Thursday, September 29, 2022

A History Of Movies About Space Travel At The Oscars

By Will Mavity 

With James Gray’s interstellar sci-fi film “Ad Astra” receiving positive reviews as it opens in theaters this past weekend, there is, as always, the question of Oscar potential. While it is a default to say “The Academy” doesn’t go for sci-fi, that is not entirely true. Certainly, AMPAS are more predisposed to lean towards a period piece in Best Picture than it is a sci-fi, but across all 24 categories, especially in the below the line categories, sci-fi is better represented than one might expect. While it would be excessive to attempt to list “every sci-fi film ever nominated for ANY Oscar,” it is feasible to look at every movie about space travel ever nominated for an Oscar.

I have been liberal in my definition of space travel (IE is the film primarily set on one planet, but the protagonists had to travel through space to reach the planet, that would count). I will not include films set in “cyberspace” (“Ready Player One”) or films involving encounters with aliens who were merely hidden on earth (“The Abyss”). There needs to be some degree of actual travel through space in the film in order to qualify here. Films that are not sci-fi (“First Man” & “Apollo 13”) count, since they involve space travel, even if the space travel is not fictional. Finally, I will not be counting “special achievement” Oscars, but only competitive ones.

With all that said, here are the biggest takeaways.

Unsurprisingly, given that it is difficult to actually film in space, the category with the most “space travel” films present is “Best Visual Effects.” There are a whopping 45 films about space travel that have been nominated for visual effects, and there would certainly have been more if the category had expanded to 5 nominees earlier. Last year, 3/5 Best Visual Effects Oscar nominees involved space travel. In short, the visual effects branch loves movies about space travel. Good news for “Ad Astra” there. 
 
Up next, again, not too surprisingly, given the requirements of creating and balancing an enormous variety of unusual sounds in a space travel film are the sound categories. Best Sound Mixing has a whopping 36 films nominated, while Best Sound Editing has 24. Although sound nominations often overlap with space travel films that have been nominated for visual effects, they are also often a spot to throw a lone nomination to space travel films that are well-liked by voters, but not enough to show up elsewhere (Think “Contact” & “Space Cowboys”). “Ad Astra” has explosions, gunshots, and other interstellar noises, so again…good news for it.
 
Closely following the sound categories is Best Production Design. 23 space travel films have been nominated for Best Production Design. AMPAS appears equally generous to films that opt for realistic space designs (“Gravity” & “First Man”) and films that opt for more fanciful ones (“Aliens” & “Star Wars”).
 
The last category we can consider genuinely friendly to space travel films is Best Original Score, with 19 films nominated. Although nearly half of those films nominated were scored by John Williams, which may be more a testament to his ability to be nominated for almost any film he scores, as opposed to a statistically significant trend that would benefit the genre. Sadly, “Ad Astra’s” score will by Max Richter will be disqualified despite being widely praised due to contributions from other composers on the score.
 
Best Film Editing is moderately friendly to space travel films, however, 8 out of the 13 films nominated were also Best Picture Nominees, which no doubt gave them additional support here. 10 films about space travel have been nominated for Best Cinematography, although half of them were also Best Picture nominees.
 
Finally, 10 films about space travel have been nominated for Best Picture. Not a huge number, but maybe not as few as you might expect. Of those 10, only 5 were also nominated for Best Director. It is also worth noting that 6 out of 10 were nominated since the category expanded from 5, which suggests that space films have a stronger chance under the new voting rules. In the past, films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” which won Oscars and were nominated for Best Director likely would have been nominated for Best Picture had more than 5 nominees been allowed. 
 
In terms of wins, none of the categories offer particularly strong hopes for a win. Best Visual Effects has had 9 “space travel” visual effects winners, but 9 out of 45 isn’t a fantastic track record.

In short, “Ad Astra” may factor into the nomination races for four or five below the line categories, but its chances beyond that are thin based on precedent. Assuming it is nominated in those 4 to 5 categories, its chances of winning them are slim at best.
 
Where do you see “Ad Astra” factoring in?
 
See a complete category by category breakdown below of Space Travel films at the Oscars.

​* Indicates an Oscar win
 
Best Picture

  1. Arrival
  2. Hidden Figures
  3. The Martian
  4. Gravity
  5. Avatar
  6. District 9
  7. Apollo 13
  8. The Right Stuff
  9. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  10. Star Wars

 
Best Director

  1. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  2. Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity*
  3. James Cameron – Avatar
  4. Steven Spielberg – ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  5. George Lucas – Star Wars
  6. Steven Spielberg – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  7. Stanley Kubrick – 2001: A Space Odyssey

 
Best Actress

  1. Sandra Bullock – Gravity
  2. Sigourney Weaver – Aliens

 
Best Actor

  1. Matt Damon – The Martian
  2. Jeff Bridges – Starman

 
Best Supporting Actress

  1. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  2. Kathleen Quinlan – Apollo 13
  3. Melinda Dillon – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 
Best Supporting Actor

  1. Ed Harris – Apollo 13
  2. Don Ameche – Cocoon*
  3. Sam Shepard – The Right Stuff
  4. Alec Guinness – Star Wars

 
Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Arrival
  2. Hidden Figures
  3. The Martian
  4. District 9
  5. Apollo 13

 
Best Original Screenplay

  1. Wall-E
  2. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  3. Star Wars
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey

 
Best Film Editing

  1. Arrival
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  3. Gravity*
  4. Avatar
  5. District 9
  6. Apollo 13*
  7. Aliens
  8. The Right Stuff*
  9. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  10. Superman
  11. Star Wars*
  12. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  13. War of the Worlds

 
Best Cinematography

  1. Arrival
  2. Gravity*
  3. Avatar*
  4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  5. The Right Stuff
  6. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  7. The Black Hole
  8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind*
  9. Marooned
  10. When Worlds Collide

 
Best Production Design

  1. First Man
  2. Arrival
  3. Passengers
  4. The Martian
  5. Interstellar
  6. Gravity
  7. Avatar*
  8. Gattaca
  9. Men in Black
  10. Apollo 13
  11. Aliens
  12. 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  13. The Right Stuff
  14. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  15. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  16. Alien
  17. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  18. Star Wars*
  19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  20. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  21. Visit to a Small Planet
  22. Destination Moon
  23. Just Imagine

 
Best Costume Design

  1. 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  2. Star Wars*
  3. Planet of the Apes

 
Best Original Score

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  2. Passengers
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  4. Interstellar
  5. Gravity*
  6. Avatar
  7. Wall-E
  8. Men in Black
  9. Apollo 13
  10. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  11. The Right Stuff*
  12. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  13. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial*
  14. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  15. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  16. Superman
  17. Star Wars*
  18. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  19. Planet of the Apes

 
Best Original Song

  1. Wall-E
  2. Armageddon

 
Best Sound Mixing

  1. First Man
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Arrival
  4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  5. The Martian
  6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  7. Interstellar
  8. Gravity*
  9. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  10. Avatar
  11. Star Trek
  12. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  13. Wall-E
  14. Transformers
  15. War of the Worlds
  16. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  17. Armageddon
  18. Contact
  19. Independence Day
  20. Apollo 13*
  21. Total Recall
  22. Aliens
  23. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  24. 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  25. Dune
  26. The Right Stuff*
  27. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  28. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial*
  29. Outland
  30. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back*
  31. Meteor
  32. Superman
  33. Star Wars*
  34. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  35. Marooned
  36. War of the Worlds

 
Best Sound Editing

  1. First Man
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Arrival*
  4. The Martian
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  6. Interstellar
  7. Gravity*
  8. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  9. Avatar
  10. Star Trek
  11. Wall-E
  12. Transformers
  13. War of the Worlds
  14. Space Cowboys
  15. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  16. Armageddon
  17. The Fifth Element
  18. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  19. Total Recall
  20. Aliens*
  21. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  22. The Right Stuff*
  23. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  24. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial*

 
Best Visual Effects

  1. First Man*
  2. Avengers: Infinity War
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  7. The Martian
  8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  9. Interstellar*
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Gravity*
  12. Star Trek Into Darkness
  13. Prometheus
  14. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  15. Avatar*
  16. District 9
  17. Star Trek
  18. Transformers
  19. Superman Returns
  20. War of the Worlds
  21. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  22. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  23. Armageddon
  24. Starship Troopers
  25. Independence Day*
  26. Apollo 13
  27. Allen 3
  28. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  29. Predator
  30. Aliens*
  31. Cocoon*
  32. 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  33. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial*
  34. Alien*
  35. The Black Hole
  36. Moonraker
  37. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  38. Star Wars*
  39. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  40. Marooned*
  41. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  42. Forbidden Planet
  43. War of the Worlds*
  44. When Worlds Collide*
  45. Destination Moon*

 
Best Makeup & Hairstyling

  1. Star Trek Beyond
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Star Trek*
  4. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  5. Men in Black*
  6. Star Trek: First Contact
  7. 2010: The Year We Make Contact

Best Animated Feature

  1. Wall-E*
  2. Lilo & Stitch
  3. Treasure Planet
  4. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

So what do you think? Do you think “Ad Astra” will be nominated for any Oscars this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

​You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies

Will Mavity
Will Mavityhttps://nextbestpicture.com
Loves Awards Season, analyzing stats & conducting interviews. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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