Oscar’s not fond of sci-fi, which includes classics like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which MGM premiered in New York on April 3, 1968.
Given its legendary status, it’s hard to believe “2001’s” only Oscar win was for Kubrick’s visual effects. It didn’t lose for best picture as it wasn’t even nominated. There were, however, losses for Kubrick for directing & co-writing with Arthur C. Clarke and a loss for art direction-set decoration. The Academy had nominated Kubrick & Clarke for original screenplay, although they’d based their script on Clarke’s 1948 short story “The Sentinel.” The Oscar went to Mel Brooks for writing “The Producers.”
No one was shocked in 1969 by Oscar’s snubs because the critics hated “2001.” The NY Times called it “Somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring.” Variety loathed its “confusing, long-unfolding plot.” And The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael dismissed it as “the biggest amateur movie of them all.”
The bad reviews were no surprise. At the NY premiere, 241 people walked out — including Rock Hudson, who asked, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” Actually, the filmmakers set out to avoid linear Hollywood storytelling. “If you understand ‘2001’ completely, we failed,” Clarke noted. “We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.”
Since then, Hollywood’s come to understand and applaud “2001.” Steven Spielberg said it was “the big bang” for his generation of filmmakers, and George Lucas acknowledged it was a major influence on “STAR WARS.”
The project originated with Kubrick reaching out to Clarke, saying he wanted to make “the proverbial good science-fiction movie.” Clarke suggested his story “Sentinel,” where an alien object is discovered on the Moon. The “2001” movie & the novel that they co-wrote open with a Dawn of Man scene relating to another Clarke story, “Encounter at Dawn,” while the film’s Star Child ending echoes Clarke’s novel “Childhood’s End.”
When “2001” opened, it didn’t do well at the boxoffice. MGM was going to pull it out of theatres but held off because exhibitors noticed large numbers of young adults coming to see it. Their enthusiasm for “2001” came from watching the Star Gate ending where the astronaut Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes a fetus within a transparent bubble floating in space. After they’d taken psychedelic drugs, watching this generated great word of mouth that made “2001” a boxoffice hit with solid ticket sales of $60.5M.