Oscars 2016 Category Breakdown: Best Visual Effects

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

What I do is 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 voted, 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. So you know what the general favorites are.

Today is Best Visual Effects. A category that used to be automatic, but now the whole thing got blowed up. Fortunately that’s not part of the conversation this year. But still.

Year Best Visual Effects Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 Wings The Jazz Singer

The Private Life of Helen of Troy

1938 Spawn of the North (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1939 The Rains Came Gone With the Wind

Only Angels Have Wings

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Topper Takes a Trip

Union Pacific

The Wizard of Oz

1940 The Thief of Bagdad The Blue Bird

Boom Town

The 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 Seas

Flight Command

The Invisible Woman

The Sea Wolf

That Hamilton Woman

Topper Returns

A Yank in the R.A.F.

1942 Reap the Wild Wind The Black Swan

Desperate Journey

Flying 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 Force


The North Star

So Proudly We Hail!

Stand for Action

1944 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo The Adventures of Mark Train

Days of Glory

Secret Command

Since You Went Away

The Story of Dr. Wassell


1945 Wonder Man Captain Eddie


They 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 Water


1955 The Bridges at Toko-Ri The Dam Busters

The 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 Hole



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 Runner


1983 Return of the Jedi (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Ghostbusters


1985 Cocoon Return to Oz

Young Sherlock Holmes

1986 Aliens Little Shop of Horrors

Poltergeist II: The Other Side

1987 Innerspace Predator
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit Die Hard


1989 The Abyss The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Back to the Future Part II

1990 Total Recall (Special Achievement Award) No Category.
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day Backdraft


1992 Death Becomes Her Alien 3

Batman Begins

1993 Jurassic Park Cliffhanger

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1994 Forrest Gump The Mask

True Lies

1995 Babe Apollo 13
1996 Independence Day Dragonheart


1997 Titanic The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Starship Troopers

1998 What Dreams May Come Armageddon

Mighty Joe Young

1999 The Matrix Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Stuart Little

2000 Gladiator Hollow Man

The Perfect Storm

2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Pearl Harbor

2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Spider-Man

Star 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 World

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

2004 Spider-Man 2 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I, Robot

2005 King Kong The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

War of the Worlds

2006 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Poseidon

Superman Returns

2007 The Golden Compass Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End


2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Dark Knight

Iron Man

2009 Avatar District 9

Star Trek

2010 Inception Alice in Wonderland

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


Iron Man 2

2011 Hugo Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

2012 Life of Pi The Avengers

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Snow White and the Huntsman

2013 Gravity The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Iron Man 3

The Lone Ranger

Star Trek: Into Darkness

2014 Interstellar Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy

X-Men: Days of Future Past

2015 Ex Machina Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I used to beat people over the head with the fact that, in the post-Star Wars (modern visual effects) era, whenever a Best Picture nominee was in the Visual Effects category, it had never lost. And then Ex Machina came out of nowhere and beat Mad Max, The Martian, The Revenant and Force Awakens. Force Awakens wasn’t a Best Picture nominee, but that was the one that we figured, if it was gonna happen, that was gonna be the one.

VES as a guild has a lot of categories, which is good for them and giving out specially designed awards for their craft. But for guessing the Oscars — it’s too much. They’ve been around since 2002, and the film that won the Effects in an Effects-Driven (now “Photoreal”) category has gone on to win the Oscar in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013.

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.
  • 2015 — Ex Machina wins the Oscar despite winning nothing from VES and Force Awakens, Mad Max and The Revenant winning all the major awards there. That was one of the shockers of the decade, Oscars-wise. I can legit only point to about two other awards in the past ten years as surprising as that.

Generally, though, you can kind of telegraph how it’s gonna go from looking at the precursors and doing some general contextualizing.

BAFTA has only missed this category four times going back to 1999 (2000, 2004, 2011 and 2015). BFCA has missed three times since they started handing out the award in 2009.

BAFTA and BFCA this year both went to The Jungle Book.

At VES, your big award, Photoreal FX, went to The Jungle Book. It also won four other awards. Effects Simulations, Animated Performance, Virtual Cinematography and Composting. Deepwater Horizon won Supporting FX and Outstanding Model, and Doctor Strange won for Created Environment. Kubo also picked up an Animated Effects award.


Best Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Not an overly surprising category. Truly didn’t expect them to go for Deepwater. But it makes sense. And the Kubo nomination is one of my favorite nominations this year. Love it. Hope it wins.


5. Doctor Strange — Marvel’s never won this category, and I can’t see this being the first one. Bigger, more respected films like Iron Man and The Avengers couldn’t win this category. What chance does this have? The voting body at large doesn’t watch these movies enough for this to get anywhere. Easy fifth choice. I wouldn’t even for a second consider this having a shot. To see this win would be… not an all time shocker, but a shocker for years to come.

4. Deepwater Horizon — The film didn’t go over very well. It’s a disaster movie, and those tend to do okay here, but with two overall nominations, in heavy technical categories, I can’t see this doing well in an open vote. How many people saw this, liked it enough and thought the effects were better than the next three films to take it? I’d be really surprised if this won. I can’t see it getting much of anywhere. Maybe on pure data you could say this is a third choice, but not a whole lot more than that. Whatever you think this film’s chances are in this category, it’s not the favorite, nor is it anywhere near the favorite.

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — You could say it’s a fourth choice and not get a whole lot of argument from me. Force Awakens couldn’t win this category, and that had way more support than this does. People liked this film, but not enough to automatically take it. Plus, with the other two films in this category, it’s hard to see this winning without a single precursor to its name. That would be a real surprise. Ultimately not a shock, because it’s Star Wars, but still a very big surprise.

2. Kubo and the Two Strings — The fact that this is the second choice speaks to both the amount of love for this film that’s out there all across the aisle and also the probable likelihood of it actually winning the category. Wouldn’t this surprise us all, if it happened? Then again, it would surprise us all if it won Best Animated Feature, and I don’t think we have two surprises in store for us. It was nominated all across the guilds, and has support enough to get a few votes. I think it’s your second choice. It will never be considered a favorite, but I think this has more of a shot than most people would think at first glance.

1. The Jungle Book — It won the most VES Awards, it won BFCA, it won BAFTA. BAFTA has only missed four times in almost 20 years. All the evidence points to this being an easy winner. It would have still probably been an easy winner had a Best Picture nominee been in this category. Oh, and by the way — THEY MADE THE ENTIRE FILM IN A SOUNDSTAGE IN DOWNTOWN LA. It looks gorgeous. This movie is entirely visual effects. This is a big favorite here. And while it doesn’t seem like a category with favorites, and I’m treating it as though it’s not a lock, this might be one of the more certain outcomes in the ceremony.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Director.


One response

  1. Considering that Doctor Strange was marketed entirely on its visuals, I see it more on second or third place. Certainly not on the fifth.

    February 15, 2017 at 11:58 pm

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