1. Psycho (1960)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano
To be fair, Psycho, which is largely regarded as one of the greatest horror films, wasn’t completely snubbed at the Oscars — Hitchcock picked up a Best Director nomination, and Janet Leigh was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But what about Anthony Perkins’ pitch-perfect performance as Norman Bates? Or the movie as a whole?
2. The Birds (1963)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Curiously enough, The Birds earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects, even though the titular birds are probably the least convincing thing about the movie. It’s still a quality horror film, with Hitchcock’s expert direction elevating an otherwise silly concept to greatness.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Roman Polanski
If Rosemary’s Baby was good enough to earn a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, why not a nomination for Best Picture? The film remains one of the most powerful and unsettling horror films ever made, and Mia Farrow is brilliant in the titular role of Rosemary, a woman manipulated by everyone around her.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero and John A. Russo
In addition to being regarded as the single biggest inspiration to current zombie entertainment, Night of the Living Dead is also a brilliant allegory for civil rights. (Yes, really.) It’s smarter than anyone gave it credit for when it was released, which is too bad: The gore distracted from its awards season potential.
5. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now is a strange, somber horror film with a gut punch of an ending. The movie earns its shocking climax with gorgeous direction by Roeg and strong performances from leads Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, but it didn’t earn any Oscar nominations.
6. Carrie (1976)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen
Carrie wasn’t completely snubbed at the Academy Awards: Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie both earned nominations, for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. Still, it’s worth considering the entire film, which is so much more than its climactic (and bloody) prom revenge sequence.
7. The Omen (1976)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: David Seltzer
While The Omen won an Academy Award for Best Original Score and earned another nomination for Best Original Song, it was mostly overlooked. But the film is a smart, scary supernatural thriller that also incorporates elements of psychological terror, much like Rosemary’s Baby.
8. Suspiria (1977)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi
Realistically, Suspiria is just too weird to ever be an Oscars contender. But such a singular and mesmerizing vision is worthy of commendation. Argento’s horror film elevates the Italian giallo to something more artful, which is why Suspiria remains such an enduring influence in horror.
9. Halloween (1978)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
OK, Halloween isn’t exactly an Oscars movie, but it’s such a stunning achievement that it certainly deserved more recognition than it got. It established the slasher genre — it’s tense and brilliantly executed. And an Academy Award nomination could have changed the way we look at horror films.
10. Alien (1979)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Alien’s visual effects are great, and it deservedly won that Academy Award. But the film is such an achievement beyond that. While the entire franchise has merit, the first film is notable for being a more contained story — a sort of haunted house in space. And Sigourney Weaver was instantly iconic as Ripley.
11. The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Stephen King may not have been pleased with Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, but as a stand-alone work, the film is incredible. It could easily have been a Best Picture contender — even with Kubrick and star Shelley Duvall nominated for Razzie Awards for Worst Director and Worst Actress, respectively.
12. Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor
There’s a lot going on in Poltergeist, which takes a simple haunting story and adds a whole bunch of supernatural weirdness. But as odd as it is, it’s also very effective and often warm and funny. And really, what more could you ask for in a Best Picture nominee?
13. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Perhaps the most unconventional choice on this list, A Nightmare on Elm Street is classic horror for a reason. The original film is subtler than the increasingly over-the-top sequels, but it still offers a nice blend of traditional horror with the surrealist elements of nightmares.
14. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Directed by: John McNaughton
Written by: John McNaughton and Richard Fire
Most horror films that are as brutal and hard to watch as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer don’t get much critical claim, but Henry was widely praised at the time by top critics. Michael Rooker in particular is Oscar-worthy as the titular serial killer, delivering an intense and unnerving performance. But he didn’t get his due from the Academy.
15. The Fly (1986)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg and Charles Edward Pogue
Jeff Goldlbum is both creepy and sympathetic as Seth Brundle, slowly devolving into a terrifying human-fly hybrid. Despite the grossness of the film — it is, after all, filled with Cronenberg’s trademark body horror moments — The Fly is a fascinating and ultimately poignant look at science gone wrong.
16. 28 Days Later (2002)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Alex Garland
Like Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later used zombies to make a larger point about humanity. Beyond that, it’s bleak and surprisingly terrifying — the best socially conscious genre films don’t let the message detract from the horror, and they deserve recognition for doing so.
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