When it comes to the Academy Awards™, there’s an annual elephant in the room for grimdark nerds like us:
Will any horror, sci-fi or fantasy films get Oscar™ noms/wins outside of the obligatory costume, sound, and visual effects categories this year?
You don’t need to tell us that fantasy, science fiction and horror all deserve a fair shot at the Academy Awards. But for the vanilla world, it’s a different story. Therefore, every single nomination and win is a huge boost for genre filmmaking to receive the support it deserves to create quality films alongside mainstream and arthouse movies.
With the 94th Academy Awards™ happening on Sunday, March being International Women’s Month, and Women in Horror Month, let’s celebrate four women (and a few highly honorable mentions) who’ve taken fantasy, sci-fi and horror to the Oscars.
1. Dame Fran Walsh: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Sometimes it feels like Peter Jackson is given more credit than Fran, but only because she has chosen to be the more private one in this genre filmmaking power couple.
Along with best direction and best adapted screenplay, did you know that Dame Fran Walsh also won an Oscar (alongside Howard Shore and Annie Lennox) for the award-winning song, “Into the West?” Now you do.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was not only the first ever fantasy film to win Best Picture, it remains the only fantasy film to win. It also has the highest number of perfect wins, with 11/11 Academy Awards that historic year.
2. Kathy Bates: Misery
As I’ve been featuring Academy Award-winning or nominated genre films in my newsletter over the last couple of months (shameless plug: sign up, because we have a lot of fun in there!), it hasn’t surprised me to discover that many an adapted Stephen King novel turns to Oscar gold.
Enter Kathy Bates as the iconic Annie Wilkes in Misery. Kathy was the first woman to ever receive the Best Actress Oscar for a horror film, paving the way for more women in horror to get a seat at the table alongside the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Meryl Streep.
3. Octavia Spencer: The Shape of Water
Speaking of Oscar gold, Guillermo del Toro, nominated this year for Nightmare Alley, is another genre filmmaker that gets a lot of love at the Academy Awards, and for this, we “stan” the man.
A multiple Academy Award nominee herself, the role of Zelda in The Shape of Water was written specifically for Octavia Spencer. Guillermo del Toro created this powerful supporting character as a mashup of Spencer’s two prior Oscar-nominated roles, Hidden Figures and The Help.
Spencer has said in interviews that she “would have walked the entire Earth” to work with Guillermo. (Same, Octavia, same).
She has also spoken about how with the main characters in The Shape of Water being mute, it was groundbreaking to make the supporting characters—a closeted gay man and a Black woman—literally be their voice, especially in the 1960s, a time when LGBTQ and Black people experienced incredibly harsh oppression.
4. Natalie Portman: Black Swan
Black Swan has that superb Darren Aronofsky trademark combination of horror, psychological thriller, and depending on your sense of cinematic wonder, fractured sexual fairytale.
If you feel like Natalie Portman’s dancing is incredibly convincing, that’s because Natalie is indeed doing the lion’s share—85%—of the ballet sequences.
She absolutely threw herself into the role, earning all of that year’s awards circuit for Best Actress, including the Oscars. Working like a leading lady in an epic fantasy film with tons of battle scenes, Portman dislocated a rib, sustained a concussion, took on The Ballerina Diet (aka starved herself), and kept injuring her left toe, which the cast and crew nicknamed Natalie’s “Portmantoe.”
Ballet is grimdark, y’all.
Highly Honorable Mentions:
Ellen Burstyn, nominated for Best Actress – The Exorcist
Linda Blair, nominated for Best Supporting Actress – The Exorcist
Sissy Spacek, nominated for Best Actress – Carrie
Piper Laurie, nominated for Best Supporting Actress – Carrie
Linda Dillon, nominated for Best Supporting Actress – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Ruth Gordon, won Best Supporting Actress – Rosemary’s Baby
Jodi Foster, won Best Actress – The Silence of the Lambs
Toni Collette, nominated for Best Supporting Actress – The Sixth Sense
Sandra Bullock, nominated for Best Actress – Gravity
Sally Hawkins, nominated for Best Actress – The Shape of Water
Vanessa Taylor, nominated for Best Original Screenplay (co-writer) – The Shape of Water