Oscars 2014 Category Breakdown: Best Visual Effects

This is a tradition for me. Every year, before the Oscars, I break down every single one of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with each category, how it works, what its history is, how it usually turns out, and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

How these work is — I go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have went, and how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win.

Today is Best Visual Effects. Which usually telegraphs a winner pretty easily.

Year Best Visual Effects Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 Wings The Jazz SingerThe Private Life of Helen of Troy
1938 Spawn of the North (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1939 The Rains Came Gone With the WindOnly Angels Have WingsThe Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Topper Takes a Trip

Union Pacific

The Wizard of Oz

1940 The Thief of Bagdad The Blue BirdBoom TownThe Boys from Syracuse

Dr. Cyclops

Foreign Correspondent

The Invisible Man Returns

The Long Voyage Home

One Million B.C.


The Sea Haw

Swiss Family Robinson


Women in War

1941 I Wanted Wings Aloma of the South SeasFlight CommandThe Invisible Woman

The Sea Wolf

That Hamilton Woman

Topper Returns

A Yank in the R.A.F.

1942 Reap the Wild Wind The Black SwanDesperate JourneyFlying Tigers

Invisible Agent

The Jungle Book

Mrs. Miniver

The Navy Comes Through

One of Our Aircraft is Missing

The Pride of the Yankees

1943 Crash Dive Air ForceBombardierThe North Star

So Proudly We Hail!

Stand for Action

1944 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo The Adventures of Mark TrainDays of GlorySecret Command

Since You Went Away

The Story of Dr. Wassell


1945 Wonder Man Captain EddieSpellboundThey Were Expendable

A Thousand and One Nights

1946 Blithe Spirit A Stolen Life
1947 Green Dolphin Street Unconquered
1948 Portrait of Jennie Deep Waters
1949 Mighty Joe Young Tulsa
1950 Destination Moon Samson and Delilah
1951 When Worlds Collide No other nominees.
1952 Plymouth Adventure No other nominees.
1953 The War of the Worlds No other nominees.
1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Hell and High WaterThem!
1955 The Bridges at Toko-Ri The Dam BustersThe Rains of Ranchipur
1956 The Ten Commandments Forbidden Planet
1957 The Enemy Below The Spirit of St. Louis
1958 Tom Thumb Torpedo Run
1959 Ben-Hur Journey to the Center of the Earth
1960 The Time Machine The Last Voyage
1961 The Guns of Navarone The Absent-Minded Professor
1962 The Longest Day Mutiny on the Bounty
1963 Cleopatra The Birds
1964 Mary Poppins 7 Faces of Dr. Lao
1965 Thunderball The Greatest Story Ever Told
1966 Fantastic Voyage Hawaii
1967 Doctor Dolittle Tobruk
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Ice Station Zebra
1969 Marooned Krakatoa, East of Java
1970 Tora! Tora! Tora! Patton
1971 Bedknobs and Broomsticks When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
1972 The Poseidon Adventure (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1973 No Award Given. No Category.
1974 Earthquake (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1975 The Hindenburg (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1976 King Kong (Special Achievement Award)Logan’s Run (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1977 Star Wars Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1978 Superman (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1979 Alien The Black HoleMoonraker1941

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

1980 The Empire Strikes Back No Category.
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark Dragonslayer
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Blade RunnerPoltergeist
1983 Return of the Jedi (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Ghostbusters2010
1985 Cocoon Return to OzYoung Sherlock Holmes
1986 Aliens Little Shop of HorrorsPoltergeist II: The Other Side
1987 Innerspace Predator
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit Die HardWillow
1989 The Abyss The Adventures of Baron MunchausenBack to the Future Part II
1990 Total Recall (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day BackdraftHook
1992 Death Becomes Her Alien 3Batman Begins
1993 Jurassic Park CliffhangerThe Nightmare Before Christmas
1994 Forrest Gump The MaskTrue Lies
1995 Babe Apollo 13
1996 Independence Day DragonheartTwister
1997 Titanic The Lost World: Jurassic ParkStarship Troopers
1998 What Dreams May Come ArmageddonMighty Joe Young
1999 The Matrix Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom MenaceStuart Little
2000 Gladiator Hollow ManThe Perfect Storm
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A.I.: Artificial IntelligencePearl Harbor
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Spider-ManStar Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Master and Commander: The Far Side of the WorldPirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
2004 Spider-Man 2 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanI, Robot
2005 King Kong The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeWar of the Worlds
2006 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest PoseidonSuperman Returns
2007 The Golden Compass Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s EndTransformers
2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Dark KnightIron Man
2009 Avatar District 9Star Trek
2010 Inception Alice in WonderlandHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1Hereafter

Iron Man 2

2011 Hugo Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2Real SteelRise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

2012 Life of Pi The AvengersThe Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyPrometheus

Snow White and the Huntsman

2013 Gravity The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugIron Man 3The Lone Ranger

Star Trek Into Darkness

The one thing that’s happened in this category for the past six years is that there has been a Best Picture nominee in the fold for Visual Effects, and that film always wins. In the history of this category (the modern history, in a post-Star Wars era, since before that, visual effects were not the same as what they are now), no film that was nominated for Best Picture has ever lost this category, unless it lost to another Best Picture nominee.

But this year, there aren’t any Best Picture nominees in the category, so we actually have to roll up our sleeves and do some research into this.

I’m not gonna go deep into VES, since they have a lot of categories, and there’s a lot of stuff going on there. But VES has been around since 2002, and the winner of The Effects in an Effects-Driven movie has gone on to win the Oscar in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013.

And, they also have a category for Animated Character in a Live-Action Feature, which also went to the film that won the Oscar in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2012. So most of the time, your Oscar winner is gonna win more than one of the categories at VES.

Also, of the years where VES didn’t pick the winner of the Oscars in the main category…

2004 — Spider-Man 2 won the Oscar, even though Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban won both VES categories. I can only guess that was do to the major critical and commercial success of Spider-Man.

2007 — Transformers won VES in the Effects Driven category, but somehow lost the Oscar to (Academy Award Winner) The Golden Compass. To this day, I don’t know how to explain that one. I don’t know if anyone can.

2011 — Hugo won the Oscar, and also won Supporting Visual Effects from VES. Rise of the Planet of the Apes won Effects in Effects Driven.

But either way… you can kind of telegraph from how VES goes. (Oh, and also, just looking at 2004, Spider-Man 2 did win a couple of other awards from them too. So you can see where the effects people go, and the rest of it is just gauging where the Academy at large is gonna go.)

The VES awards were announced a few days ago, so we’re gonna use those to gauge how to rank.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the big winner there this year, winning Effects Driven, Performance by an Animated Character, and Compositing.

X-Men: Days of Future Past won Virtual Cinematography, and Effects Simulation.

Interstellar won Created Environment.

Birdman won Supporting Effects.

And Big Hero 6 won Animation, Created Environment/Animation, Effects Simulation/Animation, Animated Character, and Models.

So this tells me that the visual effects artists loved Big Hero 6, and that film has a chance to win Animated Feature, which is nothing we didn’t already know. There are only two films in that category that can win, and it was always coming down between the two of them.

And then, Birdman winning Supporting Effects doesn’t mean a whole lot, since… of that category, it was the one that made the most sense, and is a Best Picture nomination. So that doesn’t mean they support it over any of the other nominees, necessarily.

But, when you get down to the actual category, this is what I’m seeing:

Captain America barely got nominated, and won nothing.

Guardians also barely got nominated, but at least it managed an Effects Driven nomination.

X-Men won two awards, but they were both for the kitchen sequence and nothing else. That tells me they really liked that sequence, but don’t take the overall effects of the movie as seriously as the other contenders.

And then we have Interstellar, which only won for the Tesseract sequence and nothing else.

And Planet of the Apes, which won Effects Driven, which, as we established, means a lot, and performance, which is a wash, since of course Andy Serkis is gonna win that. And it also won Compositing, which is essentially taking real backgrounds and putting fake apes on top of them. Obviously. Just wanted to get that out of the way now before everyone jumps to conclusions about that movie automatically winning the category. Calm your tits. It’s not as important as you’d think.

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy


X-Men: Days of Future Past


5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier — This was the one nominee that was a minor surprise. Not so much of a surprise, but, you figured Transformers or The Hobbit, with their histories in the category, or Maleficent, with that random Disney movie that made a lot of money strength, would get on instead. But it seems that we’re now solely in the Marvel age, and this was their way of getting rid of the old and ushering in the new. Which is nice. Because this will certainly not win. It’s not even everyone’s favorite Marvel movie on the list. It has spotty precursors, and Oscar voters barely remember it. Not happening.

4. X-Men: Days of Future Past — Everyone loved the kitchen scene, but overall, no one’s gonna vote for this. The sentinel scenes were weird. Nobody remembers those. I don’t think anyone thinks this has a shot over the remaining three nominees. At best you’re looking at a fourth choice.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy — Second highest grossing movie of the year, really liked by most people. In another year, this is the upset contender to beat the favorite. This year, it’s a weird third choice that no one’s really giving a shot outside of the, “Well, I guess if they wanted to give it something” category. I feel like, when we actually get down to voting, this will likely become second choice in the category. You can tell most of the time how this category is going to go by number of nominations. And this is one of two films in the category that managed more than a single nomination. So while I can’t consider it any higher than third right now, I think this will end up being your second choice in the category come Oscar night.

2. Interstellar — I think this wins. I still think this wins. I always thought this wins. I’m not swayed by the VES results one bit. Because you’re talking about one guild versus an overall Academy. Do you think Dame Helen Mirren watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? We’re talking about an entire voting body here. The entire voting body gave this five nominations. It’s likely gonna win. People don’t look closely when they vote. They look down, “Oh, Interstellar,” and check it off. They’re not gonna study this category and think specifically about each one’s merits. They’re gonna look for the film they liked most with the effects they remembered most. That’s why the Best Picture movies always win. That’s why the most nominated films always win. And I’m gonna do some more analysis of that in a second. But, based on VES, no, this is not your frontrunner currently. But I still say this wins.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — I finally did it. I put the apes movie first on my list and am saying its a frontrunner. You know why? Because right now, it is. It has the momentum after the VES Awards. But you know what? Don’t think it’s gonna win. Here’s my rationale:

Let’s go back in time. Let’s mark all the times in the past… we’ll figure out how far we’re going back in a second… where a non-Best Picture nominee was won this category.

2007: The Golden Compass

2006: Dead Man’s Chest

2005: King Kong

2004: Spider-Man 2

1999: The Matrix

1998: What Dreams May Come

1996: Independence Day

1993: Jurassic Park

1992: Death Becomes Her

1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

That’s about enough. It gets murky before T2. Plus, in 1990, Total Recall was just given the award without there being a category.

So you figure, in 25 years, a Best Picture nominee hasn’t won the category 10 times. And when you look at that list, I see four glaring entries that we need to talk about.

One is Terminator 2. James Cameron, the acclaim, the effects themselves, and the amount of money it made. It was up against Backdraft and Hook. No one is surprised it won. The movie won 4 Oscars and was nominated for 6, including Editing and Cinematography.

Two: Jurassic Park. Spielberg, the acclaim, the effects themselves, the amount of money it made. It was up against Cliffhanger and Nightmare Before Christmas. Won three Oscars out of three.

Three: Independence Day. Mostly, the amount of money it made. It was up against Dragonheart and Twister. Maybe Twister is considered better effects, but when you factor in the money, that’s the tipping point.

Four: The Matrix. The acclaim, the effects themselves, the amount of money it made. It won four Oscars, including Editing. It was up against The Phantom Menace and Stuart Little. Is anyone surprised this won?

To me, those were the glaring four. These are all pre-VES, but they’re obvious when you look at the categories. Now for the other six:

1992: Death Becomes Her beats Alien 3 and Batman Returns. This is so long ago, I’m not even sure how to rate it. Batman Returns is more of a Production Design and Makeup kind of movie, being a Burton. Alien 3, maybe they didn’t like it? I don’t know. I can’t explain this one.

1998: What Dreams May Come beats Armageddon and Mighty Joe Young. Ape movie. And a Bay movie. Bay seems to just be disliked. Adding in 2007, his movies have never won this category. Because of perception, I guess. I’ll also admit that What Dreams May Come did have beautiful visuals. So I’m sure that and the class factor played into it. Though Armageddon had all the money, and was nominated for four Oscars. What Dreams May Come didn’t make money and was only nominated for two. So this is a bit of an outlier in that regard.

2004: Spider-Man 2 beats Azkaban and I Robot. Potter has had a rough go at the Oscars, never winning a category ever. And Spider-Man 2… remember that movie? It made like $400 million and was the highest grossing movie of the year. Even though this was during the VES days, where precursors had Azkaban taking it, Spider-Man 2 made more money domestically, and was nominated for three Oscars to Azkaban’s two. I will also say that, if you want to argue for Planet of the Apes, this could also be a good one to use (even though it also can argue against it as well), since here’s a sequel that won Visual Effects with its predecessor losing to a Best Picture nominee. (Though this didn’t win at VES, so you’d be selectively choosing your information, which would be a dick move.)

2005: King Kong beats Narnia and War of the Worlds. Here’s a movie that was in the conversation for Best Picture or Best Director at one point (didn’t the Globes nominate Jackson that year?), made assloads of money (though Narnia did too), had the class factor over the other two, and was nominated for four Oscars, winning three. Narnia was nominated for three Oscars and won one (Makeup), and War of the Worlds was nominated for three Oscars, winning zero. But in this case, it was a combination of money and class factor that did it.

2006: Dead Man’s Chest bats Poseidon and Superman Returns. Superman Returns was thought of as a huge turd at the time, especially by Oscar voters. I don’t think people even knew Poseidon. And if they did, it was like Captain America. They weren’t voting for it. Plus, Dead Man’s Chest made assloads of money that year, people were high on the pirates, and it was nominated four times. When something is nominated four times, they’re gonna look to give it something.

2007: And now, The Golden Compass. Beating Transformers. This is one of the only times a film beat another nominee with more nominations and more money. And I can only chalk this one up to… they just don’t like Bay. I don’t think anyone can explain this one.

But, this tells me that the film with the most money, the highest class factor, the director or franchise with a history in the category, and the most nominations will win.

Captain America: 1 nomination, nobody knows the director, and it’s Marvel, and it made a lot of money.

X-Men: 1 nomination, spotty history in the category, X-Men is known, but not beloved, and some money, but not major money.

Guardians of the Galaxy: 2 nominations, really liked film of the year, Marvel, and essentially the highest grossing movie of the year (it finished second, but everyone thinks of it as first).

Interstellar: 5 nominations, class factor out the ass, Christopher Nolan has a history in the category (Dark Knight, Inception winning), and it made money. Not crazy money, but money.

Apes: 1 nomination, some class factor, but still thought of as a popcorn movie. Predecessor has a history in the category, but the Academy didn’t care about it. Only the internet cared about it. And money.

It’s rare for a film with only one nomination to be able to win this category.

To me, if I’m looking, I see either Interstellar or Guardians winning this based on the overall love of the Academy.

5 nominations is a lot. And Guardians could have easily had 4. Apes was only getting the one, maybe 2 at most.

So I’m not rushing to say that Apes is gonna win this category, even though it is the current frontrunner.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Production Design. Which I love. Sets are the best.


One response

  1. Small typo – you referred to Captain America as Captain Planet at one point, THAT would have been a different movie.

    February 7, 2015 at 3:33 pm

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