As each award season approaches, the world's attention focuses on Hollywood and the best of its yearly productions. Underneath the glitz and the glamour, psychology provides much of the substance that propels producers, directors, and screenwriters to give creative voice to the range of human experiences. Audiences are fascinated by heartless murderers, tragic heros or heroines wrestling with psychological demons, couples who tear each other apart, and families that make their home life a constant nightmare. Whether frightening or at times hilarious, Hollywood's dramatization of the psychological life of its characters is what keeps us glued to the screen.
As it turns out, the Academy Awards are heavily weighted toward films that depict psychological themes. They also do give unusual emphasis to certain types of characters and issues. Here I've compiled a list of psychological themes in award-winning movies including movies that won Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, and Best Picture (although I did cheat in one important instance). This led to a potential set of 252 films and characters. Of these, I count 62 that fit my criteria, leading to the overwhelming statistic that psychology accounts for 25% of all Oscar-winning major films and roles. It's possible that I've missed one or two, and if so, I welcome comments to point these out!
There's one other important way that psychology went to the movies, and that is in the real life of 2010's Best Actor and Best Actress. Both Natalie Portman and Colin Firth are co-authors of published psychological articles. Portman served as an undergraduate research assistant (here's hope to all underpaid and overworked psych students). Firth actually funded a brain imaging study comparing political conservatives to liberals. You can check out those references below. Obviously publishing a psychology article is highly correlated with your chances of winning an Oscar.Who said correlation didn't equal causation? (Just kidding, of course).
And now, can we have the envelope, please?
Best Actress Winners (and their associated disorders):
1939: Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind: Narcissistic personality disorder
1957 Joanne Woodward The Three Faces of Eve : Dissociative identity disorder
1968: Barbra Streisand Funny Girl: Narcissistic personality disorder (tied with Katharine Hepburn for Best Actress)
1972: Liza Minelli Cabaret: Narcissistic personality disorder
1977: Diane Keaton Annie Hall: Generalized anxiety disorder
1999 Hilary Swank: Boys Don't Cry: Gender identity disorder