And it just makes me wonder, why? Does a horror movie really have to be an art house film for it be considered worthy of the Academy Award? There was a time when all a musical really had to do was show up that year and be nominated for Best Picture. The same could be said for war movies. The truth is, the Academy seems blatantly biased against certain genres, like fantasy, sci-fi, and yes, horror. But it seems to love dour affairs like Nomadland, which yeah, is good, but do you know what’s also really good? Hereditary! Well, anyway, rant over. Here are all 6 Best Picture nominated horror movies, based on how scary they are.
Oh, and some spoilers up ahead.
6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The only horror movie to ever win Best Picture, do you know how unscary The Silence of the Lambs is? So unscary, that many people don’t even consider it a horror movie at all. They consider it “a thriller." I don’t know if that’s to discredit horror as a genre or what, but The Silence of the Lambs, which is about a young FBI trainee (played by Jodie Foster) who interviews a brilliant cannibal (played by Anthony Hopkins) in order to track down a serial killer (played by Ted Levine) is most certainly a horror movie.
Now, look. If you were to ask me the best horror movie on this list, I would undoubtedly say The Silence of the Lambs. It’s quite possibly the best movie of the ‘90s. That said, it’s really not all that scary. It is tense, though, which is why most people likely view it more as a thriller than as a horror movie. My favorite part (besides, “Put the lotion in the basket,” which I say to my kids all the time at the supermarket) is when Clarice is in the basement and Buffalo Bill is stalking her with his night vision goggles. It's intense! But not really scary. So, that’s why it sits at the bottom of this list.
5. Get Out (2017)
Alright, so if you’re black like me, then Jordan Peele’s Get Out just hits differently. It’s the story of a black man named Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s family in an upstate getaway. But he soon learns that the family wants to do pretty nefarious things to him. It was a huge hit that made Jordan Peele a household name, and he even won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, so go Jordan Peele!
Still, I can see a certain audience admiring Get Out but not really being scared by it. I mean, it is a pretty comical film at times, as that’s just in Jordan Peele’s nature. But if you’ve ever been the only minority in the neighborhood and you’ve experienced people turning to look at you as if to literally say, “Get out,” then the movie’s tension is a bit more palpable. That said, it’s not “scary” scary, so that’s why it lands at number 5 on this list.
4. Black Swan (2010)
One of Darren Aronofsky’s best films, Black Swan is about a ballerina (played with an Oscar winning turn by Natalie Portman) who is set to be in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. Everything seems to be going well, but when she has to compete with an understudy (played by Mila Kunis), she gradually has a mental collapse in the process.
Black Swan is super creepy, which is why it’s so effective. It doesn’t seem like a horror film at first, but it slowly and patiently goes down that route, until you don’t know what’s real and what’s all in this ballerina’s head. It kind of reminds me of this great Roman Polanski movie, Repulsion, which, despite the man, is a compliment of the highest form. Even so, while I do consider Black Swan creepy, I don’t entirely find it scary, which is why it doesn’t end up in the top 3 on this list.
3. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Ah, the halcyon days when M. Night Shyamalan was once considered the next Alfred Hitchcock. The Sixth Sense, which was massive, is about a little boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) who quote unquote “sees dead people.” He is haunted by ghosts, but his child psychologist (played by Bruce Willis) is going to help get him through this endeavor. If only he knew… you know what, I’m going to stop there just in case you’re the one person who hasn’t seen this movie and doesn’t know how it ends.
The Sixth Sense is PG-13 but genuinely scary. Shots of a little girl underneath a bed or vomiting in a tent make the goosebumps sprout right up on the old arms and legs. I mean, this is a ghost story, after all, so it better be scary. It also surprisingly holds up today. It’s just good old fashion scares done right. Sigh. I miss this M. Night Shyamalan, sad face emoji.
2. Jaws (1975)
The movie that literally made people afraid to go in the water, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is a movie for the ages. It’s about a police chief (played by Roy Scheider) who embarks on a mission with a marine biologist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) and a shark hunter (Robert Shaw) to stop a killer shark from ravaging the beaches.
Now, personally, I don’t find Jaws scary, but I understand that many people do, which is why it lands so high on this list. Did you know that mosquitoes kill more people every year than sharks by a wide margin? But because of Jaws, sharks have developed this reputation for being ravenous killing machines. That’s how big an impact Jaws has had on the human psyche, and that’s why it lands so high on this list.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
You know what The Exorcist is (Even though Jason Blum thinks you don’t). It’s the story of a girl (played by Linda Blair) who gets possessed by a demon, and a local priest (played by Jason Miller) and an exorcist (Played by Max von Sydow) who try to pull it back out of her.
The Exorcist is still scary and shocking even today. Want proof? Kids who have never even seen The Exorcist are still being terrified by Regan’s horrific visage when their friends send along the Scary Maze game online. The very first horror movie ever nominated for Best Picture still has all the frights, and it’s kind of amazing to me that a movie this graphic and scary could actually be up for Best Picture, but, hey, those were the ‘70s for you.