Bradley Cooper made Oscar history this year. Though the American Sniper star has gotten less press than perceived Best Actor frontrunners Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), he’s the one who joins only nine previous actors and eleven actresses who were Oscar-nominated three years in a row. This bodes well for Cooper at the Oscars—of the nine men who preceded him as three-years-running nominees, eight eventually won gold.
It didn’t always happen right away: This Academy list of multiple consecutive nominees shows that Al Pacino’s consecutive nominations in the 1970s didn’t include his eventual Oscar-winning role in 1992’s Scent of a Woman, nor did Gregory Peck’s run include his victorious role in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. But getting recognition from the Oscars three years in a row will, more often than not, result in Oscar gold. The only actor who didn’t convert three years of nominations into an eventual win was Richard Burton, considered among the most snubbed men in Oscar history; among women, Thelma Ritter, Deborah Kerr, and Glenn Close didn’t eventually scoop up a prize after three straight years of nods. (Close still has time!) In all, sixteen of the twenty previous three-time nominees won an Oscar, yielding eighty percent odds that Cooper will eventually win based solely on past precedent.
Of course, history’s not everything. This year in particular, Cooper faces long odds, with Keaton and Redmayne each attracting serious praise and each having had more time to promote their films. (Cooper has been on Broadway, far from the Oscar-campaign circus.) If Cooper won, it’d be a memorable instance of a dark horse taking the lead. But the historical angle isn’t totally abstract, either: Three years’ worth of nominations clearly indicates that the Academy takes a performer very seriously and that they respond strongly to various aspects of the star’s persona; whatever happens with Cooper this year, it seems evident he’s begun the process of wearing the Academy down. After all, Cooper’s three Oscar-nominated roles, in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, 2013’s American Hustle, and last year’s Sniper, are all fairly different in tone, and each got the star recognized. It’s not hard at all to imagine that a voting body that’s placed him close to the action three years in a row will, sooner or later, give him the prize. His next prestige-bid film, by Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell, is set for release Christmas 2015.