A horror film’s chances of snagging an Academy Award basically begins and ends with the fact that it’s a horror movie. For some reason, there’s a serious bias against the guts and gore when it comes to cinema’s biggest award ceremony. Perhaps it’s because, at a quick glance, the vast majority of horror films seem like jump scare montages meant to capture a quick buck.
However, there have been legitimate horror greats through the years that the Academy has recognized. The Exorcist was the first true horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. The Silence of the Lambs swept every major Oscar category in 1991. You could also make the case that Best Picture nominees like The Sixth Sense and Black Swan are horror movies as well. But that’s a small number when you think about the many eligible horror movies that have been woefully overlooked.
Here are a handful of horror classics that deserved a shot at a Best Picture nomination.
8. The Fly (1986)
Only David Cronenberg’s signature body horror could make a horribly deformed scientist-turned-grotesque-fly into a sympathetic character. Maybe Jeff Goldblum had something to do with that too. Science-gone-wrong movies are easy, but this genre remake manages to be both a classic monster flick throwback and vital AIDS allegory to boot. That Cronenberg pulled it off is a minor miracle itself, and made it worthy of some Best Picture love.
7. Alien (1979)
The shadowy special effects are great, and they rightfully won that Oscar. But Alien is so much more than its spaceships and monster suits. Beyond its haunted-house-in-space aesthetic, it followed The Exorcist’s lead in elevating its genre beyond cheap scares. There’s a creeping sense of dread that pervades Alien, punctuated by moments of ultraviolence like its infamous chest-bursting scene. It haunts you and makes you cheer for Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ellen Ripley all at the same time.
6. 28 Days Later (2002)
The Walking Dead reaps all the benefits now, but the zombie trend was rebooted with Danny Boyle’s bleak and brilliant tale of an undead outbreak in the British isles. Boyle’s zombie movie emphasizes its socially conscious themes of class and prejudice in the middle of all the gore, and it preceded the digital film boom by being shot on consumer grade technology. Plus, it introduced the world to Cillian Murphy.
5. Carrie (1976)
Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie earned Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations for their performances in Carrie, which is no small feat for a horror film in the late 1970s. Brian De Palma’s Stephen King adaptation is most known for its climactic prom sequence, but the movie is worth more than just a bucket of pig’s blood. It makes even the most confident viewer horrifically anxious about something we’ve all had to go through: adolescence.
4. The Shining (1980)
Instead of getting the Best Picture nomination The Shining deserved, it got director Stanley Kubrick and star Shelley Duvall Razzie Award nominations for Worst Director and Worst Actress, respectively. Is that anyway to treat a movie that is the cinematic embodiment of pure, claustrophobic insanity? The Shining had a lot working against it. Author Stephen King hated Kubrick’s version of his novel, and Kubrick’s talents were questioned after the lackluster reception of another reevaluated classic, 1975’s Barry Lyndon. Decades later, it’s an unquestionable Best Picture shoe-in.
3. The Thing (1982)
Notoriously overlooked as too depressing when it was released in 1982, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing has since emerged as a true classic. Its unfurling pace shows what a group of scientists do after discovering an alien ship crashed near their remote Arctic outpost. What happens is an unnerving look at what paranoia can do to strong minds told using only the best and most disgusting practical effects.
2. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Films that are artsy on purpose usually never get over their snobbery, but Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is the exception to the rule. The somber story of a married couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who move to Venice to grieve over the accidental death of their daughter features one of the most surreal endings of all time. Moving to Italy won’t let their demons simply disappear. The movie also shows that you don’t need blood, guts, and gore to be truly horrific.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s deeply unsettling foray into the psychological nightmares of motherhood nabbed a nomination for Polanski’s screenplay, and Ruth Gordon won Best Supporting Actress for her absurdist role as Rosemary’s nosey satanic neighbor. We would’ve settled for a Best Actress nom for Mia Farrow’s turn as the titular character. But the movie itself deserved a top nomination because of its slow-burn themes of possible evil lurking next door, or within.