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10 Sci-Fi Movies That Didn't Win Best Picture

Many were shocked by Avatar's failure to win Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards, but keen observers would have known it wouldn't win. Science-fiction has never gotten respect in the film community. Here's a brief list of other science-fiction films that are considered some of the greatest sci-fi movies (and in some cases, greatest movies, period) that also got snubbed by the Academy.

NOTE: Longtime readers, you're not having deja vu. This list first appeared the day after Avatar lost, but we decided it should be expanded into a full fledged post.

10. Metropolis (1927) - The oldest movie on this list, Metropolis was a silent film that portrayed a future where the rich live in skyscrapers and the poor toil in mechanized factories underground. It captured all that's best in science-fiction, using the future to shine a light on the present. Visually, it also featured a sweeping expressionistic vision. As far as a Best Picture nod, Metropolis had a couple of strikes against it. First of all, Metropolis was a German film, and non-English films are rarely nominated for anything other than Best Foreign Language Film in the US-run Academy Awards. Secondly, in 1927, the Academy Award for Best Picture didn't exist. At the time, the closest equivalent was Most Outstanding Production. Metropolis wasn't even nominated for that, though. In 1928, Wings won Most Outstanding Production.

9. Blade Runner (1982) - Blade Runner's special effects and unique visual style have been copied in everything from movies to video games. Its dystopian vision of America influenced science-fiction authors like William Gibson in creating the cyberpunk genre. The American Film Institute ranked it 97 in its list of the 100 Greatest American Films, and 6 on its list of the Top 10 Science Fiction Films. However, when the film was first released, it flopped at the box office. Its only Academy Award nominations were for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects, and it didn't even win those. Gandhi was the winner for Best Picture in 1983.

8. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - Considered a triumph of science-fiction as well as a commentary on the Communist paranoia of its time, The Day the Earth Stood Still imagined a peaceful alien arriving on Earth to find fear dominating humanity. Its legacy has grown over time, and Day consistently ranks on lists of great films, including lists by the American Film Institute and The New York Times. But the film's political message made it controversial in its day, and it was only moderately successful at the box office. Perhaps that's why it wasn't nominated for any Academy Awards in its time at all. The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture in 1952, instead.

7. Planet of the Apes (1968) - Planet of the Apes was more than a movie - it was the start of a franchise that includes five sequels, a live-action and animated series, comic book series, and an eventual re-imagining of the original movie. But in all the media, the original film about a human on a world of sentient apes still remains an impressive tale exploring humanity and hubris. As far as the Academy Awards, the film won an Honorary Award for Outstanding Makeup Achievement. It was nominated for Best Costume Design, and Best Score, but (amazingly) didn't win either. And no Best Picture. Midnight Cowboy won Best Picture in 1969.

6. Forbidden Planet (1956) - An epic science-fiction film, Forbidden Planet inspired generations of sci-fi authors including Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), and J.G. Ballard. At the time, science-fiction was thought to be a genre for children, but Forbidden Planet was clearly aiming at adults with its themes of the subconscious and repression. Its special effects were groundbreaking at the time, and earned an Academy Award nomination. But it lost out to The Ten Commandments. It wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. Around the World in Eighty Days won Best Picture in 1957.

5. War of the Worlds (1953) - Based on the popular H.G. Wells novel, War of the Worlds was a powerful film that portrayed the long-feared alien invasion with humans pathetically incapable of fending them off. It also perfectly reflected the Cold War fears of foreigners invading the US. The special effects and terrifying aliens made it a popular film with both audiences and critics. The movie won Best Effects, but wasn't nominated for Best Picture. In 1954, On the Waterfront won Best Picture.

4. Star Wars (1977) - Star Wars is one of the rare movies that is popular with both science-fiction fans and the general public alike. Its story of a young man leading a rebellion against a seemingly unstoppable empire resonated on a deeper level, even as it dazzled with its groundbreaking special effects. It introduced the blockbuster movie, spawned a massive marketing franchise that's still going strong, and made its portrayal of the future an indelible part of pop culture. It remains one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. In many ways, both good and bad, Star Wars is the standard by which all other science-fiction movies are judged. Despite all this, the movie didn't win Best Picture. It was actually nominated for Best Picture in 1978, but lost out to The Deer Hunter.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - 2001 was a landmark picture that introduced a more realistic approach to space travel in films, as well as taking on deeper and more adult themes in science-fiction. It consistently ranks in top 100 lists for movies, including the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies, and Roger Ebert's Top Ten list in 1968. Even the Vatican honored it in its top 45 movie list. The film was nominated for and won four Academy Awards - Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Director, and Original Screenplay. However, it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture on its release. Oliver! won Best Picture in 1969.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - On its release, this dreamy, frightening, and mysterious vision of a man's determination to meet with an alien race made it a huge financial success. It also won the hearts of critics and sci-fi fans, including Ray Bradbury who has called it the greatest sci-fi film ever made. It was nominated for a slew of awards, including Best Director, Best Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Music, and Best Cinematography, but only won for Best Cinematography. Released the same year as Star Wars, it endured the same fate in terms of Best Picture. Unlike Star Wars, though, Close Encounters wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. The Best Picture win in 1978 was The Deer Hunter.

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) - One of the most popular science-fiction films of all time, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial crossed the boundary from science-fiction to popular fiction. The story of a boy who befriends an alien captured the hearts of critics as well as audiences at its release, and has only grown more popular over time. It was named the number one sci-fi film of all time in a poll at Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for nine Oscars at the following Academy Awards, winning Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Music Score, and Best Visual Effects, and one of the few on this list that was nominated for Best Picture. Unfortunately, E.T. lost to Gandhi, but even Gandhi's director Richard Attenborough said that E.T. should have won.

Is it surprising that these movies didn't win Best Picture in their time? Can you think of any other sci-fi movies that should have gotten Best Picture? Leave a comment.


  1. When I saw ET as number one I thought "What?!" But, you're right. From a cultural standpoint ET did change sci-fi for the general public. Great list bro.

  2. Yeah, the order is going to be controversial, but I decided to honor Avatar's nomination by ranking the movies in order of popularity, not quality.

  3. Great list, I like most of these.

  4. wonderful list................... except for space odyssey blade runner and star wars.....

  5. 3&4 are ok, rest are bullshit

  6. The grumpy bulldogs of the Academy won't even let a comedy win, let alone a sci-fi picture. LOTR is probably the closest geeks will ever get to a Best Picture win.


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