For the past four years, Marvel and Star Wars movies have been nominated for an Oscar that’s a surefire win. Strangely enough, they haven’t won a single time.
Two powerhouse movie franchises compete for one award. A coveted award — for a movie of their caliber. In one corner, we have Avengers: Endgame — the biggest movie of all time. And in the other corner, we have Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — still going strong at the box office three weeks later. Today, the two were nominated for the Oscar in Best Visual Effects.
With all the space scenes, aliens, super suits shared between the two universes, one of those movies is bound to snag the Oscar, right? Nope. It’s Marvel vs. Star Wars at the Oscars once again, and neither of them has a shot at winning.
Marvel vs. Star Wars: A brief VFX Oscars history
This isn’t Marvel and Star Wars’ first Oscars VFX showdown. In fact, for the last four years, Star Wars and Marvel’s movies have had nominations in this category (sans Marvel at 2016’s awards show). It’s best to break it down by seeing each of their contenders and the winners year by year.
Avengers: Infinity War vs. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Winner: First Man
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 vs. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Winner: Blade Runner
Doctor Strange vs. Rogue One
Winner: The Jungle Book
The Force Awakens only (yes, Age of Ultron came out in 2015.)
Winner: Ex Machina
As we can see here, the Oscars is no place for a Star Wars or Marvel movie… or is it?
Making an Oscar-nominated movie
In September, Wired published a 19 minute-long YouTube video that outlined all the effort that went into preparing and creating the visual effects for Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. There’s more to CGI than just Michael Bay-level explosions. When it comes to these movies, sometimes the visual effects artists are creating entire scenes and characters practically out of nothing.
Last spring, Robert Downey Jr. gave fans a great behind-the-scenes look at the barebones set he and his costars acted in before the special effects were put in. What’s missing? The rest of Iron Man’s suit. All of Spider-Man’s suit. The CGI aliens. The background. And those are just the noticeable differences.
Or, take this visual effects breakdown video from Industrial Lights and Magic. The video from 2016 showcases before and after looks at some of the most popular scenes from The Force Awakens — many scenes which would not have been remotely possible if it weren’t for ILM’s visual effects touch.
It’s safe to say, from those two clips alone, both movies are definitely worthy of their Oscar nominations. So why no wins?
Another problem at play?
It’d seem like a no brainer that The Rise of Skywalker or Endgame is bound to take home the Visual Effects award. Their competition? Let’s see: The Lion King, which is basically only Disney competing against itself three-fold; The Irishman, which is basically de-aging tech (Marvel and Star Wars have been there, done that); then1917, which is a lot of explosions and battlefield stuff.
Because of the Academy’s proclivity toward period pieces, 1917 may have the best shot. Though, The Lion King is too, since they didn’t seem too much against giving Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book the award back in 2017. But recently, what the Academy doesn’t have a proclivity toward is awarding Marvel and Star Wars Oscars.
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Call it the Scorsese Effect — except, it’s been at play years before Scorsese even vocalized his feelings about Marvel movies. The Academy’s trend in the last decade or so has been to take the awards show very serious and merit movies that are tear-jerkers, dramas and period pieces over movies that (quite frankly) win the popular vote with audiences. (We’re a long way from the days when Star Wars actually was nominated for Best Picture.)
Black Panther changed this briefly in last year’s awards with its nomination for Best Picture. While the nomination was a huge win, it still felt like an “Okay, but just this one time” type of moment. They weren’t opening the floodgates for comic book and action movies to just waltz their way into major categories; they were being generous, given Black Panther‘s massive amount of buzz.
That all said, a year later, neither Star Wars nor Marvel are nominated for a major award like last year — and that’s despite Disney’s serious campaign for Oscars consideration for both Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker. Seriously, Disney was campaigning both movies for a Best Picture bid as well as Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
But, Best Visual Effects is neither Best Picture nor Best Director-level awards (to most people, that is). So why has the Academy shown bias against these two franchises in these categories in recent years? Perhaps it is the Scorsese Effect — the fact that these movies are like theme park rides, but they’re not devoid of cinematic value, that’s for sure.
And yes, while Joker is technically a comic book movie, it doesn’t pack the same strand of heroics that Endgame and Skywalker embodied. Joker is a drama with a superhero covering, and so it’s slipped under the cracks as an awards-show favorite this season.
If Endgame or Star Wars do take the Visual Effects award home this year, it’ll be one for the books. But until then, the Academy will have to do a better job in opening its eyes to the hard work put in to create these “theme park” movies like Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker.