Guide to the Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

We're breaking down the Hugo Award categories, starting with Best Dramatic Presentation.

To win a Hugo Award is to earn one of the most prestigious honors in the science fiction and fantasy storytelling world. Past winners have included speculative fiction legends like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler. 

The Guardian called the annual awards “one of the most venerable, democratic and international” in 2008, and — though the voting system and ceremony came under considerable stress and criticism since then, mostly due to Puppygate — the Hugos still matter to people who think speculative fiction matters.

The Hugos are voted on by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention (better known as Worldcon). The convention takes place in a different city every year. This August, it will be held in Helsinki, Finland, and we’re using the intervening weeks to highlight different Hugo categories, as well as give our picks for which speculative fiction works should take home the Hugo.

Here are all of the nominees for Best Dramatic Awards (Long Form). Which one do you think should win the prestigious honor?

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Best Sci-Fi Movies - Arrival (2016)

Arrival

Screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)

It’s incredibly rare to find a high-concept science fiction film that actually lives up to the ambitions of its premise and sticks the landing, but Arrival is that glorious exception. Based off of a short story by Ted Chiang, Arrival tells the story of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a professor of linguistics tasked with communicating with a mysterious, newly-arrived alien species.

We’ve seen film set-ups like this before, but Arrival goes above and beyond in its exploration of Louise’s interiority and emotional journey, tying the relatively-straight forward plot into incredibly nuanced questions of time, grief, and language. It does this by placing an immense amount of faith in the audience’s willingness to work. In a sea of Hollywood blockbusters that demand so little of their audience, Arrival treated us all like thinking, curious individuals. (One of the many reasons why it made one of our Top 10 Movies of 2016 list.)

Watch Arrival on Amazon

Arrival is one of those movies where everything comes together — writing, perfomance, direction, cinematography, and soundtrack — to create something special. The fact that this is also a film that highlights the importance of communication (and the dangers of devaluing it) in a year where we seem to be worse at communicating than ever, elevates this beautifully-woven science fiction film to something necessary.

For more on Arrival, check out some of our features on the film. (We really liked Arrival here at Den of Geek.)

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Screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kinberg Genre/The Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment)

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The Merc with a Mouth finally got his chance at cinematic glory in this self-aware, R-rated comedy that took the box office by storm in 2016, making almost $800 million worldwide. Deadpool‘s genius comes in its fresh tonal take on the all-too-common origin story we’ve gotten since the current comic book movie craze started 15 years ago.

While it was hard to get too excited about Doctor Strange, for example — which was basically another Iron Man, but with trippy, Inception-level visual effects — Deadpool found a way to have its cake and eat it, too. It lampooned other comic book creations while being one itself. The walking of this fine line all came down to the character. Wade/Deadpool is a comic book character who belongs in a cynically-meta movie like this one.

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In this phase of the Comic Book Movie Heyday, new installments either need to do something new or make interested commentary on what has come before. With its vulgar, violent presentation and its mocking irreverence of the comic book movie formula, Deadpool managed to do both.

To read more about Deadpool, check out some of Den of Geek‘s features on the movie:

Deadpool Review

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Ghostbusters

Screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig (Columbia Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/Pascal Pictures/Feigco Entertainment/Ghostcorps/The Montecito Picture Company)

The debut of this female-led reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise was sadly marred by pre-release internet backlash from angry white men who didn’t like the idea of women playing a more prominent role in pop culture. This, along with its banning in China, hampered the run of what was a fun, female-centric horror comedy. 

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Ghostbustersmore or less follows the plot of the 1984 classic, with a group of New York-based ghosthunters working to keep the city from supernatural forces. With an all-star cast that included Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth and Paul Feig behind the camera, this movie had more good parts than bad. And, while most will agree that the Ghostbusters reboot did not reach the high bar set by the original, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an entertaining, bounday-breaking blockbuster in a year that could have done with a few more of those, especially given how the year ended.

To read more about Ghostbusters, check out these other stories from Den of Geek:

Ghostbusters Review

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Hidden Figures

Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi (Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/Levantine Films/TSG Entertainment)

Black women are amongst the most underrepresented demographics in Hollywood cinema. Though the outlook was slightly better in 2016, black female protagonists are still rare. When they do show up in film, female characters in general are less likely to be seen at work and less likely to be portrayed as leaders. Enter Hidden Figures, a bright light of a film that tells the true story of three African-American women who worked at NASA as a mathematician, a supervisor, and an engineer, respectively, during the space race of the 1960s. 

Starring the wonderful Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae,Hidden Figures is a smart, affecting, joyful movie. In terms of structure, it follows the biographical drama rules pretty closely. However, it does it so well (and, again, with an uncommon emphasis on black women as protagonists), it’s hard to care. 

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Hollywood often likes to write black people out of the narrative of American history, especially when it comes to the accomplishments and/or stories that aren’t explicitly “black history.” Hidden Figures actively fights against that dangerous trend. It also subverts Hollywood formula in another important way: reframing the story of American genius not in terms of individuality, but community. Not many recent films have managed to walk this fine line between formula and subversion so well. Hidden Figures was undoubtedly one of the best of the year.

To read more about our take on Hidden Figures, check out our Den of Geek review.

Rogue One

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Screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards (Lucasfilm/Allison Shearmur Productions/Black Hangar Studios/Stereo D/Walt Disney Pictures)

Star Wars: Rogue One was far from a perfect movie, but as an example of what is possible in a standalone film from a larger, already-established shared fictional universe, it is near perfect in its ambitions.

Ostensibly telling the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a reluctant rebel whose father was the reluctant engineer (there’s a lot of reluctance in this family) who built the Death Star, Rogue One is really a larger story about all of the “invisible” people who make The Chosen One’s victory possible.

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Jyn Erso and her band of ragtag freedom fighter friends represent every person who sacrificed something to take down the Death Star. In its tale of war and rebellion, Rogue One not only entertains on its own, it makes A New Hope — a film that came out 40 years ago to become one of the most important films of all time — a better movie. And it did it all with the most diverse Star Wars cast ever.

For more of Den of Geek‘s thoughts on Rogue One, check out these features:

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Stranger Things, Season One

Created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment/Monkey Massacre)

The only TV show on the list, I’m not sure how I feel about trying to compare an entire season of a television show with a feature film, but the Hugo Awards are going for it. And there might not be a better TV show to do it with than Stranger Things, which is so informed by science fiction stories of the 1980s (especially those made by Steven Spielberg) that it’s hard to tell where the references end and the original story that is Stranger Things Season 1 begins.

When a boy vanishes with barely a trace from a small town in 1983 Indiana, his friends, family, and the local sheriff start to uncover the weird, terrifying secret of his disappearance. Stranger Things Season 1 is worth following for the riveting plot alone, but add in the living nostalgia of this specific time period in American history (and the pop culture that came out of it), and you have eight episodes of non-stop entertainment.

Stranger Things has a Season 2 currently in production, but this first season of supernatural shenanigans and horrors stands on its own as one of the best speculative fiction experiences of 2016.

To read more about Stranger Things, check out these Den of Geek features:

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Stranger Things Creators Talk 80s Inspirations, Influences

Den of Geek Pick: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Den of Geek Pick: Arrival

We’re suckers for Arrival at Den of Geek. The film set its ambitions incredibly high and managed to fulfill them, giving us a roller coaster of a cinematic experience that was not only deeply affecting, but endlessly relevant to our world in 2016. The best speculative fiction, challenges, subverts, and makes you think about the world and yourself in new and important ways. We loved all of the Hugo nominees on this list, but, when if forced to choose the best of 2016’s speculative fiction, Arrival has our vote.

To see what other speculative fiction works have been nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards in other categories, check out our full list. And be sure to check back next week when we look at the nominees for “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” before moving on to the literary works up for awards.