ⓘ Academy Award for Best Visual Effects


ⓘ Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first recognized the technical contributions of special effects to movies at its inaugural dinner in 1929, presenting a plaque for Best Engineering Effects to the first Best Picture Oscar winner, the World War I flying drama Wings.

Producer David O. Selznick, then production head at RKO Studios, petitioned the Academy Board of Governors to recognize the work of animator Willis OBrien for his groundbreaking work on 1933s King Kong.

It was not until 1938 when a film was actually recognized for its effects work, when a Special Achievement Award for Special Effects was given to the Paramount film Spawn of the North. The following year, Best Special Effects became a recognized category, although on occasion the Academy has chosen to honor a single film outright rather than nominate two or more films. From 1939 to 1963, it was an award for a films visual effects as well as audio effects, so it was often given to two persons, although some years only one or the other type of effect was recognized. In 1964, it was given only for visual effects, and the following year the name of the category was changed to Best Special Visual Effects ".

Honorees for this award have been bestowed several times as a Special Achievement Academy Award. In 1977, the category was given its current name Best Visual Effects." For decades, shortlisted finalists were selected by a steering committee. They are presently chosen by the visual effects branch executive committee. 1990 was the last year there were no official nominees. Back to the Future Part III, Dick Tracy, Ghost and Total Recall advanced to a second stage of voting, but only Total Recall received a requisite average and it was given a special achievement Oscar.

To date, there have been three wholly animated films nominated in this category: The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993, Kubo and the Two Strings in 2016, and The Lion King in 2019. There has been one semi-animated film nominated, which also won: Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988.


1. Rules

Usually, there are three nominated films. In 1979, there were five films nominated. Sometimes, no award is given. Other times, a single film is given the award outright.

In 2007, it was decided that a list of no more than 15 eligible films would be chosen, from which a maximum of seven would be shortlisted for further consideration. A vote would then proceed, with a maximum of three nominees. Since 2010, there are ten shortlisted finalists which, using a form of range voting, produce five nominees. No more than four people may be nominated for a single film.

According to the official Academy Award rules, the criteria are:

a consideration of the contribution the visual effects make to the overall production and b the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.


2. Filmmakers

A number of filmmakers have had their movies honored for their achievements in visual effects; i.e., five films produced by George Pal, five by director/producer George Lucas, five by director James Cameron who began his career in Hollywood as an effects technician, four by directors Richard Fleischer, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, and three by director Robert Zemeckis.

Stanley Kubricks only Oscar win was in this category, for 1968s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The films credits list four effects contributors, including Douglas Trumbull. However, according to the rules of the Academy in effect at the time, only three persons could be nominated for their work on a single film, which would have resulted in the omission of either Trumbull, Tom Howard, Con Pederson or Wally Veevers. Ultimately, it was Kubricks name that was submitted as a nominee in this category, resulting in his winning the award, which many consider a slight to the four men whose work contributed to the films success.


3. Superlatives

For this Academy Award category, the following superlatives emerge:

  • Most nominations: Dennis Muren – 15 nominations resulting in 8 awards
  • Most awards: Dennis Muren – 8 awards resulting from 15 nominations