World Features

Oscars: A Look Back at 11 Best Picture-Nominated Sci-Fi Films Before ‘Dune’

Dune, Denis Villenueve’s science-fiction film, has the second most nominations at the upcoming 94th Academy Awards, after The Power of the Dog. Based on Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name, Dune is nominated in 10 categories, including Best Picture. It is not the first film of the genre to achieve this honour. Silverscreen India brings you this list of 11 other sci-fi films that have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars in the past.


Interestingly, aside from the top honour and a nomination for its adapted screenplay, Dune has primarily received recognition in the technical categories, such as original score, sound, production design, cinematography, makeup and hairstyling, costume design, film editing, and visual effects.

This also is not without precedent. As with films of the horror and fantasy genres, sci-fi movies have traditionally not received much acknowledgment from the Academy. In its 94-year history, only 12 sci-fi films have been nominated in the Best Picture category, and they have yielded zero wins till date.

Speaking about this, film journalist Dave Calhoun told the BBC that the sci-fi genre is “seen as a showcase for the technical art of film-making.” He further added, “There’s definitely a sort of film the Academy likes to honour. It likes to honour the craft of acting, the craft of writing.”

It remains to be seen if Dune can break the pattern and win Best Picture at Oscars 2022. Meanwhile, here’s our list of sci-fi films that have been nominated in the category thus far:

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange is based on Anthony Burgess’ 1962 book of the same name. Released in 1971, the film falls under the dystopian crime subgenre. It features Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, and Miriam Karlin, and follows a sadistic gang leader, who is imprisoned and subjected to a psychological conditioning treatment. The film earned four nominations at the Oscars, namely Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, but failed to win in any category.

Star Wars (1977)

The first film in the Star Wars franchise was directed by George Lucas. It is one of the few films whose popularity led to the launch of multiple comics based on it – first by Marvel Comics, and later by Dark Horse Comics. It also catapulted actors Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher to overnight stardom. The film follows Luke Skywalker as he joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader. Star Wars earned Lucas a Best Director nod at the Academy Awards, apart from receiving a Best Picture nomination and nine others. And while it won the Oscars for art direction, costume design, film editing, original score, sound, and visual effects, it failed to bring home the top honour.

ET the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Steven Spielberg’s ET revolves around a boy who befriends a friendly alien, stranded on Earth, and his efforts to help the extra-terrestrial being return home. The film surpassed Star Wars (1977) to become the highest-grossing film up until then, before being overtaken by Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park 11 years later. Starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, and Peter Coyote, among others, the film bagged a total of nine nominations at the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director nods. However, it only won the awards for original score, visual effects, sound, and sound editing.

Avatar (2009)

With the technological advancements of the 21st century, Hollywood began producing more space-based films and started experimenting with 3D. James Cameron‘s Avatar, for instance, ushered in a 3D boom that increased the demand for similar content. The film is also one of the highest-grossing films of all time, with global revenues standing at over $2.7 billion, and is due to get multiple sequels. It follows the story of a paraplegic Marine, who is dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission, where he is torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. Avatar earned Oscar nominations in the Best Director and Best Picture categories, as well as seven others in the technical categories. It went on to win the art direction, cinematography, and visual effects awards.

District 9 (2009)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is inspired by the events during the apartheid era. The film is based on Blomkamp’s 2006 short film Alive in Joburg, and it stars actors Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James. Presented in a found footage format, it revolves around a group of stranded extraterrestrials forced to live in a slum in South Africa and uses them to represent the struggles of Black people in the country. The film garnered four Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing – but won none.

Inception (2010)

This Christopher Nolan directorial revolves around the character of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a professional thief, who steals corporate secrets from people’s dreams. While Inception failed to convert its Academy Award nominations to wins in the Best Picture, original screenplay, art direction, and original score categories, the film did win Oscars for cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, and visual effects.

Gravity (2013)

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity features actors George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts who struggle to survive after an accident leaves them stranded in space. The film received 10 nominations at the Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Actress (Bullock). While it lost the best film race, it earned Cuaron a Best Director Oscar and also won in the original score, cinematography, editing, sound and visual effects categories.

Her (2013)

Spike Jonze-directed Her is a sci-fi romantic drama that is set in the future and revolves around the character of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer who develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need. A commentary on human relationships in a technology-driven world, Her received five nominations at the Oscars, including Best Picture. It went on to nab the Oscar for original screenplay alone.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise, created by George Miller and Byron Kennedy, stars actors Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. In a post-apocalyptic world, Max (Hardy) teams up with a mysterious woman named Furiosa (Theron) to try and survive. While the film earned several Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director, it only won in technical categories like costume design, production design, makeup and hairstyling, film editing, sound editing, and sound mixing.

The Martian (2015)

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is adapted from Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name. It stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Kristen Wiig, among others. The film is about astronaut Mark Whatney (Damon) and his struggle to survive on Mars, after being left behind by his crew. The Martian was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but failed to convert any.

Arrival (2016)

Arrival, also directed by Villeneuve, was the last sc-fi film to earn a Best Picture nomination before Dune. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker in prominent roles, the film follows a linguistics expert (Adams) who works with the military to communicate with alien lifeforms, after 12 mysterious spacecrafts appear around the world. The film also earned Oscar nominations for direction, cinematography, and adapted screenplay, among others, but only won for sound editing.