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Why Have No Sc-fi or Horror Films Won Best Picture?

May 4, 2011

Comedies rarely win Best Picture. The last legitimate comedy to win was Shakespeare in Love in 1998.

And musicals rarely win Best Picture anymore. The last to win was Chicago in 2002, and the last one to win before that was Oliver! in 1968.

But never—that’s right, never—has Best Picture been awarded to a science-fiction or horror film.

A few have come close. In the sci-fi category, Star Wars (1977), E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial (1982), District 9 (2009), and Avatar (2009) were at least nominated, although none of them won. Meanwhile, The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975) remain the only horror films to have received a Best Picture nomination.

So what gives? Why can’t sci-fi and horror movies get any Best Picture love? Or are they just not worthy?

I don’t believe the Academy holds an overt bias against these genres. (Of course, I also don’t think one can speak of “the Academy” as a monolithic voting block, since it’s made up of thousands of people with diverse tastes and opinions.) That said, most people tend to think of sci-fi and horror as “low-brow” genres, and that these movies appeal more to the masses than to “hi-brow” Academy voters.

Also, another obstacle is that the best movies in these genres tend to receive their deserved critical recognition only after they’ve been out for a few years. That is, after people can look past their popular, commercial success and see just how great they really are.

Movies such as Psycho (1960), Alien (1979), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Halloween (1978) are all recognized as classics today. But that didn’t happen over night. And the challenge of winning Best Picture is that a movie has to convince Academy voters that it’s a classic in less than twelve months (and typically in a lot less time than that)!

So in that respect, a blockbuster sci-fi adventure will always be at a disadvantage compared to a gritty, low-grossing drama about the Iraq War… even if your name happens to be James Cameron.

But just as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) became the first fantasy film to win Best Picture, I’m betting that one of these days a sci-fi or horror film will take home the coveted prize…provided they can find a way to make it a period piece set in England with uplifting themes starring Colin Firth.

The King’s Spaceship? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Shakespeare in Love…with an Alien?

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

(P.S. – Feel free to suggest your own Oscar-worthy sci-fi/horror movie titles in the comments section below.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 4, 2011 8:25 am

    World War II: In Space! = instant Oscar

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