Why Sci-Fi Films Never Win Best Picture at the Oscars

In any event, Christopher Nolan has always made films about big ideas, regardless as to whether the film itself was big (I’m thinking of Following here, though Memento was fairly compact as well). This is one of the reasons I like his films so much– they always make me think about something I thought knew in a completely different way, whether it’s how memory works (Memento), what makes a hero (the Batman films), or how we shape our own realities (Inception). But it’s also why Inception, along with so many others, really didn’t stand a chance for Best Picture: The ideas were the most important part of them, and that does not a Best Picture make. The fact that it was nominated at all did at least acknowledge it for the extraordinary piece of work that it was, so there’s always that.

Granted, I haven’t seen all of the Best Picture nominees, but even not having seen the whole bunch, I know that this was a pretty spectacular year for filmmaking. I wonder, then, if perhaps this is what buried Inception more than anything else. Over the summer, I thought there was going to be a healthy amount of Oscar buzz for Inception once award season came round, and I was surprised when there wasn’t. But then I considered the films that came later, and it sort of made sense. There were The Social Network, The King’s Speech, True Grit, and Black Swan– all high-profile (and strong) films that came out strategically closer to awards season. Then there were films like The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone, also both wonderful, that came out in the summer along with Inception; but because they were unexpected, they, too, made bigger waves when it came time for the nominations. Surrounded by a bumper crop of rival high-profile films and sleeper hits, what’s an oddball sci-fi film to do? As usual, it takes the technical awards for things like Sound Editing and Visual Effects, and then it steps back and lets the “serious” films take the top honors.

Maybe there’s hope for the future – after all, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King took Best Picture in 2003, a win that surprised even me. But I wonder how long it will take for idea movies to become the norm for Oscar winners– or, indeed, if it will ever happen at all. Usually these sorts of things work in pendulum-swings: At some point, the pendulum has to swing back the other way. Maybe in this case it will eventually swing in a new way altogether. But I suppose we’ll have to just wait and see.

Unless anyone’s got a time machine I can borrow. I’ve always wanted to pilot a Police Box.

You can reach this post's author, Lucia Peters, on twitter.
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    • Asha

      I think lord of the rings won because it was character and story driven and not idea driven like inception. I always considered LOTR’s fantasy NOT science ficion. Science fiction displays things that could possibly take place in the real world. Fantasy adds realism to things that are unlikely to happen.

    • G

      niice Doctor Who reference. cool points.