In contrast, the cash-strapped Weinstein Co., the distributor of "The King's Speech," didn't have the money to match Sony, which not only helped position "The King's Speech" as an underdog but also as more of a discovery for Oscar voters. The Weinstein Co. spent an estimated $6 million on its awards promotions.

It also helped that polarizing studio chief Harvey Weinstein, the man who single-handedly modernized today's Oscar campaigns, often with borderline tactics (his publicist once ghost-wrote a letter for ailing academy president Robert Wise praising Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York"), largely stayed in the shadows with "The King's Speech's" campaign. Weinstein wasn't at every party, and he didn't attend all the award shows; for one of the rare times in a career that includes 20 best picture nominations, Weinstein let the movie speak for itself.

That proved to be a stark contrast to "The Social Network" producer Scott Rudin, who was as ubiquitous as Facebook status updates—except for Oscar night when he stayed back in New York to work on his upcoming film and theatrical productions.

The New York-based producer works tirelessly for his films (he produced 2008's best picture winner "No Country for Old Men") but due to his famous short temper is as divisive as Weinstein.

At the Beverly Hills premiere of Rudin's production of "True Grit" at the academy's headquarters in December, the western's writers and directors received sustained applause, as did the film's composer and cinematographer. But in a revealing moment, the theater fell silent when Rudin's name appeared.

"Social Network" helmer Fincher, who was probably more favored to nab the director prize than "King's Speech" helmer Tom Hooper, may not have helped the cause. He has never been a fan of Oscar campaigns and, while he was in Sweden for the majority of the campaign shooting "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," during his select award appearances, he often came across as prickly.

Voters also may have been drawn to the against-all-odds story of how "The King's Speech" got made.

With screenwriter David Seidler having been a childhood stutterer and the film's two producers, British Iain Canning and Australian Emile Sherman, jumping on board because the film's friendship reminded them of their own, "The King's Speech" has been a Cinderella story from the beginning. Tom Hooper was encouraged to direct the film at his mother's behest, and Geoffrey Rush signed on to the movie only after the screenplay was hand-delivered to his Australian home by a producer's eager assistant.

"People connected emotionally to the film's character," said Canning. "It's not a movie about royalty. I think we all feel that we could be Lionel Logue or the Duke of York."

Times staff writers Jessica Gelt, Steven Zeitchik and Patrick Goldstein contributed to this report.