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Academy Award For Best Visual Effects: Ranked 10 Winners

Do you know of all the movies you have ever watched which ones actually won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects?

Today, most filmmakers use CGI to give the viewers full entertainment. Movies are now packed with amazing actions, breathtaking scenes, and seemingly impossible characters.

We have seen the use of CGI in the movies like Life of Pi, Tenet, and Avengers: Endgame.

Oscar 2022 Best Visual Effects Nominee
Oscar 2022 Best Visual Effects Nominee (Source: GoldDerby)

The first feature-length CGI movie, Toy Story, was indeed created by Pixar. The history of CGI, however, is steeped in drama and glory.

In his 1958 film, Alfred Hitchcock is said to have used CGI technology. 

Today we will look into the groundbreaking movies that adapted such technologies and won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Do stick to the end and see if the list contains your favorite movies.

Quick Overview

No.  Name of the movie Year Won
10. Star Wars 1977
9. Jurassic Park 1993
8. The Matrix 1999
7. Lord of the Rings- Fellowship of The Ring 2001
6. Spiderman -2  2004
5. Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008
4. Avatar 2009
3. Gravity 2013
2. Interstellar 2014
1. 1917 2019

10. Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars is an intergalactic epic movie directed by George Lucas.

The use of CGI in “Star Wars” was minimal, but it paved the way for more ambitious projects in the future.

Lucas created Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a VFX studio, for making the movie.

ILM also won the Academy Award for best visual effects for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

CGI still from Star Wars 1977
CGI Still from Star Wars 1977 (Source: cgw.com)

The majority of the VFX relied on John Dykstra and his team’s groundbreaking digital motion control technique.

The film was a massive hit during its time. It quickly garnered huge attention with a new ‘used future‘ concept.

The movie’s opening scene and other special effects became a lifetime experience for spectators.

9. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park is an American science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg.

It is the first instalment in the Jurassic Park original trilogy.

Its debut in June 1993 shattered a slew of box office records, proving the eternal legacy of Spielberg.

Spielberg created representations of the Jurassic era in both practical and digital forms.

An still from Jurassic Park
A  still from Jurassic Park (Source: filmaffinity.com)

Stan Winston built and fleshed out the animatronic dinosaurs. On the other hand, Phil Tippett operated the go-motion dinosaurs for long shots and wide angles.

Their visual storytelling style conveyed the exact emotion that the audience and those caught in the event.

The movie’s CGI supplied the tools and assets needed to transport viewers to Isla Nublar. It then allowed them to experience it in all of its glory from the comfort of a theatre chair.

8. The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves, is a 1999 landmark film. It uses CGI to introduce V.R. and A.R in a feature film for the first time.

The movie was also a reinvention of how filmmakers could give the Internet a modern touch.

Similarly, the audience at the time could never have imagined that a movie could depict the universe’s construction with just a collection of 1s and 0s on the large screen with such powerful effects.

The rapid rise of the internet in the 1990s allowed people to choose their new names, new gender and new location.

Neo's iconic Matrix vision
Neo’s Iconic Matrix Vision (Source: cbr.com)

It made the director duo the Wachowskis believe that they could create as many realities as possible. They already had a story in mind, and the internet burst signaled them.

The visual effects of The Matrix, including the use of “bullet time“, have influenced how combat sequences are constructed in many T.V. series and movies.

Neo’s incredible bullet-dodging back bending became a movie classic that has been imitated and spoofed numerous times.

It was no shock that this film received the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, leaving behind the mighty Star Wars.

7. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is undoubtedly the most beloved trilogy ever made. It all started in December 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ringwas released.

The movie won the Academy Award for the Best Visual Effects in 2001.

Moreover, its other sequel released back-to-back also swept Away Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects.

The trilogy made history. No movie franchise had ever done this before and that too in such a short time.

The Fellowship of the Ring
The Fellowship of the Ring (Source: IMDb.com)

The movie’s visual effects created Gollum, one of the movie’s biggest contributions to cinema.

Gollum was a fully digital character who appeared realistic and human. It was as real as Frodo, played by Elijah Wood.

The Battle of Helm’s Deep was an epic scene that has inspired iconic projects like Game of Thrones and Avengers Endgame.

6. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

People rush to the theatres every time a superhero film releases to see the incredible visuals from the best seat available.

The success of Tom Holland‘s Spiderman movie in 2022 is proof of this.

On the other hand, these films have always come up short in the race for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Nevertheless, Spiderman 2 movie released in 2004, defied this stereotype and won the award for its outstanding VFX and amazing sequences.

Spiderman-2 train scene (source: pluralsight.com)
Spiderman-2 Train Scene (Source: pluralsight.com)

When viewers witnessed a man swinging through New York City fighting another man with mechanical tentacles, they were intrigued.

A separate VFX team was designated to operate on Doctor Octopus’s mechanical tentacles.

The final train sequence is still as thrilling as it was before.

John Dykstra and Sony Pictures Imageworks rightly received the award for their contribution to the film.

5. Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

This movie is one of the most memorable and emotionally powerful films of 2008.

The movie is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel of the same name.

The film stars Brad Pitt in the lead role. It was his third collaboration with the director.

This one was at least a step higher than the previous films, as his character in this one aged backwards.

Case of Benjamin Button
Case of Benjamin Button (Source: IMDb)

The filmmakers used CGI to enhance Pitt’s performance for the most part. Fincher also used motion capture equipment.

These devices track actors’ motions and allow computer-generated characters to animate those moves.

Digital domain assisted with the visual effects in the film, particularly during Pitt’s character transition.

This movie was hailed as a revolutionary example of what “CGI” could do.

4. Avatar (2009)

James Cameroon had already proved with Titanic and Terminator that he could make breathtaking movies. Consequently, Avatar and its meteoritic debut cemented his place as the legend of the industry.

Cameroon demonstrated that a filmmaker could potentially create entire sets with a computer.

The way James worked in positive space helped him put the 3D intact with the storyline.

The movie’s main goal was ‘to immerse spectators into Pandora‘. We can safely say that the film became successful in doing so.

Academy Awards For Best Visual Effects- Avatar (source: nyfa.edu)
Avatar (Source: nyfa.edu)

With a new camera system model and shooting on a virtual stage, Wellington’s Weta Digital assisted James Cameron in producing Oscar-winning visual effects.

They built special effects sequences with up to 800 entirely CGI characters in highly detailed digital sets.

Avatar became the highest-grossing movie and held the crown for ten years. It changed the way the filmmaker made 3D movies.

3. Gravity (2013)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, ‘Gravity’ is one of the most graphically stunning and unique movies ever made.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as American astronauts who become helpless in space after their Space Shuttle is destroyed in mid-flight and seek to return to Earth.

The artistic and creative graphics of Alfonso Cuaron allow us to see his reality through the eyes of a cinematic genius.

A tsunami of emotion triggered when we saw a glittering tear floating aimlessly in the movie.

Academy Awards For Best Visual Effects- Gravity (source: space.com)
Gravity (Source: space.com)

The stunning yet weird backdrop of hovering Earth and stars reminded us of our relative insignificance on a cosmic scale.

It wasn’t simple recreating the look and feel of zero gravity.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the movie was that even a jaded spectator marveled at the power of computers.

Some movie sequences were full CGI, while others featured minor CGI elements.

2. Interstellar (2014)

We’re all familiar with Christopher Nolan‘s talent. Every film he has made, from Momento to Tenet, is proof that we are indeed fortunate to live in the Nolan era.

Of all the movies he has made, Interstellar and Inception always feature on the top list.

Indeed, both of these movies have won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects in their respective year of release. However, at least in terms of CGI, Interstellar takes the edge on Inception.

The plot is set on an apocalyptic Earth where humanity is on the verge of extinction.

Academy Awards For Best Visual Effects- Interstellar
Interstellar (Source: Empire Online)

Mathew McConaughey and his team go for one last mission into space to find a planet with suitable living conditions for the human population.

Director Christopher Nolan successfully blended CGI to make Black holes and time dilation look real.

Even scientists who disagree with the black hole singularity were fascinated by the movie’s sequences.

The visual effects team pushed the bounds of reality to new heights, vividly broadening our understanding of the future and what lies beyond our planet.

1. 1917 (2019)

It’s a monumental triumph when a film wins an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects against films like Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, The Lion King, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

You instantly believe that the film should feature some of the best visual effects ever created.

1917 is a British war movie directed by Sam Mendes in 2019.

Two commanders are challenged with racing travelling against time to deliver a message that will save 1,600 troops from marching straight into a deadly trap.

Academy Awards For Best Visual Effects- 1917
1917 (Source: DVD Releases)

The incredible visual effects in this movie use a slew of undetectable moments to patch together and make the film appear to be shot in one take.

When a character walks behind a tree, through a doorway, or leaps off a bridge, we might notice them if looked closely.

Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy led the crew that pulled off the accomplishment.

Conclusion

Cinema will continue to evolve over the coming years.

People will never forget the emotions stirred by these films.

The success of the visual effects achieved in these movies highlighted that technology is, in fact, the cradle of imagination.

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