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Oscars in an Alternate Universe Where the Academy Loves Sci-Fi

oscar statues2

I usually get a little down in late February. It’s not just because of the dark, the cold, and the New England snowdrifts piling up on my deck. It’s Oscar season, and as a fan of science fiction, the Oscars are a pretty depressing awards show. Looking back, the Academy Awards have rarely given sci-fi films top honors, instead saving a few measly statuettes for visual effects and sound editing. But what would the world look like if Oscar voters loved science fiction as much as I do? Which movies would have been nominated for best picture?

2012 Best Picture Nominees:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty


Add: The Avengers

You can’t compare The Avengers to a quiet meditation on old age like Amour or a period drama like Lincoln. But in its genre, The Avengers stood out this year. It’s also not unheard-of for the Oscars to reward a blockbuster summer film (think of Titanic in 1997). It’s also worth noting that during Titanic‘s record-breaking streak at the 1997 Oscars, the broadcast of the awards had its highest-ever Nielsen ratings. There’s something to be said for rewarding a movie that everyone actually saw this year.

2011 Best Picture Nominations

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Add: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I’m not one for rewarding sequels, but the end of the Harry Potter series was a beautiful adaptation of the book (in some ways, an improvement over the book). I would have been just as pleased if nominee Hugo had top honors in 2011. While it isn’t a science fiction movie in itself, Hugo is a spellbinding love letter to imaginative and otherworldly stories. For me, it was far and away the most enjoyable film of the year.

2010 Best Picture Nominations

  • The King’s Speech
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids are All Right
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone


Just give ‘em the damn Oscar: Inception

Certainly The King’s Speech was a worthy film, but of the films listed above, Inception is the only one that subsequently became a verb. Inception may also go down in history as one of the most influential movies of the 2010’s, with its photo-realistic effects and retro-cool vibe. It will also mark the dawn of the reign of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Some day, our kids will laugh at us when we say he used to be a dweeb on TV.

2009 Best Picture Nominations

  • The Hurt Locker
  • Avatar
  • The Blind Side
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Precious
  • A Serious Man
  • Up
  • Up in the Air

star trek-2009

Add: Star Trek

It seemed inevitable that James Cameron would get a nod for Avatar, but in the first year the Oscars expanded the number of best picture nominees, certainly it makes more sense to recognize Star Trek than A Serious Man. While I genuinely believe Up was the best film of 2009 (yes, the balloon movie), no Star Trek film has ever been nominated for best picture, and J.J. Abrams’ contribution was certainly the best Trek in years.

2008 Best Picture Nominations

  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader

The Dark Knight

Add: The Dark Knight

Seriously. Benjamin Button? Remember how I said that Inception was influential? Forget it – The Dark Knight got even the most comic-bashing critics on board with Batman, and led to five years’ worth of science fiction and comic films so dark that you literally can’t see them on your screen unless you have an LED and a Blu-ray.

Tonight, I might go to sleep well before the producers of this year’s best picture stand up to give their speeches. I know that the winner is likely to be a predictable pick: Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, or if the Academy is feeling particularly unorthodox, Silver Linings Playbook. But if Joss Whedon decides to just storm the stage in a Hulk costume, will someone please wake me?


  • Porcu Peth

    Avengers sucked.

  • ScarlettMi

    Too short! You should do one for every year of the Oscars.

  • Alex

    I liked Avengers but I’d never give it an oscar for anything but special effects (which it’s nominated for anyway).  Only ones I would say are oscar-worthy are Inception and Dark Knight.

  • Mister1

    Add: These awards are rigged too.

  • Kevin Chiat

    Winner is going to be Argo based on it’s performance in the lead-up awards, which has it’s own SF connections (including a blink and you’ll miss is Jack Kirby cameo). I’d much rather dump Precious or The Blind Side from the 2009 nominees before A Serious Man, which had it’s own fantastical elements to it (as well as being a great black comedy). 

  • hashahasha

    Except a couple things: as a movie, Looper was way better than Avengers; Star Trek kinda sucked; Harry Potter?

  • Gangreenous

    I can’t believe how there was an actual sci-fi or fantasy film already in every year, that kinda blew my mind. 2012 Life of Pi (fantasy), 2011 Midnight in Paris (fantasy) Tree of Life (sci-fi/fantasy), 2010 Black Swan (fantasy/horror) Inception (sci-fi), 2009 Avatar (sci-fi), 2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (fantasy). Thats kinda cool the Oscars may be snobs but at least the genre snobbing has lightened.

  • Yorick

    “certainly it makes more sense to recognize Star Trek than A Serious Man”

    This is a joke, right?

  • Fury

    Star Trek was crap.

    if anything other the FX work deserved an oscar from Trek, it’s Sir Patrick Stewart in First Contact.

    and setting aside all the Bay Hate, I will never understand how Transformers lost the 2007 VFX oscar to Golden Compass. Real-looking believable robots turning into vvehicles lose to a fucking talking polar bear? COME ON.

  • Shaun

    Boy, I’ve got to disagree here. Of all the films you name, only Inception – maybe – is really worth being nominated for Best Picture. This has nothing to do with the academy “liking” or “not liking” SF. The films you list were good popcorn movies, but that’s it. Doing well at the box office is no measure/indcation of artistic merit. Look at The Transformers movies. The Avengers, for example, really wasn’t that good a film. I saw it twice and, the second time, was surprised by how bad I found it. The Dark Knight is alright, but it is not really in the category of truly great films. This is not to say that the Oscars gets it right with the films it nominates or ultimately rewards. But that is a different issue. 

  • Axel Rauschmayer

    Missing: Looper.

  • HED

    2009’s Best Picture really should have been District 9

  • Bill Keir

    I agree five years is a pretty unambitious scope. And though for some years since 1929 the pickings would be lean, someone with a sense of cinematic history should be able to do this from, say, 1950 onwards. Or at least from 1968. Looking forward to the expansion!

  • Dfc2896

    How so? I’m calling you out, I’m really curious on why you think so.

  • Dfc2896

    I’m not calling you out, stupid typo

  • Todd Matthy

    Why do the critics and the Academy look down on Science Fiction/Fantasy? You can still tell deep human drama with a cyborg as your main character.

  • thebudman2008

    Avengers wasn’t one of the 10 best films of the year, everybody seeing a movie doesn’t make it good, Inception was better than The King’s Speech but not The Social Network and lastly, something being a science fiction film doesn’t make it better than other films.

  • theduck

    OK, we all have our opinions, and I think The Avengers was one of the best comics-based movies ever. But since yours is the minority opinion, what didn’t you like about it?

  • Collex

    Titanic was NOT a summer film, it was released in December. 

    And Inception was already a verb, just an obscure one. And Black Swan was much, much better.

  • JozefAL

    “It’s also not unheard-of for the Oscars to reward a blockbuster summer film (think of Titanic in 1997)”

    Except, you know, Titanic opened in DECEMBER of 1997.  Hardly what you’d call “blockbuster summer film.”  It was INTENDED to open in July of 1997, but Cameron wasn’t finished (which he’d announced to the studio in April of that year).

  • Michael Payton

    Star Trek never got the nod because they nominated Dances with Smurfs AND District 9 that year.

  • Mark S.

    There are enough politics when it comes to awards without the academy trying to pander to the public for ratings. It’s really supposed to be an industry award, and it wouldn’t make sense to reflect the interests of the public. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for. Avengers being good in its genre isn’t really enough of a reason for a nom. But The Dark Knight and Inception were hailed as great films, not just great films for genre films. They deserved a nod. It’s true that the academy could expand on its idea of what a great film is, but they shouldn’t do so just to please the public or to get them to watch. The academy should do it, because they understand diversity of aesthetic is always good for art. Just give the people a great host.

  • Andy E. Nystrom

    Well, the Oscars themselves have been guilty at times of rewarding over-hyped movies (Erin Brockovich was a decent time passer and deserves to be acknowledged as such but it wasn’t Best Picture quality). In terms of movies from last year that I consider Oscar worthy, the one fantasy movie I felt was snubbed (and I did see Looper and the time travel logic didn’t work for me) was Cabin in the Woods. It works as satire, horror, and visual feast. The first half of the movie hints at the second half but I wasn’t expecting it to go as far down the road of the second half as it does. I’m shocked it didn’t get nominated in any category at all.

  • Davey

    A nod to the Abram’s Star Trek? Seriously?! It was disheartening to see the reboot of one of the world’s greatest sci-fi franchises veer so far from everything that made the original movies so great. It boggles the mind that this movie received so much praise at the time of its release. Take away the promising opening 15 minutes set on earth and the fleshing-out of Spock’s backstory and you’re left with nothing sans a CGI-riddled, midly entertaining flick. The much-maligned new Star Wars trilogy at least had some pathos to compensate for its wooden actors and excessive CGI.

  • Dan C.

    The article doesn’t go back quite far enough to cover the Best Picture win for Return of the King in 2003. The Oscars will play nice with fantasy and science-fiction so long as the stories capture the appeal of a sweeping historical drama, one of the sanctioned genres of awards season, along with the inspirational biopic. The real surprise is that the nominations listed here already include more fantasy pieces than you might guess, even if most of it is a shade artsier than Batman. The real exclusion is not fantasy…it’s fan-powered franchises. And those are different things.

    Besides which, it would be a tragedy if comic-book movies drifted farther toward the kind of circular prestige product that the Oscars reward. The trick to recognizing science-fiction films as art is not to ask them to behave like a bunch of movies that look artsy-but-not-too-artsy to a voting body of producers.

  • Marquez

    I don’t think The Avengers is Oscar material. IMHO, it’s just a well-executed but pretty formulaic superhero story. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, really deserved The Best Picture Award.

  • Roblee

    Neither the Avengers, Potter nor Star Trek can hold a candle to the nominees in their respective years. A best picture isn’t just about if you liked it. It’s about the whole package, and none of those films are the whole Package. Further, amongst each year’s nominees there are sci-fi fantasy in each and every batch. Before an article climbs on top of an apple crate, perhaps the writer should view each of the films they are talking about….

  • Peggy

     Agreed.  I enjoyed The Avengers, but I loved Looper.  It was so smart, clever, well put together, and (I thought) well acted, too.  I’m disappointed that it didn’t at least get a screenplay nom.

  • Rob

    How are they rigged? The voting method is available to the public. Peers nominate films and then vote. Oh! Maybe Warner Bros. sends in a team of ninjas who intercept the votes and replaces all of the winners!

  • KeyWil

    I’d pick Looper over The Avengers, and I loved The Avengers.

  • Sandinista

    I agree with Porcu. The Avengers was one of the most overpraised films in film history. I mean…93% on Rotten Tomatoes? Are you serious?? According to Rotten Tomatoes it was better than Inception (86%) , The Fellowship of the Ring (92%) and Munich (78%). That’s pretty insane. 

    It wasn’t even better than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. 

    The Avengers was a perfectly safe summer action film. It was a super-hero Transformers. It was riddled with cliches and plot-holes. Unlike say Nolan…who used his films about Batman to take the comics to their logical conclusion Whedon just regurgitated the comics onto the screen. 

    If you want to see how the Avengers film could’ve been a masterpiece read Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. Millar gets it. He took the Avengers and put them in a hyper-realistic world and made it work. THAT’s what live action films are for. 

  • Sandinista

    Nope. District 9 is vastly overrated. Anyone born before say 1988 can see how it shamelessly rips off both “Alien Nation” and “The X-Files”.  Mind you…District 9 was good…but not the original masterpiece its fans make it out to be. The best sci-fi film of 2009 was a tie between two misunderstood masterpieces: Pandorum and Knowing. 

  • JesterCK

    The only movies you mentioned that are anywhere near worthy to be considered Best Picture are Inception (which was nominated) and Dark Knight (the omission of which was a major reason in the Academy expanding BP noms to more than five).  There is a huge difference between an entertaining movie and an exceptional film.

  • Son_Of_Dad

     YOU suck, dummy.

  • Son_Of_Dad

     You really cannot compare a superhero blockbuster with a psychological superhero drama. Its just not in the same vein. Yes, they both involve people in extravagant costumes who decide to (basically) become vigilantes, but for all of my love and praise for Nolans ability to make Batman totally believable, Avengers fulfilled my boyhood fantasy and that was that it did something DC dares not do with Justice League…and that is assembling a group of stand alone colorful comic book icons onto one screen.

    That, in itself should be rewarded.

    And please, Sandinista…call it “blockbuster” or “cheesy” all you like, but never degrade AVangers by calling it Michael Bays: Transformers 2 hour product placement commercial for the U.S. Military and Chevy. I had a wet dream seeing Hulk, Cap and the gang gathered on one screen. With Transformers, my teenage dreams were crushed under explosions with a plot buried beneath the rubble.

  • Renenarciso

    There is not really a bias against sci-fi/fantasy in the academy, there is actually a bias against any kind of movie that doesn’t fit into the three genres that the academy has traditionally rewarded: historical epics, contemporary dramas dealing with major issues, and, strangely enough, musicals.

    If your movie doesn’t fit into any of those categories, then you’re out of luck. Not only sci-fi and fantasy, but the academy also hasn’t been too kind to horror, comedy, action movies, cop movies, suspense, crime, thriller, western, war movies. Once in a while one of those will win, but that is the exception. I’d say, they win only 20% of the times.