Close But No Cigar: Science Fiction’s Best Picture Nominations — And Losses
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
I’ll be honest, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. isn’t really the sort of movie that typically wound up on Oscar’s radar, especially back in the day when geek culture began to overtake pop culture. It was a classic Spielberg flick in all the best ways, full of magic and mystery, but at its core its goals are pretty simple: it’s just there to tell a wonderful story. And the tale of how the of Elliot (Henry Thomas) is changed after finding a stranded alien in his backyard shed is, most definitely a wonderful story, full of humor and wonder, but also tinged with the darker moments that made many ’80s ostensible childrens’ flicks so memorable. It’s a great movie, one people still love and return to 30 years later.
But E.T. was up against some tough competition for the Best Picture award, most notably Tootsie and Gandhi. Those two alone were a one-two punch of Oscar bait. The former starred an actor taking on one of the craft’s big challenges: convincingly portraying a member of the opposite sex. Well, convincingly portraying a different guy trying to convincingly portray a member of the opposite sex, anyway. As for Gandhi, it was a biopic about an important historical figure being played by an acclaimed and talented actor. As good as E.T. was, it’s hard to believe that it ever had a serious chance of slipping past those two for the Best Picture award, and that’s without even mentioning the other two nominees, The Verdict and Missing.
Still, E.T. certainly wins out when it comes to legacy. Three decades later, I guarantee you E.T. is part of more home video collections than its competition, and as great as Gandhi was, I can’t imagine there are throngs of people returning to it again and again over the years, and introducing it to their kids. That’s a victory E.T. can claim today, and will be able to claim for a long time to come. Hollywood can keep the damn Oscar. – David