Oscar Categories: Then and Now

By Thomas Esposito

March 12th marks the 95th Academy Awards Ceremony. This might not be a centennial anniversary just yet, but the Oscars have been around for a while. The award categories that we know today are for the most coveted achievements in the film industry. In preparation for the upcoming show, here’s a look at how the Oscar categories have changed over the years since the first Academy Awards in 1929.

This year, twenty three Oscars will be handed out, recognizing a variety of contributors to filmmaking from writers to composers to costume designers. The categories that are being awarded include; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Documentary Feature Film, Best Documentary Short Film, Best Film Editing, Best International Feature Film, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Animated Feature Film, Best Animated Short Film, Best Costume Design, Best Live Action Short, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, and Best Sound.

The first Academy Awards had a smaller range of twelve categories including: Outstanding Picture, Best Unique and Artistic Picture, Best Directing (Comedy Picture), Best Directing (Dramatic Picture), Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Writing (Original Story), Best Writing (Adaptation), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Engineering Effects, and Best Writing (Title Writing).  A Special Award was also given to both Charles Chaplin for The Circus, and to Warner Bros. for The Jazz Singer.

The number of categories has nearly doubled since the first ceremony. There are awards today that weren’t around in the early days of film and some categories have been given new names.  Then, there are others that have come and gone. Here’s a look at original Academy Award categories which we won’t be seeing this year.

Best Title Writing

Despite what it sounds like, this category doesn’t refer to a movie’s name. This award was given only once at the very first Academy Awards. As the last installments of the silent film era were clinging to their fading glory, this category was made to recognize the best writing for title cards displaying storyline text on the silent screen. The times changed quickly over the course of a year, however. Talkies took over silent films which made the Best Title Writing category obsolete and it was discontinued.

Best Engineering Effects

Similar to the Best Title Writing Category, the award for this category was given out only once in 1927 to the film, Wings, at the first Academy Awards Ceremony. Set during World War I, the movie’s plot revolves around fighter pilots and aviation. Wings won the award for the effects used to capture flying action. The principle of the Best Engineering Effects category aligns with today’s Best Visual Effects category.

Best Directing (Comedy Picture) and Best Directing (Dramatic Picture)

In the first year of the Academy Awards, the category for Best Directing was split into two categories: Best Directing (Dramatic Picture), and Best Directing (Comedy Picture). But after Oscar’s first year, the two categories were combined. Most nominees today for Best Director are characteristically chosen for displaying their expertise in dramatic direction.

Best Assistant Director

Despite their hard work, not a lot of credit is given to assistant directors, and their names aren’t as well known as primary film directors. This award category was a chance for assistant directors to get the recognition for their unending work. But the issue with this category is in comparing one AD’s performance to another. An assistant director is responsible for a wide range of tasks that can vary on different film shoots. Considering how one shoot could also have multiple assistant directors, it creates a gray area of assigning one name to a job that several people may have done. Because of this, the Best Assistant Director award had just a brief run between 1933 and 1937.

Best Dance Direction

Although Dance scenes may not be as common in films today as they have been in the past, this award still could apply to a number of films today. The discontinuation of this category is attributed mainly to the use of the word “direction” in the title. Since the award wasn’t made for directors, but included the word “direction” it was done away with to avoid sounding too similar to the Best Director category.

Best Title Design

This award was proposed for the 1999 Academy Awards but never received the green light. It actually does refer to the title of a movie along with the best opening and closing sequences that are common in many movies.

The Academy’s addition of new Oscars and the discontinuation of certain award categories reflect how the film industry continuously adapts to the evolution of technology and thrives by changing along with the world and the times. Who knows which of the current awards given out on March 12th will not be around in ninety five years from now and what new ones will walk the red carpet by then.


“6 Academy Award Categories That no Longer Exist” http://www.bdcwire.com/oscars-categories-that-no-longer-exist/

Giles, Jeff “Discontinued Academy Awards” rottontomatoes.com 15 Jan. 2015 https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/discontinued-academy-awards/

Norkey, Trevor “8 Oscar Categories the Academy Got Rid of” movieweb.com, 19 Feb. 2019, https://movieweb.com/oscar-categories-removed/#3-best-director-comedy

Panganiban, Roma “7 Discontinued Oscar Categories” mentalfloss.com, 13 Jan. 2020, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/49007/7-discontinued-oscar-categories

Raquel, Stecher “Oscars of the Past: A Look at Discontinued Categories By Raqual Stecher” https://tcm.tumblr.com/post/649537479242825728/oscars-of-the-past-a-look-at-discontinued

Sign up to get the latest updates from the Greenwich International Film Festival on event schedules and announcements.
  We hate spam and never share your details.