Arthur C. Clarke once described sci-fi by saying, “Science fiction is something that could happen — but you usually wouldn’t want it to.” Sci-fi fans surely wish Clarke could have taken home an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his epic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Clarke was bested by Mel Brooks’s script for “The Producers,” and Stanley Kubrick lost Director to Carol Reed for “Oliver!” (though Kubrick did win Visual Effects), but the film nevertheless outperformed most science fiction stories by managing to show up in major categories. Even later classics of the genre like “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” and “The Matrix” were rarely allowed to compete in the top races. But the trend of ignoring these films in top Oscar contests has begun to change, and they could change even more in 2016.
Prior to 2009, you would have to go all the way back to “E.T.” in 1982 to find a true sci-fi Best Picture nominee. But after the Best Picture lineup was expanded from 5 to 10 nominees in 2009, more works from the genre broke into the top races, instead of settling for below the line citations or nothing at all. Last year was science fiction’s most nominated year in Academy Awards history, thanks to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “Ex Machina,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Combined, these films racked up a whopping 24 nominations and seven wins. It helped that both “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Martian” were Best Picture nominees.
This year sci-fi fans will look for the academy to embrace “Arrival,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and “Passengers.” Paramount’s “Arrival” appears to offer the best hope for the genre. According to Gold Derby’s combined odds, the surprisingly profound alien flick is expected to land nominations for Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. It is also on the bubble in several other categories including Actress (Amy Adams), Director (Denis Villeneuve), Film Editing, and Sound Mixing.
Neither “Rogue One” nor “Passengers” is expected to show up in Best Picture, but they could factor into below the line races. We’re predicting Disney’s “Star Wars” spinoff to show up in Visual Effects, Score, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. It also sits on the bubble for Production Design and Makeup and Hairstyling. “Passengers” is not a slam dunk in any category according to the current odds. But mega stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, as well as a holiday release window, could pull the film into the conversation. It is currently ranked in eighth place for a Visual Effects nomination and 11th for both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
If the Gold Derby combined odds hold true, science fiction will be represented with 10 nominations. If we include all the categories where these three films are contenders but not sure things, there are a potential 19 nominations to be had. That would be the second most Oscar nominations in a year for science fiction, behind last year’s Oscars and ahead of the 2009 Oscars.
In 2009 “Avatar” racked up an impressive nine nominations (including Best Picture) and three wins. Indie favorite “District 9” joined the Best Picture lineup as well, netting four nominations. J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” reboot also found four nominations, winning one of them. In total, this amounted to 17 nominations and four wins for the often disadvantaged genre.
The 2014 ceremony was another great year for sci-fi. Best Picture player “Gravity” was the biggest winner of the night, winning seven races out of its 10 nominations. Joaquin Phoenix vehicle “Her,” another Best Picture contender, had five nominations and one win. “Stark Trek Into Darkness” returned that franchise to the Oscars with one nomination. In total those films contributed 16 nominations and eight wins for science fiction.
2011 was the other year under the expanded Best Picture category to include a sci-fi film in Best Picture. Christopher Nolan’s trippy “Inception” had eight nominations with four wins. Coupled with the Sound Editing nomination for “Tron: Legacy,” science fiction had nine nominations and four wins.
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