Genre In Film, a Coming of Age?

At one time a fan would be hard pressed to find a big-named actor at the height of his or her career in a genre film. Mostly actors whose faces were associated with genre were cast in genre — Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, etc. Oh sure, there were exceptions, but they were rare and mostly done for novelty sake. Usually an actor in a science fiction film was on the downward slide.

Things are different now. It’s not unusual to see important talent fighting the supernatural or taking on threats from outer space. In fact, genre films are even being nominated for Academy Awards, something unthinkable before the last few decades. In the past they may have been occasionally nominated (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist) and even handed a consolation prize for special effects or make-up. However Hollywood kept science fiction and fantasy at bay, refusing to look beyond its Saturday afternoon appeal.

These days, genre gets its due. Consider the praise and awards heaped on The Lord of the Rings, and Heath Ledger’s post-humous Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. This year, Inception is up for a Best Picture Award (although Christopher Nolan was snubbed for a best-director nomination).

Perhaps what is happening is that those kids raised on genre, those who sat in the theaters breathlessly watching light sabers or cheering for the heroes battling a gigantic monster as it carved a wake of destruction through Tokyo or New York are now those who are making today’s films and voting.

Maybe. Or perhaps the films have simply gotten better and genre has grown up.

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