Best Visual Effects

When I think of the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, I often think of the loudest and most cacophonous movies to play in a theater in a given year. But perhaps that’s unfair, because upon closer inspection, it seems that those types of films are rarely rewarded with the actual prize. So while there are a fair share of obnoxious movies on this year’s shortlist of candidates, the Academy will narrow the field soon for the actual nominees. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the 20 final contenders and see if we can use some recent history to predict the eventual winner.

20 Remaining Best Visual Effects Oscar Candidates

The official Oscars website released the 20 movies that have advanced through the ranks to compete for the limited number of nominations. (In recent years there have been five nominees, but for decades prior to 2010, there were only three each year.) Here are the candidates who still have a shot at the trophy:

Ad Astra
The Aeronauts
Aladdin
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Cats
Dumbo
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Ford v Ferrari
Gemini Man
The Irishman
Jumanji: The Next Level
The Lion King
Men in Black: International
Midway
1917
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Terminator: Dark Fate

Films That Didn’t Make the Cut

For me, there are several genuine surprises that were either never in contention or have already been whittled off the list. The biggest may be Detective Pikachu, a film which we can debate the general merits of, but one that seemed to earn universal praise for its effects. There’s also no Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a movie that is kind of horrible (sorry) but which at least had some cool monster fights and some jaw-dropping Mothra imagery. A few others that were either never thought of or knocked off: Shazam!, Dark Phoenix, It Chapter Two, and Doctor Sleep. And I want to give a quick shout-out to Midsommar, a movie which almost certainly stood zero chance in this category. Its effects are much more subtle than many of the other movies mentioned already, but the way Ari Aster and his team was able to use pulsating sections of nature to convey an otherworldly, unsettling vibe has stayed with me ever since I saw it.

Using Recent History to Predict the Winner

No Marvel movie has ever won this award, so let’s go ahead and cross Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Avengers: Endgame off the list. (I briefly thought Endgame might earn a Return of the King-style victory that honors the entire franchise that came before it, but I forgot that the Return of the King thing only applied to Best Picture; all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies won Oscars for visual effects.)

No real-life war movie has won in recent history either, so let’s delete Midway and 1917. No live-action Disney movie has won in the past decade, so goodbye to Aladdin and Dumbo. The last time a Terminator film won was in the early ’90s with T2; hasta la vista, Dark Fate. No Fast & Furious film has ever even been nominated, so farewell to Hobbs and Shaw. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi didn’t take the prize home, so let’s assume that means the Academy isn’t impressed with modern Star Wars films: bye, The Rise of Skywalker.

That leaves us with these contenders:

Ad Astra
The Aeronauts
Alita: Battle Angel
Cats
Ford v Ferrari
Gemini Man
The Irishman
Jumanji: The Next Level
The Lion King
Men in Black: International

I have my own suspicions about which of these remaining entries will be laughed out of the nomination process, but let’s stop removing options and finally look at what might actually win. Space movies are frequent winners (First Man, Interstellar, Gravity), so Ad Astra seems like a safe bet. Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book took home the trophy, so perhaps The Lion King – an even more VFX-heavy project – will be rewarded. And a few years ago, the Academy unexpectedly gave the Oscar to Ex Machina for the incredible work on Alicia Vikander’s character, so don’t count out Alita: Battle Angel just yet.

You know what? Just go ahead and bet the farm on Cats. What’s the worst that can happen?

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