Horror Show: Are the Academy Afraid of Scary Films? Let's explore the Academy's relationship with horror

2018 saw some excellent horror films, from the likes of Hereditary, to Suspiria, and A Quiet Place. Like many, I anticipated that these films would be up for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. In fact, all of these films are certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and have received rave reviews. However, when the nominations for Best Picture were announced, there wasn’t a horror film in sight. Upon doing a little bit of research, there have only been six horror films ever nominated for Best Picture (and yes, I do count The Silence of the Lambs as a horror film). Despite, their continuous popularity and proof of their box office success, horror is one genre that just doesn’t sit well with the Academy.

The reason for this “snubbing” of horror films may be simply down to the fact that horror is considered by many as a lesser genre of film. Even during the heyday of Universal’s horror films in the 1930s, the likes of Dracula and Bride of Frankenstein were never nominated for Best Picture. Horror was often considered a B-movie genre, often filmed with actors who weren’t as well-known. Despite films like Cat People (1942), The Wolf Man (1941) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) being considered cult classics today, they weren’t necessarily made by one of the main studios who had a  strong hold on the Oscar wins or nominations (horror tended to be made by RKO or Universal). From the very first Oscar ceremony up until the sixties, horror films were visibly absent from the Best Picture nominations.

The sixties saw the collapse of the major studio system that had ruled over Hollywood since the twenties. It also saw the emergence of a younger audience attending the cinema, and this audience wanted to feel the thrill of being scared. When Alfred Hitchcock took on the horror genre with Psycho (1960), the Academy couldn’t really ignore the growing appeal of horror films with the masses. Psycho gained Hitch his fifth and final Best Director nomination, as well as three other nods, including one for Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh. However, the Academy couldn’t exactly bring themselves to nominate Psycho for Best Picture (the award went to The Apartment), perhaps because the film’s subject matter and violence were too much for the Academy to handle.

As the swinging sixties continued, the horror genre kept evolving along with the times. In Europe, horror became more daring; depicting scenes of heightened sexual repression and violence in films like Blood and Black Lace (1964), Repulsion (1965), and Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). Still horror failed to capture the Academy’s attention, who seemed obsessed with big budget musicals such as My Fair Lady (1964), Mary Poppins (1964), Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Oliver! (1968). Soon New Hollywood filmmakers began to cause shock waves throughout the film industry. The Academy could no longer overlook the importance of the horror genre.

Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Ira Levin novel Rosemary’s Baby was a massive commercial and critical hit, and Polanski was considered at the time a respected European filmmaker. Polanski was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and actress Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress statue. 1973 saw another horror film be recognized by the Academy: The Exorcist. Based on William Peter Blatty’s popular novel, William Friedkin’s 1973 classic was given 10 nominations, including the first Best Picture nod to a horror movie. The film only won two Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Blatty (perhaps vomit spewing and demonic little girls were a step too far for the Academy?). 1975 saw Steven Spielberg’s Jaws be nominated for Best Picture, but losing out to a far more disturbing and “horrifying” film called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, the horror genre had changed from the political, psychological horrors like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist to the slasher films like Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  Although horror films were yet again absent from the Best Picture line-up, they did dominate other award categories such as visual effects, and best make-up. During the eighties, the Academy seemed to favor the period drama or the biopic, with films such as Chariots of Fire (1981), Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984) and The Last Emperor (1987) all walking away with the Best Picture Oscar.

1991 saw something odd happen at the Oscars; with “horror” film The Silence of the Lambs winning awards in top five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Like many of Oscar-honored horror films, The Silence of the Lambs was based on a successful novel, directed by a respected filmmaker (Jonathan Demme) and starred respected actors such as Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. However, despite the success of The Silence of the Lambs, the only other horror film to be nominated for Best Picture in the nineties was The Sixth Sense in 1999 (it lost to American Beauty). It’s worth mentioning that Hereditary actress Toni Collette was recognized for her performance in The Sixth Sense and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (she lost to Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted).

It wasn’t until last year’s smash hit Get Out (2017) that another horror film was nominated for Best Picture. Jordan Peele described the film as more of a ”social thriller” rather than a straight out horror film, but there’s no mistaking the film’s significance in the current social climate. To many people, Get Out was less of a fictionalised world of horror and more of a depiction of the bitter reality we find ourselves living in. In the end, Get Out lost to The Shape of Water, but Peele still walked away with Best Original Screenplay. With many critics hailing this as a new golden age of horror films, maybe we will see more horror films find their way to the Best Picture line-up. Sooner or later, the Academy is going to have to face their fears and learn to appreciate horror films like so many of us do.


Ready Steady Cut was established in 2017 and has grown into a respected entertainment news source.

0 thoughts on “Horror Show: Are the Academy Afraid of Scary Films?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: