The film, based on the true story of a free New Yorker kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south of the United States, picked up nine nominations including best film, best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor and best director for McQueen.
Ejiofor said: "At no point during filming, in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, did any of us ever foresee the journey this film would take us all on.
"Steve McQueen created an entire family to tell one man's tale and I am delighted that so many of this family have also been recognised today. I am hugely grateful to the Academy for this great honour, and, of course, to Solomon Northup for sharing his story through his breathtaking book."
American Hustle and outer space drama Gravity lead the pack with 10 nominations each including nods for Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock respectively for the best actress Oscar.
They face competition from Dame Judi Dench who is nominated for the title role in Philomena.
She said: "This is just the loveliest news. I'm so happy for everybody involved, and so proud to have been part of the wonderful experience that Philomena has been."
The film, based on the true story of a woman's search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption in 1950s Ireland, is also shortlisted for best picture and Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope are nominated for best adapted screenplay.
The best actress shortlist is completed by Cate Blanchett, the star of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, and Meryl Streep for August: Osage County.
Ejiofor faces competition for the best actor statuette from Welsh actor Christian Bale for American Hustle, veteran Bruce Dern for Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street's Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.
Irish rockers U2 are nominated for best original song for Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom but its star Idris Elba missed out on the nominations.
There was recognition for Sally Hawkins who was nominated for best supporting actress for Blue Jasmine.
She was nominated alongside Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle, Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave, Julia Roberts for August: Osage County and June Squibb for Nebraska.
Another of 12 Years A Slave's stars, Michael Fassbender, is nominated for best supporting actor along with Barkhad Abdi from modern-day pirate drama Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street and Jared Leto from Dallas Buyers Club.
McQueen's best director nomination puts him up against Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle's David O Russell, Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron and Alexander Payne for Nebraska.
There are nine contenders for best film with American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and Philomena all nominated.
The Spike Jonze film Her, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street complete the short-list.
Amanda Nevill, from the British Film Institute, said the nominations put the "UK's vibrant and thriving film industry firmly in the international spotlight".
She said: "Britain's world-leading studios and VFX facilities take centre stage in the spectacular Gravity, and the ability of our visionary directors to bring true stories to life with extraordinary effect is seen so vividly in Stephen Frears' BFI and BBC Films-supported Philomena and Steve McQueen's Film4-backed 12 Years a Slave. With Oscar(R) recognition for on- and off-screen British talent across so many categories, these nominations help remind us that the UK's film industry is something we can all be hugely proud of. All of these brilliant, talented people are winners in my eyes and I wish them all the luck in the world."
The ceremony, in Los Angeles on Sunday March 2, will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.
McQueen told the Hollywood Reporter: "I'm extraordinarily happy for all the cast and crew of our 12 Years a Slave family. This has been an amazing ride, and to receive nine nominations from the Academy is testament to all of the hard work. And for that I am truly grateful."
The nominations for the 86th Academy Awards were announced today. Here are the contenders for the main categories:
Performance by an actor in a leading role:
- Christian Bale for American Hustle
- Bruce Dern for Nebraska
- Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street
- Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave
- Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Performance by an actress in a leading role:
- Amy Adams for American Hustle
- Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
- Sandra Bullock for Gravity
- Judi Dench for Philomena
- Meryl Streep for August: Osage County
Performance by an actor in a supporting role:
- Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips
- Bradley Cooper for American Hustle
- Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave
- Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street
- Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
Performance by an actress in a supporting role:
- Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine
- Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle
- Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave
- Julia Roberts for August: Osage County
- June Squibb for Nebraska
Achievement in directing:
- David O. Russell for American Hustle
- Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
- Alexander Payne for Nebraska
- Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave
- Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
Best motion picture of the year:
- American Hustle
- Captain Phillips
- Dallas Buyers Club
- 12 Years a Slave
- The Wolf of Wall Street
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):
- John Williams for The Book Thief
- Steven Price for Gravity
- William Butler and Owen Pallett for Her
- Alexandre Desplat for Philomena
- Thomas Newman for Saving Mr Banks
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):
- Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel for Alone Yet Not Alone from Alone Yet Not Alone
- Pharrell Williams for Happy from Despicable Me 2
- Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for Let It Go from Frozen
- Karen O and Spike Jonze for The Moon Song from Her
- U2 for Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
- Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke for Before Midnight
- Billy Ray for Captain Phillips
- Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena
- John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
- Terence Winter for The Wolf of Wall Street
- Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell for American Hustle
- Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine
- Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack for Dallas Buyers Club
- Spike Jonze for Her
- Bob Nelson for Nebraska