Movie adaptations of Stephen King novels are nothing new, but expectation in the recent IT remake has been off the charts following early rave reviews. At the center of the story is evil clown Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard. His maniacal performance is on arguably on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker, though talk of an Oscar nomination is muted. After all, horror struggles to break into the awards circuit due to its low-brow associations.
However, over the years, several actors and actresses have broken tradition to earn their place among the Academy’s nominees and winners with some of the greatest horror performances of all time. Here are 10 of them.
Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise
Pennywise goes much darker in the latest cinematic incarnation of IT, compared to Tim Curry’s lauded performance from 1990. The film has bee garnering rave reviews and unprecedented box office numbers in its opening weekend, but can it translate the hype into nominations?
IT was released in the UK from 8th September 2017, co-starring Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis.
Does Bill Skarsgard deserve a nomination?
Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Silence of the Lambs was the last horror film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, way back in 1992. Among it’s awards was leading actress for Jodie Foster and leading actor for Hopkins’ iconic portrayal of serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
Featuring classic lines such as “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”, The Silence of the Lambs is revered as one of the greatest movies of all time, with Hopkins chilling performance at the center.
Kathy Bates, Misery
One of several Oscar nominated Stephen King adaptations was the tense horror drama Misery, about an author (James Caan) abducted by obsessed fan Kathy Bates.
The film’s only Oscar came from its only nomination, for Bates’ leading performance. It remains her only Academy Award despite two further nominations, but Annie Wilkes remains arguably her most famous role.
Sissy Spacek, Carrie
At the time Carrie was adapted for the big screen, Sissy Spacek was an established 26 year old actress. However her portrayal of the telekinetic title character was no less convincing in one of the ultimate vengeance films and an all time classic.
Spacek was nominated for leading actress, her first of many. In 1981 she won the award for Coal Miner’s Daughter and would go on to earn another four leading nominations, but her first is the most memorable the the actress was forever synonymous with the character, despite a tragic attempt by Chloe Grace-Moretz in the 2013 remake.
Piper Laurie, Carrie
Carrie‘s only other nomination was for Spacey’s co-star. Though Piper Laurie could only muster a supporting actress campaign, her performance as Carrie’s devoutly religious mother was intense and powerful, giving the film a compelling dynamic at the heart of a traditional supernatural horror narrative.
Though Laurie would not reach the career heights of Spacek, she does have three Oscar nominations to her name and was the star name on the Carrie ticket.
Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist
Banned in the UK for 25 years, The Exorcist gained unprecedented notoriety not matched since. For its time the film dared to cross boundaries and challenge taboos that cinema until then steered far clear from.
Like Laurie, Ellen Burstyn was a rising star but established enough to have a previous nomination to her name (The Last Picture Show). The Exorcist was perhaps the film that propelled her into the spotlight, as the mother struggling to save her daughter from demonic possession.
The following year, Burstyn won the Oscar for leading actress in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Linda Blair, The Exorcist
Though Ellen Burstyn was the biggest name on the poster, by far the biggest star of The Exorcist was Linda Blair, who at just 15 years old was nominated for leading actress. Blair performance as Reagan would be so infamous and so shocking that she would struggled to break type throughout her career. It would be her only Oscar nomination.
Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Back in the day when horrors and musicals dominated Hollywood production, it was more common to see genre films among the big Academy Award contenders. Such was the case for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – nominated for three and winning leading actor for its star Fredric March.
March’s second leading Oscar would come 15 years later for The Best Years of Our Lives while his fifth and final appearance at the awards would be in 1952 for Death of a Salesman. March was one of the biggest movie stars of the early twentieth century, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde among a slate of memorable and highly acclaimed performances.
Janet Leigh, Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock is horror’s most famous auteur. His innovative approach to filmmaking brought a roster of classics to life including Rope, The Birds and, most famously, Robert Bloch’s Psycho.
Based on the real life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein, many would assume if any of the cast deserved Oscar recognition it should be Anthony Perkins, the one-time Hollywood heartthrob whose incomparable characterisation of Norman Bates would ruin his career. However, it was Janet Leigh who earned a nomination for supporting actress as the hopeless Marion Crane.
Psycho received four nominations including for Hitchcock’s masterclass in directing.
Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby
During a time when Roman Polanski was allowed to make films in America, he produced one of the horror genre’s all time greats. Rosemary’s Baby was a cult film that sent chills down the spine of any expectant parents.
The film received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, but also won Ruth Gordon an award for best supporting actress, after four previously unsuccessful nominations.
Sigourney Weaver, Aliens
In a film arguably more sci-fi than horror, Ridley Scott’s Aliens paved the way for movies led by strong female protagonists, thanks to an acclaimed and ultimately Oscar nominated performance from Sigourney Weaver.
It was her first of three nominations, while Aliens scooped seven in total, converting two for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects.