Want to impress some less-nerdy Oscar party guests this weekend? We’ve got just the thing.
If you’re a sci-fi nerd who lives and breathes that superhero, space-adventure, creature-feature life, the 2019 awards season has left something to be desired. Oh sure, most critics would agree 2019 was a very good year for film overall, and yes a DC Comics movie is among the most celebrated movies in the pack, but that’s it. It’s nothing like recent years where truly weird, wonderful sci-fi fantasies like The Shape of Water or Black Panther were in the mix.
So how do you go about representing that nerd side? Below, we’ve broken down the nominees in several of the major categories and provided you with some facts, trivia, connections, and more that maybe you knew, but maybe you didn’t, linking this year’s Oscar nominees to the wide world of sci-fi, fantasy, and beyond.
It stars Christian Bale, aka the Batman of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, for one. That should be the most obvious thing. (Though Bale, surprisingly enough, was not nominated for an acting award this year.) His co-star, Matt Damon, has nothing but love for space, starring in both The Martian as well as Interstellar. But director James Mangold made not one but two Wolverine movies: The Wolverine and Logan. And if you want to go even further back, Mangold was one of the writers on Disney’s 1988 animated film, Oliver & Company.
There are two big sci-fi things going for The Irishman. One: it’s the movie that got the whole Martin Scorsese vs. Marvel debate going. But it also uses de-aging technology in a way that’s even more significant than what’s been used in comic book movies like Iron Man 3 or Ant-Man.
Despite its serious story of war and loss, Jojo Rabbit is bursting with sci-fi and fantasy roots. Taika Waititi, of course, directed What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok before this film, and followed it up by doing the finale of The Mandalorian, as well as playing the bounty hunter IG-11. It co-stars Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, and Sam Rockwell got his big break in Galaxy Quest before eventually co-starring in Iron Man 2.
Duh. This is the one comic book movie in the bunch, even though it’s not exactly comic book-y in tone. Beyond that though, co-star Zazie Beetz played, and may again play, Domino in the Deadpool franchise; Brett Cullen, who plays Thomas Wayne, played a congressman in The Dark Knight Rises; and this movie will almost certainly not connect with The Batman movie that’s currently filming. Sorry.
Little Women is a little more difficult but the sci-fi connections are there. The most fun one is that co-star Timothée Chalamet will be playing Paul Atreides, the lead in the new adaptation of Dune. So if you haven’t seen Chalamet before, here’s a good chance. Also, younger sister Florence Pugh (the star of Midsommar) will play another younger sister later this year, in Marvel’s Black Widow.
It’s Kylo Ren vs. Black Widow with Vice Admiral Holdo in support. Come on now!
The plot of 1917 has something in common with Avengers: Endgame. Both are about finding Doctor Strange. Meaning, the person the film’s main character is looking for is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Along the way they meet Shazam villain Mark Strong. Also, one of its other stars, Dean-Charles Chapman, was Tommen Baratheon in Game of Thrones.
Of course, co-star Margot Robbie is maybe best known for playing DC villain Harley Quinn—and one of the film’s most famous, and controversial scenes, takes place on the set of a comic book show, The Green Hornet.
Before Bong Joon-ho found mainstream acclaim with Parasite, he made not one, not two, but three excellent sci-fi films. There was the environmentally conscious Okja, the pulse-pounding Chris Evans vehicle Snowpiercer, and the excellent monster saga The Host. Don’t let anyone say sci-fi isn’t a path to dramatic success.
The career of Antonio Banderas is so varied you can find him working in almost every genre. He was Zorro, Puss in Boots, he was in Spy Kids, musicals, video game adaptations, you name it. But none of it—none of it—beats the fact that he turned into a meme thanks to footage from the movie Assassins. (Which, if you can believe it, was written by the Wachowskis and directed by Richard Donner of Goonies and Superman fame.)
For most of his career, Leonardo DiCaprio has kept things pretty grounded. Of course, he did rob people’s minds in Christopher Nolan’s Inception but his biggest geek story has to be that he was reportedly one of the finalists to play Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones, but lost out to Hayden Christensen. Imagine that.
Again, Driver is Kylo Ren, that’s the easy part. But did you know besides his Oscar-nominated role in Marriage Story and The Rise of Skywalker, in 2019 he also starred in a zombie movie with Bill Murray? It’s true. Here’s our review of The Dead Don’t Die:
Before he was Joker, Joaquin Phoenix almost played another comic book character, Doctor Strange. Rumor is he was offered the role in the Marvel Studios film but ultimately turned it down. But he’s not a stranger to sci-fi films either. At the age of 12, he starred in Space Camp, later he did Signs and The Village with M. Night Shyamalan—and also Spike Jonze’s Her, in which he fell in love with the voice of Scarlett Johansson.
Jonathan Pryce’s career is insanely long and decorated. Brazil comes to mind. The Pirates of the Caribbean and James Bond franchises. He also played the President in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. But two fantastic callbacks to remember are his roles as Mr. Dark in 1983's Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson in 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Just don’t forget he was the evil High Sparrow in Game of Thrones too. Shame. Shame.
Cynthia Erivo is still relatively new in her career, but we can “Six Degrees” her a bit. One of her big breakout roles was in Bad Times at the El Royale which was swimming in sci-fi royalty (Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, etc.). She was cast in that film by Drew Goddard, who wrote Cloverfield and directed The Cabin in the Woods and the Daredevil Netflix show, and worked on, but never made, both X-Force and Sinister Six movies. However, Erivo is currently starring in HBO’s Stephen King adaptation, The Outsider which our own Cheryl Eddy has reviewed positively.
Again, Scarlett Johansson is so well-known for playing Black Widow that the connection here is obvious. But, beyond that, she was also in two “ghost” movies that weren’t about ghosts: Ghost in the Shell and Ghost World. She voiced that fancy AI Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with in Her, and starred in a creepy indie alien film called Under the Skin which may be getting a TV adaptation soon. Don’t forget she also starred alongside Obi-Wan himself, Ewan McGregor, in The Island.
Besides playing an assassin in Hanna and a ghost in The Lovely Bones, Saoirse Ronan’s coolest claim to sci-fi fame is that she reportedly auditioned to be Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Once upon a time, she was also rumored for the Scarlet Witch role which eventually went to Elizabeth Olsen.
Charlie Theron is already the goddess of sci-fi fantasy for playing Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another fun fact is that in the summer of 2008 she was in another big-budget comic book movie. Not Iron Man. Not The Dark Knight. Hancock, starring Will Smith. From there, the list goes on and on: Mighty Joe Young, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Devil’s Advocate, Æon Flux, Addams Family, The Orville...Theron is sci-fi royalty.
When Renee Zellweger was first breaking into the business, she appeared in small roles in a bunch of big movies (Dazed and Confused, Empire Records, Reality Bites) but had a starring role in 1995's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. She also lent her voice to a few animated films like Monsters vs. Aliens and Bee Movie.
Tom Hanks has done it all and that includes sci-fi fantasy. Some of his first big hits, like Big and Splash, were in the genre, and of course, he’s the voice of Woody in the Toy Story movies. But two fun, slightly under-the-radar connections (which is difficult when it’s Mr. Tom Hanks) are that he starred in the graphic novel adaptation Road to Perdition and played the many souls of a man throughout time in the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas. He even starred, and here’s a deep cut, in a 1982 TV movie called Mazes and Monsters that was kind of a Dungeons and Dragons ripoff.
Again, Anthony Hopkins is just one of the greatest actors of all-time. This whole Supporting Actor category is almost too good. But while his portrayal of Hannibal the Cannibal is truly iconic, you do sometimes forget that Hopkins is Odin in the Thor movies. And that he co-starred with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder as Van Helsing in Bram Stroker Dracula. More recently, he played the creator of Westworld on Westworld.
We all know Pacino’s serious roles. He’s Al Frickin Pacino for crying out loud. Which is why it’s still so memorable that Warren Beatty got him to play the heavily made-up bad guy Big Boy Caprice in 1990's Dick Tracy.
Joe Pesci has had an incredibly successful career, especially if his goal was not to be in any sci-fi movies. With the small exceptions of a role on Tales from the Crypt and in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, Pesci has almost completely avoided deep genre movies throughout his career so we’ll resort to this. Our favorite piece of Pesci trivia is that the same year he released Goodfellas, for which he won an Oscar, he also starred in Home Alone. Talk about a one-two punch.
Obviously, Brad Pitt has done a lot of sci-fi. He even did one last year, Ad Astra. 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Benjamin Button, you know them all. If you want something a little nerdier though, you should look at the films Pitt’s production company, Plan B, has produced. Movies like Okja (by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho), Kick-Ass, and TV shows like Netflix’s The OA and Fox’s Lego Masters. Bet you didn’t think of those as Brad Pitt projects, right?
Bates has already won an Oscar for a genre movie, starring as Annie Wilkes in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery, so it’s hard to top that. But the fact she was the voice of Hester, Lee Hornsby’s Daemon, in the 2007 Golden Compass movie is pretty solid too. Not to mention her roles in Dick Tracy (which is just filled with Oscar winners) and multiple seasons of American Horror Story.
Vice Admiral Holdo? Of course. Ellie Sadler? Obviously. Numerous David Lynch movies? Hell yes. But, did you know Dern is returning to her Jurassic roots in next summer’s Jurassic World 3? It’s true.
Oh ScarJo, you already went.
Appropriately, the upcoming Black Widow film stars not one but two 2020 Oscar nominees. Along with Johansson, there’s also Pugh, who had an amazing 2019 with the underrated Midsommer and the wrestling biopic Fighting With My Family.
She’s starring in the weekend’s biggest movie as a popular comic book character. She’s Harley Freakin’ Quinn! And she’ll continue to be Harley Freakin’ Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad sequel. She was also Jane in The Legend of Tarzan, did a voice in the Peter Rabbit movies, and will soon be playing Barbie.
The Academy Awards air Sunday night on ABC.
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