This article marks Part 3 of the Gold Derby series reflecting on Horror Films at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at the spine-tingling movies that earned Academy Awards nominations, including the following films from the 1980s and 1990s.
On the heels of the lukewarm reception for “Alien” (1979), horror cinema still struggled to break through at the Oscars with the start of the 1980s.
Stanley Kubrick‘s “The Shining” (1980) was not voters’ cup of tea, though it did earn Razzie Award nominations in Worst Director and Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall). Likewise, Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” and Peter Medak’s “The Changeling,” both now considered horror classics, were not embraced at the Oscars.
The one 1980 horror film that did strike a chord was “Altered States,” the trippy collaboration of director Ken Russell and screenwriter Paddy Cheyefsky. It landed nominations in Best Original Score and Best Sound.
The following year marked the reception of a new Oscar category, Best Makeup. Twice before, to “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” (1964) and “Planet of the Apes” (1968), special honorary Oscars were awarded for achievement in makeup. Never before, however, had there been a competitive race. That changed here as two legends in the makeup field – Rick Baker and Stan Winston – faced off for their work on “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) and “Heartbeeps,” respectively. John Landis‘ “An American Werewolf in London” marked an intense, bloody horror-comedy, hardly traditional Oscar fare, yet on the big night, it emerged triumphant.
In 1982, voters did not recognize John Carpenter‘s remake of “The Thing” or George A. Romero and Stephen King‘s ”Creepshow.” They did, however, award a few technical nominations to Tobe Hooper‘s “Poltergeist,” which made appearances in Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects, all of which went to Steven Spielberg‘s “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.”
Wes Craven‘s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) was not, no surprise, the toast of the Oscars. Voters could not, however, resist that year’s second highest-grossing picture, the horror-comedy “Ghostbusters.” The film scored nominations in Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song.
It was not until 1986 that a horror film really made a significant dent at the Oscars in this decade.
While the first “Alien” did not much excite voters, James Cameron’s sequel “Aliens” received seven nominations, including bids in Best Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects, prevailing in the latter two categories.
Also in the running at the 59th Academy Awards was David Cronenberg‘s horrifying remake of “The Fly,” which won that year’s prize in Best Makeup. “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” scored a Best Visual Effects nomination, while the horror-musical-comedy “Little Shop of Horrors” landed bids in Best Original Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”) and Best Visual Effects.
The following year, George Miller‘s “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987) was a contender in Best Original Score and Best Sound, while 1988 saw Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice” take home honors in Best Makeup.
The genre got off to a strong start at the Oscars with the start of a new decade.
At the 63rd Academy Awards, Kathy Bates earned Best Actress honors for her riveting turn as Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of “Misery” (1990).
The following year marked the strongest performance for a horror film at the Oscars since “The Exorcist” (1973).
Despite an early release date in February and its horrifying subject matter, Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) became the third film in Oscar history to score the Big Five prizes – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). It remains the most recent picture to date to pull off this feat. The film also earned nominations in Best Film Editing and Best Sound.
Not to be overlooked in 1991 was also “The Addams Family,” which received a nomination in Best Costume Design.
On the heels of the grand success of “The Silence of the Lambs,” horror cinema surfaced exclusively in technical categories over the next few years.
Robert Zemeckis’ horror-comedy “Death Becomes Her” (1992) won honors in Best Visual Effects, while that same year’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, scored wins in Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Editing. The following year, “Addams Family Values” (1993) earned a nomination in Best Art Direction, while “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a contender in Best Visual Effects. Neither triumphed.
On his third career nomination, actor Martin Landau finally emerged triumphant for his scene-stealing turn as horror legend Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994). The film also scored the trophy for Best Makeup. That same year found “Interview with the Vampire” garnering nominations in Best Art Direction, Best Makeup and Best Original Score.
After four consecutive years of horror films having multiple Oscar bids, only one nomination was received in 1995 – for “Se7en” in Best Film Editing.
As the likes of “Scream” (1996) and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997) gave horror a big boost at the box office, the genre suddenly found itself without a presence at the Oscars. In 1998, it had at least some presence through Bill Condon’s “Gods and Monsters,” a look at the final, tragic days of “Frankenstein” (1931) director James Whale. Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actor (Ian McKellen), Best Supporting Actress (Lynn Redgrave) and Best Adapted Screenplay, it triumphed for Condon’s screenwriting.
Nearly a decade following “The Silence of the Lambs,” another horror film at last surfaced in the top category at the close of the decade.
M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999) was the recipient of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment), Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. While a box office phenomenon, the second highest-grossing film of the year, it did not go home with any awards on the big night. Luckier was Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow,” which earned the prize in Best Art Direction and was also a nominee in Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. The latest iteration of “The Mummy” was also an Oscar contender, nominated in Best Sound.