Since the days of the Cecil B. DeMille epics, visual effects have been a part of film. The Academy understood that and had Engineering Effects as an award at the first Oscars. It was dropped after that first year though and didn’t come back until 1939, when it was called Special Effects (and thus denying King Kong an Oscar). It stayed that way until 1946, at which point it was reduced in the number of nominations, and sometimes becoming a Special Award or not being given at all.  In 1963, it was split into Visual Effects and Sound Effects. These days it is still considered a special kind of award and thus there are only 3 nominees.

Patton is the great oddity among the nominees; since the nominations were reduced to a “special or occasional” award in 1946, it is not only the only Best Picture winner to be nominated and not to win, it is the only Best Picture nominee to be nominated and not to win (the three exceptions to the rule all lost to a fellow Best Picture nominee).

Grades: Winners: A (I agree 40 times – an incredibly high amount) / Nominees: A- / Seen: 87.13% 96.10%

There are two distinctly different periods of this award and two very different groups and there is very little overlap.  Until 1948, there were generally at least two nominees attached to every nomination: one for the photographic effects and one for the sound.  The king of that era was A. Arnold Gillespie, who eventually ended his career with 300 points (4 Oscars out of 11 nominations).  Certainly the most tragic was Nathan Levinson was nominated 7 times, including 6 straight years (1939 to 1944) and never won (though he would win 1 of his 14 Best Sound nominations).  As Sound and Sound Effects were often credited to the Studio Sound Heads, there is a considerable overlap among the nominees and those for Best Sound during the stretch from 1939 to 1945.

From 1949 to 1955 the nomination was actually credited to the Studio itself (much like Best Picture was until 1951).  Then for the next several years, there was often one credited artist (sometimes two, if a sound person was credited separately).  But then came the split and the resurgence of Science Fiction films that sparked a new interest in the category.  The most honored of this new era is by far, Dennis Muren.  As one of the chief people at Industrial Light and Magic, he has received 8 Oscars and 7 other nominations over the course of his career.  Following him would be two of his co-workers who shared his 1983 Oscar for Return of the Jedi: Richard Edlund (4 Oscars, 6 other noms) and Ken Ralston (5 Oscars, 2 other noms).

Like with Best Song, films that make the Shame Roll in Visual Effects sometimes have actually earned their nomination – you can have great effects in a terrible film.

Honor Roll: Forbidden Planet / The Birds / The Nightmare Before Christmas

Shame Roll: Krakatoa – East of Java / Poltergeist II: The Other Side / Death Becomes Her / Dragonheart / The Lost World / Starship Troopers / Hollow Man / Poseidon

Best Engineering Effects

1927-1928 AA: Wings / The Jazz Singer / The Private Life of Helen of Troy

me:  Metropolis / Wings

note:  Inside Oscar lists these as the nominees.  Current Academy records list Nugent Slaughter as a nominee, most often mentioned in conjunction with The Jazz Singer, but not nominated for any specific film.  They also list Ralph Hammeras as a nominee but not, specifically for The Private Life of Helen of Troy, like Inside Oscar does.

Best Special Effects

1939 AA: The Rains Came / Gone with the Wind / The Wizard of Oz / Only Angels Have Wings / The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex / Topper Takes a Trip / Union Pacific

me: The Wizard of Oz / Gone with the Wind

1940 AA: The Thief of Bagdad / Rebecca / Foreign Correspondant / The Long Voyage Home / The Blue Bird / Boom Town / The Boys from Syracuse / Dr. Cyclops / The Invisible Man Returns / One Million B.C. / The Sea Hawk / Swiss Family Robinson / Typhoon / Women in War

me: The Thief of Bagdad / Rebecca / The Sea Hawk  (I rewatched Thief and reconsidered it)

note:  Ah, the power of the Studio Era.  Of the 15 nominated artists in 1939, 12 of them were again nominated in 1940.

1941 AA: 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.

me: nothing worthy of nomination

1942 AA: Reap the Wild Wind / Mrs. Miniver / Pride of the Yankees / The Black Swan / Desperate Journey / Flying Tigers / Invisible Agent / Jungle Book / The Navy Comes Through / One of Our Aircraft is Missing

me: Reap the Wild Wind

1943 AA: Crash Dive / Air Force / Bombardier / The North Star / So Proudly We Hail / Stand by for Action

me: Destination Tokyo

1944 AA: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo / Since You Went Away / Wilson / The Adventures of Mark Twain / Days of Glory / Secret Command / The Story of Dr. Wassell

me: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

1945 AA: Wonder Man / Spellbound / Captain Eddie / They Were Expendable / A Thousand and One Nights

me: Spellbound / They Were Expendable

1946 AA: Blithe Spirit / A Stolen Life

me: nothing worthy of nomination

1947 AA: Green Dolphin Street / Unconquered

me: La Belle et la Bette / Stairway to Heaven

1948 AA: Portrait of Jennie / Deep Waters

me: nothing worthy of nomination

1949 AA: Mighty Joe Young / Tulsa

me: Mighty Joe Young

1950 AA: Destination Moon / Samson and Delilah

me: Destination Moon

1951 AA: When Worlds Collide

me: When Worlds Collide / The Day the Earth Stood Still / The Frogmen

1952 AA: Plymouth Adventure

me: The Sound Barrier / The Greatest Show on Earth

1953 AA: War of the Worlds

me: War of the Worlds / From Here to Eternity / Invaders from Mars

1954 AA: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea / Hell and High Water / Them!

me: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea / Them!

1955 AA: The Bridges at Toko-Ri / The Dam Busters / The Rains of Ranchipur

me: nothing worthy of nomination The Dam Busters

1956 AA: The 10 Commandments / Forbidden Planet

me: Forbidden Planet / The 10 Commandments / Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

note:  I think this is the result of box office.  I really can’t understand how people would think that the parting of the Red Sea was a better visual effect than the Science Fiction frontier in Forbidden Planet.

1957 AA: The Enemy Below / The Spirit of St. Louis

me: The Bridge on the River Kwai / The River Below

1958 AA: tom thumb / Torpedo Run

me: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad / Torpedo Run / tom thumb

1959 AA: Ben-Hur / Journey to the Center of the Earth

me: Ben-Hur / Journey to the Center of the Earth

1960 AA: The Time Machine / The Last Voyage

me: The Time Machine / Spartacus / Mysterious Island

1961 AA: The Guns of Navarone / The Absent Minded Professor

me: The Guns of Navarone

1962 AA: The Longest Day / Mutiny on the Bounty

me: Lawrence of Arabia

Best Special Visual Effects

1963 AA: Cleopatra / The Birds

me: Jason and the Argonauts / The Birds / Dr. No

1964 AA: Mary Poppins / 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

me: Mary Poppins / Goldfinger / From Russia With Love

1965 AA: Thunderball / The Greatest Story Ever Told

me: Thunderball / Red Line 7000

1966 AA: Fantastic Voyage / Hawaii

me: Fantastic Voyage / The Bible

1967 AA: Doctor Dolittle / Tobruk

me: Bonnie and Clyde / Doctor Dolittle

note:  I was about to write about how pathetic this was when I realized that the squibs used at the end of Bonnie and Clyde were better Visual Effects.

1968 AA: 2001: A Space Odyssey / Ice Station Zebra

me: 2001: A Space Odyssey / Planet of the Apes / The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

note:  Stanley Kubrick’s only Oscar.  While many directors started out as Oscar winning or nominated artists in other fields (Editing – Robert Wise, Cinematography – Karl Freund, Screenwriting – Billy Wilder, John Huston, Ingmar Bergman, among many others), this seems to be a singular oddity in a Director, after starting as a Director, winning an Oscar in a completely different field.

1969 AA: Marooned / Krakatoa, East of Java

me: Marooned / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

1970 AA: Tora! Tora! Tora! / Patton

me: Patton

1971 AA: Bedknobs and Broomsticks / When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

me: Bedknobs and Broomsticks / Diamonds are Forever

Best Visual Effects

1972 AA (Special Award): The Poseidon Adventure

me: The Poseidon Adventure

1973 me: The Exorcist

1974 AA (Special Award): Earthquake

me: The Towering Inferno / The Golden Voyage of Sinbad / Earthquake

1975 AA (Special Award): The Hindenburg

me: Jaws / The Hindenburg / The Great Waldo Pepper

1976 AA (2 Special Awards): King Kong / Logan’s Run

me: King Kong / Logan’s Run / Solyaris

Note:  In the space of three years, Glen Robinson wins 4 Special Achievement Oscars for Visual Effects for the four films mentioned above.

1977 AA: Star Wars / Close Encounters of the Third Kind

me: Star Wars / Close Encounters of the Third Kind / A Bridge Too Far

1978 AA (Special Award): Superman

me: Superman / Battlestar Gallactica / Invasion of the Body Snatchers

1979 AA: Alien / The Black Hole / Moonraker / 1941 / Star Trek – The Motion Picture

me: Alien / Star Trek – The Motion Picture / The Black Hole

note:  The only year with a full slate of 5 nominees.  In spite of the increase in Science Fiction and Fantasy films, they have never done 5 again.

1980 AA (Special Award): The Empire Strikes Back

me: The Empire Strikes Back / Altered States / The Stunt Man

1981 AA: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Dragonslayer

me: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Superman II / Time Bandits

1982 AA: E.T. / Blade Runner / Poltergeist

me: E.T. / Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan / Poltergeist

1983 AA (Special Award): Return of the Jedi

me: Return of the Jedi / The Right Stuff

1984 AA: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom / Ghostbusters / 2010

me: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom / Ghostbusters / Dreamscape

1985 AA: Cocoon / Return to Oz / Young Sherlock Holmes

me: Back to the Future / Brazil / Young Sherlock Holmes

1986 AA: Aliens / Little Shop of Horrors / Poltergeist II: The Other Side

me: Aliens / Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

1987 AA: Innerspace / Predator

me: Innerspace / Evil Dead 2 / Predator

1988 AA: Who Framed Roger Rabbit / Die Hard / Willow

me: Who Framed Roger Rabbit / Die Hard / Willow

1989 AA: The Abyss / The Adventures of Baron Munchausen / Back to the Future Part II

me: The Abyss / Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade / The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

1990 AA (Special Award): Total Recall

me: Total Recall / The Hunt for Red October / Back to the Future Part III

1991 AA: Terminator 2: Judgment Day / Backdraft / Hook

me: Terminator 2: Judgment Day / Backdraft / Hook

1992 AA: Death Becomes Her / Alien3 / Batman Returns

me: Bram Stoker’s Dracula / The Lawnmower Man / Batman Returns

note:  In a weak year for Visual Effects, this breaks the longest streak of agreement between me and the Academy – 16 straight years from 1976 to 1991 where I agreed with the Oscar.

1993 AA: Jurassic Park / Cliffhanger / The Nightmare Before Christmas

me: Jurassic Park / Nightmare Before Christmas / Army of Darkness

1994 AA: Forrest Gump / The Mask / True Lies

me: Heavenly Creatures / Stargate / Forrest Gump

1995 AA: Babe / Apollo 13

semi-finalists not nominated: Batman Forever / Casper / Indian in the Cupboard / Jumanji / Waterworld

me: Jumanji / Babe / Apollo 13

1996 AA: Independence Day / Twister / Dragonheart

me: Independence Day / The Frighteners / Star Trek: First Contact

1997 AA: Titanic / The Lost World / Starship Troopers

semi-finalists not nominated: Batman & Robin / The Fifth Element / Contact / Men in Black

me: The Fifth Element / Titanic / Men in Black

1998 AA: What Dreams May Come / Armageddon / Mighty Joe Young

semi-finalists not nominated: Babe: Pig in the City / Godzilla / Small Soldiers / The Truman Show

me: Saving Private Ryan / Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Deep Impact

1999 AA: The Matrix / Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace / Stuart Little

semi-finalists not nominated: The Mummy / Sleepy Hollow / Wild Wild West / The World is Not Enough

me: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace / The Matrix / The Mummy

2000 AA: Gladiator / The Perfect Storm / Hollow Man

semi-finalists not nominated: Cast Away / Dinosaur / How the Grinch Stole Christmas / X-Men

me: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon / X-Men / The Perfect Storm

2001 AA: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring / A.I. / Pearl Harbor

semi-finalists not nominated: Black Hawk Down / Cats and Dogs / The Fast and the Furious / Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone / Jurassic Park III

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring / A.I. / Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone

note:  The Harry Potter films have fared quite badly in this category, which is strange because the effects have gotten better with each film.  Yet, they have only managed one nomination so far (for Prisoner of Azkaban).  I can’t quite figure out the objections from the voters.  With The Hobbit now bumped away from the final film, I hope they will finally reverse themselves and start handing out some well-deserved Oscars.

2002 AA: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers / Spider-Man / Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

semi-finalists: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / Men in Black II / Minority Report / XXX

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers / Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones / Minority Report

2003 AA: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / Master and Commander: Far Side of the World / Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

semi-finalists not nominated: Hulk / Peter Pan / Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines / X2

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl / X2

note:  This is the only category which all three Lord of the Rings films won the Oscar.  The only other Oscar that Two Towers won, Sound Editing, the other two, oddly weren’t nominated for.

2004 AA: Spider-Man 2 / Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / I, Robot

semi-finalists not nominated: The Aviator / The Day After Tomorrow / Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events / Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

me: Spider-Man 2 / Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow / Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

2005 AA: King Kong / The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe / War of the Worlds

semi-finalists not nominated: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / Batman Begins / Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

me: King Kong / Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith / War of the Worlds

note:  I can’t quite comprehend how the voters though the effects in Chronicles of Narnia were better than Revenge of the Sith.

2006 AA: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest / Poseidon / Superman Returns

semi-finalists not nominated: Casino Royale / Eragon / Night at the Museum / X-Men: Last Stand

me: The Fountain / Superman Returns / Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

note:  Night at the Museum was a semi-finalist and The Fountain was not?  The giant wave from Poseidon, essentially copied from Perfect Storm was nominated and The Fountain was not?

2007 AA: The Golden Compass / Transformers / Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

semi-finalists not nominated: The Bourne Ultimatum / Evan Almighty / I Am Legend / 300

me: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix / The Golden Compass / Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

note:  Do the Visual Effects people in the AMPAS even watch the Harry Potter films?  How was Order of the Phoenix not even a semi-finalist?

2008 AA: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button / Iron Man / The Dark Knight

semi-finalists not nominated: Australia / Hellboy II: The Golden Army / Journey to the Center of the Earth / The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

me: Iron Man / The Dark Knight / Hellboy II: The Golden Army

2009 AA: Avatar / District 9 / Star Trek

semi-finalists not nominated:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince / Terminator: Salvation / Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen / 2012

me:  Avatar / District 9 / Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Honorary Mentions: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) / Casino Royale (2006) / Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) / Star Trek (2009)

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