You might not know about the Saturn Awards, much less that they were first given out in 1972 as a way to honor achievements in sci-fi fantasy and horror—genres that often were overlooked and underappreciated by mainstream critics.
But the 39th Saturn Awards ceremony on Wednesday night in Burbank, Calif., showed just how far genre fare has come. While the red carpet featured such eclectic stars as Ewok and R2-D2, mingling in the crowd were Oscar-winning directors William Friedkin and Quentin Tarantino and actor Bryan Cranston.
More importantly, some of the night's biggest winners are widely considered among the best in entertainment, period, including Marvel’s "The Avengers" and AMC’s "Breaking Bad."
"Genre films make money now," Joss Whedon, director and writer of "The Avengers," told Yahoo News before the ceremony. "But we still need events like this. Otherwise, a lot of the accomplishments go overlooked.”
The celebratory night, however, began on a somber note with a tribute to legendary writer Richard Matheson, 87, who died on Sunday. The author of “I Am Legend” and classic episodes of “The Twilight Zone” was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award at the ceremony. His son, R.C. Matheson, accepted the award on his behalf.
“He was so looking forward to being here tonight,” Matheson said, lifting the award above his head. “Thank you, Richard Matheson," he added softly before walking offstage.
There were other emotional moments throughout the ceremony as well. “Breaking Bad” star Cranston won the award for best actor in a television drama and spent the entirety of his speech thanking series creator Vince Gilligan for conceiving the critically acclaimed series. “He’s dragged me along for six years,” Cranston told the audience. Gilligan was given his own legacy award for his work on shows like “The X Files,” in addition to "Breaking Bad."
Laurie Holden, who received a standing ovation, won for best supporting actress for her work during the first three seasons of AMC's “The Walking Dead.”
However, much of the night was a much lighter affair. Unlike at other major award ceremonies, several of the presenters and winners spoke off the cuff.
“It would be dramatic to say that sci-fi saved my life,” said presenter Wayne Brady. “But in many ways it did.” Brady told the audience that when he was growing up in a violent Florida neighborhood he often turned to comic books and science-fiction novels to find inspiration.
"I had a walk-on role in the 'Stargate' television series, and I thought I'd made it," he said.
Of course, many of the attendees were equally willing to poke fun at their own work over the years. Especially when those films and shows have lived on as fan favorites.
“Somebody came up to me the other day and said they had seen it 1,403 times,” actor Barry Bostwick said of his appearance in the 1975 musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show." “I said, 'Get a life,'" he said to laughs from the audience.
When writer and director Shane Black took the stage to present Friedkin with a lifetime achievement award, he cited the director’s genre works such as “The Exorcist” and “Sorcerer” as equal to his other films such as “The French Connection.”
“It's no secret that 'The Exorcist' is my favorite movie,” Black said. “It only gets better each time you watch it. He makes very powerful films that happen to fall within a genre. I'd watch it tonight, and I'd learn something from it.”
For his part, Friedkin said many of our most beloved and honored films are genre, but that when they rise to a certain level of acceptance, audiences and critics forget that.
“'The Wizard of Oz’ is a genre film. So is ‘2001,’ and so is ‘Psycho,’" Friedkin, whose most recent film, “Killer Joe,” won several Saturn Awards, said in his speech.
“Richard Matheson was the teacher of all of us. You put this award next to an Academy Award, and this is what you're going to look at,” he added.