When Will the Oscars Finally Give Horror Its Due?


Take another look at this year's Oscars nominations. Notice something, aside from the overdue Michelle Yeoh love? There isn't a single horror film among them. This isn't new. Only six films in the genre have ever been nominated for Best Picture: The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and Get Out. Only three actors have ever won an Oscar for their scary-movie performances: Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Kathy Bates in Misery, and Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby.

Now, today's Academy Awards, we have another crop of fantastic horror flicks that were turned down at the door. Barbarian and Pearl were multimillion-dollar successes, while some Best Picture nominees didn't even break even. To put this disparity in context, The Fabelmans, which is up for seven Academy Awards this year, was reportedly made on a $40 million budget—and only took in roughly $35 million at the box office worldwide. Meanwhile, the Airbnb-booking-gone-horribly-wrong indie film, Barbarian, cost $4.5 million to make, and grossed nearly $45 million. Don't even get me started on M3GAN's triumphs. We live in a time where any successful film at the box office is viewed as saving the movies, yet the horror fans who show up to theaters, again and again, are told by the Academy that the films they love hardly matter.

So, what would it take for Academy voters to give horror a chance? Let’s look at Get Out, Jordan Peele's superb 2018 directorial debut—and the last horror film to win an Academy Award. (Get Out took home the trophy for Best Original Screenplay.) But the victory wasn't easy. Jason Blum, the producer for Get Out and founder of Blumhouse Productions, told Screen Daily at the time that the studio "encountered a lot [of prejudice]" while trying to market the film as a potential Oscar winner. "I think there’s still a good section of the Academy that dismisses horror, no matter what the movie is," Blum said. "There’s a group of them who will not vote for, or even watch, a scary movie."


Before the Academy Awards ceremony that year, voters polled by Vulture flat-out described their distaste for Get Out as a nominee. One voter called it a "popcorn movie," while another stated that they "wouldn’t vote for Jordan Peele to win Best Director over Christopher Nolan simply to avoid [the #OscarsSoWhite] controversy." I haven’t even brought the subject of race into the prejudice against Get Out yet, but you can see the Academy's then-largely-white voter base poking through. As one anonymous, horror-loving voter revealed, they were shocked to learn that many longtime Academy members weren't afraid to say that they "had not even seen it."

If anyone thinks fans will flock to M3GAN 2.0 because they believe it has Oscars chances, then they live in another universe.

A prestige horror renaissance immediately followed, gifting us gems such as Hereditary, It, and A Quiet Place over the next few years. In 2019, the Academy couldn't ignore Ari Aster's Hereditary—which featured an all-time Toni Collette performance—right? Right?! It did. Likewise, the Academy shut out both of Peele’s follow-ups, 2019's Us and this past year's Nope. Along with Nope, Barbarian, and Pearl, this year's Academy Awards also shunned Bodies Bodies Bodies and The Menu. Each film offered much more than jump scares, but the Academy was having none of it.

A week after the latest Academy Award nominations were announced, Pearl star Mia Goth spoke to Jake’s Takes, discussing the Academy's long-lasting issue with horror films. "I think that it’s very political," Goth said about the Oscars nominations process. "It’s not entirely based on the quality of a project per se. There’s a lot going on there and a lot of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to nominations. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I think that’s true. I think a lot of people know that." If anyone should know, it's Goth, who previously starred in X and Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria. The newest scream queen has gripped horror fandom—and is an unofficial spokesperson for the future of the genre. She was also mesmerizing in Pearl, by the way—holding a smile without blinking for roughly eight minutes during the film's hypnotizing credits scene. "A change is necessary," she stated. "A shift should take place if they wanted to engage with the wider public. I think it would be of benefit."

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A shift, you say? Let's talk about what that would take. For starters, look at the Academy's voting base. When you imagine an Academy voter, you most likely think of an older, out of touch, mummy of a guy—afraid of the rising popularity of spooky box-office blockbusters and popular indie horror flicks like a boogeyman hiding underneath the bed. Trolling tweets from fans demanding that M3GAN win Best Picture keep them up at night, like trees branch scraping at their windows! Well, you wouldn’t be too far off.

2016’s Get Out seemed like the perfect fix to decades of Academy ignorance, but both of Jordan Peele’s follow-ups—2019’s Us and this past year’s Nope—were completely shut out from the Oscars.

Photo by COURTESY.

A 2014 Los Angeles Times survey found that the average age among voters was 63 years old. Men made up 76% of the voting base—and a staggering 94% of them were white. Historically, the Academy’s voting base has acted very much like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, crankily judging anyone and everyone from afar. In 2021, the Academy invited 395 new members, boasting stats that 46 percent of the new voting base were women and 39% were people of color. It's an improvement, sure. And yes, Everything Everywhere All at Once duly has a colossal amount of nominations, and Best Supporting Actress features more women of color than ever before—but we’re still looking at what is largely the same voter base demographically, if you do the math. Not only do diversity issues continue to persist today, but the Academy is also under an internal investigation regarding potential vote solicitation that may have led to Andrea Riseborough's shocking Best Actress nomination. That said, among all of the Academy's other issues, its treatment of horror films might just amount to a bump in the night. At least for voters.


So what's a horror auteur to do? Well, they may just get weird. Take Ari Aster. After creating damn near masterpieces in Hereditary and Midsommar—and again, having few accolades to show for it—he's seemingly moving outside of horror. His upcoming film, the Joaquin Phoenix-starring Beau is Afraid, looks like a surreal, interdimensional trip akin to this year’s oddball frontrunner, Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Either way, horror fanatics won't stop going to the movies just because Hereditary wasn’t up for Best Picture the same year that Green Book won the coveted award. If anyone thinks fans will flock to M3GAN 2.0 because they believe it has Oscars chances, then they live in another universe. A better, more inclusive universe that loves all different kinds of movies, but not ours! Until we get there, I’ll be screaming. Not just because I’m furious at the Academy, but because that’s what a good horror movie makes you do.

FromEsquire US

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Josh Rosenberg
Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his work can be found at Spin, Insider, Vibe, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.
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