Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Visual Effects

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

Today is Best Visual Effects, which feels a lot like an afterthought this year, much like it did last year.

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

2016 The Jungle Book Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Isn’t it crazy to think The Jazz Singer was nominated in the same category as Rogue One?

The guild to listen to here is VES, the Visual Effects Society. They have a fuck ton of categories though, as they are specifically designed to reward their craft, which, as we all know, has a lot of different facets to it, especially now. But the amount of categories make it dicey to listen to on its own for the Oscars. So we get some help.

But sticking with VES first — they’ve been around since 2002, and the film that won their main category, called “Effects in a Photoreal Feature” (which used to be called Effects in an Effects-Driven movie, which is what I still stubbornly call it), has gone on to win the Oscar in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016. So that’s ten out of fourteen years, which is pretty good overall.

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, 2012 and 2016. 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. So not entirely wrong there.
  • 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.

Now, that all being said, despite having VES and a very strong track record there, we do tend to use BAFTA (and to a lesser extent, BFCA) as an aide.

So BAFTA, going back to 2002, has only been wrong three times. They were wrong in 2004, picking The Day After Tomorrow (which wasn’t nominated for the Oscar), they were wrong in 2011, picking Deathly Hallows Part 2 over Hugo (which I think is more of an overall Harry Potter appreciation award for the end of the franchise) and they were wrong in 2015, picking The Force Awakens over Ex Machina. You know what this is telling you, right? If BAFTA an VES agree, bet on that.

And BFCA… let’s see how they do, just to be safe. They’ve only given out an Effects award since 2009. So eight awards so far before this year. And they’ve been wrong three times. Once was them picking Fury Road in the Ex Machina year, and the other two times they got it wrong were picking the Planet of the Apes films over eventual winners Hugo and Interstellar.

To no one’s surprise, War for the Planet of the Apes won BFCA this year.

As for VES, War for the Planet of the Apes won four awards, including the big one, Effects-Driven, as well as for Animated Character (naturally), Effects Simulations and Compositing.

Meanwhile, BAFTA just announced their winner like an hour ago. It was Blade Runner.

Best Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes


5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — It’s not winning. The first one couldn’t win, and this has no chance. Maybe it’s a fourth choice, because it’s Marvel and more people saw and respected it than King Kong, but a previous Kong movie won this category and maybe that’ll get it some votes. I’m saying neither wins, so put whichever one fourth and whichever one fifth that you want.

4. Kong: Skull Island — Exactly as I said. Neither are winning. This isn’t an Ex Machina scenario. These are just extra nominees, and no one’s voting for them. Some of the branch may have seen Guardians, probably no one’s seen this. Theoretically that means this should be fifth, but I’m thinking they figure Kong is usually done well, so maybe that gets it some votes? No idea. Neither of them are winning.

3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi — It’s Star Wars, which automatically make it a third choice at worst. The only way this would have been fourth is if a Best Picture nominee got on instead of one of the two already mentioned. This hasn’t won any precursors, and with Force Awakens not having won, with the insane uproar that it caused, this has almost no chance. Which is good. It means you have a straight 50/50 choice for the category. Which is what you hope for most of the time.

2. War for the Planet of the Apes — It has BFCA (which all three of the franchise films have won) and won the big VES Award (as well as four total), to Blade Runner’s two. Why is it my second choice, then? Because it’s simple — just look at it. 2011, people thought the first Apes was a shoo-in. And Hugo won. Why? Because Best Picture. That was a tried and true statistic until Ex Machina in 2015. So sure. But then, 2014, people said the second Apes movie was winning. And it lost. To Interstellar. And that’s exactly the logic I’m using here. It’s not the favorite. And I’ll explain why right now…

1. Blade Runner 2049 — This just won BAFTA. And it has two VES Awards. Now, when you go back to 2014, and the entire internet was sure Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was going to win, I said it would be Interstellar, and was quite certain. Interstellar won the BAFTA and lost pretty much all the other precursors. Yet it won at the Oscars. Why? Because, just look at it. That’s my argument. Just look at the category. Put yourself in the shoes of the regular Oscar voter. They might have seen Guardians, but it’s a superhero movie, and those they don’t really respect. They may not even remember that a Kong film came out this year. They’re not voting for that. Star Wars — will get some votes, because some people thought it deserved it. They think of special effects. Apes — they don’t care that the trilogy was good and that it’s done and all that. They don’t. If they didn’t vote before, why are they gonna start now? People used that logic in 2011 with Harry Potter. Deathly Hallows Part 2 got three Oscar nominations. Zero wins. Including in this category. They don’t care what you think. When they’re voting, they’re gonna see Blade Runner, which is the classiest film in the category, the film they respected the most, and that’s how they’re gonna vote. If that basic logic doesn’t work for you — Blade Runner has FIVE OVERALL NOMINATIONS. Both Sound categories, this, Production Design and Cinematography. It’s going to win at least one award. Maybe two. Possibly three. I do not understand any person who will willingly call War for the Planet of the Apes a favorite and declare that it’s going to win. You can pick it, but to say that it’s a favorite just seems insane to me.

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