Oscars 2018 Category Breakdown: Best Visual Effects

So what we do here each year as a warm up for the Oscars is, I break down each of the 24 categories. The idea is to both familiarize everyone with the category and its history. I look at what the major trends are throughout the past bunch of years, how the precursors tend to go, whether they matter or not, that sort of stuff. I look at how the category came to be this year, and just anything else that seems totally pertinent about it. Then I rank each of the nominees and tell you what their likelihood (at this particular moment in time) of winning is.

This is all prelude to my giant Oscar ballot that I’m gonna give you. But I figure, if you have these as the warmup, it’s not as intimidating. You’ll have seen a lot of the pertinent trends here and we’ll all be able to reference these as a sort of cheat sheet. Plus it shows you where my head is at for how I think each of the categories are gonna go, and you can see me working my way up to all the bad decisions I usually make while guessing. Pretty much, with this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the category is gonna turn out.

Today is Best Visual Effects. So you know, Best CGI. And occasionally the classy stuff too.

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 Hawk

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

2017 Blade Runner 2049 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

The Wizard of Oz and Kong: Skull Island… nominated in the same category at the Academy Awards.

So Visual Effects is one… you don’t necessarily need the precursors, but they help. Mostly it’s intuitive, but you do wanna look at the precursors to make sure you’re on the right track. There was only one year in the past like, ten, where the precursors just completely got blown up, and it’s one of the most shocking decisions I’ve seen the Academy make since I’ve been doing this. So generally you have a pretty good idea about this one.

But if you are gonna look at the precursors, you start with the actual visual effects guild, VES. They’ve got a bunch of categories, but the main one is basically “Best Effects.” The winner of Best Effects went on to win the Oscar category in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016. Which is 10/16 years. Not so bad. They have a Supporting Visual Effects category as well, which produced the 2011 winner (of note, no film has lost Supporting Effects and then gone on to win the Oscar for Visual Effects). So 11/16 years your winner won one of the two big categories at VES.

Of the five years the Oscar winner didn’t come from VES:

  • 2004 — the Oscar winner lost Best Effects to another nominee.
  • 2007 — the Oscar winner lost Best Effects to another nominee.
  • 2014 — the Oscar winner lost Best Effects to another nominee.
  • 2015 — the Oscar winner wasn’t nominated for Best Effects (or anywhere at VES for that matter).
  • 2017 — the Oscar winner lost Best Effects to another nominee.

Got that? It was nominated but lost, outside of that Ex Machina year, which is still one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen at the Oscars in all my years of covering it.

Also, 2017, Blade Runner lost to War for the Planet of the Apes and 2014, Interstellar lost to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Neither Apes movie was ever the favorite to win the Oscar, and we knew where that was going pretty easily. Which leaves 2007, where Transformers lost to The Golden Compass, and 2004, where Azkaban lost to Spider-Man 2. Both of which are now over a decade ago. It means you generally listen to what wins Best Effects.

But also, let’s look at BAFTA now.

BAFTA, going back to 2002 when VES started, has only been wrong three times! They are

  • 2004: They had The Day After Tomorrow. Both Spider-Man 2 and Azkaban were nominated and lost.
  • 2011: They had Deathly Hallows Part 2. Hugo was nominated and lost.
  • 2015: They had The Force Awakens. Ex Machina was nominated and lost.

That means BAFTA had the winner every other time. And that includes The Golden Compass. So yeah. Between those two, you’re usually golden.

Oh, and you know what? We also have BFCA. Might as well look at them if we can. They’ve only given out awards since 2009. They’re 50/50 in all. 5/10. Technically the tenth category is this year, but they gave it to Black Panther this year and are gonna be wrong because Black Panther wasn’t nominated. Also, three of their misses are them giving it to the Planet of the Apes movies, which all lost at the Oscars. And the other one is the Ex Machina year. But other than that, they’re pretty much on point.

So yeah, generally VES Best Effects/Supporting Effects and BAFTA are gonna get you to where you need to go.

Best Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War

Christopher Robin

First Man

Ready Player One

Solo: A Star Wars Story

They had a shortlist of ten this year, and I’m not overly surprised about this. The Black Panther omission is somewhat surprising, given how much people are all over that film’s jockstrap this year. But I didn’t think its effects were all that great, so I’m glad if it got left off anywhere, this was one of the categories. And they put on Christopher Robin, which, you know what? Had some nice effects. So good for that. Otherwise, the other four here were pretty obvious choices. Star Wars always makes it, Ready Player One is all effects, First Man is space, and they love space, and Avengers… obviously. Disney is 3/5 of this category, by the way.

Outside of Black Panther, the other four shortlisted films to not make the final cut were Ant-Man and the Wasp, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mary Poppins Returns and Welcome to Marwen. So yeah, nothing shocking there, even though a lot of us would have liked to see Mary Poppins maybe make it on over Christopher Robin. Still, nothing egregious.

BFCA and BAFTA both went off the board, giving Black Panther a win. So we’re pretty much just using VES and experience. That’s really all we have.

Your VES winners were as such:

  • Avengers: Infinity War — Best Effects, Animated Character, Composting and Effects Simulations.
  • Ready Player One — Created Environment and Virtual Cinematography.
  • First Man — Supporting Effects

Those were gonna be my top three regardless, so that’s not a huge help. Just gonna go with my gut on this one.


5. Christopher Robin — So I’ll start by saying… having this fifth feels like an Ex Machina type mistake. So I don’t think I’ll leave it fifth come Oscar night, but I also don’t think this can win. At least Ex Machina was nominated at BAFTA, which this was not. That also was a very broadly liked movie. This… not really. No movie has won Visual Effects and not been nominated at BAFTA since… 1998. So yeah. That’s before the era of visual effects as we know them now. I feel comfortable calling this a fifth choice currently. I’ll probably say put it fourth on Oscar night just in case it comes in and you don’t get caught with your pants down. But without any kind of major win anywhere, I can’t see it happening.

4. Solo: A Star Wars Story — Right now it’s fourth because it’s Star Wars, and maybe that gets it votes, but honestly, I don’t see any way in which this could win. Force Awakens couldn’t win this, and that was the one. You know? Last Jedi even did nothing last year. Rogue One was an afterthought, and this will also be an afterthought. It’ll probably be #5 come Oscar night, but for now, the fact that it’s Star Wars at least gives it a little bit of cache. But also, no BAFTA nomination… can’t consider it a legitimate contender. So it doesn’t really matter if it’s fourth or fifth, does it?

3. Avengers: Infinity War — Nominated everywhere and lost everywhere. Marvel’s never won this category either. Can’t see it being anything other than a third choice. The first Avengers couldn’t win over Life of Pi. Iron Man lost to Benjamin Button. I can keep going. Iron Man 2 lost to Inception. Iron Man 3 lost to Gravity. Winter Soldier and Guardians lost to Interstellar. Doctor Strange lost to Jungle Book. Guardians 2 lost to Blade Runner. See a trend? Outside of the Jungle Book year, where Jungle Book was just the film that was considered to be all about the visual effects, Marvel has lost to either a Best Picture contender or just a film with a really classy pedigree. Hard to see this not being more of the same. Who takes Marvel seriously within the Academy? Hard to see this just getting votes on principle. They don’t give a fuck about anything the internet cares about. So why would I see this as anything other than a third choice? VES? That’s a guild. That’s not an open vote. Where are the votes coming from? Sure, it could win, but I’m not betting anything on that happening. I’ll probably leave it the third choice and wait and see if I’m wrong.

2. Ready Player One — It’s Spielberg, and it’s a fairly classy film. That should get it a few votes. Not sure that really puts it above Infinity War, but it might, right? If people saw it maybe they’d vote for it. But honestly I think when you look at this category from the perspective of the average Academy voter (older, not really watching stuff like everything we saw already), it’s pretty clear which film on this list should be considered the favorite at the moment. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it does show you how things should be looked at going into Oscar night. I think this has a shot, but this isn’t anything higher than a second choice that could maybe come in.

1. First Man — It’s the only movie that is almost in the Best Picture conversation. That, to me, made it the automatic frontrunner from the jump. Think about it. Who’s still the majority of the Academy? Older, white voters. These are the people who won’t have seen Infinity War or Ready Player One. They’ll have at least seen First Man. Maybe they don’t know where the effects came from. I don’t know. But what I do know is that it worked for Interstellar in 2014, so I’m sticking with that path for now. Sure, Interstellar won the BAFTA for Visual Effects, so that had something this does not have. Still, when you’ve got a film with four overall nominations and the rest of the category only being nominated here with no clear frontrunner, I’ll call this the frontrunner. I think it still goes three deep, but I think this seems like the most likely winner right now. It also does have the Supporting Effects win at VES, which is what Hugo had, despite having lost everything else precursor-wise in its year. Sure looks like a winner to me from here.

– – – – – – – – – –


2 responses

  1. “Who takes Marvel seriously within the Academy?”

    I don’t know, all those voting for Spider-Verse in Animated Feature?

    February 11, 2019 at 3:14 pm

  2. I don’t know….I would say that The Life of Pi, Inception, Gravity and Jungle Book were all the flashy movies of the year where everyone was talking about the CGI. This year, that is clearly Infinity war. And the fact that it got the nomination ahead of Black Panther despite Black Panther being the movie they pushed for (not that it deserved a nomination in the category) tells me that someone actually paid attention. Infinity War got way more exposure last year than Ready Player one, and if the “old men” are unsure what to pick, who says that they don’t look up what the guilt thought? I wouldn’t discount Infinity War just yet, simply because it is the obvious winner.

    February 11, 2019 at 11:39 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.