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

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

2018 First Man Avengers: Infinity War

Christopher Robin

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


Avengers: Endgame

The Irishman

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:

  • VES:
    • The Lion King — 3 wins, including Best Effects
    • The Irishman — 2 wins, including Supporting Effects
    • The Rise of Skywalker — 1 win
  • BAFTA:
  • 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.

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One response

  1. Marvel technically actually DID win this category back in 2004 with Spider-Man 2.

    February 6, 2020 at 6:15 pm

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