Contrary to popular belief, the horror genre isn’t dead to the Academy. Even though most genre films tend to get overshadowed come Oscar night, there’s no need for any sentiments of “abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Horror, science fiction, and fantasy often take a backseat to stereotypical Oscar bait, but period dramas and war epics hardly have a monopoly on awards season. They’re few and far between, but every so often, horror films pull off a real-life twist ending, not just earning an Oscar nomination, but ultimately winning the gold. These bloody, sleep-wrecking sheets of celluloid haven’t just managed to crawl under audiences’ skin, but bolster a particular type of pedigree which the Academy feeds on like the bloodthirsty cinephile vampires they are.
Not that anyone’s complaining. For all the crap that the Academy is given over their sometimes insufferable penchant for often snubbing more deserving films, they sometimes pull through. Every now and then, they do a solid for all the worthy motion picture monsters. So, just in case the Oscars are dead to you, it won’t hurt giving them credit where it’s due. Keep reading to check out 16 Horror Movies That Won Oscars.
To truly gauge what sort of horror films a person likes, you only need to ask them this one question: “Alien or Aliens?” These films both exist in the same cinematic universe, and one follows directly after the other, but they still represent two very different sub-genres within horror.
On one hand, you’ve got the Ridley Scott-directed claustrophobic slow burn that is Alien, and on the other hand, you’ve got the James Cameron-directed shoot ’em up creature feature that is Aliens (note the pluralization). They’re both master classes in horror, and apart from differing in pace and tone, they were officially recognized by the Academy for their technical achievements. They both received an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, while Aliens tipped the scale with a win for Sound Editing.
15. Sleepy Hollow
Even though Tim Burton is one of the more hit-or-miss filmmakers in modern cinema, his visual appetite has always been consistent (if not spoiled at times by the abandonment of practical effects, but that’s a topic for another time). When it comes to eye candy, Burton is king. Between films like Beetlejuice and Big Fish, his trademark style has never faltered.
However, it was with Sleepy Hollow that he introduced some gold into his typically grim palette — and even though other Burton films have earned Oscar wins in the past, Sleepy Hollow is considerably the most horror-centric within his filmography (Beetlejuice is first and foremost a comedy, Sweeney Todd a musical). So, even though Burton doesn’t always come out as strong as most fans would like him to, he did a hell of a job bringing Washington Irving’s story to life. Sleepy Hollow received an Oscar for Best Art Direction.
14. Rosemary’s Baby
In a nutshell, Rosemary’s Baby is about a woman pregnant with Satan’s baby. However, where the horror truly dwells is within the characters surrounding the titular hero, Rosemary (Mia Farrow). Between her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and her pushy neighbors, Roman and Minnie (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, respectively), the real terror in this particular film is human.
Ruth, in particular, seems harmless enough at first, but audiences are quick to discover that something isn’t quite right. Between her strange gifts and medical recommendations, it’s obvious enough that she’s got some ulterior motives, and it’s through Gordon’s portrayal of the character that it all works as well as it does. You hate this woman, but at the same time, you know this character. You’ve met different versions of her throughout your whole life, which makes it easier to understand why Rosemary would let her hang around for as long as she does. Gordon received an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for this portrayal.
13. The Fly
Of all the cringe-inducing visuals that exist in horror films, The Fly easily takes the cake. Skin is melting away, body parts are falling off, vomit is spilling out of Jeff Goldblum’s mouth… It’s horrendous. But at the same time, it’s a cocktail of solid technical achievements. Seeing as how David Cronenberg has always been keen on audiences who squirm and wince, it’s no wonder that The Fly is as gruesome as it is. That’s why it works. That’s why audiences remember it so vividly. That’s why most people take no issue in swatting flies as casually as they do.
In visual horror terms, The Fly is a masterpiece. Audiences remember it for Goldblum’s performance and for Cronenberg’s disturbing approach, but it’s the visuals that truly steal the show. The film received an Oscar for Best Makeup — which should come as a relief to anyone who watched The Fly as a kid, afraid that all of the effects on screen might have been real…
Misery is one of the rare Stephen King adaptations that actually works. Solid though his stories may be, translating King to the screen has been a recipe for disaster more often than not. With that being said, however, when his adaptations work, their success is no accident. They’re products of perfect recipes, in terms of story, directing, acting, etc. So, when you have Kathy Bates, James Caan, (’80s/’90s) Rob Reiner, and Stephen King, it’s no wonder it works.
As a whole, Misery sets a precedent for isolated, claustrophobic horror, but when you dig deeper, the main draw to the film is through Bates as the story’s antagonist, Annie Wilkes. There’s no monster. No fantasy elements. Just a devoted lunatic. Kathy Bates received an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her career-best work.
Making a movie truly scary relies on two major components: editing and sound. If the movie isn’t cut together properly, it risks butchering the suspense, and if the sound isn’t right, then wasted scares ultimately pay the price. With Jaws, these two components are center stage (and are in fact what earned the film its multiple Oscar wins).
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that attracts the Academy. It’s about a giant, man-eating shark, after all. However, the technical achievement (and we’re not talking about the shark, because even the Academy gave that particular component a pass) is what won everyone over — Academy members and block-busting viewers alike. It was the movie that gave everyone a valid excuse for not ever wanting to swim in the ocean. Meanwhile, Jaws is receiving Oscars for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score.
10. Black Swan
Even when Darren Aronofsky isn’t making a horror film, he’s making a horror film. Be it a cautionary tale about drugs or the tale of a doomed ballerina, he gets under your skin one way or another. In Black Swan, specifically, he shows audiences what obsession can look like when it’s at its worst. He does this through striking, nightmarish visuals, and even though something like a giant bird man doesn’t seem particularly scary, it is. In its own “out of left field” kind of way, at least.
However, the film’s strongest source of horror stems from Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers. On one hand, she’s vulnerable and desperate, and on the other hand, she’s absolutely vicious. Portman received a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her fine performance.
9. An American Werewolf In London
If you didn’t know any better back in 1981, you might have assumed that An American Werewolf in London was a sequel to Animal House. It’s the follow-up film from the same director, it mentions a creature in the title, and it’s about college students backpacking through Europe. Thing is, though, despite the sprinkled in bits of comedy, it by no means even exists in the same universe as Animal House. At least, we hope it doesn’t.
This is standalone horror, and the animals in question aren’t rowdy students looking to drink their way through London, but actual, genuine monsters. What caught the Academy’s attention, though, was the film’s ability to not only bring the dead back to life, but transform a man into a wolf in real time. In fact, it was so impressive that it earned the film an Oscar for Best Makeup.
8. The Omen
The Academy was brave to invite The Omen to the Oscars. Between gruesome deaths and satanic ties, The Omen has long been considered to be cursed. Still, the Academy rulebook doesn’t say anything about curses, so… fair is fair. While The Omen works as a masterful horror film on several grounds (creepy kid, Satan, gore), its major highlight comes from its score — and the Academy seemed to agree with that as well.
Courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith (who intriguingly went from creeping people out in this film to inspiring them years later in Rudy), the film’s score is urgent and rapid, and it sounds as though it may very well have gotten some work from Satan’s very own choir. It’s effectively chilling, and it serves as a solid companion to the film’s original song, “Ave Satani,” which was nominated, but didn’t win. The Oscar for Best Original Score simply couldn’t have been won by any other film that year.
7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
As horror films go, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was recognized by the Academy. Even though he’s not quite regarded in the same light as he was during his prime, Francis Ford Coppola directed the film, and when you’re the man who brought The Godfather and Apocalypse Now to the screen, people pay attention. Especially people in the Academy.
With this particular take on Dracula, the main draw was, of course, the visuals. Coppola went into overdrive (in a good way) with costume, art direction, and makeup, especially. As a result, he may not have outright upstaged Bela Lugosi, but he created an equally beautiful and gruesome vision of the Count and his world. The film received Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Makeup.
6. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
For fans of Ryan Murphy who couldn’t quite get on board with Scream Queens, there was Feud to tide them over until the return of American Horror Story. In the FX drama, viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at the rivalry of actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (played by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, respectively) during the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
In a way, the lone Oscar win that the film received was sort of shared between the two feuding stars, seeing as it had to do with their clothes — which weren’t exactly the most frightening aspect of the film. All in all, it’s fitting that this is the film that these two decided to star in. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? received an Oscar for Best Costume Design.
5. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Hollywood is currently in the process of creating a new wave of Universal monsters, officially dubbing it the Dark Universe. However, before audiences get used to Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (and his chemically-induced alter ego, Mr. Hyde) in the upcoming reboot of The Mummy, the 1932 take on the character is not to be missed. Frederic March carried the film with his dual performance, showing the Academy not only what a horror film is capable of, but the movie industry as a whole. Now, even though Crowe’s portrayal has the potential to be solid, it likely won’t meet the Oscar-friendly merits that March brought to the table. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde earned March an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role (which he actually shared with Wallace Beery in The Champ in one of the six ties ever recorded at the Academy Awards).
4. The Phantom Of The Opera
The Phantom of the Opera isn’t quite as horrific these days as it might have seemed back in the day, but it’s still horror all the same. In fact, something that may factor into why the scares don’t quite work as well as they used to is the fact that the film’s been remade so many times. Audiences can only handle so much of something before it starts to wear out its welcome.
Still, back in 1943, this particular take on the story had Claude Rains portraying the titular phantom, which should alone earn the film its deserved clout. Still, that’s not what the Academy noticed. What had their attention had less to do with the talent on screen and more to do with the visuals, ultimately earning the film Oscars in Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
3. The Picture Of Dorian Gray
If you’re experiencing Penny Dreadful withdrawal, we feel your pain. Aside from the story itself, getting wrapped up in the show’s characters is by no means a difficult feat, especially considering their nod, or even direct correlation, to classic literary monsters. One of those monsters is Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), the ageless man. Created by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray has had its fair share of interpretations over the years (age and acclaim tend to have that effect), but the tale wasn’t met with Academy love until the 1945 adaptation.
Dated though it may be, it’s arguably the best-adapted version of the beloved novel. It starred Angela Lansbury, who ended up earning a nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, but the film ultimately received its lone win for Best Cinematography.
2. The Exorcist
The Exorcist is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time, so it’s no wonder why the Academy was compelled to give it its moment in the sun. Based off a bestseller by the same name and starring Oscar-friendly talent in front of the camera and behind it (Ellen Burstyn and William Friedkin, specifically), The Exorcist has definitely earned the right to bask in its acclaim.
Nominated for ten Academy Awards, it’s been copied, mocked, franchised, and even accused of being cursed, but the film deserves its status as a horror classic. On grounds of being scary, as well as being an expertly-crafted movie, The Exorcist holds up to this day. Still, no amount of Oscar gold will likely be enough to convince certain viewers from watching it alone and in the dark. The film received Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.
1. The Silence Of The Lambs
This past year, we lost Jonathan Demme, the director of The Silence of the Lambs. A sharp, eclectic filmmaker, Demme created a grotesque and grisly, but also powerful and feminist, horror film that was far more concerned with mind over monster (even though there is plenty of monster in The Silence of the Lamb, albeit the human kind). A gory, intelligent foray into madness and cannibalism, it’s one of the more quotable horror films out there, and it earned Jodie Foster her second Oscar win in a row within the same category.
The Silence of the Lambs is also one of a few motion pictures that earned a place in the Big Five club, which is to say it’s one of the few movies that won Oscars in all five major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Which of these horror films do you think is the most deserving of its Oscar wins? Which fright flicks do you think were snubbed by the Academy? Let us know in the comments.
The Mummy will arrive in theaters on June 8, 2017.