LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The Revenant, a harrowing survival thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a 19th century fur trapper, topped the Oscars nominations list Thursday with 12 nods, including for best picture, actor and director.
In second place was dystopian action film Mad Max: Fury Road, with 10 nominations, followed by space blockbuster The Martian, about an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, with seven.
The nominations, announced at a pre-dawn ceremony in Beverly Hills organised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, sent Hollywood's annual awards season into high gear.
The race is now on for the coveted Oscars, to be handed out on February 28 at a star-studded ceremony hosted by comedian Chris Rock.
The Revenant was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who also helmed last year's big Oscars winner Birdman, which earned four golden statuettes including for best picture and director.
"We gave it our all on this film and this appreciation from the Academy means a lot to me and my colleagues who made it possible," Inarritu said in a statement following the nominations.
"Champagne and Mezcal will run tonight!"
Should the Mexican director win next month, he will be joining just two other directors - Joseph Mankiewicz and John Ford - who won the award for two consecutive years.
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs described The Revenant as a "cinematic masterpiece" in comments to AFP.
"It takes you back in time to a space where we had no idea what were the challenges of these people - the trappers," she said.
Beyond the top three films on the nominations list, the other contenders for best picture are The Big Short, Bridge Of Spies, Brooklyn, Room and Spotlight.
Cold War thriller Bridge Of Spies, lesbian romance Carol and Spotlight - about journalists from The Boston Globe who uncovered sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, each earned six nominations.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest installment in the space saga that has been setting box office records, was nominated for five Oscars, but missed the cut in the top categories including for best picture.
DiCaprio, who earned his fifth Oscar acting nod for his portrayal of frontiersman Hugh Glass in The Revenant, is widely seen as the favourite to take home his first Academy Award.
His competition is fairly stiff: others in the best actor category are Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Matt Damon for The Martian, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs and Eddie Redmayne - an Oscar winner last year - for The Danish Girl.
For best actress, Carol star Cate Blanchett and Room star Brie Larson, who portrayed a kidnapped mother living in captivity with her son, are seen as the favorites in a category that also includes veteran British actress Charlotte Rampling (45 Years).
Sylvester Stallone - widely seen as a sentimental favorite - received a nod for best supporting actor for Creed, in which he reprised his iconic role of boxer Rocky Balboa.
The 69-year-old Stallone will be vying against Tom Hardy, nominated for The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight, Christian Bale for The Big Short and Mark Rylance for Bridge Of Spies.
"It's great that this character that has carried me along all these years is getting respect," Stallone told Variety magazine.
There were no black actors nominated, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite - used last year to criticise the lack of diversity among the nominees - quickly trended on Twitter.
Many on Twitter predicted that Rock, who is black, would have a "field day" at the Awards ceremony, and some vowed to boycott the event.
"Hollywood sure loves sequels: for the second year in a row, zero actors of colour get Oscar nominations," said on its website ThinkProgress, a progressive advocacy organisation.
Boone Isaacs, who is black and who has pushed for more diversity in the Academy's ranks since her election in 2013, acknowledged that more action was needed on that front.
"We have been actively bringing in more diversity into our membership (...) actions need to be taken to make sure the industry as a whole is more inclusive," she told AFP.
Tim Gray, the awards editor for industry magazine Variety, said while he felt the nominations as a whole were "a good list," he lamented some snubs, including for black actor Will Smith in NFL drama Concussion.
"The Academy people don't vote by race or gender, but it's the studios that need to fix this by better reflecting the population," Gray told AFP.
Some 6,000 members of the Academy vote to choose the nominees, most often within their branch of the industry. All members vote to choose the Oscar winners.
As every year, there were some notable snubs - and surprises.
The Martian director Ridley Scott was overlooked, as was Carol director Todd Haynes. But Lenny Abrahamson did get a nomination for best director for Room.
In the best picture category, many were surprised that the critically acclaimed Carol did not get a nod.
Among the foreign films nominated were Hungarian Holocaust drama Son Of Saul, Jordan's Theeb, Colombia's Embrace Of The Serpent and Mustang, a French production about five Turkish sisters living in subjugation.
"You have given our film the strongest of spotlights on a subject matter so crucial for many women across the world today," Deniz Gamze Erguven, the Franco-Turkish director of Mustang, told AFP.
Here are the nominees in the main categories for the 88th Academy Awards:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Best supporting actor:
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Best supporting actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Best foreign language film:
Embrace Of The Serpent (Colombia)
Son Of Saul (Hungary)
A War (Denmark)
Best animated feature:
Boy And The World
Shaun The Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There