Oscar-Winning Horror and Suspense Movies

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences often snubs the horror and thriller genre. While these films please audiences and can rake in box office gold, they rarely take home the golden statuette. However, many films over the past decades were too good to be ignored. 

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Fredric March in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'.
© Paramount

The first horror movie to win an Academy Award, the literary adaptation "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," was edgy, stylish and ahead of its time. It's best known for its seamless transformation scene of the refined Jekyll turning into the monstrous Hyde—movie magic that remained a mystery for decades until director Rouben Mamoulian revealed the secret (colored filters and makeup). Star ​Fredric March was a co-winner of the Best Actor award (the only time the award has been shared), along with Wallace Beery for "The Champ." (Note: The now-more renowned "Frankenstein" was not nominated in any categories that year.)

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931)
Best Actor: Fredric March
*Also nominated for Best Cinematography (Karl Struss) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein).

"Phantom of the Opera" (1943)
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color: Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman, Russell A. Gausman, and Ira Webb
Best Cinematography, Color: Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene
*Also nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (Edward Ward) and Best Sound Recording (Bernard B. Brown).

"Gaslight" (1944)
Best Actress: Ingrid Bergman
Best Art Direction (Black-and-White): Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Edwin B. Willis, and Paul Huldschinsky
*Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Boyer), Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury), Best Adapted Screenplay (John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch, and John Van Druten) and Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg).

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

L-R: George Sanders, Angela Lansbury and Hurd Hatfield in 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.
L-R: George Sanders, Angela Lansbury and Hurd Hatfield in 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. © MGM

The first "talkie" adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" won for Best Black-and-White Cinematography, although the film features two Technicolor inserts of Dorian Gray's portrait for effect. A 20-year-old Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, the second consecutive year she was nominated for the award in a suspense thriller, following her role in 1944's "Gaslight."

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945)
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Harry Stradling Sr.
*Also nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury) and Best Black-and-White Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, Edwin B. Willis, John Bonar, and Hugh Hunt).

"Spellbound" ​(1945)
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Miklós Rózsa
*Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Black-and White Cinematography (George Barnes), and Best Special Effects (Jack Cosgrove).

"Mighty Joe Young" (1949)
Best Special Effects: No person specified.

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Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Mia Farrow in 'Rosemary's Baby'.
Mia Farrow in 'Rosemary's Baby'. © Paramount

An enduring genre favorite, "Rosemary's Baby" is one of the rare genre films to receive major award-worthy acclaim during its release, earning nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress, the latter of which was won by Ruth Gordon. Its success opened the way for a series of supernatural horror hits in the '70s, led by ​"The Exorcist" and ​"The Omen."

"The Virgin Spring" (1960)
Best Foreign Language Film
*Also nominated for Best Black-and-White Costume Design (Marik Vos).

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962)
Best Costume Design, Black and White: Norma Koch
*Also nominated for best Actress (Bette Davis), Best Supporting Actor (Victor Buono), Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Ernest Haller), and Best Sound (Joseph D. Kelly).

"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Best Supporting Actress: Ruth Gordon
*Also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Roman Polanski).

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The Exorcist (1973)

Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist'.
L-R: Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in 'The Exorcist'. © Warner Bros.

"​The Exorcist" ​is probably the "purest" horror movie to receive widespread Academy Awards acclaim, racking up 10 nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. It won only two lesser awards but still stands as one of the primary examples of the artistry (and Oscar legitimacy) of horror cinema.

"The Exorcist" (1973)
Best Sound: Robert Knudson, Chris Newman
Best Adapted Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
*Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Best Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), Best Cinematography (Owen Roizman), Best Art Direction (Bill Malley and Jerry Wunderlich), and Best Editing (John C. Broderick, Bud S. Smith, Evan A. Lottman, and Norman Gay).

"​Jaws" (1975)
Best Editing: Verna Fields
Best Original Score: John Williams
Best Sound: Robert L. Hoyt, Roger Heman Jr., Earl Madery, John R. Carter
*Also nominated for Best Picture.

"King Kong" (1976)
Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects: Carlo Rambaldi, Glen Robinson, Frank Van der Veer
*Also nominated for Best Cinematography (Richard H. Kline) and Best Sound (Harry W. Tetrick, William L. McCaughey, Aaron Rochin, and Jack Solomon).

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David Naughton in 'An American Werewolf in London'.
David Naughton in 'An American Werewolf in London'. © Universal

Makeup legend Rick Baker's groundbreaking special effects in "An American Werewolf in London," particularly those in the werewolf transformation scenes, so impressed the Academy that it created the category Best Achievement in Makeup specifically for the film. (As such, the other nominee, "Heartbeeps," didn't stand much of a chance.)

"​The Omen" (1976)
Best Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith
*Also nominated for Best Original Song ("Ave Satani" by Jerry Goldsmith).

"Alien" (1979)
Best Visual Effects: H.R. Giger, Carlo Rambaldi, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Denys Ayling
*Also nominated for Best Art Direction (Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker).

"An American Werewolf in London" (1981)
Best Makeup: Rick Baker

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Aliens (1986)

The cast of 'Aliens'.
The cast of 'Aliens'. © 20th Century Fox

Along with Rick Baker, Stan Winston was the preeminent makeup/special effects guru of the '80s and '90s, and he won his first Oscar in 1986 for his work on "Aliens." Perhaps more notable, however, was a non-win: the mere nomination of Sigourney Weaver for Best Actress, an extreme rarity for a film that combined three genres often viewed as pariahs to major awards programs: horror, science fiction, and action.

"Aliens" ​(1986)
Best Sound Effects Editing: Don Sharpe
Best Visual Effects: Robert Skotak, Stan Winston, John Richardson, and Suzanne M. Benson
*Also nominated for Best Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Best Original Score (James Horner), Best Sound (Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, and Roy Charman), Best Editing (Ray Lovejoy), and Best Art Direction (Peter Lamont and Crispian Sallis).

"The Fly" ​(1986)
Best Makeup: Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis

"Beetlejuice" (1988)
Best Makeup: Ve Neill, Steve LaPorte, and Robert Short

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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in 'The Silence of the Lambs'.
Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in 'The Silence of the Lambs'. © MGM

The early 90s featured the greatest flourish of Oscar success for horror/suspense movies in the history of the awards, with a Best Picture win, plus two Best Actresses, a Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director in the 1990–91 timeframe. Leading this push was the serial killer thriller ​"The Silence of the Lambs," which became a cultural touchstone that inspired a rash of similarly gritty suspense movies throughout the decade.

"Ghost" (1990)
Best Supporting Actress: Whoopi Goldberg
Best Original Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin
*Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Editing (Walter Murch) and Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre).

"Misery" (1990)
Best Actress: Kathy Bates

"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
Best Picture
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress: Jodie Foster
Best Director: Jonathan Demme
Best Adapted Screenplay: Ted Tally
*Also nominated for Best Editing (Craig McKay) and Best Sound (Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman).

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Jurassic Park (1993)

A scene from 'Jurassic park'.
A scene from 'Jurassic park'. © Universal

Special effects maestro Stan Winston took home another Oscar for "Jurassic Park," the blockbuster that put computer-generated effects on the map as a force to be reckoned with in the future of filmmaking. Not surprisingly, all three of its nominations were technology-based, and not surprisingly, it won all three.

"Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)
Best Costume Design: Eiko Ishioka​
Best Sound Effects Editing: Tom C. McCarthy and David E. Stone
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom, Michèle Burke, and Matthew W. Mungle
*Also nominated for Best Art Direction (Thomas E. Sanders and Garrett Lewis).

"Death Becomes Her" (1992)
Best Visual Effects: Ken Ralston, Doug Chiang, Douglas Smythe and Tom Woodruff Jr.

"Jurassic Park" (1993)
Best Sound Effects Editing: Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns
Best Visual Effects: Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, and Michael Lantieri
Best Sound: Gary Summers, Gary Rydstrom, Shawn Murphy, and Ron Judkins

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Johnny Depp in 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.
Johnny Depp in 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. © DreamWorks

Starting with 1988's "Beetlejuice," director Tim Burton has had a hand in a series of popularly accessible and critically acclaimed horror-skewed films, including the Johnny Depp vehicles "Sleepy Hollow" and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," both of which won Oscars for Best Art Direction, reflecting Burton's dark, twisted style.

"The Ghost and the Darkness" (1997)
Best Sound Effects Editing: Bruce Stambler

"Sleepy Hollow" (1999)
Best Art Direction: Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young
*Also nominated for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood).

"King Kong" (2005)
Best Sound Editing: Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn
Best Sound Mixing: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek
Best Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers and Richard Taylor
*Also nominated for Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, and Simon Bright).

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007)
Best Art Direction: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo
*Also nominated for Best Actor (Johnny Depp) and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood).

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Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'.
Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'. © Fox Searchlight

One of the rare genre films to receive multiple nominations in the "Big Five" Oscar categories, psychological thriller "Black Swan" won only one—Natalie Portman's Best Actress nod—but perhaps just as impressive for such a small independent production, it became a surprise commercial smash hit (over $100 million at the box office) and a cultural touchstone.

"Black Swan" (2010)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman
*Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Darren Aronofsky), Best Cinematography (Matthew Libatique ) and Best Editing (Andrew Weisblum)

"The Wolfman" (2010)
Best Makeup: Rick Baker, Dave Elsey

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)
Best Editing: 
Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
*Also nominated for Best Actress (Rooney Mara), Best Cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth), Best Sound Mixing (David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson ) and Best Sound Editing (Ren Klyce )

"The Revenant" (2015)
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
Directing: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
*Also nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Tom Hardy), Best Picture, Costume Design (Jacqueline West), Film Editing (Stephen Mirrione), Makeup and Hairstyling (Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini), Production Design (Jack Fisk and Hamish Purdy), Sound Editing (Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender), Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek), Visual Effects (Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith, and Cameron Waldbauer).