On Sunday the Academy Awards will be presented and I really don’t care which film wins for best picture because I haven’t seen any of the nominated films. I’ll eventually watch some of the nominees on cable though. But looking at the list, I realize that as usual there isn’t a science fiction film nominated for best picture. Well, The Three Of Life features scenes of the Earth being set afire from our sun going supernova billions of years from now, but that film doesn’t dwell on those described moments. Then there’s Hugo, which has some arguably slight sci-fi elements, namely the dramatization of Georges Melies and his silent film Voyage To The Moon, but Hugo is more of a fantasy film and an ode to early filmmaking.
Some research reveals that in the entire history of the Oscars only six science fiction films have been nominated for best film. They are A Clockwork Orange, the original Star Wars, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Avatar, District 9, and Inception. (On a side note, Inglourious Basterds is considered by some to be science fiction only because its ending establishes the film to be about alternate history.) Sure sci-fi films dominate the technical categories such as special effects and sound, but that’s about it when it comes to recognition from the Oscars.
Films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey have made the top 100 list from the prestigious American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, yet weren’t nominated for best film in the year they were released. Many other sci-fi films have stood the test of time, while some best picture nominees and winners have been forgotten by today’s audiences. For instance, we continue to talk about The Empire Strikes Back and Back To The Future, yet the movies that won for best picture in the years these sci-fi classics came out are largely ignored (1980’s Ordinary People-IMO, for the record, Raging Bull should’ve won that year; and 1985’s Out Of Africa-not even sure what that movie was about). How about the sci-fi films that were nominated? Does anyone actually believe that Annie Hall is a better film than Star Wars? Sure maybe a bunch of elitist snobs do but despite what George Lucas has done with the saga, the original film has stood the test of time and is a popular as ever. In the case of Avatar, there were stories of many Academy members having an axe to grind with James Cameron and had a rapid disdain for Avatar because of all the computer animation. For my money District 9 was a better film than either Avatar or the winning film, The Hurt Locker. With E.T., it was a better film than Gandhi, but by the time the awards came out there was an obvious backlash against Steven Spielberg’s film. You can thank the marketing departments that plastered E.T.’s mug on everything at that time. Plus Gandhi was considered more respectable, mainstream and IMPORTANT.
It’s vital to realize that the Oscars are really just popularity/political contests and marketing campaigns among Hollywood insiders who award the statues to sentimental favorites and buddies. The Academy Awards are awash with tales of snubs and cronyism and outright dumb selections which goes beyond sci-fi films. Take the pick of Crash in 2005 over the more popular and more controversial Brokeback Mountain. Or the trite comedy Shakespeare In Love over Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. That oversight was primarily due to a massive marketing campaign by the former’s executive producers.
Oddly this bias doesn’t extend to fantasy movies because those types of films have received best picture nominations since the 1930s (1937’s Lost Horizon and 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz were the first fantasy films nominated for best picture) right up to this year. One even grabbed the Oscar for best picture nine years ago; that was The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, which many fans felt was the weakest in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. It should be noted that the bias against animated films is even worse, but that’s another story.
The hostility against sci-fi films by the Oscars is clearly evident and will continue for the foreseeable future. It’s a shame really, since so many past sci-fi films are considered classics not just by fans but by mainstream viewers and critics. This prejudice may have begun with science fiction’s B-movie origins. But as anyone can tell you, sci-fi films have become more sophisticated and true pieces of cinematic art. Shockingly if you go to online sci-fi forums there are many members who put down sci-fi films and don’t consider them worthy of being nominated. So the bias even permeates among many so-called fans who just can’t see these films past their settings. The bottom line is that the Academy has to get over this bias and join the rest of the crowd. Until then we can only root for an occasional acting nomination or the reliable special effects category. Either that or wait for the Saturn or Scream Awards.