It’s well known that most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards are realistic dramas, often about social issues or historical events. When you look at the films considered to be among the best of all-time, you usually see stuff like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and The Shawshank Redemption. These examples are all relatively realistic, dramatic works. Of course, there are a few genre films that rise to these levels, but they are few and far between, and when they do the Academy often recognizes them.
Even just looking at this year, they gave tons of nominations to two films that at the very least had strong horror influences, with Get Out getting 4 and Shape of Water getting 13, the most of any film. The science fiction movie Blade Runner 2049 got mostly technical nods but did get a cinematography nomination. I personally thought it should have gotten nominated for Best Picture, but I think missing out on it may have more to do with its financial failure than its genre, especially considering there was a sci-fi Best Picture nominee just last year in Arrival.
The superhero genre was even represented as Logan got in for Best Adapted Screenplay, but some thought it should have gotten in for Best Picture as well. I do think it’s better than a 1 or two of the actual Best Picture nominees, but I can think of several I’d put in before Logan, so I don’t think of this as a snub. A lot of people were calling for Wonder Woman to get a best pic nomination, but to me, that’s a bit silly.
It’s hard to think of too many superhero films over the years that got snubbed for Oscars. Obviously, The Dark Knight is the commonly cited example, but while it missed out on a Best Picture nod, it did get a major win in Best Supporting Actor and a Cinematography nomination among others. The Dark Knight has significant flaws and I can easily see not putting it in your top 5 of the year. And that’s one of the very few superhero movies that even comes close to a legitimate claim of being snubbed.
It’s true that horror films haven’t gotten a ton of Oscar love, but when they do excel they can get Best Picture nominations as we see with things like Jaws, The Exorcist and arguably The Sixth Sense and The Silence of the Lambs. Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, and Misery have gotten major nominations as well.
One notable horror snub was The Shining, but Kubrick was tragically underappreciated by the Academy in general, so I don’t know that you can blame that one on genre.
Similarly, Psycho surely should have been nominated in 1960, but Hitchcock also didn’t get the Oscar attention he deserved, especially after the 1940s and Psycho did get major nominations like Best Director and Supporting Actress. Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times, but three of those were in the 40s and never won despite being one of the most respected and influential directors ever.
His movies got nominated for Best Picture four times, but all four of those were in the 40s despite his most impactful work coming in the 50s and 60s. So Psycho missing out on a Best Picture nomination isn’t that odd as classics like North by Northwest and Vertigo did as well.
Even the most influential classic horror films like Halloween, The Omen, and Night of the Living Dead aren’t quite good enough to say the Academy completely disregarded them just because of the genre. Also, those movies gained a reputation over time, so these could just be one of the many examples of the Academy looking wrong with decades of hindsight.
And recent horror films like The Witch, The Babadook, and It Follows were all excellent, but again, not so good that it’s some great tragedy they were ignored during award season.
I think the fact that top-level actors, writers, and directors don’t often work on horror films is likely a much bigger factor in why they don’t get any Oscars than any bias the Academy might have.
A science fiction film has never won Best Picture but many have been nominated. It’s an absolute travesty that 2001 didn’t get at least nominated, but it was much more experimental than your typical Oscar fare and like The Shining it may have been more of a Kubrick thing than a genre thing.
Like with horror, a few of the classic science fiction films that are considered among the best movies ever did get a chance to compete for the top prize, including Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, and E.T. However, in recent years many more sci-fi movies have done so, including District 9, Avatar, and Her.
I also think that whatever bias does exist will likely disappear over time as younger Academy members are more used to genre films being mainstream.
Part of the reason the conventional wisdom regarding the Academy exists is because many more casual film fans focus more on blockbusters and may not have seen the smaller dramas that often get nominated. They may not have a complete understanding of just how difficult it is to get Oscar buzz and how stiff the competition often is.
They also may not realize how differently the various craftspeople that make up the academy view films and that they don’t just consider entertainment value.