Traditionally, genre films have been snubbed by the Oscars, that is a given. But in recent years, such films have snuck into the list of nominees. A few years back Avatar, Inception, District 9 and the film versions of The Lord Of The Rings received Best Picture nominations. Most know that the fantasy epic The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King actually won for Best Picture in 2003.
While that is all well and good, there are numerous worthwhile sci-fi, fantasy, animated and horror films that were ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at least when it comes to the most valued prize, the Best Picture pick. The following are notable genre classics throughout the decades that should’ve at least received a nomination for Best Picture.
1930s-1940s: Frankenstein (1931) is still revered today as a genuine horror and sci-fi masterpiece with Boris Karloff’s iconic performance as the Creature. King Kong (1933) was a groundbreaking film that influenced many generations of filmmakers to this day with its unforgettable, dreamlike scenes that transported viewers into a lost world filled with a giant gorilla and dangerous dinosaurs.
Although Walt Disney received a special Oscar for Snow White And The Seven Dwarves (1937), the film failed to be nominated for Best Picture. What was nominated instead of the groundbreaking first full-length animated film? Such well-regarded classics like Test Pilot and Alexander’s Ragtime Band–note the sarcasm. Disney’s followup animated masterpieces Pinocchio (1940) and Bambi (1942) were also ignored by the Academy when it came to announcing the Best Picture nominations.
But the Academy wasn’t too dense, in this time period a few fantasy films received Best Picture nominations starting with Lost Horizon (1937), The Wizard Of Oz (1939) and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
1950s-1960s: Many nominated films in these two decades were either musicals or dramas. Unlike the previous decades there weren’t any genre films recognized with the exceptions of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, Doctor Doolittle (both of which are really musicals) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. Horror and animated films were for the virtually absent among the list of Oscar nominees. Sci-fi films in this time period began to grow out their zero-budget, infantile trappings. There was an explosion of sci-fi films in the 1950s, many of them worthy of recognition by the Academy like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), War Of The Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). But the Academy members failed to see the merit of these films, which are still fondly revered.
Kubrick’s next film after Dr. Strangelove is considered by most people as the greatest sci-fi film ever made. Yet 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was largely ignored by the Oscars. The other important sci-fi masterpiece that came out in the same year Planet Of The Apes was also snubbed by the Oscars except for a special makeup Oscar. By the way, does anyone know what won that year for Best Picture? Oliver! Another musical snoozefest and films that were nominated included Rachel, Rachel and The Lion In Winter. Are any of these films venerated by film lovers today? Thought not.
1970s-1980s: In these next decades it was painfully clear that significant genre films were being snubbed by the Academy. Sure, many landmark films like Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark were nominated for Best Picture. But they lost out to unremarkable and pretentious films like Annie Hall and Chariots Of Fire. This time period is rife with films that weren’t recognized on Oscar night. Let’s start with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) Steven Spielberg’s followup to Jaws (which did get nominated for Best Picture in 1975), presumably there was only room for one sci-fi film that year and that slot went to Star Wars. This pattern also happened in 1982. In that year, which is renowned for outstanding genre films like The Thing and Blade Runner, only E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial picked up a Best Picture nomination. Other sci-fi films that have stood the test of time and are considered masterpieces by film critics and audiences include Alien (1979), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Back To The Future (1985); yet none of them received a major Oscar nomination. But in those respective years such distinguished and still-talked-about fare like Tess, Tootsie and Out Of Africa (which won) were nominated. The special edition Blu-rays for those “classics” must be flying off the shelves!
1990s-2000s: In the 1990s, innovative sci-fi classics made their impact on cinema but not at the Academy Awards. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), The Matrix (1999) are still influential to this day yet failed to receive anything beyond technical award wins. Some films including Gattaca (1995) and Dark City (1998) didn’t receive any nominations, even after film critic Roger Ebert lobbied for Dark City to be considered for Best Picture.
Then there are the revolutionary animated films that came out in that time period. Start with The Little Mermaid (1989) the animated classic that launched the Disney Renaissance. Beauty And The Beast made history by being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in 1991 but it ruffled many feathers because how dare an animated film be deemed superior to live-action films! The Lion King (1994) was a mammoth hit with audiences and critics yet it didn’t receive any major nominations. Although John Lasseter won a special Oscar for Toy Story (1995) and the film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (the first animated film to receive that honor), Toy Story failed to get a Best Picture nomination. But Sense And Sensibility was considered commendable enough for that nomination.
One aspect about these nominations that has become much more prevalent and obvious is that fantasy films tend to get nominated for Best Picture more than sci-fi, animated or horror films. In the same year that Toy Story was snubbed, Babe received numerous nominations including Best Picture. While Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings racked up major awards and nominations, milestones from the last decade such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (2005), Children Of Men (2006), WALL-E (2008) and The Dark Knight (2008) at best won technical Oscars if nominated at all.
Today: Recently the Academy changed the nominating process to include more than five films after complaints that many popular films were left out. This started in 2009 and it allowed for Avatar, District 9, Up and Inglourious Basterds to be nominated for Best Picture. But since then aside from Inception and Toy Story 3 in 2010, the only kind of genre films to get Best Picture nominations are fantasy films. Aside from typical Oscar baits (i.e. historical dramas, and message flicks) other slots are given to obscure independent films that no one aside from IFC watchers will bother to see. Thus, no Best Picture nominations for popular and revered superhero films like Thor (2011), X-Men: First Class (2011), The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Ditto for intriguing and well-made sci-fi films such as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), Melancholia (2011), Source Code (2011), and Looper (2012). It’s not as if any of these films are mindless garbage like Transformers or Resident Evil: Retribution. They are honored films that either set new ground in cinematic storytelling or were extremely well produced with exceptional acting, directing and production values.
In due time, more and more sci-fi, animated and horror films will get the recognition they need from the Academy. Some of the most dynamic filmmakers today dabble in genre films and that means that high quality genre films are a mainstay and will eventually get the accolades that they deserve. Until then, tune in to the Oscars to root for the Best Visual Effects category.
Lewis T. Grove