Could ‘Arrival’ Be the First Sci-Fi Film to Ever Win Best Picture?
By: Carson Blackwelder
Amid a sea of awards-worthy cinema this year, Arrival stands out from the pack for one simple reason: it’s different. Thanks to excellent reviews, solid cast performances, and a strong showing at the box office, the Denis Villeneuve-directed flick stands a chance at being nominated for best picture — but how does it fit into the history of the sci-fi genre at the Oscars?
Arrival — based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang and was written by Eric Heisserer — is considered a possibility for Hollywood’s top prize by this site’s namesake, Scott Feinberg. It stars the likes of Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker and follows a team of investigators who are racing against time to figure out how to communicate with Earth’s extraterrestrial visitors after giant spaceships pop up around the world. So far Arrival has garnered a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, an 81 out of 100 on Metacritic, and an average of a “B” on an A+ to F scale from CinemaScore.
Should Arrival — which thus far is considered a smart take on the genre with a lot of hope for the future — get a nomination in this coveted category, it would join a relatively small pool of sci-fi films throughout the years to earn this level of prestige. Should it win, on the other hand, it would be the first sci-fi film to ever take home the biggest title out there in the movie world.
Films in the sci-fi genre have a tendency to be nominated sparingly, with works like A Clockwork Orange (1971), Star Wars (1977), and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) being examples of classics that earned a spot. Since the 2010 Oscar ceremony, though, there has been quite a significant increase in sci-fi films getting best picture nomination thanks to the Academy’s expansion of the category — at first to 10 and then to anywhere between five and 10.
In the few years since this expansion, sci-fi has been in the spotlight much more with these films earning a nomination: Avatar (2009), District 9 (2009), Inception (2010), Gravity (2013), Her (2013), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and The Martian (2015). It might not seem like very many films, but, given the genre’s track record in this category, it is a dramatically improved situation.
Arguably, though, there have been plenty of sci-fi films that have been overlooked throughout the years — some of which are considered foundations of the genre — such as: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), RoboCop (1987), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), The Matrix (1999), Interstellar (2014), and Ex Machina (2015) just to name a few.
Perhaps Arrival will just be like many other sci-fi films that came before it and find more success in the non-best picture categories. Feinberg has predicted the film’s chances in seven other categories and indicated the chances of a nomination happening in parentheses: best actress (major threat), best adapted screenplay (major threat), best cinematography (major threat), best film editing (long shot), best original score (long shot), best production design (possibility), and best visual effects (major threat).
Are we saying Arrival should be the first sci-fi film to win the Oscar for best picture? Not necessarily, but a win for this genre is long overdue. If Arrival isn’t the film to break this barrier for sci-fi, hopefully the one that will is right around the corner and will hit the big screen soon.