The Academy Awards are the most prestigious awards in all of film. Every year since 1929, the biggest stars in the world gather to win the much sought-after Oscar. The genre and style of films that have caught the attention of the academy have changed over time. However, it is fair to say, that Horror has consistently been overlooked. The subjective nature of the genre, along with comedy, is why it has not achieved the heights that it could. Something that causes fear in one person does not have the same effect on another.
Despite this, Horror got off to a good start in the awards, with Fredric March winning Best actor for his role in 1931’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. But the number of Oscars the Horror genre has picked up since then has been less than it deserved, with all the classic Hammer Horror films never being taken as seriously as drama films. Since then, producing backing a horror film with a view to winning academy awards has always been hit-or-miss.
Between 1992 and 2009 only two films that can be considered in the horror genre won an Oscar, both Tim Burton films and both for Art Direction; 1999’s Sleepy Hollow and 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Since then the only other recipients in the genre have been Natalie Portman’s 2010 Best Actress win for her role in Black Swan, and Jordan Peele’s victory for Best Original Screenplay for 2017’s Get Out.
The most successful Horror film at the Oscars is 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which is also one of the most successful films in the history of the awards. It became one of just three films to win all of the ‘big five’ categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay.
The film that appears most unappreciated by the awards is 1973’s classic The Exorcist. Now considered one of the greatest films ever made, cited by Mark Kermode as his personal favourite film. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and went on to win Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.
In the last decade, however, there have been remarkable niche horror movies like “13 Tzameti”, which featured one of the oldest casino games, Russian Roulette. While the movie never made it big, it’s remarkable how the genre has spawned unknown actors and niche storylines. This is for a reason – acting success has been truly sparse for the genre, especially at the Oscars, so there’s less incentive for actors to take on horror projects. However, it’s notable that alongside March and Portman, Kathy Bates won for her role in 1990’s Misery, alongside Ruth Gordon’s victory in the Best Supporting Actress category for 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Legendary ‘Scream Queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis had to move outside the Horror genre in order to get her long-awaited Academy Award for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Technical Award Success
Other films to achieve academy awards success are; 1943’s The Phantom Of The Opera, winning Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography, 1945’s. The Picture of Dorian Gray also won Best Cinematography. 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, a Best Costume winner. The Omen won Best Score in 1976. Alien won Best Visual Effects in 1979, along with its 1968 sequel Aliens winning the same award as well as Best Sound Editing. An American Wolfman In London won Best Makeup in 1981, as did The Fly 5 years later in 1986.
Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Dracula in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, rounds out the list of winners, with victories in Best Makeup, Best Costume and Best Sound Effect Editing. Finally, Pan’s Labyrinth went on to achieve Academy success, winning Best Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup.
Jordan Peele appears to be the beacon of light that is the hope for Oscar’s success in the horror genre. His directorial debut Get Out became an instant classic and produced many award nominations, winning for best original screenplay. It still divided Oscar voters, with many refusing to even see the film due to the stigma over Horror.
Since then, it is listed as the 95th greatest film of all time on the recently updated Sight and Sound list of the best films ever made. Peele followed up this film with Us, and achieved success with 2022’s Nope, but did not receive any further Academy Award nominations. It can be expected that Peele’s future films will not only be the biggest Horror film that the year they release, but also one of the biggest films altogether. Thanks to Get Out, along with others produced by Blumhouse, the way modern Horror is seen has changed. It has propelled it into a serious contender in the awards.
Perhaps the biggest omittance was 1980’s The Shining, an ever-polarising film that now ranks 88th on Sight and Sound’s list. Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho being ranked 31st. Despite being considered one of the great film directors of all time, it is Alfred Hitchcock’s failure to ever win an Oscar that sets the pace for the reception of Horror at the awards. In recent years Sinister is considered by Forbes to scientifically speaking the scariest film ever made. While this is based on science, it is of course subjective what a person fears. However, it does pose a valid debate. If a horror film can be near perfect in its depiction of horror, how and why does it not get more award nominations?
What is Next for Horror?
How can it break the stigma and achieve Best Picture success? That comes with great filmmakers. Guillermo Del Toro, Ari Aster and Jordan Peele are some of the biggest names in directing today, with Guillermo already having a Best Picture win to his name thanks to 2017’s The Shape of Water. It is not a huge leap of imagination to believe that one of these filmmakers, or of course another, could break through and achieve a Best Picture win for Horror in the near future.