Oscars: Could 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Win a VFX Trophy?

Guardians of the Galaxy VFX - H 2014
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Guardians of the Galaxy VFX - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Marvel Studios may have used its might to break box-office records, but it hasn't yet shown enough superpower to scoop up Oscar gold, especially in the visual effects category. Marvel boasts the year's top two domestic grossers: Guardians of the Galaxy, with $330 million, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with $260 million. Both are full of ambitious and extensive VFX, combining CG characters and environments with lots of action. But visual wizardry is only one piece of the awards puzzle.

See more Highly Paid Film Stars                

Marvel, which was acquired by Disney in 2009, has garnered noms for its three Iron Man movies and 2012's The Avengers. But it never has achieved a win.

Scott Squires, a three-time Oscar nominee and member of the Academy's VFX branch, says that, generally speaking, technical achievement (which often means "we've never seen that before"), quality, difficulty, volume of work and story support come into play as deciding factors when branch members vote on nominees. Big box office helps, too, since that means a movie has been widely seen.

But is there a secret to snaring the VFX Oscar, voted on by the Academy's entire membership? Historically, a best picture nomination helps. To date, any time just one of the nominees for the VFX prize also has a nom for best picture, that one wins the VFX trophy. Witness GravityLife of PiHugoInceptionAvatar and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Admits Squires: "It's quality by association. Also the best picture is something people connect to. They're highly regarded."

See more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films               

This year, though, the handicappers aren't predicting a VFX heavyweight among the most heavily favored best picture contenders -- with the possible exception of Interstellar. Although such movies as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies also are considered favorites for VFX noms, there could be room for Marvel. And its top candidate appears to be Guardians with its strong story and CG characters Rocket and Groot. Plus, it's original. 

"Being a sequel can hurt you," says VFX Oscar winner Michael Fink, because it's harder to convince voters that they are witnessing something truly new. That could raise challenges for Marvel's sequel-heavy slate in the future -- but may mean good things for Guardians.