A Century of Film

Sound Editing

It’s hard to know precisely what to think of Sound Editing, partially because of its strange awards history.  The Academy has a long history of awarding Best Sound (which will be the next category, up before too long) but made no distinction other than “Best Sound”.  In 1963, they branched out a bit and added a second award for Best Sound Effects, an award that is generally considered to be the same as today’s Sound Editing award.

Yet, the Academy was slow on the ball there.  The Motion Picture Sound Editors began their own award way, way back in 1953, at a point where the only existing guild awards were those for the two major guilds that had been such a part of union battles for so long and had formed their own awards, in part, to lash out at the academy (the directors and screenwriters).  This is the only guild award that actually pre-dates an equivalent award at the Academy and did so by a decade.

Then there is the question of what a sound editor is and how that is different from a sound mixer, which is what the current Best Sound category is called at the Oscars.  At the Oscars, the award for Sound Editing is generally awarded to the Supervising Sound Editor (if one is listed) and sometimes the Sound Designer (though they are often the same person).  But the MPSE has had no such specific distinction as can be seen in the history of their award listed down below.  Lots of older films have nothing more than a “Sound Editor” listed and sometimes not even that.  Many of the films prior to 1950 have no one listed.  Of the first 20 Nighthawk winners in this category, only six of them have someone I could find to give credit to for the award.

The general distinction is held to be this – the sound mixers and recordists (before they started listing them as mixers) record sounds that occur when filming (including dialogue).  The sound editors are responsible for those sounds effects that are added later.  So, in a film like Star Wars, the sounds of dialogue and people and actions are the Sound (or Sound Mixing) category.  The sounds of Darth Vader, the lightsabers, the Wilhelm Scream and the droids come from the Sound Editing.

My Top 5 Sound Editing Jobs in Film History:

  1. Saving Private Ryan
  2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  3. Titanic
  4. The Hunt for Red October
  5. The Aviator

The other 9 Point Films (chronological):

  • Seven Samurai
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Alien
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Das Boot
  • The Right Stuff
  • Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
  • Die Hard
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Jurassic Park
  • Heat
  • The Fifth Element
  • Ronin
  • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • Fight Club
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  • Minority Report
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • King Kong  (2005)
  • Batman Begins
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  • Casino Royale
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Dark Knight

note:  I rate all aspects of film on a 9 point scale.  They also correspond to the 100 point scale for Best Picture.  Films above *** (76-99) all land on the scale.  1 point is for 76-79, just worth mentioning.  2 points is for 80-83, a weak mention, 3 points is for 84-87, near great, 4 points is for 88-89 (which is ****), a solid nominee, 5 points is for 90-91, a very solid nominee, 6 points is for 92-93, a weak winner, a 7 points is for 94-95, a worthwhile winner, 8 points is 96-97, the kind of winner you can’t complain about even if it’s not your #1 choice and 9 points is for 98-99, the very best of all-time.  The above list are my 9 point films for Makeup through 2011, listed chronologically.

Ben Burtt celebrating the first of his four Oscars with a couple of co-workers.

The Editors

Ichirô Minawa

The sound editor on 25 films, most of them Kurosawa films, including the magnificent work on Seven Samurai, Minawa also worked on the first two Godzilla films, helping to create some of the sounds (though not the iconic roar).
Key Films:  Seven Samurai, Kagemusha, Yojimbo

Winston Ryder

Hosed by the Academy because they had the Sound Effects category from 1963 to 1967 meaning they missed his work on Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 and his work on 2001 in 1968.  He never was even nominated for an Oscar but he wins four Nighthawks including for his work on Bridge on the River Kwai and The Sound Barrier.  Ryder was the sound editor on most of David Lean’s films.
Key Films:  2001: A Space Odyssey, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia

Don Hall

Again, never an Oscar nominee though he later won a special commendation from the Academy.  He was the resident sound genius at Fox in the late 60’s and early 70’s which means he dominates the Nighthawks for a short stretch with not only the three films listed below but also Patton, Tora Tora Tora, Young Frankenstein, The Towering Inferno and French Connection II.  All of that was in just a six year stretch.
Key Films:  The French Connection, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Poseidon Adventure

Ben Burtt

A winner of four Oscars, two of them special (Star Wars, Raiders) and two of them competitive (ET, Last Crusade), Burtt created many of the iconic sounds in the Star Wars franchise including Darth Vader’s breathing and the sound of the lightsabers.  He would also, years later, be the “voice” of Wall-E, doing many of his sounds.  He also took the Wilhelm Scream and made it a key sound in the Star Wars universe.
Key Films:  Star Wars (franchise), Indiana Jones (franchise)

George Watters II

He won two Oscars (The Hunt for Red October, Pearl Harbor) and the Career Achievement Award from the MPSE.  He also has six other Oscar nominations giving him 200 total points, placing him third all-time.  In Absolute Nighthawk points he ranks 6th all-time.  He’s most associated with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, having worked on 25 of his films.
Key Films:  The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Top Gun

Richard Hymns

He’s in 2nd place on all the lists – the Nighthawk points list, the Nighthawk weighted list, the Nighthawk absolute list and the Oscars list, just behind Ben Burtt on all of them.  That’s appropriate because he won his first Oscar with Burtt (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and then won two (Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan) more working with Gary Rydstrom (next on this list).  Has done a lot of great work with Steven Spielberg.
Key Films:  Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Fight Club

Gary Rydstrom

Rydstrom is a multi-talented sound technician because he’s not only won three Oscars for Sound Editing (Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan), he’s also won four for Sound Mixing (the same three plus Titanic).  At the Oscars he’s tied for second in points and at the Nighthawks he’s tied for third but he’ll also factor heavily on the Sound Mixing list.
Key Films:  Saving Private Ryan, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park


Gray Rydstrom and Richard Hymns with their Oscars from Saving Private Ryan.

The Academy Awards


This category, as mentioned in the introduction, has a very odd Oscar history.  Even though the MPSE Awards began way back in 1953, it wouldn’t be until 1963 that the Oscars would finally establish a separate award from Best Sound.  That award was called Best Sound Effects and it had two nominees and it existed from 1963 to 1967.  Then it went away again.

In the 1970’s, it was awarded sporadically, was never given as a competitive category (only as a special award) and did not have a consistent name.  In 1975, it was awarded as Best Sound Effects to The Hindenburg, an odd choice in the same year as Jaws and given that they had skipped over such films as 2001, The French Connection, The Poseidon Adventure and The Conversation in the intervening years.  Then it skipped 1976 and in 1977 two awards were given, Best Sound Effects to Star Wars and Best Sound Effects Editing to Close Encounters.  Then it skipped 1978 again and was awarded in 1979 as Best Sound Editing to The Black Stallion.

In 1981, the category seemed to finally settle in as permanent.  It wouldn’t always be competitive (in 1981, 1984 and 1987 it was just a special award) and while there were usually three nominees, there were only two in 1983.  Supposedly this was the time when the “semi-finalist” list came into effect but I have never seen any for any year prior to 1996.

The era of three nominees continued from 1988 to 2005 (with two years, 2000 and 2001, of just two nominees) even though it changed names from Best Sound Effects Editing to Best Sound Editing in 2000.  Starting in 1996, the Academy published the names of the seven “semi-finalists” that were contenders for the regular nominations.

One last thing to note is that since expanding to five nominees, this category has been quite strong.  The Oscar Scores since 2006 when the category was expanded and the list of semi-finalists was dropped has never been below 70 and is usually above 80.


Steven Spielberg massively dominates this list.  He has directed six winning films (Close Encounters, Raiders, ET, Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan), the first two of them special winners, as well as three other nominees (Minority Report, War of the Worlds, War Horse).  He even had two more films that were semi-finalists (Lost World, AI).  James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis are both very distant second place finishers with four noms each, three wins for Cameron and two for Zemeckis.


This was one of the first branches to really embrace sequels given that the second award in the category went to Goldfinger.  After that, it would be a while until Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (matching the award that Raiders had won), then came Terminator 2, The Two Towers, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight, all of them remarkable in that the original films, weren’t even nominated.  At a glance, I counted 14 other sequels that earned nominations from an astounding 11 different franchises.


A genre that not only isn’t dominated by Drama but in which Drama isn’t even one of the two biggest.  This category is topped by Sci-Fi (just over 20%) and Action (just under 20%) while Drama is down just above 10% of the nominees with War at exactly 10%.  Oddly, Musical is the only genre to never receive a nomination, even though both Ray and Walk the Line were semi-finalists.  Perhaps even more odd is that while Comedy only has five nominations (4.55%) it won four of those awards (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Great Race, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), taking home 10% of the Oscars.  The awards are spread out with, in order Sci-Fi, Action, War, Drama, Fantasy and Comedy all between 17.5% and 10%.  The genres without a win (aside from Musical) are Crime, Mystery and Western.

Best Picture:

Only three films have won both Best Picture and Sound Editing: Braveheart, Titanic and The Hurt Locker.  Four other Picture winners have earned Sound Editing nominations (In the Heat of the Night, Forrest Gump, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire).  Ten films have won Sound Editing with a Picture nomination while another eight films have simply earned nominations in both categories.  It took until 2007 before there was a year with multiple Picture nominees also nominated for Sound Editing.  This category once went a decade between Picture nominees (from 1983 to 1993).  For more on Best Picture weirdness see the bit at the bottom of the Oscars category of this post.

Foreign Films:

Unlike the MPSE which has its own Foreign category, the Oscars have never embraced Foreign films in the Sound Editing category.  There have been three nominees that weren’t in English and two of them were products of Hollywood directors directing in a foreign language in the same year no less (Letters from Iwo Jima, Apocalypto).  The only real Foreign Film to earn a nomination was Das Boot which happened not to be nominated for Foreign Film making it the only category which has no overlap with Sound Editing.

Single Nominations:

Of the 110 films nominated for Sound Editing, 18 of them received no other nominations.  That’s 16.36% which is pretty in-line with many other categories.  But, of those 18, only two of them won the Oscar: Goldfinger and The Ghost and the Darkness and they were both nominated against other films that had no other nominations.  So, the only two years it has happened it was actually guaranteed to happen once the nominations were announced.  So, only 5% of the winners have earned no other nominations which is pretty low (lower than Sound Mixing).  As I mention in greater detail below, 8 of the 18 films that received no other nominations were during the strange stretch from 1996 to 2005.

Other Categories:

It should be no surprise that Sound Editing most often matches up with Sound Mixing.  Of the 110 films nominated for Sound Editing, 79 of them (71.81%) were also nominated for Sound Mixing.  The only year where there was no crossover (in a regular year with multiple nominees) were 1964 and 1996 – the two years where none of the Sound Editing nominees earned any other nominations.  Since the nominees were expanded in 2006 only year had less than four films nominated for both (2010 with only two) while during the years of three nominees there were many years where all the Sound Editing nominees were nominated for Sound.  There is also a high crossover of winners, with 16 films winning both awards, two Sound winners earning Sound Editing nominations (ironically both of them Best Picture winners: In the Heat of the Night and Slumdog Millionaire) and 19 Sound Editing winners earning Sound nominations.  In fact, only five Sound Editing winners failed to earn a Sound nomination (Goldfinger, Black Stallion, Dracula, Ghost and the Darkness, Letters from Iwo Jima).  Continuing on with what I said in genre, the negative crossover on the other side stems from Musicals.  Three of the most recent four films to win Sound without a Sound Editing nomination were Musicals and a full third of the Sound winners that weren’t nominated for Sound Editing were Musicals.

In terms of other categories, the biggest crossover is Editing (41 films, 10 of which won both) and Visual Effects (38 films, 14 won both).  Except for Foreign Film, where there is no crossover, the lowest crossover is in the two female acting categories.  In fact, no Actress or Supporting Actress winner has ever even been nominated for Sound Editing and there are as many films nominated for both Sound Editing and Animated Film (7) even though it didn’t exist for the first 66 Sound Editing nominations as Actress (4) and Supporting Actress (3) combined.  In fact, in the eight year stretch from 2003 to 2010, six of the eight Animated Film winners were nominated for Sound Editing (probably not coincidentally, all of them were Pixar films).  The only film to win any acting Oscar and win Sound Editing is The Dark Knight.

The Academy Awards Top 10:

  1. Ben Burtt  –  240
  2. Richard Hymns  –  220
  3. Gary Rydstrom  –  220
  4. George Watters II  –  200
  5. Christopher Boyes  –  160
  6. Charles L. Campbell  –  140
  7. Stephen Hunter Flick  –  140
  8. Alan Murray  –  140
  9. Michael Silvers  –  140
  10. Richard King  –  140

note:  Wins are worth 40 points and nominations are worth 20.

Top 5 Oscar Winners:

  1. Saving Private Ryan
  2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  3. Titanic
  4. The Hunt for Red October
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Worst 5 Oscar Winners:

  1. The River
  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  3. The Great Race
  4. Braveheart
  5. Robocop

Worst 5 Oscar Nominees:

  1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  2. The Lively Set
  3. A Gathering of Eagles
  4. Daylight
  5. Wanted

Top 5 Oscar Years:

  1. 1977  (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
  2. 1983  (The Right Stuff, Return of the Jedi)
  3. 1999  (The Matrix, The Phantom Menace, Fight Club)
  4. 1988  (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, Willow)
  5. 2002  (The Two Towers, Minority Report, Road to Perdition)

note:  Years with only a special winner are not included.  1977 is included because there were two winners.
note:  The best year with 5 nominees is 2009  (The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Star Trek, Up, Inglourious Basterds)

Top 5 Oscar Years by Oscar Score:

  1. 1999  –  100  (The Matrix, The Phantom Menace, Fight Club)
  2. 1988  –  100  (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, Willow)
  3. 1983  –  100  (The Right Stuff, Return of the Jedi)
  4. 1977  –  100  (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
  5. 1966  –  100  (Grand Prix, Fantastic Voyage)

note:  The best year with 5 nominees is 2009 with 94.4.
note:  The difference between this list and the previous one is that the first one is a flat total based on my 9 point scale.  In this one, it’s comparing my top three films to the ones the Oscars actually nominated.  So, in the first one, it’s how good are the nominees.  In this one it’s how good are the nominees compared to what else was eligible.

Worst 5 Oscar Years:

  1. 1963  (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, A Gathering of Eagles)
  2. 1996  (The Ghost and the Darkness, Daylight, Eraser)
  3. 1965  (The Great Race, Von Ryan’s Express)
  4. 1967  (The Dirty Dozen, In the Heat of the Night)
  5. 1964  (Goldfinger, The Lively Set)

note:  Years with only a special winner are not included.
note:  The worst year with 5 nominees is 2011  (Hugo, War Horse, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Drive, Transformers: Dark of the Moon)

Worst 5 Oscar Years by Oscar Score:

  1. 1984  –  0  (The River)
  2. 1963  –  0  (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, A Gathering of Eagles)
  3. 1996  –  15.0  (The Ghost and the Darkness, Daylight, Eraser)
  4. 1979  –  22.2  (The Black Stallion)
  5. 1965  –  28.6  (The Great Race, Von Ryan’s Express)

note:  The worst year with 5 nominees is 2006 with 71.1 (Letters from Iwo Jima, Blood Diamond, Apocalypto, Flags of our Fathers, Pirates of the Caribbean).
note:  The difference between this list and the previous one is that the first one is a flat total based on my 9 point scale.  In this one, it’s comparing my top three films to the ones the Oscars actually nominated.  So, in the first one, it’s how good are the nominees.  In this one it’s how good are the nominees compared to what else was eligible.

Top 5 Oscar Snubs in Years Without an Award  (1926-1962, 1969-1974, 1976, 1978, 1980)

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Seven Samurai
  4. The French Connection
  5. The Bridge on the River Kwai

Top 5 Semi-Finalists That Weren’t Nominated  (1996-2005)

  1. The Aviator
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  4. Ronin
  5. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Top 5 Films That Weren’t Nominated (or, if from 1996-2005, on the semi-finals list either)

  1. Heat
  2. Alien
  3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Batman Begins

Top 5 Films to win the Oscar (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  4. Inception
  5. The Dark Knight

Worst 5 Films to win the Oscar  (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. Pearl Harbor
  2. The Hindenburg
  3. Speed
  4. The Ghost and the Darkness
  5. Robocop

Worst 5 Films to earn an Oscar nomination (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. Daylight
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  3. Transformers
  4. Pearl Harbor
  5. Wanted

Years in Which the Worst of the Nominees Won the Oscar:

  • 1995:  Braveheart over Crimson Tide and Batman Forever
  • 1999:  The Matrix over Phantom Menace and Fight Club
  • 2000:  U-571 over Space Cowboys

Puzzling Oscar Choices (1996-2005):

note:  Starting in 1996, the Oscars published a list of 7 semi-finalists before the actual 3 nominees were announced.  And it was also a really odd stretch in the category.  From 1981, when the category was permanently established to 1995 there were only three films that earned a nomination for Sound Editing without any other nominations (Rambo, Lethal Weapon 2, Flatliners).  Since the category moved to five nominees, in spite of the extra nominees, there have only been three films nominated with no other nominations, all in 2010 and 2011 (Tron: Legacy, Unstoppable, Drive).  But in this decade of the published semi-finalist list, there were eight nominees who earned no other nominations, including one of only two films to win Sound Editing without any other Oscar nominations (The Ghost and the Darkness).  Likewise, from 1981 to 1995 there were two Best Picture winners in the category and four other nominees.  From 2006 to 2011 there would be, in just six years, three winners and ten other nominees.  But in this decade, only one Picture winner (Titanic) and three other nominees (Saving Private Ryan, Two Towers, Master and Commander) would earn nominations (in fact, all would win the award).  But that gets even more strange when you look at the list below and see what the semi-finals list had as opposed to what was among the actual nominees.  In all, two Best Picture winners and seven other Picture nominees were semi-finalists during this stretch that failed to earn actual nominations.

  • 1997:  Face/Off nominated over L.A. Confidential
  • 1998:  The Mask of Zorro nominated over The Thin Red Line
  • 2000:  The Academy goes with just two nominees including Space Cowboys rather than nominate Picture winner Gladiator
  • 2001:  The Academy again goes with just two nominees including Pearl Harbor and passes over Fellowship of the Ring and Black Hawk Down
  • 2003:  Another Best Picture is passed over: Return of the King, which means Two Towers won the award while the other two films weren’t even nominated
  • 2004:  The Aviator is passed over as is Best Sound winner Ray

Oscar Lists

  • Worst Oscar Winner:  The River
  • Average Oscar Winner  (9 point scale):  6.25
  • Average Oscar Nominee  (9 point scale):  5.18
  • Total Oscar Score:  72.5
  • Average Oscar Winner Rank:  3.42
  • Average Oscar Winner Rank Among Nominees:  1.33
  • Average Film Score of a Sound Editing Nominee:  75.39  (Oscar average: 71.90)
  • Average Film Score of a Sound Editing Winner:  79.13  (Oscar average: 77.04)


The BAFTAs present an interesting quandary here.  I won’t really write about them because they have no specific award for Sound Editing.  However, I should point out that their Best Sound award combines the two Oscar categories (that are also represented by two separate guilds).  For instance, Richard King (the multi-Oscar winning Sound Editor who works with Christopher Nolan) has only been nominated (and won) at the Oscars in the Sound Editing category but he has also been nominated (and won) at the BAFTAs for Best Sound.  So their award encompasses this one.  Still, for more on their award, check the upcoming Best Sound post.

The Motion Picture Sound Editors Award


As mentioned above, the MPSE began their awards back in 1953, just the third guild to begin awarding its members, long before they were eligible for any awards at the Oscars.  At first it was just called “Best Sound Editing” and that’s how it was for a decade.  Starting in 1963, the same year the Oscars added the “Sound Effects” category, the MPSE added a second award originally called “Loop Lines” but changed in the next year to “Dialogue”.  Through 1981, the group would continue to award the two awards.  The Wild Bunch, in 1969, was the first to win both awards but since the MPSE doesn’t list its historical winners anywhere, it’s unknown if those awards went to the same person.  In 1973, the Sound Editing was changed to Sound Effects.  The Exorcist, Damien: The Omen Part II and Raiders of the Lost Ark were other films to win both awards.  In 1982, the MPSE specifically started awarding Foreign Films, adding two new categories; essentially they were the same categories but for Foreign films.  Oddly, it didn’t distinguish by language because while Das Boot won the Foreign Sound Effects award, Victor/Victoria won the Foreign Dialogue award.  Through 1993 only three other changes were made – changing the name of Dialogue to ADR in 1983, adding a Sound Effects award for Animated films in 1985 and adding nominees to the regular Sound Effects award in 1983.  In 1994, they added yet another category (Best Sound Editing – Music).

Then came 1997.  First, they added a new category (Sound Editing – Music in an Animated Film).  But they also decided to add nominees in all the categories.  In 1996, there were five winners from five categories plus an additional nominee in Sound Effects and three additional ones in Sound Editing, Music.  But in 1997 there were 40 nominees spread across six different categories (with Titanic becoming the first film to win three awards, the maximum possible and it is still the only film to win all three awards).  So, today, the MPSE accounts for a massive number of nominations each year and because they nominate across different categories their information about who they nominate isn’t all that useful.

One thing I won’t be doing is comparing what other guild nominations MPSE nominees received.  That’s because it’s so out of proportion and it provides an interesting comparison to the WGA.  Through 2011, the two groups have had similar numbers of nominations (905 for the WGA, 802 for the MPSE), both comprising about 20% of all guild nominations.  But they were in vastly different time periods.  Through 1982, the WGA had so many nominations (and guilds as a whole had so few) that they accounted for well over 50% almost every year.  The MPSE had one winner and then later two winners and accounted for less than 10% of the nominations.  But the MPSE started increasing their categories and then in 1997, they exploded, as mentioned above.  For a couple of years (before the Makeup award began), they accounted for 36 and 42 percent of the nominations, then in the mid 30’s (before the VES ramped up) and since then, in the mid to low 20’s.  The only meaningful comparison is with the VES and only since 2002.  Of the 338 films nominated for the MPSE from 2002 to 2011 (yes, 338 – and that’s just the films, not the total number of nominations), 110 of them have been nominated by both groups and even that low number is a reflection that the VES nominates certain films a lot of times so the total number of films in relation to the total number of nominations is much lower than at the MPSE.  In the MPSE’s history it has nominated 639 films but given out 808 nominations with the vast majority of the difference coming since the increase in 1997.  The result of this is that there are a lot of films that earn MPSE nominations but not only no other guild nominations, but no other awards nominations at all.  For a bigger description of that tendency, see the list just below the “See It for the Sound Editing” list.

The Nighthawk Awards

note:  Because my awards go, retroactively, all the way back through 1912, there are a lot more nominees and winners than in the other awards.  But I don’t always have a full slate of nominees and some years I don’t have any nominees.


Just like at the Oscars, this list is dominated by Steven Spielberg.  His films have won the award six times (Jaws, Raiders, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan) and have also been nominated an additional twelve times.  No other director has more than eight nominations (Kurosawa).


Like the Academy, this is a category where I am inclined towards franchises or sequels.  Among the Nighthawk winners alone are Goldfinger, Thunderball, Empire Strikes Back, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, T2, Phantom Menace, Two Towers, Return of the King, Casino Royale and The Dark Knight.


Again, like the Oscars, Drama is farther down the list than normal.  The most nominations is War with 62 (17.42%) followed by Action (14.89%), Sci-Fi (14.33%) and then Drama (11.52%).  Every genre has at least three nominations with Mystery the fewest.  Of the winners, Comedy and Mystery have never won while Musical only wins once.  Action has 14 wins, followed by War with 13 and Drama with 12.

Best Picture:

Of the 80 Sound Editing winners, 22 of them also won Picture and another 21 were nominated.  There are also 21 other Picture winners that are nominated for Sound Editing and yet another 51 films that are nominated for both.  Notably, four of the Sound Editing winners also come in 6th in Picture (Captain Blood, Henry V, Yojimbo, The Hunt for Red October).  There are several years where none of the Picture nominees earn Sound Editing nominations, most recently in 1999.  The only year where all of the Sound Editing nominees received Picture nominations is in 1931 when there are only two Sound Editing nominees.  There is no year where there are more than three films overlapping.

Foreign Film:

I certainly don’t have the Oscars issues with Foreign Films in this category.  Six Foreign films have won the Nighthawk (Le Million, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Das Boot, Ran, Crouching Tiger) and a total of 28 have been nominated, 23 of which were also nominated for Foreign Film with four films winning both (Seven Samurai, Das Boot, Ran, Crouching Tiger).

Single Nominations:

Of the 351 Nighthawk nominees, only 25 of them received no other nominations, evenly spread out for years until stopping in 2000.  No film has won Sound Editing without having at least one other nomination.  There is almost 2/3 overlap between Sound Editing and Sound (253 films).  There is also considerable overlap with Visual Effects (174 films).

Other Categories:

There is almost 2/3 overlap between Sound Editing and Sound (253 films).  The only Sound Editing winner not to be nominated for Sound is Mighty Joe Young. Of the winners for Best Sound, 68 of them earn at least a nomination for Sound Editing and 54 films win both awards including 21 of the 22 winners from 1990 to 2011 (the exception being 1996 when The Rock wins Sound Editing while The English Patient wins Sound but isn’t nominated for Sound Editing). There is also considerable overlap with Visual Effects (174 films).

My Top 10

  1. Ben Burtt  –  360
  2. Richard Hymns  –  260
  3. Mike Hopkins  –  220
  4. Gary Rydstrom  –  220
  5. Don Hall  –  200
  6. Winston Ryder  –  180
  7. Ichiro Minawa  –  160
  8. Charles L. Campbell  –  160
  9. Richard L. Anderson  –  160
  10. Stephen Hunter Flick  /  George Waters II  /  Ethan Van der Ryn  /  Per Hallberg  –  160

My Top 10 weighted

  1. Ben Burtt  –  441
  2. Richard Hymns  –  405
  3. Mike Hopkins  –  304
  4. Gary Rydstrom  –  303
  5. George Watters II  –  299
  6. Wylie Stateman  –  297
  7. Don Hall  –  290
  8. Charles L. Campbell  –  267
  9. Richard L. Anderson  –  265
  10. Stephen Hunter Flick  –  249

note:  This based on a scale from 20-1 based on Top 20 placement at the Nighthawks.  A win is worth 40 points in Sound Editing, a 20th place finish is worth 1 point (if the list goes a full 20).

My Top 10 Absolute Points List:

  1. Ben Burtt  –  520
  2. Richard Hymns  –  510
  3. Wylie Stateman  –  415
  4. Gary Rydstrom  –  365
  5. George Watters II  –  350
  6. Mike Hopkins  –  325
  7. Per Hallberg  –  310
  8. Stephen Hunter Flick  –  280
  9. Charles L. Campbell  –  265
  10. Richard L. Anderson  /  Christopher Boyes  –  260

note:  This is a point scale based on their points, not where they finished in the year.  That means, for instance, that Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns still get the maximum 45 points in 2002 when they finished in third for Minority Report.  In this category, it really favors more recent work when there has been a wealth of great work vying for the top spot.

Top 5 Films to win the Nighthawk (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. The Wizard of Oz
  2. The Godfather
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  5. Lawrence of Arabia

Worst 5 Films to win the Nighthawk (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. San Francisco
  2. Grand Prix
  3. Torpedo Run
  4. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  5. Saboteur

Worst 5 Films to earn a Nighthawk nomination  (based on quality of film not sound editing):

  1. Earthquake
  2. The Hindenburg
  3. Speed
  4. Sorcerer
  5. King Kong  (1976)

Nighthawk Winners:

note:  Since the MPSE awards so many films and there are no other groups that award other than the Oscars, films below in red won the Oscar while films in blue were Oscar nominated and films in green were semi-finalists.

  • 1929-30:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • 1930-31:  Le Million
  • 1931-32:  Frankenstein
  • 1932-33:  King Kong
  • 1935:  Captain Blood
  • 1936:  San Francisco
  • 1937:  Sabotage
  • 1938:  The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • 1939:  The Wizard of Oz
  • 1940:  The Sea Hawk
  • 1941:  Fantasia
  • 1942:  Saboteur
  • 1943:  For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • 1944:  Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  • 1945:  They Were Expendable
  • 1946:  Henry V
  • 1948:  Brute Force
  • 1949:  Mighty Joe Young
  • 1950:  Night and the City
  • 1951:  The Thing from Another World
  • 1952:  The Sound Barrier
  • 1953:  From Here to Eternity
  • 1954:  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • 1955:  The Dam Busters
  • 1956:  Seven Samurai
  • 1957:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 1958:  Torpedo Run
  • 1959:  Ben Hur
  • 1960:  Spartacus
  • 1961:  Yojimbo
  • 1962:  Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1963:  The Great Escape
  • 1964:  Goldfinger
  • 1965:  Thunderball
  • 1966:  Grand Prix
  • 1967:  Bonnie and Clyde
  • 1968:  2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 1969:  The Wild Bunch
  • 1970:  Patton
  • 1971:  The French Connection
  • 1972:  The Godfather
  • 1973:  The Exorcist
  • 1974:  The Conversation
  • 1975:  Jaws
  • 1976:  The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • 1977:  Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • 1978:  Superman
  • 1979:  Alien
  • 1980:  Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982:  Das Boot
  • 1983:  The Right Stuff
  • 1984:  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • 1985:  Ran
  • 1986:  Aliens
  • 1987:  Full Metal Jacket
  • 1988:  Die Hard
  • 1989:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • 1990:  The Hunt for Red October
  • 1991:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • 1992:  The Last of the Mohicans
  • 1993:  Jurassic Park
  • 1994:  The Crow
  • 1995:  Heat
  • 1996:  The Rock
  • 1997:  Titanic
  • 1998:  Saving Private Ryan
  • 1999:  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  • 2000:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • 2001:  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 2002:  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • 2003:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2004:  The Aviator
  • 2005:  King Kong
  • 2006:  Casino Royale
  • 2007:  The Bourne Ultimatum
  • 2008:  The Dark Knight
  • 2009:  The Hurt Locker
  • 2010:  Inception
  • 2011:  Hugo

Top 5 Nighthawk Years:

  1. 2006  (Casino Royale, Superman Returns, United 93, The Fountain, Blood Diamond)
  2. 2007  (The Bourne Ultimatum, No Country for Old Men, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 3:10 to Yuma, There Will Be Blood)
  3. 2008  (The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace, Slumdog Millionaire)
  4. 2009  (The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Star Trek)
  5. 2011  (Hugo, War Horse, Moneyball, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn)

note:  This is really a reflection of better effects and more effects driven films.

Nighthawk Lists

  • Weakest Nighthawk Winner:  Henry V
  • Average Nighthawk Winner  (9 point scale):  6.29
  • Average Nighthawk Nominee  (9 point scale):  4.58
  • Average Film Score of a Sound Editing Nominee:  83.72
  • Average Film Score of a Sound Editing Winner:  89.13

See It Only for The Sound Editing

note:  Of the 14,000+ films I have seen, these are the only 7 that earn points at all for Sound Editing and nothing else.  Perhaps it shows the difficulty in trying to discern the Sound Editing from the Sound Mixing.  Of note, three of these (Rambo, Lethal Weapon 2, Flatliners) were Oscar nominees though none of them come anywhere close to a Nighthawk nomination.  All of them earned either a 1 or 2.  I have ranked them in chronological order.  It’s interesting that I saw five of these in the theater.

Thanks a Lot, MPSE

As mentioned above in the MPSE section, the MPSE vastly increased its categories and nominations in 1997.  Suddenly, instead of a few nominees, there were dozens of them.  A lot of them were terrible.  What’s more, they were screwing me.  They were nominating films that no one else was nominating, films I hadn’t seen for any other reason, films I didn’t want to see, but my OCD about awards nominations meant I now had to see them.  Of the 175 films nominated from 1997 to 2011 that earned no other awards nominations from any awards group, the average film is a 52.2.  Yes, it does include some great films like Princess Mononoke, The Princess and the Warrior and 8 Women.  But there was only one film that earned better than *** that I saw only because it was MPSE nominated and that was Circumstance and I probably would have ended up seeing it anyway.  This is the utter bottom – just the films that are less than **, so truly awful films (if I included two star films the list would be twice as long) that earned no other nominations from any other awards group but I saw them because they did earn an MPSE nom.  To be even fairer, I have eliminated the two films that meet the conditions for this list that earned MPSE noms before 1997 (Damien: The Omen Part II, Mortal Kombat), eliminated any film that I saw anyway regardless of the MPSE (so dreck like GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, Lost in Space, the 1998 Avengers, Batman and Robin), films that were directed by either a Top 100 Director or an Oscar nominated director because I would have seen them for those projects anyway (eliminating 2 Fast 2 Furious, Abduction, The Bucket List, Dreamcatcher), eliminating all Animated films since I eventually decided to see all animated films (so not dinging the MPSE for Smurfs, Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer, Hop, Pokemon: The First Movie).  And all the films listed just above are all below ** as well.  In fact, the average film in these circumstances (saw it just because the MPSE nominated it) is a 47.1 which is a two star film.  So, here is the utter dreck, in chronological order.  Fuck you very much MPSE.

  • Blade  (1998, *.5)
  • Stigmata  (1999, *)
  • End of Days  (1999, *)
  • Inspector Gadget  (1999, *)
  • Gone in 60 Seconds  (2000, *.5)
  • Coyote Ugly  (2000, *)
  • Turn It Up  (2000, *)
  • Fast and the Furious  (2001, *)
  • Glitter  (2001, *)
  • Josie and the Pussycats  (2001, .5)
  • Queen of the Damned  (2002, *)
  • Jeepers Creepers 2  (2003, *.5)
  • Raise Your Voice  (2004, *.5)
  • Ghost Rider  (2007. *.5)
  • Push  (2009, *.5)
  • Priest  (2011, *)
  • Quarantine 2: Terminal  (2011, *)
  • Fast Five  (2011, *)
  • Footloose  (2011, *)

Since 2011

Oscar Notes:  Skyfall would become the first sequel since Last Crusade to win the Oscar when a predecessor also won the Oscar.  But Mad Max: Fury Road is a more typical sequel winner, without any previous film even earning a nomination.  There have also been nominations for two Hobbit films (though not the first) two more Star Wars films and Blade Runner 2049.  Three more films have earned a Sound Editing nomination with no other nominations (All is Lost, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Sully) so it seems to happen about every other year now, which is much more, especially when you factor in the three in 2010 and 2011.  Musicals finally earned their first nom in 2016 with La La Land, though the two films to win Sound Mixing since 2011 and not earn a Sound Editing nomination were both Musicals (Les Miserables, Whiplash).  La La Land also became the first Actress winning film to earn a Sound Editing nom.  With seven winners (there was the tie in 2012 between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty), Drama has won once while Sci-Fi, Action and War have all won twice so Drama is pretty much at the same winning percentage while those three have gone up and everything else has gone down.  The increase in Best Picture nominees has certainly played a part in Sound Editing; in the first 40 years of the category’s existence, less than a quarter of Sound Editing nominees earned Picture nominations while in the six years since it’s been over half (16 of 30).  Prior to the increase in 2009 only one year had multiple Picture nominees nominated in Sound Editing (2007) but since then every year has had at least two.  Skyfall is the only winner since 2011 not to be nominated for Picture (and there were two winners that year) though none of the three Picture winners that were nominated for Sound Editing won the award (Argo, Birdman, Shape of Water).  Argo was the first Best Picture winner to lose to another nominee (the first four films to win Picture and lose Sound Editing all lost to a film not nominated for Best Picture).  While in the first decade of the Best Animated Film category seven films were nominated for both Animated Film and Sound Editing, no film has done it since 2010.  Of the first 40 winners, only Letters from Iwo Jima was a Best Picture nominee whose only Oscar win was Sound Editing (which made certain that all five Picture nominees that year won at least one Oscar).  Since then, three films have done it (Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, Arrival) and in 2014, in the kind of coincidence that my mother would love, again it was the Eastwood directed film whose Sound Editing win was the sole win for a film making certain that every Picture nominee that year won at least one Oscar.  The group of nominees in 2017 (Dunkirk, Baby Driver, Last Jedi, Blade Runner, Shape of Water) is the third best year ever and easily the best with 5 nominees.

MPSE:  Here are the films since 2011 that meet the same qualifications as before – films less than **, nominated for no other awards, hadn’t seen them for any other reason but I saw them because the MPSE nominated them and not even including Justin Bieber’s Believe:

  • Rock of Ages  (2012, *)
  • Fast & Furious 6  (2013, *)
  • 47 Ronin  (2013, *)
  • Jupiter Ascending  (2015, .5)
  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword  (2017, *)
  • Transformers: The Last Knight  (2017, .5)

Nighthawk Notes:  Since 2011, Richard King (220 points) and Matthew Wood (200 points) have both entered the Top 10.  On the Weighted List, Per Hallberg (283), Matthew Wood (272) and Christopher Boyes (268) have all entered the Top 10.  On the Absolute List, Hymns is now on top and is up to 580 points while Burtt is up to 550 while Matthew Wood has made that list as well with 370.  Continuing the trend, both Skyfall and Interstellar win Sound Editing while finishing 6th in Picture.

Nighthawk Winners Since 2011:

  • 2012:  Skyfall
  • 2013:  Gravity
  • 2014:  Interstellar
  • 2015:  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  • 2016:  La La Land
  • 2017:  Dunkirk