Oscar predictions: Battle for Best Visual Effects – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ ‘The Revenant’

The Visual Effects Society bestowed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with four awards, including the top prize of Best Visual Effects in a Feature Film. Among the other honorees at these kudos were two other Oscar contenders for Best Visual Effects: “The Revenant” walked away with three, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” took home one. So, which will win the Oscar? 

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Since the VES Awards began in 2002, the winner of the top prize has gone on to repeat at the Oscars nine times. The four exceptions were:

2004: VES goes to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Oscar goes to “Spider-Man 2”
2007: VES goes to “Transformers,” Oscar goes to “The Golden Compass”
2011: VES goes to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Oscar goes to “Hugo”
2014: VES goes to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Oscar goes to “Interstellar”

Of these, the 2011 win for “Hugo” is notable in that it was a Best Picture nominee and that could be a deciding factor this year. Indeed, six of the last seven winners of Best Visual Effects were Best Picture nominees: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008); “Avatar” (2009); “Inception” (2010); “Hugo” (2011), “Life of Pi” (2012); and “Gravity” (2013). 

This year, the category has three Best Picture nominees to choose from — “The Martian,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant”–  with “Star Wars” and “Ex-Machina” rounding out the five. Let’s take a closer look at the field to see who has the best shot at winning:

NEW: Oscar predictions by Experts in all 24 categories

“Mad Max: Fury Road”: Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams
The front-runner brings this team to the Oscars for the first time. Together, the four men created a dazzling mix of practical and CGI effects, bringing audiences a world they had never seen before. Like last year’s winner, “Interstellar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” won only a single prize from the VES (Effects Simulation). However, the effects-heavy nature of the film along with its impressive haul of 10 nominations should be enough to propel it to a win. But watch out for “The Revenant,” which is gaining in momentum overall, and for “Star Wars” which was the big winner at the guild. 

Votes: 16/23 Experts; 3/7 Editors; 19 of Top 24 Users; 60% of all Users

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Neal Scanlon, Chris Corbould
The visual effects team is an all-star assembly of former winners and nominees. Past Oscar champs Scanlon (“Babe,” 1995) and Corbould (“Inception,” 2010) join three-time contender Guyett (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” [2004], “Star Trek” [2009], “Star Trek: Into Darkness” [2013]) and one-time nominee Tubach (“Star Trek: Into Darkness” [2013]). Working at ILM, the quartet used old and new techniques to both pay tribute to the original trilogy and create something unique in-and-of itself. The film won big at the VES, yet academy members didn’t warm to it as much as expected, and it’s currently second. Should “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Revenant” split the vote, a win would be a good way of rewarding the highest-grossing film of all time.

Votes: 5/23 Experts; 3/7 Editors; 3 of Top 24 Users; 35% of all Users

“The Revenant”: Richard McBride, Matt Shumway, Jason Smith, Cameron Waldbauer
Waldauer, who was nominated last year for “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014), joins three first-time nominees for “The Revenant.” The film walked away with three VES awards, including Supporting Visual Effects. Their creation of the bear that sinks its claws into poor Leo impressed members of the visual effects branch enough to give them the nomination, but the academy at large may take for granted some of their more subtle work augmenting the natural environment. If “The Revenant” continues to gain momentum, don’t be surprised to see this award carried along in a sweep.

Votes: 1/23 Experts; 1/7 Editors; 5% of all Users

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“Ex-Machina”: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett
Working on a modest budget of $15 million, this quartet convincingly turned Alicia Vikander into a robot. All four received their first nominations, edging out such heavy-hitters as “The Walk” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” And with a screenplay bid for director Alex Garland, the film turned out to be a bigger contender than expected.  Yet in a race dominated by gigantic tech contenders, the nomination may be their reward.

Votes: <1% of all Users

“The Martian”: Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Steven Warner
“The Martian” unites first-time contenders Langlands and Warner with two-time nominee Stammers (“Prometheus” [2012], “X-Men: Days of Future Past” [2014]) and past champ Lawrence (“Gravity” [2013]). Two of Ridley Scott’s previous films — “Alien” (1979) and “Gladiator” (2000) — won this award. While the work here is exceptional, “The Martian” has been overshadowed in the tech categories by “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant.” 

Votes: <1% of all Users

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