Oscars: After More Than a Decade, Could a Marvel Superhero Movie Land in the VFX Winners Circle?

A trio of Marvel movies — 'Ant-Man and the Wasp,' 'Avengers: Infinity War' and 'Black Panther' — advanced in the VFX race.
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From left: 'Avengers: Infinity War,' 'Antman and the Wasp,' 'Black Panther'

Will a Marvel superhero movie earn a visual effects Oscar for the first time in more than a decade? And what defines animation compared to visual effects? Those are some of the questions that will be debated now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had released its list of 10 films that will advance in the VFX Oscar race.

The shortlist, announced Monday, includes a trio of superhero movies from Disney and Marvel: Ant-Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. While it's not a surprise to see these movies in contention — last year's VFX nominees included Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — the last time a superhero movie won a VFX Oscar was more than a decade ago, for 2004's Spider-Man 2 from Sony. 

The list of this year's contenders also includes Christopher Robin, First Man, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mary Poppins Returns, Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story and Welcome to Marwen.

Three of these films come from franchises that previously earned VFX Oscars. Jurassic Park won in 1994; the original three Star Wars films were honored for VFX by the Academy; and as far back as 1965, the original Mary Poppins won an Oscar for its special visual effects.

The 10 contenders were selected by the VFX branch from a shortlist of 20 films that was announced on Dec. 3.

The original list of 20 included two animated movies — Pixar's CG Incredibles 2 and Fox's stop-motion Isle of Dogs — but both failed to advance to the next round. It's actually highly unusual for an animated pic to make the VFX shortlist, and even more rare for one to earn a nomination. Laika/Focus' Kubo and the Two Strings, which combined stop-motion and computer animation and earned a VFX Oscar nomination in 2017, was an exception to that rule. And before that, the last animated film to earn that distinction was 1993's stop-motion The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The continued blurring of the lines between the way Hollywood thinks about VFX, animation and live action has been a growing topic of conversation, in large part due to the release of the first images of Disney's upcoming remake of The Lion King — a "virtual production" for which every frame of the film is animated. (The subject was recently discussed during THR's Animation Roundtable.)

The movies that didn't advance in the VFX race include another superhero pic, Aquaman, from DC and Warners, as well as Bumblebee, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Mortal Engines, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Paddington 2 and A Quiet Place.

The final 10 films will be featured at a Jan. 5 bake-off, during which VFX branch members will vote on which five will earn Oscar nominations for VFX, which will be announced on Jan. 22.