Since 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has held the Oscars, the premier award event for motion pictures. Every year the most creative, talented, and brightest actors, directors, and editors alike dress in their best while strutting the red carpet, hopefully towards those golden statuettes. The Academy Awards are the pinnacle achievement for many people in the film industry, thus having one being the ultimate achievement. But many creators and fans alike have noted the Academy Awards gatekeeping their own definition of what a great film is, while giving a lack of nominations for science fiction films in the past. When examining most years of the Oscars, one will primarily see the same genres: drama, biopic, and thriller. Furthermore, those titles are often used to rebrand nominated films of the science fiction genre to make them seem deserving of recognition.
For the 94th annual Academy Awards, Dennis Villeneuve’s dunes has been nominated for eight awards, including Best Motion Picture. For many, this is a pleasant surprise as even with reputable filmmakers like Denis, the Oscars will still ignore those pictures. It was only recently that the Academy has been recognizing more science fiction pictures for more than just visual effects, costume design, and makeup. Mad Max: Fury Road, Avatar, District 9, and a handful of others have all gotten recognition from the Academy, receiving Best Screenplay and Best Picture nods. Before 2009, when Avatar and District 9 were nominated for the highest honor, it had actually been decades since a science fiction film had been nominated for Best Picture. The last had been Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (which did not go on to win the award).
For a large portion of motion picture history, certain genres have been held to a higher standard than others. Dramas and thrillers have consistently been held up as the golden standard genres of film, with genres like horror and science fiction being regarded as amateurish. For many, when science fiction or horror are brought up, they will call to mind terrible effects, acting, and dated set backdrops. Those biases haven’t really changed much, especially in the eyes of major studios and critics. Every January, studios push cheap sci-fi and horror films into theaters hoping to make a quick buck, which doesn’t necessarily help the cause towards increasing the standard of those genres. But not all science fiction is created equal. Yes, there are films of the genre that are there to make a quick buck or just aren’t made well. Yet, there are also many all-time great pictures that fall within the realm of science fiction.
Some of the greatest films of all time have been snubbed at the Oscars. Granted, the Oscars can not and will not satisfy everyone who wants their favorites to win. But it is undeniable that the likes of Ridley Scott’s bladerunner and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey are two of the greatest films ever made, and many feel that the fact they weren’t even nominated for Best Picture is concerning. The goal of the awards is to recognize the best films of the past year — although it’s worth mentioning that at the time of their release, these films weren’t as highly regarded as they are now. Many of the science fiction films that have been nominated over the years have other genres pushed on them like thriller or drama; they can’t just be a science fiction picture if they want recognition. It was only in 2015 when Ridley Scott’s science fiction picture The Martian got rebranded as a drama, and even as a comedy for the Golden Globe Awards, that it was awarded for its brilliance.
But for many, this trend seems to be changing recently, as the past few years have seen a rapid change in the diversity of Oscar nominations. Horror fans got to see Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror film get-out Nominated for many awards, including its win for Best Original Screenplay and its nomination for Best Picture. Meanwhile, that same year, science fiction fans got to see Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water win Best Picture, while Del Toro also took home the award for Best Director. Like other genre films that have won these awards, those films had been billed as being social thrillers, and more than just their genres.
Although it has been a long road for many and will continue to be, it has been great seeing films of genres other than drama and biopic win at the Oscars. For many film fans, this could make the Oscars more reputable, as it truly takes the best of the best each year without excluding many films for their genre. But it doesn’t only take the Academy itself to make this change. Critics and audiences alike will have to get over their biases regarding science fiction pictures. Only time will tell if the Academy will start recognizing the greatest science fiction pictures every year as well as more traditional genres.
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