The Academy Award for Best Original Song
is one of the awards given annually to people working in the motion picture
industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
(AMPAS). It is presented to the songwriters
who have composed the best original
song written specifically for a film. The performers of a song are not credited with the Academy Award unless they contributed either to music, lyrics or both in their own right.
The award category was introduced at the 7th Academy Awards, the ceremony honoring the best in film for 1934. Nominations are currently made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, and the winners are chosen by the Academy membership as a whole.
Requirement for nomination
The original requirement was only that the nominated song appear in a motion picture during the previous year. This rule was changed after the 1941 Academy Awards, when "The Last Time I Saw Paris", from the film Lady Be Good
, with music by Jerome Kern
and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
, won. Kern was upset that his song won because it had been published and recorded before it was used in the movie. The song was actually written in 1940, after the Germans occupied Paris at the start of World War II
. It was recorded by Kate Smith
and peaked at number 8 on the best seller list before it was used in the film Lady Be Good
. Kern got the Academy to change the rule so that only songs that are "original and written specifically for the film" are eligible to win.
Songs that were published prior to a film's production having nothing to do with the film, such as "Unchained Melody" in the 1990 film Ghost and "I Will Always Love You" in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, cannot qualify. In addition, songs that rely on sampled or reworked material, such as "Gangsta's Paradise" in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, are also ineligible.
When a film is adapted from a previously-written stage musical, none of the songs from the stage version of the musical (and other sources) are eligible. As a result, many recent film adaptations of stage musicals have included original songs which could be nominated, such as "You Must Love Me" in the 1996 film Evita, and "Listen", "Love You I Do" and "Patience" in the 2006 film Dreamgirls.
There was a debate as to whether or not Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who were awarded the Oscar in 2008 for "Falling Slowly", were in fact eligible. "Falling Slowly" has been released on two other albums — The Swell Season, Hansard's solo debut, and The Cost, by Hansard's band The Frames. The Swell Season was released in August 2006, and The Cost in February 2007, before the release of Once. However, the AMPAS music committee determined that, in the course of the film's protracted production, the composers had "played the song in some venues that were deemed inconsequential enough to not change the song's eligibility". The same issue arose two years earlier with "In the Deep" from Crash, which appeared on Kathleen "Bird" York's 2003 album The Velvet Hour after being written for Crash, but before the film was released.
Number of songs nominated
Until the Academy Awards for 1944 (awarded in 1945) any number of songs could be nominated for the award. For the 1944 awards, 14 songs were nominated. Since then, only five are nominated each year, except for 1988 and 2005, when only three were nominated. It was announced in June 2008 that only two original songs per film could receive nominations. Only four films have featured three nominated songs: Beauty and the Beast
, The Lion King
, and Enchanted
lost on every nomination: An Inconvenient Truth
original song "I Need to Wake Up
" defeated all three of the nominated songs from Dreamgirls
, while "Falling Slowly
" from Once
defeated all three of Enchanted
Performances at the awards ceremony
In recent years, the nominated songs are usually performed live at the Academy Awards ceremonies. Because the ceremonies are seen by a worldwide audience, it provides valuable exposure for performers.
In general, the person or group who performed the nominated songs in the films appear at the awards ceremonies. However in certain cases, the Academy instead picks well-recognized performers to boost the show's ratings. For example, singer/actress Beyoncé Knowles sang three nominated songs during the 77th Academy Awards even though she had not perform these songs in any of the respective nominated films. For the 80th Academy Awards, "That's How You Know" was performed by Kristin Chenoweth, rather than Amy Adams who performed it in Enchanted; Adams performed The "Happy Working Song" from the same film.
Conversely, a number of well-known groups and solo artistes such as Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen and members of Three 6 Mafia, who wrote winning songs, have both performed on stage and made acceptance speeches for the award later on.
The 2008 ceremony was a stripped-down affair, with little in the way of live performance. This was a consequence of the hurried nature of the organisation following the recent resolution of the 2008 Writers Guild strike.
List of winners and nominees
Most awards won
- Number of nominations in parentheses
- Female winners since then:
- Barbra Streisand (for "Evergreen" from A Star Is Born in 1976), the first female tunesmith to be honoured,
- Carole Bayer Sager ("Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" from Arthur in 1981),
- Buffy Sainte-Marie ("Up Where We Belong" from An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982),
- Irene Cara ("Flashdance... What a Feeling" from Flashdance in 1983),
- Carly Simon ("Let the River Run" from Working Girl in 1988),
- Annie Lennox ("Into the West" from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003),
- Melissa Etheridge ("I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth in 2006).
- Markéta Irglová ("Falling Slowly" from Once) in 2007.
- In 1988, Carly Simon became the first woman working alone to win this award. She was joined by Melissa Etheridge who won in 2006.
Foreign language winners