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Why the Academy Awards should have an Oscar category for stunts

Astonishingly, the Oscars have been around for almost a century, and there’s still no statuette for ‘Best Stunt’ or ‘Best Stunt Performer’ though most movies rely on them.

With the Academy Awards season fast approaching, many are already guessing—or even placing bets— on who will win the iconic statuettes known as the Oscar.

When it comes to its nominations, some categories have been around ever since the Academy Awards were first presented in 1929, such as ‘Best Picture’ or ‘Best Director’. Other nominations were created over time, like ‘Best Animated Feature Film’ in 2001, after the masterpiece that was Shrek.

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However, there’s an artistic performance that, despite being a difficult deed that requires specific skills and dexterities and that most movies rely on, still hasn’t been recognized by the Academy Awards: Stunts.

The relevance of the stunt work in films

Stunts have been around in the film industry for quite a time— even before the Academy did. According to Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, by Gene Scott Freese, the first picture that used a dedicated stunt performer was released somewhere between 1903 and 1910.

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Furthermore, the first possible appearance of a stunt-double was by Frank Hanaway in The Great Train Robbery, shot in 1903. From then on, stunts were increasingly incorporated into films, giving way to the creation of different types, like stage combat and vehicular stunts, to enrich the cinematographic narrative.

Normally, stunts tend to be identified with action movies— which is evident given that this film genre usually features incredible yet risky scenes. Still, we can also find stunt works in other types of movies.

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For instance, Twilight’s Edward and Bella ‘running through the woods’ sequence (also known as the “hold on tight, spider monkey”) was acted by Rob and Kristen’s stunt doubles. An apology for breaking the magic to the Robsten fans!

Of course, not everyone can pull off this complex work! There are trained professionals who make a career by performing these daring acts for artistic purposes, pushing their human bodies to their limits.

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As a matter of fact, these athletes and artists are known as stunt performers, or stuntman or stuntwoman; when they take the place of another actor, they’re called stunt doubles.

Why is there no Oscar category for stunts?

Nowadays, the question of ‘why isn’t there a stunt category at the Academy Awards’ has become a major talking subject. And it’s easy to understand where this inquiry comes from. I mean, would Marvel movies, DC movies, Star Wars movies, and even our beloved rom coms, be the same if we took away the stunt doubles? Definitely not!

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So what’s the answer to this award enigma?

Well, there have been suggestions as to why the Academy hasn’t recognized stunt performers. For example, some people believe that, since stuntmen get their own award, The Taurus World Stunt Awards, it’s enough to recognize said performance (which isn’t!).

Another speculation focuses more on the Academy’s internal politics. When speaking with BBC, stunt veteran Jack Gill was that the Academy Board is worried that creating a totally new award could lengthen the show’s transmission- which has been criticized for being too long.

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Gill shared to BBC that he has explained to the Oscars committee that it wouldn’t be an issue. “We don’t even want to be part of the televised show,” Gill said. “You can give us our award the day before in a hotel room banquet hall. Anything, so we at least have some acknowledgment.”

On the other hand, a Vulture reporter suggested that “it may well be that many key members of the Academy still subscribe to an old way of thinking — one that sees stunts not as an art or a science but as a kind of infrastructural necessity.”

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The Academy should recognize stunt performers

There are hundreds of stunt performers who, despite great improvements in safety over the years, still risk their lives to enhance the cinema’s experience. While these professionals have been campaigning to get recognition from the Academy, to date they haven’t yet been able to get an Oscar statuette of their own.

“It’s disheartening because you’ve put your life and blood through it,” said Jack Gill to BBC. “Every single successful stunt coordinator I know has been sitting at home watching his film winning an Academy Award, and he’s not part of it.”

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In an interview with Collider, director of Deadpool 2 and co-producer of John Wick, David Leitch, explained why this Academy category is important to the stunt teams— including him:

“Look, for me, how we define those awards, that’s up for debate, and everyone has a slightly different opinion. […] I just think it’s out of respect. Every year, when you watch our contemporaries in every department celebrate film and the cinematic experience, it just feels weird to be left out of that when we’re as important as makeup, […] or visual effects. And we’re not more important, I think we’re as important. I just think it’s more about getting the recognition and allowing us to celebrate with our peers and celebrate cinema and how important we are to it. […] Hopefully, we’re close, and I think there’s more awareness every year, and I think there’s a lot of people working hard to make it happen”.

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Whether the stunt team’s involvement was minimal or indispensable for the movie’s storytelling, in the end, this arduous performance is part of the film production. So why not give them their own Oscar category once and for all?

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