Debate Club: Oscar-nominated horror movies
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Debate Club: The best Oscar-nominated horror films

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Jan 25, 2021, 3:50 PM EST (Updated)

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Horror films, almost by design, tend not to jibe well with the Oscar world. They're just so... disreputable. Though with the love earned by Get Out and producers such as Jason Blum changing what we talk about when we talk about horror movies, such labels seem increasingly out of date.

Before Get Out, it had been a while since we'd had a horror movie nominated for Best Picture... but it probably won't be that long until the next one. Here's our look at the five best horror films to ever receive Academy Award nominations. (A few of these even won an Oscar or two.)

The Exorcist hero

The Exorcist (1973)

It's difficult to overstate how upsetting The Exorcist was to audiences when it first hit theaters. Billy Graham actually said, "the Devil was in every frame of the film." Many theaters actually provided barf bags with their seating. (We thought that was just for Rob Schneider movies.)

But the film retains its power to shock but terrify today, and the fact that it received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) is a sign of not just its impact but its artistry. Even if some of its effects are a bit dated, movies aren't supposed to horrify you quite this much, and Academy voters couldn't help but notice.

Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya

Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele's debut film is unsettling and upsetting long before there is any bloodshed. The world he creates first looks just like our own but a little off, but the genius of the film is that it actually gets scarier as it gets more realistic: It becomes clear that, in many ways, this is the world we all live in. The denial was thinking otherwise. When the movie does become a traditional horror film, maybe it loses a bit of steam, but Peele still had plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

Get Out ends in a reassuring way... but nothing could ever truly be that reassuring again.

The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Is this Jonathan Demme film a horror movie or a thriller? We argue it walks the line between the two, but regardless, The Silence of the Lambs is the closest the Academy has come to honoring a horror flick with Best Picture. Jodie Foster won her second Best Actress Oscar as Clarice, a young FBI trainee who squares off with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, who also won an Oscar) to track down a serial killer.

One suspects that Hollywood was willing to embrace this dark, disturbing film because it was classier than the typical slasher film. But that doesn't make Lambs any less frightening.

Rosemary's Baby, Mia Farrow

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

It's a stacked category, to be sure, but is Rosemary's Baby the best/worst Mother’s Day movie ever? Mia Farrow startled as Rosemary Woodhouse, the meek, supportive wife to ambitious actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes), who makes a literal deal with the devil that results in his wife's monstrous pregnancy.

A symphony of paranoia that also feels timely in the #MeToo era, Rosemary's Baby won an Oscar for Ruth Gordon's excellent portrayal of the creepiest next door neighbor imaginable. And the film's ending never ceases to chill the blood, even more than 50 years after its release.


Psycho (1960)

“I stopped taking showers and I only take baths.”

And who could blame Janet Leigh, who explained to a reporter in 1984 about the long-term effects of filming the most famous cinematic murder of all time? Shot on the cheap and in black-and-white, Psycho to this day retains a down-and-dirty vibe. In stark contrast to the previous year’s crowd-pleasing North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock told a dark, simple story about a woman on the run (Leigh), the lonely man she comes across (Anthony Perkins), and the terrible tragedy that ensues.

Its unconventional narrative remains groundbreaking — for one thing, the seeming main character turns out not to be — and its Bernard Herrmann score is synonymous with horror.

Psycho received four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actress for Leigh (the only nomination she ever received). “A new — and altogether different — screen excitement!!!,” the poster declared. Yup, and still as fresh and scary as ever.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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