Can Money Buy Respect?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris made the list, but it's about as far from a conventional SF time-travel movie as you can get. Otherwise, it was a shutout for science fiction and fantasy.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the genre does better in the ghetto category Best Animated Feature Film:
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
notable in part because this year's Pixar entry, Cars 2, didn't make the cut.
Now let's look at what ordinary theater-goers actually like, as determined by the most pragmatic measure there is: money. (Note: Some of these films are still in release, so this isn't the final word for 2011, but it's not going to change a lot.)
1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 WB $381,011,219
2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon P/DW $352,390,543
3 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Sum. $280,288,438
4 The Hangover Part II WB $254,464,305
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides BV $241,071,802
6 Fast Five Uni. $209,837,675
7 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Par. $197,800,131
8 Cars 2 BV $191,452,396
9 Thor Par. $181,030,624
10 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows WB $178,667,811
11 Rise of the Planet of the Apes Fox $176,760,185
12 Captain America: The First Avenger Par. $176,654,505
13 The Help BV $169,598,523
14 Bridesmaids Uni. $169,106,725
15 Kung Fu Panda 2 P/DW $165,249,063
16 Puss in Boots P/DW $147,744,777
17 X-Men: First Class Fox $146,408,305
18 Rio Fox $143,619,809
19 The Smurfs Sony $142,614,158
20 Super 8 Par. $127,004,179
Notice the difference? Here it's easier to count the movies that aren't SF or fantasy (#4, #6, #7, #10, #13, and #14).
In fact, the dominance of genre films at the box office is nothing new. For the past quarter-century, even tho the individual entries keep shuffling around, SF&F movies have represented at least 80 of the top 100 money-makers of all time. Here's the current list.
I would never argue that popularity invariably equals quality, but surely one wouldn't expect them to be mutually exclusive. Yet look at the overlap: The Help. Period.
SF&F may pay the bills in Tinseltown, but it still has to use the back door.