Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best Visual Effects
Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.
What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.
Today is Best Visual Effects. Making your animated movies come to life and making your 75 year-old movie stars look 45 again even though they’re playing 28.
|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
The Wizard of Oz
|1940||The Thief of Bagdad||The Blue Bird
The Boys from Syracuse
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
The Invisible Woman
The Sea Wolf
That Hamilton Woman
A Yank in the R.A.F.
|1942||Reap the Wild Wind||The Black Swan
The Jungle Book
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
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|
|1964||Mary Poppins||7 Faces of Dr. Lao|
|1965||Thunderball||The Greatest Story Ever Told|
|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)
|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
|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
The Nightmare Before Christmas
|1994||Forrest Gump||The Mask
|1997||Titanic||The Lost World: Jurassic Park
|1998||What Dreams May Come||Armageddon
Mighty Joe Young
|1999||The Matrix||Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The Perfect Storm
|2001||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
|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
|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
|2007||The Golden Compass||Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
|2008||The Curious Case of Benjamin Button||The Dark Knight
|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
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
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
|2016||The Jungle Book||Deepwater Horizon
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
|2018||First Man||Avengers: Infinity War
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
The thing with Visual Effects most years is that you can usually tell what’s gonna win just by looking at the category. The historical norm (in the post-Star Wars era) has been that if a Best Picture nominee is in the category, it always wins (unless another Best Picture nominee is also nominated and beats it). That was an automatic statistic forever… until 2015, when three Best Picture nominees were up against Star Wars and Ex Machina and Ex Machina somehow beat everything. And then we haven’t had a Best Picture nominee in the category since. Though we did have Blade Runner and First Man, which were Best Picture-adjacent kind of movies, with multiple nominations and clearly outclassing the rest of the category in terms of profile and level of prestige. Point is, that was usually how you looked at this one and figured it out.
You also have the precursors, which are BAFTA and BFCA, like everything else, and then the Visual Effects guild, VES.
VES has a lot of awards, but the big one is “Best Effects.” The Best Effects winner went on to win the Oscar category in 10/17 years of VES. Which is solid. VES also has a “Supporting Effects” category, which produced the 2011 and 2018 winners. Meaning that of the two big VES awards, 70% of your Visual Effects winners since 2002 have gone on to win the Oscar (also of note is that no film was nominated for Supporting Effects and lost and then went on to win the Oscar, which will come into play later).
The five years where VES did not have the winner were 2004, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2017. I’ll tell you right now, nobody had 2015. Ex Machina came completely out of nowhere. But of the other precursors — BAFTA had them all except 2004. BAFTA had The Golden Compass in 2007, they had Interstellar in 2014 and they had Blade Runner in 2017. Oh, and their 2004 winner wasn’t nominated for the Oscar because there were only 3 nominees back then.
BAFTA’s also 13/17 straight up against the Visual Effects category since 2002. Their four misses are 2004 (where their winner wasn’t nominated), 2011 (where they gave it to Deathly Hallows Part 2 as a sendoff to the franchise), 2015 (which everyone got wrong) and last year (where their winner wasn’t nominated). They’re really good at this.
Oh, and BFCA is only 5/10 all-time. So not so great.
But really, with the guild and with BAFTA and then knowing what the classiest film in the category is, you’re basically covered just about every way except when something shocking like 2015 is gonna happen. You can do worse.
Best Visual Effects
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
This was one of the easier categories to predict. When you looked at the shortlist of ten, these were clearly the obvious five choices. I thought that maybe Alita: Battle Angel might sneak on instead of 1917, just because it got so many guild nominations and because they’ve left Best Picture nominated war movies with practical effects (Dunkirk) off in recent years. But ultimately these were the obvious five.
In terms of precursors:
- The Lion King — 3 wins, including Best Effects
- The Irishman — 2 wins, including Supporting Effects
- The Rise of Skywalker — 1 win
- BFCA: Avengers: Endgame
Taking into account everything you read up there, shouldn’t this be pretty easy to parse?
5. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — If any of the new trilogy was gonna win, it was gonna be Force Awakens, with all that hype surrounding it. And it didn’t win. None of the later trilogy films have won this category, and it’s hard to see them getting excited enough about this to give it any sort of votes. Every single other film in the category has a better case to be made for it than this.
4. Avengers: Endgame — It has a BFCA win. But BFCA is populist. They voted for all the Planet of the Apes movies, none of which won the Oscar, and Infinity War won there last year. Some people will think it has a shot because they want to ‘reward it’, but it’s not like Marvel’s done forever. They’ll have released three more movies by the time next year’s Oscars roll around. There’s no sentiment to award this at all except from the internet. Marvel’s never won this category, it’s got no real precursor win that matters and it’s just outclassed by everything else.
3. The Lion King — That Jungle Book win was big for helping this out. Though it might also have been the thing that hurts this in the end, because… we’ve seen it before. Also, it’s basically an animated movie. I’m sure places nominating it in the Animated Feature category haven’t helped its chances. But still, it’s stunning what they did here and there’s a reason it won Best Effects at the guild. But, in an open vote, and not having won BAFTA, it’s hard to consider this the favorite. Ex Machina’s the only non-Best Picture nominee to beat Best Picture nominees in this category, and that at least was a film that was pretty classy and high profile. It was nominated for Screenplay that year, and were Alicia Vikander not nominated for a different performance in the same category, she’d probably have gotten nominated for it as well. So, no matter how many precursors this won, it’s hard to say it’s the favorite in an open vote, when people generally default to the films they see in all the other categories. This has to be considered the third choice.
2. 1917 — It won BAFTA, and they’re 7/10 the past decade. But they went all in on the British film, so I’m not sure just how much that counts toward its legitimate chances. But that’s big. Plus, Best Picture nominees historically (outside of 2015) always win over non-Best Picture nominees. So that pretty much automatically put it second. If it lost BAFTA, then I’d have said third. But it won, so it’s clearly top two. I’m just not sure how much of a favorite it is given that there aren’t that many effects here, and they’re mostly practical. That hasn’t been the norm in this category since… well, are we counting Hugo? That’s a whole 3D other deal. It’s been a while since we had a film this practical win this category. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen, but it’s clearly a 50/50.
1. The Irishman — The de-aging is the biggest talking point about the movie (aside from its run time). It won VES Supporting Effects. It’s got ten nominations and feels like the obvious choice in the category. Granted, 1917 also has ten nominations and is gonna win Best Picture, so that probably should make it the favorite. But I don’t know. I’m just feeling like it’s this. On paper, 1917 should probably be the favorite. But you’ve got a 50/50. That’s the best you can hope for, outside of a clear winner. You know what the decision is between, so it’s just a matter of which you feel better about.
– – – – – – – – – –