Los Angeles - "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 organized 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 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.
Should Inarritu win again this year for "The Revenant," 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 reporters.
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.
DiCaprio, who earned his fifth Oscar acting nod for his portrayal of frontiersman Hugh Glass in "The Revenant," is widely seen as the favorite 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."
There were no black actors nominated in any of the top categories, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite used last year to criticize the lack of diversity among the nominees, quickly trended on Twitter.
Boone Isaacs, the Academy president, said: "We have been actively bringing in more diversity into our membershi actions need to be taken to make sure the industry as a whole is more inclusive."
Tim Gray, the awards editor for industry magazine Variety, said while he felt the nominations 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 populations," Gray told AFP.
Some 6,000 members of the Academy, all of them who work in the film industry, vote for the films, actors and directors that will be vying for an Oscar.
Surprises and snubs
"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."
Many thought Michael Keaton, a best actor nominee last year for "Birdman" who was defeated by Redmayne, might score a nomination this year for "Spotlight," but he was snubbed.
In the best picture category, many expected the critically acclaimed "Carol" to get a nod, which it didn't.
The big success of the latest "Mad Max" film, which starred Charlize Theron, surprised some, especially with its best picture nomination.
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.