7 Special Oscar Categories and Awards

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While Oscar categories such as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Director are well-known, there are a few special categories and awards that are a little more obscure. The Special Academy Awards—which are voted for by special committees and not by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—aren't presented on an annual basis like the major categories. Here are seven of these unfamiliar Oscars.

1. Academy Honorary Award

In 1948, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) instituted a special award for people who have had extraordinary career achievements or who have contributed to the film industry as a whole. Before 1948, the award was called the Special Award and the Honorary Award. Interestingly, the award is not limited to just individuals, but also open to motion picture organizations such as the National Film Board of Canada, individual movie studios, and outstanding individual film achievements like Rashomon and Bicycle Thieves. Past recipients of the Academy Honorary Award include Robert Altman, Sophia Loren, and Steve Martin.

2. Gordon E. Sawyer Award

Gordon E. Sawyer was the legendary sound director for Samuel Goldwyn Productions. Throughout his career, Sawyer was nominated 13 times and won Academy Awards for Best Sound for the The Bishop’s Wife, The Alamo, and West Side Story. He was also a member of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. After Sawyer’s death in 1980, a special award was instituted to honor individuals whose technological contributions to the film industry brought credibility to motion pictures. The Gordon E. Sawyer Award has only been given to 22 people since its inception in 1981, including Douglas Trumbull, Takuo Miyagishima, and Ray Harryhausen.

3. Academy Juvenile Award

In 1934, the AMPAS established the Academy Juvenile Award—also known as the Juvenile Oscar or the Oscarette. This honorary award was given to actors under the age of 18 for their "outstanding contributions to screen entertainment." The pint-sized prize was a miniature Oscar statuette that stood 7 inches tall (the full-size award stands at 13-and-a-half inches).

The Academy Juvenile Award was periodically given to child actors from 1934 until it was discontinued in 1961. Now actors under the age of 18 are nominated with their adult counterparts in various categories. Recipients of the Oscarette included Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Hayley Mills.

4. Academy Special Achievement Award

In 1972, the AMPAS established the Academy Special Achievement Award for highly exceptional contributions to motion pictures that were undefined by annual categories. For example, L.B. Abbott and A.D. Flowers won the Academy Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects for The Poseidon Adventure in 1972. At the time, the Best Visual Effects category that we know today was changed and modified under different titles and specifications such as Best Engineering Effects or Best Special Effects.

The honorary award was discontinued after 1995, when Toy Story animator John Lasseter accepting the Academy Special Achievement Award for First Feature-Length Computer-Animated Film.

5. Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

Danish-born Jean Pierre Hersholt was a prominent actor and director in Hollywood from the 1930s to the '50s. Hersholt served as the president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund, which supported industry employees with health care. He later helped start the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in the 1940s. Upon his death in 1956, the AMPAS issued the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is given to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry." Past honorees include Samuel Goldwyn, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Oprah Winfrey and, most recently, Angelina Jolie.

6. Academy Scientific and Technical Award

Since 1931, the Academy has handed out honorary awards that celebrate significant milestones in motion picture technology. The award can be given to individuals, organizations, and companies that advance technical, scientific, and engineering achievements in the film industry. Although the Academy doesn’t give out this award every year, they have given the Scientific and Technical Award to Eastman Kodak, Dolby Sound, and IMAX Entertainment.

7. Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award


Irving Grant Thalberg was a film producer for MGM who developed the studio's brand of sophisticated films throughout the 1920s and '30s. The award is given to film producers whose body of work is of consistently high quality. While the honorary award is technically an Oscar, its recipients are given an award with a bust of Irving G. Thalberg instead of the Oscar statuette. Since the award was instituted in 1937, only 38 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Awards have been granted to film producers, who include David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty, and George Lucas.