Top 10 Horror Film Successes At The Oscars

The Academy Awards has its favourite genres. Horror is not one of them. But every so often a horror film has achieved success at the Oscars. In fact, one in particular took home the “big five” of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist, William Friedkin, Top 10 Films,

If the way genre is represented at the Academy Awards was used to rank categories of film then horror would be at the bottom of the pile. Drama has accounted for most nominees and winners over the years with comedy and romance appearing as the Academy’s favoured genre ahead of biopics, war and history.

A horror film has to be truly special to rise above genre bias within the Oscar hierarchy. Those films most likely to win Best Picture are often serious dramas, or social problems films, or those inspired by real life events, or based on grand literary classics.

Horror has to resign itself to lining up behind action-adventure, science-fiction, superhero films, foreign language and children’s films and even then it’s most likely going to get trumped by an independent production displaying the tropes Oscar might like or a comedy with a A-list star performance.

So for the horror films that have achieved Oscar accolades, it goes without saying there must be something very special about them. Here’s ten that stand out…

10. Get Out (Peele, 2017)

Nominated for Best Picture and other awards

A film that defies distinction, Jordan Peele’s smart, satirical horror-comedy is a great example of the intelligence many movies of the genre possess but are given little credit for. Bringing together themes of race, identity and class into a fun Stepford Wives-style plot that features elements of science-fiction and horror, Get Out is memorable, in part, through its injection of refreshing contemporary social commentary into familiar genre tropes.

9. Aliens (Cameron, 1986)

Winner of Best Visual Effects and Sound Editing

Aliens, Alien Queen, Scary MothersAliens marked not only success for the horror genre but also, surprisingly, for sequels (not that the Academy was totally adverse to celebrating “parts twos” as The Godfather found out). One of those films that’s referred to as action-horror, action-fantasy, science-fiction and even war, Aliens isn’t standard fare. That’s what makes it so good. It captures the horror of Ridley Scott’s original and gives the monster a new stage and a different, more dynamic antagonist in the form of a military unit and its advisor, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

8. The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986)

Winner of Best Make-up

Top 10 Remakes That Are Better Than The Original MovieArguably David Cronenberg’s most accessible film is unsurprisingly one of the director’s most popular. It won for Best Make-up effects thanks to the stellar work of Chris Walas, along with make-up artist Stephan Dupuis. Their transformation of actor Jeff Goldblum from eccentric, good looking 30-something scientist into snot-spewing humanoid man-fly is incredibly compelling in its authenticity and downright gruesomeness.

7. Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)

Winner of Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score

Jaws, Steven Spielberg, Daniel Stephens, You're gonna need a bigger boat - Top 10 FilmsSteven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster changed the face of Hollywood. Its fitting that it triumphed at the Academy Awards in technical categories but given its roots in horror it’s perhaps less surprising it didn’t win Best Picture despite being nominated. Rumour has it that Spielberg was particularly perturbed that he failed to be nominated for Best Director. To be honest, I don’t blame him.

6. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962)

Winner of Best Costume Design

Top 10 Films of Joan Crawford - Whatever Happened to Baby JaneThis tour de force between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford – two actresses warring on and off screen – was nominated in multiple categories but won only for Costume Design. Both actresses deserved awards themselves, the film reigniting their careers following both critical and commercial success.

5. The Omen (Donner, 1976)

Winner of Best Score

Jerry Goldsmith’s work on Richard Donner’s The Omen is a huge reason why this very frightening horror film is so effective. Indeed, he received an additional nomination for Best Original Song for “Ave Satani”. It’s often intrigued me why – or how – The Omen is so devastating in its ability to get under your skin as the director would later become best known for action and comedy with films like Superman, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged and The Goonies. Taking nothing away from Donner’s ability to orchestrate some wonderful horror moments – the unforgettable severed head scene and the claustrophobic zoo attack – but Goldsmith’s score is a big part of the film’s success.

4. Misery (Reiner, 1990)

Winner of Best Actress

Kathy Bates, MiseryKathy Bates deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for her role here as Annie Wilkes, the obsessive fan of writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who she kidnaps and keeps locked in a bedroom while he writes her a new novel. From the mind of horror maestro Stephen King, Rob Reiner’s incredibly taut thriller features one of the genre’s most memorable sequences when Wilkes, believing her captive is getting out of his room, breaks his legs with a sledgehammer. Bates’ manic psychosis is tempered by moments of quiet introspection making this character a multi-dimensional and rather fascinating villain.

3. An American Werewolf In London (Landis, 1981)

Winner of Best Make-up and Hairstyling

Griffin Dunne, American Werewolf In London, John Landis, Werewolf, comedy, horror,A film worthy of praise for its confident and pioneering use of horror and comedy, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London has a lot going for it. But the make-up effects stand out, not least because this pre-CGI period of filmmaking meant the onus was on the special effects wizards to create some startling graphic horror including what remains the best ever werewolf transformation scene in the history of film. Rick Baker’s star-making work to turn a man from human to beast set him on a path of further screen success and laid the foundations to becoming one of Hollywood’s finest make-up effects artists.

2. The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)

Nominated for Best Picture and winner of Best Screenplay and Sound Editing

Damien Karras, Jason Miller, William Friedkin, The Exorcist, Top 10 Films, American Horror,Perhaps what’s most shocking is that the Academy failed to bestow the Best Actress Oscar upon Linda Blair for her staggering performance in William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Exorcist. Still, the film is distinguished by the fact it was the first horror film to achieve a Best Picture nomination and while it didn’t win, it did pick up gongs for Best Screenplay and Best Sound Design.

1. The Silence Of The Lambs (Demme, 1991)

Winner of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay

Silence of the Lambs, Lector, Anthony Hopkins - Top 10 FilmsThe most successful horror film in Oscar history, The Silence of the Lambs is based on Thomas Harris’ crime thriller about an incarcerated cannibalistic psychiatrist helping an FBI trainee capture a serial killer. Jonathan Demme’s screen adaptation brings together the suspense of a police procedural in the midst of a mysterious killing rampage with the legacy story of a former murderer whose relationship blossoms through his interaction with a young, idealistic female federal agent desperate to crack the case. There are hints of horror here, not least the moment Sir Anthony Hopkins as Dr Lecter masterminds his bloody escape from prison. Still, the only horror film to have won Best Picture.

Over to you: what are your fave horror films to have triumphed at the Oscars?

Written and Compiled by Dan Stephens

Discover More:
Top 10 Best Supporting Actors Who Were Completely Snubbed By The Academy Awards
Top 10 Oscar-Winning Directors Who Should Have Won Years Earlier
11 Academy Award Best Actor Nominees Who Should Have Won The Oscar
Top 10 Times The Oscars Picked The Right Best Picture
Top 10 Films To Be Snubbed For Best Picture At The Oscars
16 Stunningly Photographed American Films That Were Completely Snubbed By The Academy Awards

This top 10 list was written as part of the 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon organised by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen and Outspoken and Freckled.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) Reply

    Being a horror fan of the classic school, it irks me that Boris Karloff never got a dinner.

    So much of what draws us to movies, and what makes them great is often ignored by the people that we expect should know better.

    • Dan Reply

      Karloff is a great example of how the genre is often brushed under the carpet when it comes to the Academy Awards.

  2. Jay Reply

    It’s not a long list – clearly horrors and some other genre films have to be truly exceptional to be noticed, head and shoulders above more Oscar-friendly dramas.

  3. Silver Screenings Reply

    I haven’t seen every film on this list, but the ones I have seen are definitely worth of Oscar attention.

    I agree with Caftan Woman’s statement above re: Boris Karloff. I know it’s a little late now to be so indignant, but COME ON!

  4. Callum Reply

    Great top 10! All these films are worthy of their Oscar recognition!

  5. The Gal Herself Reply

    What about The Shape of Water? I thought it was a visually very beautiful horror movie. I guess these categories can be more fluid than rigid. I mean, couldn’t Misery also be a crime drama?

    I wish Vincent Price would get more critical love. No less an expert on acting than Richard Burton admitted that he was trying to emulate Vincent Price for the part of Bluebeard and that said actor was the master of ‘immense tongue in cheek.’ There’s a joy in Price’s performances that I don’t get from Lugosi or Lee.

    Thanks for a thought provoking Oscar post. Here’s my contribution to the blogathon.

  6. Dan Grant Reply

    Terrific top ten Dan.

    You know how I feel about Jaws and Spielberg not being nominated is one of the most egregious omissions in Oscar history.

    I also feel Halloween was far and away the best picture of 78 as was Aliens in 86. But I digress.

    Rick Baker is a legend and it’s good to see him snag one for American Werewolf.

    Bates was just awesome.

    Great piece!

  7. Aurora Reply

    I’ve been wanting to do something on the horror of Oscar for years and haven’t gotten around to it. At least your list reminds us of a few positives for the genre. Thanks again for a terrific post.


  8. Chris Reply

    Nice to be reminded by your post that the academy sometimes do nominate horror. Definitely a good year for the genre with the likes of Get Out and Mother. In 2017, Killing of a Sacred Deer and Thelma also impressed me and I would label those horror mysteries as well.

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