Most people think that snobby Oscar voters through the decades have turned their backs on the horror genre. Not so. True, far more horror flicks have been nominated for Oscars — including many Alfred Hitchcock movies — than have won. Hitch was nominated six times for Best Director and never took home a gold statue, which is why he was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1968. “Thank you,” he said, and walked offstage.
We scoured the record books to find 25 Oscar-winning horror movies, and herewith rank them for you.
After heated arguments among the IndieWire staff, we threw out a dozen or so monster movies (“King Kong,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jurassic Park”), ghost films (“Ghost”) and scary psychological thrillers like Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” that just didn’t feel like horror flicks to us.
Defining a horror movie is subjective. Is it about gore and guts and supernatural beings, or how it makes you feel? As a kid I was terrified by the giant spider in 1940 “The Thief of Baghdad” — a horror scene inside an Oscar-winning fantasy adventure — as well as the morphing woman in 1963 horror classic “The Haunting,” Gregory Peck locked in a stairwell in thriller “Mirage” (1965), and the black-and-white 1949 thriller “The Window,” about a big city kid who witnesses a murder and is chased by the killers.
But while “The Window” was nominated for Best Editing, most horror movies stay in the B-movie realm. What elevates a horror flick enough to score an actual Oscar win? It either has to be taken seriously enough to penetrate the culture as a drama, or boast such amazing acting or production values that it cannot be denied. Most of these wins are either on the tech side — or directed by visual maestro Tim Burton. — Anne Thompson
Check out our Top 25 ranking below.
25. “The Wolfman” (2010)
In director Joe Johnston’s misguided Universal classic monster remake, actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro), already reeling from his mother’s recent suicide, returns to his family home in Southwest England after his brother is mysteriously and brutally murdered. The culprit is his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), who is secretly a werewolf. It turns out, needless to say, that the younger Talbot shares his curse. This “Wolfman” was dealt disappointing box office returns, but Rick Baker and Dave Elsey shared Best Achievement in Makeup honors for their fang-toothed father-son transformations. — Jenna Marotta
24. “The Ghost and the Darkness” (1996)
Post-“Lion King,” jungle cats were enjoying a warm reputation among cinema fans in the mid-90s. Then the makers of “The Ghost and the Darkeness” aroused some primal fear. Against the backdrop of late-19th century Kenya, a railroad-in-the-making stalls when a pair of Tsavo lions — christened “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” — begins picking off construction workers one by one and moves on to some hospital patients and an esteemed hunter (Michael Douglas). Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer), a father-to-be, is tasked with ending their feeding frenzy and ensuring timely completion of the train tracks. Inspired by true events and filmed in South Africa, Stephen Hopkins’ largely panned adventure went one-for-one at the 1997 Oscars, netting a victory for sound editor Bruce Stambler. — JM
23. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945)
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” — one of several adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s allegory about a magical portrait — has resonated in the culture. Gullibly narcissistic Gray (Hurd Hatfield) allows himself to be manipulated and corrupted by Lord Henry Wooten (George Sanders). After eyeing an Egyptian cat statue, Gray wishes that his new painted portrait would age on his behalf. And following his mentor’s lead, Gray adopts a wanton disregard for ethical behavior. He breaks off two engagements, indirectly causes two suicides, and dabbles in blackmail and manslaughter. As the years pass, his face remains carefree and young — as long as his painting turns mangled and unsightly. A team of art directors and Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury scored Oscar nominations, while Cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr. won Oscar gold. — JM
22. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962)
The tempestuous relationship between “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” leads Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — one-upping actresses playing one-upping actresses — inspired the recent Ryan Murphy series “Feud.” The Robert Aldrich movie was a hit not only because the duo’s on-camera sparring was riveting, but their off-camera antics earned tons of publicity. Based on Henry Farrell’s novel, the film begins with a car accident that renders Blanche (Crawford) paralyzed. Under the guise of looking after her disabled sister, Jane (Davis) moves into Blanche’s Hancock Park home and unleashes a torrent of vindictive behavior including serving her dead parakeet as a meal. Meanwhile, Jane is carrying out sisterly mind games of her own. Norma Koch claimed an Oscar for her costumes, while the film gleaned four additional nominations. — JM
21. “The Omen” (1976)
Forever Damien, “The Omen” became a coast-to-coast sensation thanks to Richard Donner’s sturdy direction, a pro cast lead by Gregory Peck, and a mercilessly frightening tale of a pint-sized Antichrist. Several setpieces dripped with blood and dread, not least of which was the infamous babysitter suicide (“Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!”). The film’s legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith won the Oscar for Best Original Score, and was also nominated for Best Original Song for “Ave Satani.” The film’s chilling music has remained as indelible as the imagery. — William Earl