The Coolest Horror Nominations in Oscar History
This article was original published October 21, 2020.
The Academy Awards aren’t cool. Not a controversial statement, I know — we’ve all been burned by the Driving Miss Daisys and Crashes and Green Books far too often to claim otherwise. Things are slowly changing, but for much of its history the Oscars have been the purview of stodgy old white guys who never quite seem ready for films outside their narrow window of understanding.
However! The one silver lining of the Academy’s tendency towards the uninspiring is that when you do get a nomination or a winner that’s outside the box, it’s that much more exciting — Parasite’s Best Picture win would have been huge no matter what, but Green Book’s triumph the year before meant even lower expectations and correspondingly higher elation.
Part of this portrait of an out-of-touch Academy is their historic aversion to genre work of any sort. Sci-fi, action, comedy — pick your favorites and the Academy has likely failed to recognize them.
But we’re a positive bunch here at Rough Cut Cinema, and we unabashedly love the Oscars in spite of their (many) faults, so in honor of Halloween month we’re taking a look at the times the Academy got it right and realized that horror movies are just as legitimate as anything else. For each non-documentary feature film category, we’re honoring the coolest horror nominations and wins in Oscar history — sure, we might stretch the definition of the genre a couple times here to make it all work (as well as recognize the widest breadth of movies, meaning any given film will only be represented in one category), but I doubt you’ll be too disappointed at this trek down memory lane. Happy Halloween!
Best Original Song
Jerry Goldsmith, “Ave Satani,” The Omen (1976)
I was worried that this category was going to be this project’s weak link but fortunately and hilariously, the Academy once nominated a song that (a) is entirely in latin, (b) basically just features chanting over an ominous backing track, and (c) is literally about worshipping the devil. If this had won I would have had to rethink my entire thesis.
Paul Williams & George Tipton, The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
This nomination came during a strange period where Best Score was broken up into two categories: Original Dramatic Score and Original Score Score and Adaptation or Adaptation Score. Confusing, yes, but it allows us to talk about how the Academy nominated one of Brian De Palma’s strangest (but also maybe best?) movies: a musical-horror-comedy riff on Phantom of the Opera that features some legit earworms by Williams and Tipton. Seriously, go listen to “The Hell of It” right now.
Gary Summers, Gary Rydstrom, Shawn Murphy and Ron Judkins, Jurassic Park (1993 — Winner)
Read this and try to tell me these guys don’t deserve a Nobel Prize, let alone an Oscar.
Best Visual Effects
Pete Kozachik, Eric Leighton, Ariel Velasco Shaw and Gordon Baker, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Animated Feature award didn’t exist at this point, otherwise you’d probably expect Nightmare to be relegated there (although Kubo and the Two Strings managed the double nod in 2016), but to see this sort of innovative stop-motion animation recognized alongside heavy hitters like Jurassic Park is genuinely exciting.
Best Production Design
Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker, Alien (1979)
Alien works for a LOT of reasons, but chief among them is the design of the Nostromo in particular. As seen in the opening sequence, the ship is crafted with such detail paid to both the aesthetic and the layout that when the film eventually turns into a haunted house movie halfway through, you feel immersed in a way few horror films before or since have managed.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis, The Fly (1986 — Winner)
Yes, sometimes “Best Makeup” really means “Most Makeup”, but in terms of inducing pure, visceral disgust, I’m not sure anything in horror (or maybe in all of cinema) can top the later stages of Brundlefly — sometimes doing the most is actually for the best.
Best Costume Design
Eiko Ishikoa, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992 — Winner)
For a movie to be as wild as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is, every part of the production has to be giving 110% and the costumes are putting in the work, managing to feel both period-specific but also the result of a gothic-inspired fever dream. Every single one of Drac’s looks are iconic and it’s really too bad they didn’t enter the mainstream — I’d love it if folks were just alternating between red jackal armor and the top hat/sunglasses combo on a regular basis.
Emmanuel Lubezki, Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow looks absolutely gorgeous, thanks in large part to Lubezki’s cinematography — few films capture the feel of a gothic fairy tale better, from the dreamy artificiality to the copious amounts of fog and lightning to the coldly gray palette. Chivo’s the GOAT for a reason.
Best Animated Feature Film
Coraline (2009 — Winner)
The thing that’s great about Coraline is that despite ostensibly being made for children, it’s objectively one of the creepiest movies ever made. There’s no way anyone who watched this when they were younger than, say, ten has worn an item of clothing with buttons on it since.
Best International Feature Film
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Non-English-language horror is even more woefully underrepresented than the genre as a whole, but Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the few that broke through, winning three of its six nominations. Even if you want to split hairs and consider this a “dark fantasy” or whatever, you simply can’t deny the terrifying imagery on display here — the Pale Man is the stuff of nightmares.
Best Film Editing
Verna Fields, Jaws (1975 — Winner)
Jaws was an Oscars favorite and the deserving winner for Best Editing — one of the best-paced blockbusters in history, its ability to generate impactful scares through smart cutting remains oft-imitated but rarely duplicated. If Jaws ever made you afraid to go in the water, you can blame Verna Fields.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Artist WISHES.
Best Original Screenplay
Jordan Peele, Get Out (2017 — Winner)
Do I wish Peele had managed to pull off a Picture or Director win for Get Out, 2017’s most searing and enduring film offering? Sure. Is it still rad as hell that a horror movie like Get Out was released in February and went on to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and win a Screenplay Oscar? You’re damn right it is.
Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress
Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense (1999) / Linda Blair, The Exorcist (1973)
The only thing better than a creepy kid in a horror movie is when the kid is SO CREEPY that the Academy is forced to recognize them as having reached the pinnacle of the acting profession. Yes, Osment and Blair may have both been swept up in the impressive nomination waves of their respective films, but they also both undeniably belong in the pantheon of great child performances — especially Osment, who’s “I see dead people” scene remains immensely powerful despite being parodied to death (no pun intended) over the years.
Robert De Niro, Cape Fear (1991)
Here are some facts about Robert De Niro: By 1990, he was a two-time Oscar winner. During the ‘90s, he appeared in 26 films, including Goodfellas, Casino, Heat, and Jackie Brown. He was not nominated for his role in any of those four films. He was nominated for his performance in Cape Fear, which is fully deranged and has him doing a thick southern accent.
In case it wasn’t clear, this nomination rules.
Sigourney Weaver, Aliens (1986)
I don’t have anything clever or witty to say here, this might actually be the coolest acting nomination the Academy has ever given out.
Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)
Throughout the years the directors’ branch has been a little more adventurous than the Academy at large, making some out-of-the-box nominations for Best Director even if the rest of the voting body doesn’t find the respective films worthy of a Best Picture nomination. In hindsight Psycho should have been a lock for the latter (especially considering Hitchcock had a combined eight prior Director and Picture nominations, including a win for Rebecca), but at least the directors were still able to recognize a fellow master at work.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991 — Winner)
Using a consensus definition of the genre, only six horror movies have ever been nominated for Best Picture: The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and Get Out. Of these, The Exorcist was the nomination powerhouse, with a staggering 10 nods, but Silence is the only horror film so far to take home the ultimate prize. But not only did Silence win Best Picture (along with Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay — an absolutely dominant night), but in my estimation it’s one of the few times the Academy has given their top accolade to a truly perfect movie. And honestly, what’s cooler than that?