with the Golden Arm


Color: Daddy Long Legs

Guys and Dolls

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

To Catch a Thief

1956 Black and White: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Color: The King and I

Black and White: Seven Samurai

The Proud and the Profane

The Solid Gold Cadillac

Teenage Rebel

Color: Around the World in 80 Days


Lust for Life

The Ten Commandments

1957 Sayonara Funny Face

Les Girls

Pal Joey

Raintree County

1958 Gigi Auntie Mame

Bell, Book and Candle

A Certain Smile


1959 Black and White: The Diary of Anne Frank

Color: Ben-Hur

Black and White: Career

The Last Angry Man

Some Like It Hot

Suddenly, Last Summer

Color: The Big Fisherman

Journey to the Center of the Earth

North by Northwest

Pillow Talk

1960 Black and White: The Apartment

Color: Spartacus

Black and White: The Facts of Life


Sons and Lovers

Visit to a Small Planet

Color: Cimarron

It Started in Naples


Sunrise at Campobello

1961 Black and White: The Hustler

Color: West Side Story

Black and White: The Absent-Minded Professor

The Children’s Hour

Judgment at Nuremberg

La Dolce Vita

Color: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

El Cid

Flower Drum Song

Summer and Smoke

1962 Black and White: To Kill a Mockingbird

Color: Lawrence of Arabia

Black and White: The Music Man

Mutiny on the Bounty

That Touch of Mink

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm

Color: Days of Wine and Roses

The Longest Day

Period of Adjustment

The Pigeon That Took Rome

1963 Black and White: America America

Color: Cleopatra

Black and White: 8 ½


Love with the Proper Stranger

Twilight of Honor

Color: The Cardinal

Come Blow Your Horn

How the West Was Won

Tom Jones

1964 Black and White: Zorba the Greek

Color: My Fair Lady

Black and White: The Americanization of Emily

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

The Night of the Iguana

Seven Days in May

Color: Becket

Mary Poppins

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

What a Way to Go!

1965 Black and White: Ship of Fools

Color: Doctor Zhivago

Black and White: King Rat

A Patch of Blue

The Slender Thread

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Color: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Inside Daisy Clover

The Sound of Music

1966 Black and White: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Color: Fantastic Voyage

Black and White: The Fortune Cookie

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Is Paris Burning?

Mister Buddwing

Color: Gambit

Juliet of the Spirits

The Oscar

The Sand Pebbles

1967 Camelot Doctor Dolittle

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

The Taming of the Shrew

Thoroughly Modern Millie

1968 Oliver! The Shoes of the Fisherman


2001: A Space Odyssey

War and Peace

1969 Hello, Dolly! Anne of the Thousand Days

Gaily, Gaily

Sweet Charity

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

1970 Patton Airport

The Molly Maguires


Tora! Tora! Tora!

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra The Andromeda Strain

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Fiddler on the Roof

Mary, Queen of Scots

1972 Cabaret Lady Sings the Blues

The Poseidon Adventure

Travels with My Aunt

Young Winston

1973 The Sting Brother Sun, Sister Moon

The Exorcist

Tom Sawyer

The Way We Were

1974 The Godfather Part II Chinatown


The Island at the Top of the World

The Towering Inferno

1975 Barry Lyndon The Hindenburg

The Man Who Would Be King


The Sunshine Boys

1976 All the President’s Men The Incredible Sarah

The Last Tycoon

Logan’s Run

The Shootist

1977 Star Wars Airport ‘77

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Turning Point

1978 Heaven Can Wait The Brink’s Job

California Suite


The Wiz

1979 All That Jazz Alien

Apocalypse Now

The China Syndrome

Star Trek

1980 Tess Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

The Empire Strikes Back


1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Heaven’s Gate



1982 Gandhi Annie

Blade Runner

La traviata

Victor Victoria

1983 Fanny and Alexander Return of the Jedi

The Right Stuff

Terms of Endearment


1984 Amadeus The Cotton Club

The Natural

A Passage to India


1985 Out of Africa Brazil

The Color Purple



1986 A Room with a View Aliens

The Color of Money

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Mission

1987 The Last Emperor Empire of the Sun

Hope and Glory

Radio Days

The Untouchables

1988 Dangerous Liaisons Beaches

Rain Man

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

1989 Batman The Abyss

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Driving Miss Daisy


1990 Dick Tracy Cyrano de Bergerac

Dances with Wolves

The Godfather Part III


1991 Bugsy Barton Fink

The Fisher King


The Prince of Tides

1992 Howards End Bram Stoker’s Dracula




1993 Schindler’s List Addams Family Values

The Age of Innocence


The Remains of the Day

1994 The Madness of King George Bullets Over Broadway

Forrest Gump

Interview with the Vampire

Legends of the Fall

1995 Restoration Apollo 13


A Little Princess

Richard III

1996 The English Patient The Birdcage



William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

1997 Titanic Titanic



L.A. Confidential

Men in Black

1998 Shakespeare in Love Elizabeth


Saving Private Ryan

What Dreams May Come

1999 Sleepy Hollow Anna and the King

The Cider House Rules

The Talented Mr. Ripley


2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Gladiator

How the Grinch Stole Christmas



2001 Moulin Rouge! Amélie

Gosford Park

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2002 Chicago Frida

Gangs of New York

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Road to Perdition

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Last Samurai

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World


2004 The Aviator Finding Neverland

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Phantom of the Opera

A Very Long Engagement

2005 Memoirs of a Geisha Good Night, and Good Luck.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

King Kong

Pride & Prejudice

2006 Pan’s Labyrinth Dreamgirls

The Good Shepherd

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The Prestige

2007 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street American Gangster


The Golden Compass

There Will Be Blood

2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Changeling

The Dark Knight

The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

2009 Avatar The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus


Sherlock Holmes

The Young Victoria

2010 Alice in Wonderland Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


The King’s Speech

True Grit

2011 Hugo The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

2012 Lincoln Anna Karenina

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

2013 The Great Gatsby American Hustle



12 Years a Slave

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game


Into the Woods

Mr. Turner

2015 Mad Max: Fury Road Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

The Martian

The Revenant 

2016 La La Land Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar


This is one of those categories that everyone hands out at their shows, so we’ll have a bunch of precursors to use.

The guild is ADG, so we’ll begin with how they do next to the Oscars:

  • 1996 (the first year they gave out awards) — The English Patient matched.
  • 1997 — Titanic matched.
  • 1998 — Shakespeare in Love did not match. (What Dreams May Come won ADG.)
  • 1999 — Sleepy Hollow matched.
  • 2000 — Crouching Tiger did not. (Gladiator won ADG, but that was back when it was a combined Period and Fantasy category.)
  • 2001 — Moulin Rouge matched.
  • 2002 — Chicago did not. (Two Towers won ADG, but that was before they separated the categories).
  • 2003 — Return of the King matched.
  • 2004 — The Aviator did not. (Lemony Snicket won ADG. But again, before they separated the categories.)
  • 2005 — Memoirs of a Geisha matched.

Then they split the categories. And…

  • 2006 — Pan’s Labyrinth matched.
  • 2007 — Sweeney Todd did not. (ADG went There Will Be Blood.)
  • 2008 — Benjamin Button matched.
  • 2009 — Avatar matched.
  • 2010 — Alice in Wonderland did not.
  • 2011 — Hugo matched.
  • 2012 — Lincoln did not. (ADG went Anna Karenina for Period.)
  • 2013 — The Great Gatsby matched.
  • 2014 — The Grand Budapest Hotel matched.
  • 2015 — Mad Max: Fury Road matched.
  • 2016 — La La Land matched.

So, in 21 years when the award was given out, ADG matched up 14 times. Two-thirds isn’t bad. Of the seven that did not match:

  • 1998 — the Best Picture winner won the category.
  • 2000 — the Best Picture winner ended up winning ADG but losing the Oscar.
  • 2002 — the Best Picture winner won the category.
  • 2004 — The Aviator (kind of a Best Picture favorite) won the category.

And since they split the categories, ADG only missed three times. Here they are:

  • 2007 — A Tim Burton film wins.
  • 2010 — A Tim Burton film wins.
  • 2012 — Anna Karenina probably should have won, but they decided to give Lincoln an award. That was one of the surprises of the night that year.

This year, ADG, in their three categories, went to:

  • Period: The Shape of Water
  • Fantasy: Blade Runner 2049
  • Contemporary: Logan

Contemporary obviously doesn’t matter, but the other two are nominated. It should be worth noting that Beauty and the Beast was nominated in the Fantasy category opposite Blade Runner, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk were both nominated in Period opposite Shape of Water. So your entire category was represented at the guild.

BAFTA and BFCA both, by the way, went to The Shape of Water as well (BAFTA had this exact same category and BFCA had all but Darkest Hour). So right there, you pretty much can parse through this category leading up to Oscar night.

Best Production Design

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour


The Shape of Water


5. Darkest Hour — It’s the only film in the category that didn’t hit all the precursors. You can haggle about 4 or 5 all you want, but you know neither should be winning this. This has some nice sets, but it’s rare for a World War II-era movie to win this award. The King’s Speech didn’t even win, and everyone remembered that one set from it. The design of this movie is exquisite, but we’re not talking what’s great, we’re talking what’s gonna win. And this one is fifth choice.

4. Dunkirk — No precursor wins, despite showing up in all the categories. Continuing with what I said up there, if you thought it was hard to win when you were set during World War II, you know how much harder it is to be a war movie? The last war movie to win this category was Patton. So yeah… not likely either wins. This, on paper, is the fourth choice, but when you think about it, it might even be fifth. Because you think, “He just set it on a beach, why would I vote for that?” If you look closer, the production design of this movie is excellent, but that doesn’t help it get votes. So, split them however you want, this and Darkest Hour are the two at the bottom of this category.

3. Beauty and the Beast — Hit every precursor, and it’s entire movie is essentially production design and costumes. Some of the most famous in Disney history. This is automatically in contention until the very end. Though, in terms of Disney live-action remakes, only Alice in Wonderland won this category, and that might be due to Tim Burton more than anything else. Without any wins to this point, I have to consider it a third choice, but it is a third choice that can win. So keep that in mind.

2. Blade Runner 2049 — It won the guild, and was nominated everywhere else. It’s definitely a contender. This and Beauty and the Beast feel like a toss-up next to the ultimate favorite. They could happen, but how can you truly say which will win over the other? So, we’ll save that discussion for now and leave this as second choice owing to its one precursor win.

1. The Shape of Water — Best Picture frontrunner, and it won every single precursor. ADG Period, BAFTA, BFCA. Pretty deadly combination. It’s your favorite, and we’ll wait until Oscar night to see if it can be beat. My guess is, “Yes, but not overly likely.” But either way, until then, this feels like the definite order of each nominees’ likelihood of winning.

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