As a film genre, Science fiction has a difficult time getting attention at the Academy Awards. Occasionally, a performance in a sci-fi movie will be recognized with an Oscar nomination, such as Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1979) and Jeff Bridges in Starman (1984). But more often than not, great performances by actors in sci-fi movies go unrecognized at awards season each year; yet that doesn’t mean that there have not been deserving performances over the years. Here are 10 Oscar-worthy sci-fi performances that should have, at the very least, garnered these actors a nomination at the Academy Awards.
10. Jeff Goldblum – The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum got a lot of critical applause for his portrayal of scientist Seth Brundle in director David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. The movie is a combination of sci-fi and horror, as Goldblum’s character has his DNA fused with that of a housefly during a teleportation mishap and slowly disintegrates into a larger than life insect. The special effects are gruesome and gross, but Goldblum’s grounded performance makes the far-fetched situation seem strangely plausible, as he manages to make audiences care about his character becoming consumed by and transformed into a fly. In the hands of a lesser actor, the performance and movie could have descended into farce, but in Jeff Goldblum’s hands, it all works incredibly well. He holds the movie together through the sheer force of his actions and turns in an Oscar-worthy performance.
9. Linda Hamilton – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
One might argue that Linda Hamilton`s performance in Terminator 2 is over-the-top, but you have to give her props for both her acting and stunning physical transformation in the movie. Hamilton got totally ripped to play Sarah Connor in The Terminator sequel and took the character to the next level, playing her as a borderline unhinged maniac driven to the brink of insanity by the knowledge that the world as we know it will soon come to an end. When you consider that actor Robert De Niro received an Oscar nomination that same year for playing ripped and crazy inmate Max Cady in Cape Fear, it is worth considering Linda Hamilton’s similar performance in T2. Plus, she totally kicks ass in the film.
8. Richard Dreyfuss – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Richard Dreyfuss actually won the Best Actor Oscar in 1977, the year that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released, but he won the award for another movie he did that same year, The Goodbye Girl. Yet many movie critics felt that Richard Dreyfuss did superior work in Close Encounters, in which he played Roy Neary, a utility worker and every man who has an encounter with an alien spacecraft and feels drawn to a mountain in Wyoming. Dreyfuss is likable and believable in the lead role, and he never lets the special effects around him overwhelm him or the movie. He is also very funny in certain scenes and his reaction to the aliens and their spaceships are what we would imagine our own reactions would be like. Regardless, he still took home an Oscar for his work in 1977, and we’re sure his acting in Close Encounters helped endear him to Academy voters.
7. Jim Carrey – The Truman Show (1998)
Jim Carrey won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama for the 1998 movie The Truman Show (which, we’ll admit, isn’t technically a sci-fi movie) but got no recognition at the Academy Awards. This seemed especially harsh given that the movie’s director, Peter Weir, was nominated for an Oscar, as was thespian Ed Harris in the Best Supporting Actor category. Heck, the film’s screenplay even got a nod. But Jim Carrey was snubbed in what was billed as his first dramatic role. Many critics grumbled about the lack of Oscar recognition and felt it was due to the fact that Oscar voters just couldn’t take Carrey seriously after his outlandish performances in films such as Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. That is too bad, because Carrey gives his best performance to date in The Truman Show, as a man whose entire life is broadcast on television without him knowing it. The performance required a delicate balancing act, and Jim Carrey pulls it off perfectly.
6. Ian Holm – Alien (1979)
British actor Ian Holm’s performance as malfunctioning android Ash in the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien is so good that it continues to influence how actors portray androids on screen today. Cold, logical, and calculating, Ash, as portrayed by Holm, is totally convincing as a robot that is more fascinated by than scared of the alien creature that comes on board the Nostromo spaceship. It’s a credit to Ian Holm’s chops as an actor that we don’t realize that Ash is a robot until he malfunctions and attacks Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) late in the film. That moment is truly scary, as is the scene where Ash literally comes apart. Many critics felt that it was wrong that Robert Duvall received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1979 for his great but very small role in Apocalypse Now, yet Ian Holm was left out for Alien.
5. Sam Rockwell – Moon (2009)
In the 2009 movie Moon, actor Sam Rockwell has to carry the entire film. He is literally the only person in the motion picture except a small robot voiced by actor Kevin Spacey. Despite Moon’s lack of characters, the audience is totally engrossed by the predicament of Rockwell’s Sam Bell, an astronaut who comes to discover that he is, in fact, a clone and will not be returning to Earth from the Moon as he had hoped. True, the movie is helped along by a strong script and terrific direction by first-timer Duncan Jones, but the movie wouldn’t work if not for Rockwell’s stunning performance. His realizations and revelations pull viewers deeper into the movie and keep us riveted until the very end.
4. Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Charlize Theron`s performance in Mad Max: Fury Road was run over a bit by the film’s spectacular action and special effects, and that’s a shame because she delivers an emotional and powerful performance. Theron also provides the only realistic performance in the movie and serves as the film`s emotional core. Audiences feel more for Theron’s Imperator Furiosa than they do for Mad Max himself, as played by actor Tom Hardy, which is really saying something. Physically, her performance is fearless and Theron throws herself into the action and chaos with reckless abandon, and never lets on that the insanity swirling around her is over-the-top or too much for her character to handle. When you consider that this movie was nominated for ten Oscars and won six of them, it seems a shame that there was no nod for Charlize Theron`s work.
3. Michael Biehn – The Abyss (1989)
As unhinged Navy Seal Lt. Hiram Coffey in director James Cameron’s groundbreaking The Abyss, actor Michael Biehn delivers a tour de force performance. Not only did many critics and fans think Biehn should be nominated for an Oscar for his work in the movie, but the studio behind The Abyss did too. Twentieth Century Fox aggressively campaigned for Biehn to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, taking out advertisements in Hollywood trade publications and lobbying Oscar voters. Sadly, it was not to be and the Academy left Michael Biehn out of consideration that year. The movie received a handful of Oscar nominations in technical categories but got no recognition in the acting ones.
2. Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
This movie had two things working against it when it came to getting Academy recognition. One it is that it’s a sci-fi movie, which, as we know, is a genre that is not held in high esteem by Academy voters. Two, it was highly controversial upon its release in 1971. The violence and sex depicted in A Clockwork Orange were considered extremely offensive to audiences, and the film banned in some jurisdictions. Time has been kind to the movie and it is now regarded more fondly by critics, which is a good thing as it contains a great performance by British actor Malcolm McDowell as the lead character Alex. McDowell navigates some very tricky material in the film and his transformation from futuristic thug to penitent sinner is pretty miraculous. Many film critics consider this one of the defining acting performances of the 1970s and one that was completely ignored by disgusted Oscar voters back in 1971.
1. Sean Astin – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Although The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is most certainly not a sci-fi film, fantasy is another genre that is frequently overlooked by Academy voters. The final installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, yet many fans and critics alike felt it was a major oversight that actor Sean Astin wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Samwise Gamgee. As the main character Frodo’s helpful and loyal sidekick, Sean Astin delivers the most emotional, honest, and heartfelt performance in the film. To be fair, Astin was recognized by several critics’ groups for his work in The Return of the King, including the Chicago Film Critics and the National Board of Review, as well as a Saturn Award. Yet, while the movie ran away with the 2003 Oscars, Sean Astin was left out, a criminal oversight on the part of the Academy.