The Academy is known for having a genre bias against horror films. They sometimes nominated horror films but they had to be some kind of a cultural phenomenon or have a great box office to gain recognition and even then, some shocking snubs happened.
Here are some of those great performances that people expected to be nominated but they ended up missing and also some who never had a chance at the first place because of nature/tone of their films.
15. Kirsten Dunst – Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s famous gothic novel was commercially successful, but it struggled to please some film critics and fans of the book. Some loved the atmosphere, while some claimed it lacks the right atmosphere. Some said it’s thrilling, some claimed it’s boring and nonsense, blaming Rice’s script.
Tom Cruise was great in an unlikely role but his chemistry with Brad Pitt, who admitted that he was miserable during the production, was criticized as dull and lifeless. Its gore scared Oprah Winfrey even who left the movie after just ten minutes in.
Whatever you thought of the movie, there’s no denying: its highlight was Kirsten Dunst who gives one of the best child performances. She was spotted by talent scouts and was the first girl tested for the role of Claudia, a vampire child. She shines in every scene she is in, even though the film has a notable all-star cast, she hold her own against her famous co-stars and got some great moments (particularly the incident in which Claudia tries to cut her hair).
Dunst earned some nominations and awards from critics groups, won a Saturn award, nominated for a Golden Globe but subsequently snubbed for an Oscar. But here’s a more surprising thing: Dunst grew up, made a lot of great films since then including some terrific work like “Melancholia” and she’s still not nominated. How unfair is that?
14. Gary Oldman – Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola’s take on “Dracula” was also criticized by some fans as being “confused” and relying too much on its atmosphere, but it was still much more critically acclaimed film compared to the previously mentioned “Interview with the Vampire” and even though some of the cast members (particularly Keanu Reeves who was so bad that Coppola later said he won’t work with him again) were criticized for their performances, Gary Oldman got almost universal praise for his portrayal as Count Dracula / Vlad the Impaler.
Oldman was long considered as the best actor with no Oscar nomination until he finally got nominated for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and finally won for “Darkest Hour”, but does it make us all forget that he was snubbed for so many times for so many great performances?
Oldman’s performance has also had some impact on pop-culture and become somewhat of an influential performance. For example, “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014) actor Jemaine Clement based his performance as Vladislav on Oldman’s Dracula.
13. Sam Neill – In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Of course, we can’t expect an Oscar nomination from a John Carpenter film, even though Jeff Bridges was able to snatch a nom for “Starman” (and Kurt Russell was an Emmy nominee for “Elvis” but that was not a genre film), which is a shame because there had been so many amazing performances in his movies; Kurt Russell’s iconic roles in “Escape from New York” and “The Thing” or James Woods’ cool turn in “Vampires” among them.
“In the Mouth of Madness” had even a less chance to get nominated for anything (other Saturn awards of course), because it received some very negative reviews when it first came out, but years later, the reception has started to get better and some articles have been started to write about what kind of a “misunderstood masterpiece” it was.
Was it a masterpiece or not is a different subject, but it’s a great film with some really iconic scenes. Sam Neill’s amazing performance in the lead role as a man who loses his understanding of reality makes it even better. For general audiences, Neill had always been “a guy from Jurassic Park” (and even there Goldblum overshadows him), but films like “In the Mouth of Madness” shows what a great actor he truly is.
12. Kiefer Sutherland – The Lost Boys (1987)
“They’re only noodles, Michael.” Another performance nobody expected to get nominated for an Oscar or anything major because it was a teen vampire horror-comedy, but it would make such a cool nomination because through the years Kiefer’s amazing performance as David, the leader of the vampire bike gang, has enjoyed even more popularity than it was when the movie got released.
Well-known movie critic Peter Travers puts his performance among the best vampire characters of all time, citing the scene where he attacks Surf Nazis at a bonfire as a particular highlight.
The film is still beloved as ever and you can see people still having a David make-up in Halloween or can come across some characters in teen vampire films and TV shows influenced by his performance. His demonic charisma, remarkable screen presence and the way he delivers his lines still entertain the fans.
Sutherland later collaborated with director Joel Schumacher again and gave other great performances, portraying dark characters in his films “Flatliners” (1990), “A Time to Kill” (1996) and “Phone Booth” (2002, probably the best voice acting performance in a non-animated film?), but “The Lost Boys” still remains as their most iconic collaboration.
11. Jennifer Carpenter – The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Possibly the only half-horror, half-courtroom drama in history, Scott Derrickson’s “Exorcism of Emily Rose” aims to look at the exorcism phenomenon from both religious and scientific perspectives and make his audience to question what do they believe in.
Probably the only scary parts in a “traditional” sense of horror are the ones that feature Jennifer Carpenter in flashback scenes. She’s famous now for her “Dexter” role but was a newcomer back in time. Derrickson was smart enough to avoid effects or over-the-top make up in favour of a truly effective, fantastic performance and Carpenter just shines in all of her scenes.
10. Michael Pitt – Funny Games (2007)
Even though he slowed down a bit recently, Michael Pitt has an impressive auteur resume given his age. He already has worked with Martin Scorsese, Martin McDonagh, Gus Van Sant, Bernardo Bertolucci and also appeared in this highly divisive Michael Haneke film which deemed both as a “masterpiece” and “arthouse torture porn” by critics and film fans alike. You may agree or disagree but one of the superior sides of “Funny Games US” to the original “Funny Games” was strength of the acting performances.
Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and Brady Corbet are all good, but it’s Michael Pitt who ends up being the most memorable of them. He is creepy, he is charismatic, he is violent, he is sadistic and even bit charming.
You may dislike his performance if you’re among the haters of the film, but if you loved the film, then his performance had a lot to do with it. We knew that he’s good at playing disturbed psychos, as his character was probably the most interesting thing about “Murder by Numbers” (2002), but here he reached a next level.
9. Essie Davis – The Babadook (2014)
Recently arthouse horror has probably entered its golden age. Almost every year we get one particularly acclaimed horror film, like “It Follows”, “The Witch” and “Hereditary”. “The Babadook” is one of those.
Expertly directed and crafted by Jennifer Kent, the film shines a light at the effects of pain of loss and how our grief can be some kind of demonic presence and can mess up our psychology. It’s not exactly the twist or should we say, reveal of the mystery here that is strong but how the film explores the complex nature of motherhood and how a person deals with grief.
For an inventive film like this, Kent needed a strong actress to display all the devastating feelings our main character goes through and Essie Davis is the perfect choice. She makes us understand her fears, her depression and also makes us scared by shifting madness.
8. Isabelle Adjani – Possession (1981)
One of the greatest female performances ever, a deserved winner of Cesar and Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award. Adjani is a total tour-de-force in this creepy, scary, confusing and maybe a little wickedly funny Zulawski classic.
It’s a very daring and challenging performance that not many actresses can take, but Adjani does wonders with it, with the subway scene being a particular stands out. Seriously, if you only look at that scene alone you’d understand why she’s on the list.
Some may find the performance, particularly her expressions as over-the-top which is understandable, films like this are always of acquired taste but that’s the nature of the movie. Adjani has gone on record to say it took her several years to recuperate from her performance here.
That was probably the golden age of her career when she kept working with strong high-profile directors and gave some amazing work (“Story of Adele H” is another standout and of course, Herzog’s “Nosferatu”), but “Possession” remains possibly as her best performance ever.
7. Marcia Gay Harden – The Mist (2007)
Stephen King has created some of the scariest domineering and fanatically religious characters of literature. Margaret White is probably the first comes to mind, portrayed by Piper Laurie for her Oscar-nominated turn in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976) and more layered turns (but in not-so-good films) by Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore in subsequent adaptations.
In 2007, Frank Darabont assembled one of the best casts ever in a horror film for his (so far) last Stephen King adaptation, but many of them are overshadowed by Harden’s extraordinary work. How many people can you find who didn’t end up hating her character after seeing the film? She dominates the film in a way it should and elevates it.
6. John Lithgow – Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
In soon, Lithgow will appear in the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Pet Semetery” and one would think how come that he didn’t do more horror. He can be very scary, like truly frightening scary (Blow Out) or campy, entertaining way of scary (Raising Cain).
“Sinister” and “Exorcism of Emily Rose” director Scott Derrickson once said, when a horror film frightens us, it’s because of how characters themselves are scared, how believable they are in their expression of fear. He argued that if Shelley Duvall wasn’t so convincing in “The Shining” as a scared woman, the film won’t be as great as much as it was. It’s very true in this case of Lithgow’s, who stars in this version of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, directed by George Miller.
Lithgow gives a bravura performance as a very anxious passenger with a fear of flight, a performance which he will make a very fun reference to in one episode of “3rd Rock from the Sun” in the future. Lithgow was already having a great year as he also had a supporting, sensitive part in Best Picture-winning “Terms of Endearment” and he got ended up nominated for that performance instead of this. It’s hard to complain as his turn in “Terms” is also beautiful, but if he’d be nominated for this performance instead, that’d be more deserving.
5. Nicole Kidman – The Others (2001)
Alejandro Amenabar is one of the most underrated directors of genre films and he’s great at getting some amazing performances from his actresses such as Penelope Cruz in “Open Your Eyes” and Rachel Weisz in “Agora”, but probably the best performance ever been given in an Amenabar film (okay, Javier Bardem is also excellent in “Sea Inside”) has to be Nicole Kidman in “The Others”, who got nominated for her performance in “Moulin Rouge” at that year and just like Lithgow, probably this performance helped her to get some extra points.
She had a showier part in “Moulin Rouge” part probably, but that’s not a reason to overlook “The Others” in where she stars as a neurotic single mom, raising two seemingly problematic children while her husband is fighting in WWII. She’s superbly cast here (but then again, Kidman is always amazing), she nails the English accent (no surprise) and carries the film on her own.
4. Anthony Perkins – Psycho (1960)
No need to say more probably. Perkins’ performance in “Psycho” is not only one of the most famous and iconic performances in horror film history, but probably one of the most popular performance ever in cinema in general. Perkins plays Norman Bates, a young man, suffering from dissociative identity disorder, who runs a small off-highway motel in California.
In Robert Bloch’s source novel, Norman is a short-sighted, overweight and balding man in his 40s, prone to heavy drinking, who becomes Norma whilst drunk and blacked-out but the screenwriter Joseph Stefano and Hitchcock himself decided to make a change and it worked.
Anthony Perkins turned the character into a sensitive vulnerable, good looking, charming and sad young man. Perkins created an original, complex villain character and even though “Psycho” was a sensation, Academy snubbed him for a nomination.
3. Mia Farrow – Rosemary’s Baby (1969)
Strong performance is the one that makes you feel what the character is feeling which is something Mia Farrow did it amazingly in “Rosemary’s Baby”. As influential film critic Pauline Kael said “Mia Farrow is enchanting in her fragility: she’s just about perfect for her role.” She sure was.
The expression of pure horror on her face at the end alone is Oscar-worthy, but even though she was considered as a lock through the year of its release, surprisingly she got snubbed. Some connected it with the genre bias but Ruth Gordon was nominated and won for the same film in a supporting performance. Strange, indeed.
2. Jeff Goldblum – The Fly (1986)
Goldblum is an actor of wide range; he has played a serial killer, a Satan, a rapist, a furry alien, an actor and many kinds of characters, but what people associate him the most are eccentric scientists and Goldblum-esque parts which have elements of his own real life persona (that is more eccentric than most of his characters) such as “Jurassic Park” and “Independence Day”.
Goldblum played such characters before and after David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, but it’s the performance that features everything that makes him such a special actor: his ability of playing strange characters and the elements of his own unique screen persona, and the result is brilliant.
Goldblum plays all of his moments with such high level of skill; he’s convincing when the film focuses on his character’s relationship with Geena Davis character and even though he gets buried under the make-up in the later parts of the film, he still makes his audience to feel the human inside, use his eyes very effectively also. Goldblum’s phenomenal and transformational performance got major acclaim but was snubbed by the Oscars.
1. Jeremy Irons – Dead Ringers (1988)
The Academy just didn’t care for Cronenberg’s body horror films, did they? Widely considered to be one of the masterpieces of Canadian cinema, “Dead Ringers” is a remarkable showcase for Jeremy Irons. We had seen many great actors playing dual roles in films, but it’s hard to find a performance that has the same level of strength of Irons’ work here.
He plays two extremely complex characters, he never gets over-the-top but at the same time, he’s also never inexpressive in any moment, which makes it impossible to not get impressed by him here. He keeps confusing the audience and plays his character with high level of intelligence. Irons had a terrific part in “Reversal of Fortune” (1990) two years later which finally brought him the Gold but in a perfect world, we’d have “two-time Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons”.
Honorable Mentions: Serial killer films are often categorized as “thriller”, but one would argue that “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “Angst” are scary enough to be considered as “horror films” as they prefer to focus on the psychology of serial killer rather than creating a mystery around them. If we’d consider them as horrors, then Michael Rooker and Erwin Leder‘s performances respectively are more than worthy for an Oscar and every other award possible. Other notable snubs include Ashley Judd-Michael Shannon (“Bug”), Donald Sutherland-Julie Christie (“Don’t Look Now”), Kurt Russell (“The Thing”), Christian Bale (“American Psycho”), Sigourney Weaver (“Alien”), Tim Robbins (“Jacob’s Ladder”) and Jack Nicholson-Shelley Duvall (“The Shining”).