Say what you will about the legitimacy of the Academy Awards, one thing’s for sure: nerds just love to bitch about them. It’s tough to find a discussion about the Oscars on the internet that isn’t infiltrated by at least one nerd complaining that the latest Stargate straight-to-DVD movie wasn’t nominated for Best Picture or how Serenity was snubbed by the Academy. Usually they’re wrong, hyping up mediocre genre crap as though it’s automatically better than whatever the Academy has selected because there are spaceships or laser guns or aliens.
But this year, the nerds actually have a point – there’s no reason The Dark Knight didn’t at least get nominated for Best Picture. It was a giant, unprecedented smash at the box office, critics were almost unanimously in love with it, and it featured one of the most memorable performances in a generation. It also happened to have Batman in it, which is presumably why it didn’t get the nod. As easy as it is to brush off nerd complaints about the Academy’s selections, it turns out they have failed to recognize a fair number of great sci-fi and fantasy movies that at least deserved a Best Picture nomination, and in some cases, even a win.
6) Planet of the Apes, 1968)
There are few sci-fi films more iconic, beloved and recognized than the original Planet of the Apes. So many classic lines and moments and images, it’s been part of our pop culture vocabulary for decades, inspiring a TV series, a whole ton of (admittedly worthless) sequels, an (also worthless) big-budget remake, and of course, countless homages in books, comics, video games, TV shows, movies and every other form of media known to man (<a href=” http://www.hulu.com/watch/20840/the-simpsons-mcclures-comeback”>this being inarguably the greatest of them</a>). The movie still holds up today, 40 years later; it’s a very well-written, well-acted piece of science fiction, and if you’ve never screamed “GET YOUR PAWS OFF ME, YOU DAMN DIRTY APE!” at a police officer while severely inebriated, then you haven’t lived.
Unfortunately, the Academy in 1969 were having none of it; they didn’t even hand the movie a Best Picture nomination, instead nominating it only for Best Score and Best Costume design, neither of which it won (although in all fairness this was the same year Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, and not even that got a Best Picture nod). Instead, they handed the top prize to Oliver!, a big forgettable musical adaptation of the stage version of the Charles Dickens novel, that notably has only received one bare-bones DVD release, and that was 11 years ago. Meanwhile, not only can you buy every single Planet of the Apes movie meticulously restored on Blu-ray disc, you can also get a version of the collection that comes in a replica of an ape head. It’s no secret which film stood the test of time.
Did it deserve to win?: Planet of the Apes doubtlessly deserved a Best Picture nomination, but in hindsight, everyone knows 2001 deserved to win that year, and if not that, then at the very least The Lion in Winter deserved the top prize over fucking Oliver!.
5) Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
This is one of two movies on this list that actually did get a nomination for Best Picture but lost, most likely because they were genre pieces. Raiders of the Lost Ark – in spite of whatever hideous taint Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have placed on the Indiana Jones franchise – is one of the greatest action movies ever made, and it came out in a year that was pretty weak for Best Picture nominees. It was up against your dead grandma’s betamax cassette of On Golden Pond, Warren Beatty’s Reds, a few other movies you’ve never heard of, and then lost to Chariots of Fire, a movie only remembered because your annoying friend hums the Chariots of Fire theme every time he sees slow-motion footage of someone running, even though he’s probably never seen the film.
Did it deserve to win?: Yes. Raiders of the Lost Ark is an icon. If you take it at face value and disregard all that came after, judging it purely on its own merits and setting aside whatever hatred you might have for the sequels or the people who made it, it’s a damn fine film and apparently 1981 was a shit year for movies, based on what was nominated. Of the 5 movies nominated that year, there is not a soul who would argue that Chariots of Fire is somehow better than Raiders of the Lost Ark.
4) The Matrix, 1999
Say what you will about the sequels (and there’s a lot you can say about the sequels), the original Matrix holds up even today as a great and wildly original action movie. That isn’t why it deserved a Best Picture nomination, though; this movie almost immediately changed everything in terms of the visual language of action movies. We’ve all endured countless rip-offs and parodies of this film at this point; for a few years there it basically overwhelmed popular culture. Even though it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, it did manage to beat Star Wars Episode One for best visual effects, which is pretty goddamn impressive since if this movie hadn’t come out in 1999 the fuckers who created Jar-Jar Binks would have a golden statue sitting atop their mantles.
Did it deserve to win? Nope. American Beauty deserved that trophy, unless you’re being an ‘edgy’ internet contrarian about it. However, The Matrix did absolutely deserve a Best Picture nomination, if only for how unique and groundbreaking it was in its day. This was also the year The Green Mile was nominated for Best Picture. Go ahead and repeat that to yourself: The Green Mile (otherwise known as “the shittier, three hours long version of The Shawshank Redemption“) was nominated for Best Picture, but The Matrix wasn’t.
3) The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
This is the Lord of the Rings movie that should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was nominated – along with the others – for not only Best Picture, but a host of other awards. The last one, The Return of the King, won the top prize a few years back, much in the same way Martin Scorsese won his Best Picture trophy for The Departed not because that was the best film of that year or even his best movie but rather because they should’ve given it to him for Goodfellas. The Return of the King wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it was choppy as hell and poorly edited and sorely needed the extra hour of material in the Extended Edition just to make everything connect. No way in hell would any Academy member actually sit through that much nonsense just to get to the point of it all. By the time they awarded Return of the King the Best Picture trophy, they were crying uncle.
The Fellowship of the Ring – the theatrical version, the one that really works as a movie that isn’t 4 hours long, the one people really had fun with and to this day is still the most watchable of the lot of those films – is a real classic and should’ve been recognized as such.
Did it deserve to win?: This was 2001. A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture. That movie was a ripe hunk of horseshit, so sure, why not. You could make a case for Moulin Rouge!, which was also nominated for Best Picture that year, but in a decade – or even two – people will still probably watch The Fellowship of the Ring, be thrilled with how cool it is, get bored 20 minutes i
nto The Two Towers and give up on Lord of the Rings entirely. But they’ll still have those great memories of how awesome Fellowship of the Ring is.
2) Blade Runner, 1982
To be honest, there was no way in hell Blade Runner would’ve been nominated for Best Picture in 1982. The movie was misunderstood and under-appreciated for years after its initial release and didn’t become known as a classic until much later, but it’s now rightfully hailed as a visionary piece of cinema (not to mention probably the best film Ridley Scott ever made) and had a huge impact on the sci-fi genre. Just in the past decade studios have been raiding the file cabinets of Phillip K. Dick (resulting in some awesome adaptations like A Scanner Darkly and some not-so-awesome ones like Paycheck), and Warner Bros. just dumped a bunch of cash into a huge restoration effort on the film, resulting in a roadshow theatrical screening of the new Director’s Cut and a 5-disc DVD edition containing not one but three cuts of the film. It isn’t realistic to expect that the short-sighted folks in 1982 would’ve even considered nominating this movie for best picture, especially consider the original theatricaal version had studio-mandated narration and nonsensically happy ending. However, if time travel existed, it’d still be nice to go back and slap them around like a Replicant prostitute.
Did it deserve to win?: The winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1982 was Ghandi, the movie so high in prestige and acclaim it apparently gave Ben Kingsley a lifelong get-out-of-total-career-humiliation free card and enabled him to take roles in such films as Thunderbirds and The Love Guru without being ejected from Hollywood with a cannon. So no, Blade Runner probably didn’t deserve to win, per se, but it sure as hell deserved a nomination, especially when you consider the Academy chose to nominate E.T. The Extra Terrestrial that year.
1) The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
One of the biggest sins a nerd can commit is bitching about how Star Wars didn’t win Best Picture in 1977. Invariably, people who make that complaint haven’t seen Annie Hall, which was and still is a fantastic movie that deserved to win. Yes, Star Wars is legendary, but its place in history is cemented enough.
The real complaint nerds of all stripes should be making is that the vastly superior sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was completely passed over for a Best Picture nomination in 1980. Empire isn’t just good for a Star Wars movie, it’s widely regarded as an excellent film by both critics and the public at large, frequently mentioned in the same breath as The Godfather Part II when the inevitable ‘sequels that were even better than their beloved predecessor’ discussion comes up. If any piece of the Star Wars franchise deserved to be recognized by the Academy for any reason, it was The Empire Strikes Back. It’s one of those rare genre movies that transcends its required trappings and honestly deserves to be considered among the high-quality fare the Academy is supposed to be all about.
Did it deserve to win?: Heavens no. 1980 was the year Raging Bull came out. It lost to the admittedly very good Ordinary People, but if you’re forced to compare The Empire Strikes Back to Raging Bull,Empire isn’t going to come out on top. It should’ve had a nomination, though; of the three other films nominated, not one of them is particularly remembered today.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.