Oscars 2022: Can Any Film Beat ‘Dune’ in Visual Effects? Yes.

No matter what anyone tries to say, the only race that really does seem “over” is visual effects. And even then, I would still be careful about calling it a sure thing.

Why?

We only have to look to 2015 for signs that sometimes the Academy can truly surprise us. Going into the 88th Academy Awards, it seemed pretty clear this was a contest between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. The long-awaited Star Wars sequel pitted against the long-awaited Mad Max sequel both showed up in several categories at the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards, with The Force Awakens taking the top prize for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature.

Alicia Vikander stars in EX MACHINA — Courtesy of A24

But then on Oscar night, many fans were stunned when Alex Garland’s sleeper Ex Machina won instead. What made the win especially surprising — apart from finding out how many Oscar voters had actually seen the film — was that Ex Machina hadn’t been nominated for a single VES award. Sure, it had been nominated for several BAFTAs, Critics Choice awards, and a bevy of regional critics groups, but the visual effects wins, even among die-hard cinephiles, were few and far between.

So a very surprising upset can happen.

But it probably won’t.

Since introducing their awards in 2002, VES has made a lot of shifts and changes, adding categories or altering them as the art and science of visual effects evolve. The biggest award for feature film started out as Outstanding Visual Effects in an Effects Driven Feature. This category celebrated movies like the second and third The Lord of the Rings films, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.

As the medium shifted, so did the name of the award. Today the category is Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature. But whatever it is called, this award has aligned with the Academy Award for Visual Effects 10 out of 19 times. Just a hair over 50/50.

Now, it should be noted that every film that won the VES award was nominated for the Oscar. They just ultimately lost out. Spider-Man 2 defeated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Golden Compass somehow overtook Transformers. The Academy apparently had no love for the Planet of the Apes trilogy as all three lost to Hugo, Interstellar, and Blade Runner 2049 respectively. The last time the two lined up was five years ago with Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book.

Timothée Chalamet stars in DUNE — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The love for Dune is real and true. It has 10 nominations overall, 8 of which are in the craft categories. The film is vulnerable in some of those races, but Visual Effects probably isn’t one of them.

And yet.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was the last time a film that was first in a planned franchise won the award for Visual Effects. Spider-Man lost. The first Pirates of the Caribbean lost. The first Chronicles of Narnia film? Lost. Star Trek, Iron Man, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Avengers, The Hobbit, The Force Awakens. Nothing.

(If you want to be very technical, yes, there were references to 2009 winner Avatar having sequels as early as 2006, but those weren’t fully confirmed until 2010.)

So Dune could lose. And if it does, maybe the Academy picks Spider-Man: No Way Home. Maybe they really love Shang-Chi. Or perhaps this is the place they decide to choose James Bond. If they really wanted to surprise us, they’d (sort of) repeat 2015 and give it to Free Guy, the only nominee that didn’t get a corresponding VES nom. And that film has the power of Disney behind it in lieu of a fledgling independent distributor like A24.

All told, the safe bet is Dune.

But it isn’t a guarantee.

See the complete list of winners for the 20th VES Awards here.

The 94th Academy Awards will be presented live on ABC on Sunday, March 27th.

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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