The world of cinema has always been a magical place where our wildest dreams and imagination come to life on the big screen. A significant part of this enchantment lies in the groundbreaking visual effects (VFX) that transport us to other worlds, create awe-inspiring creatures, and make the impossible seem possible. 

In this article, we’ll take you on a cinematic journey through the full list of Academy Award winners for Best VFX and highlight the top 10 films that have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema with their astonishing visual effects. Let’s dive in.

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

Best Visual Effects Oscar History

The VFX Oscar category traces its origins to the dawn of cinema when filmmakers used practical techniques like matte paintings and miniatures to create captivating visual storytelling. As technology advanced, computer graphics and digital effects revolutionized the industry, paving the way for groundbreaking films like Star Wars and Jurassic Park

The category has evolved since its inception in 1929, with the most significant change occurring in 1977 when it shifted focus from physical effects to CGI and digital effects. Throughout its history, the VFX Oscar has celebrated milestones and innovations that shaped visual effects in cinema.

Today, the category continues to adapt and recognize the extraordinary achievements of visual effects artists as technology advances.

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects History


  • 1938: Spawn of the North 
  • 1939: The Rains Came
  • 1940: The Thief of Bagdad
  • 1941: I Wanted Wings
  • 1942: Reap the Wild Wind
  • 1943: Crash Dive
  • 1944: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  • 1945: Wonder Man
  • 1946: Blithe Spirit
  • 1947: Green Dolphin Street
  • 1948: Portrait of Jennie
  • 1949: Mighty Joe Young
  • 1950: Destination Moon
  • 1951: When Worlds Collide
  • 1952: Plymouth Adventure
  • 1953: The War of the Worlds
  • 1954: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • 1955: The Bridges at Toko-Ri
  • 1956: The Ten Commandments
  • 1957: The Enemy Below
  • 1958: Tom Thumb
  • 1959: Ben-Hur
  • 1960: The Time Machine
  • 1961: The Guns of Navarone
  • 1962: The Longest Day
  • 1963: Cleopatra
  • 1964: Mary Poppins
  • 1965: Thunderball
  • 1966: Fantastic Voyage
  • 1967: Doctor Dolittle
  • 1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 1969: Marooned
  • 1970: Tora! Tora! Tora!
  • 1971: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  • 1972: The Poseidon Adventure
  • 1973: [No Award Given]
  • 1974: Earthquake
  • 1975: The Hindenburg and King Kong
  • 1976: Logan's Run
  • 1977: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
  • 1978: Superman
  • 1979: Alien
  • 1980: The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • 1983: Star Wars: Episode V: Return of the Jedi
  • 1984: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • 1985: Cocoon
  • 1986: Aliens
  • 1987: Innerspace
  • 1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • 1989: The Abyss
  • 1990: Total Recall
  • 1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • 1992: Death Becomes Her
  • 1993: Jurassic Park
  • 1994: Forrest Gump
  • 1995: Babe
  • 1996: Independence Day
  • 1997: Titanic
  • 1998: What Dreams May Come
  • 1999: The Matrix
  • 2000: Gladiator
  • 2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2004: Spider-Man 2
  • 2005: King Kong
  • 2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • 2007: The Golden Compass
  • 2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • 2009: Avatar
  • 2010: Inception
  • 2011: Hugo
  • 2012: Life of Pi
  • 2013: Gravity
  • 2014: Interstellar
  • 2015: Ex Machina
  • 2016: The Jungle Book
  • 2017: Blade Runner 2049
  • 2019: First Man
  • 2019: 1917
  • 2020: Tenet
  • 2021: Dune
  • 2022: Avatar: The Way of Water

Visual effects have become an integral part of modern-day filmmaking, as they allow directors to create immersive worlds and tell stories that would otherwise be impossible to realize.

In selecting the top 10 movies that have won the "Best Visual Effects" award at the Oscars, we’ll consider the innovation, artistry, and impact these films had on the VFX industry and their contribution to cinematic storytelling.

Best Visual Effects Oscar List

10. The Matrix (1999) 

Heat Shootout Scene vs. The Matrix Lobby Shootout  •  Subscribe on YouTube

This groundbreaking film introduced the revolutionary "bullet-time" effect, which allowed for slow-motion action sequences with a unique, 360-degree perspective. The Matrix's innovative use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and practical effects elevated the film's storytelling and set a new standard for action movies.

Action Oscar for Best Visual Effects


The Matrix revolutionized the world of VFX with its groundbreaking bullet time effect, blurring the lines between reality and illusion, and setting a new benchmark for future visual effects in cinema.

List of Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

9. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Hero Mechantronic Model from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

In Steven Spielberg's enchanting tale of friendship, the magic of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was brought to life through the ingenious use of animatronics and puppetry, which breathed life into the charming alien protagonist. 

The flawless fusion of these practical effects with a profoundly touching narrative not only cemented E.T.'s status as an all-time favorite but also demonstrated the true power of visual wizardry in elevating storytelling to new heights.

Spielberg’s Best VFX Oscar


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial employed cutting-edge visual effects and animatronics for its time, creating an emotionally resonant and lifelike alien protagonist that captivated audiences.

Best Visual Effects Oscar Movies

8. Inception (2010)

How Christopher Nolan Shot the Iconic Inception Hallway Fight Scene...Without CGI  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller utilized a combination of practical effects, CGI, and innovative camera techniques to create its surreal dreamscapes. Inception's stunning visuals helped to convey its complex narrative, making it a standout in both storytelling and visual effects.

Nolan’s Best VFX Oscar


Inception pushed the boundaries of visual storytelling with its mind-bending VFX, seamlessly blending practical effects and CGI to create a dreamlike world that defies gravity and logic.

Ranking Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park  •  From Stop Motion to Digital Dinosaurs

A milestone in the history of CGI, Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs back to life through a combination of animatronics and groundbreaking computer-generated imagery. The film's realistic and terrifying creatures set a new benchmark for creature effects and paved the way for the future of VFX in cinema.

Jurassic Best Special Effects Oscars


Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs back to life with groundbreaking VFX, making us all question whether we should be more impressed or terrified of the fact that we were cheering for a T-Rex.

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects List

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

4 Ways 2001: A Space Odyssey Was a Visual-Effects Pioneer

Stanley Kubrick's visionary film used groundbreaking practical effects, miniatures, and optical compositing to create a believable space environment. Its pioneering visual techniques and attention to detail pushed the boundaries of what was possible in filmmaking at the time.

Kubrick’s Best Visual Effects Oscar


2001: A Space Odyssey not only transformed the way we perceive space and time in cinema, but also expanded our collective imagination, inspiring generations to explore the vastness and mysteries of the universe.

Top Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers VFX  •  Weta Digital

Peter Jackson's epic fantasy series showcased groundbreaking motion capture technology with the character Gollum, played by Andy Serkis. The seamless integration of CGI and live-action performances set a new standard for character animation and visual storytelling.

Fantasy Oscar Special Effects


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers dazzled fans with its breathtaking VFX, masterfully bringing Middle-earth to life and immersing in awe-inspiring landscapes that forever hold a special place in our hearts.

Academy Award for Best Visual Effects Winners & Nominees

4. Avatar (2009)

How James Cameron Evolved Motion Capture in the Avatar Films  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to step into an entirely new world, brimming with photorealistic, computer-generated creatures? James Cameron's sci-fi epic, Avatar, made this possible by revolutionizing 3D filmmaking and motion capture technology. 

The breathtaking visuals and innovative techniques not only transported audiences to the mesmerizing world of Pandora but also had a significant impact on the VFX industry, setting a new benchmark for films to aspire to.

James Cameron’s Best Special Effects Oscars


Avatar redefined the realm of VFX, pioneering groundbreaking 3D and CGI techniques that elevated visual storytelling to unprecedented heights.

Ranking Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) 

The Making of James Cameron's Sci-Fi Action Epic  •  Subscribe on YouTube

James Cameron's action-packed sequel introduced the groundbreaking liquid metal T-1000, a CGI character that could morph into any shape. This revolutionary use of computer-generated imagery marked a turning point in the VFX industry and paved the way for future advancements in digital effects.

VFX award winners


Terminator 2: Judgment Day's VFX had us all believing that shape-shifting killer robots might just be lurking around the corner – and we couldn't help but love it.

Best Academy Award for Best Visual Effects

2. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars Pioneering Special Effects, VFX, and Sound Design  •  Subscribe on YouTube

George Lucas' iconic space opera revolutionized special effects with the use of miniatures, optical compositing, and practical effects to create a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars not only changed the landscape of visual effects but also inspired generations of filmmakers and effects artists.

George Lucas’ Oscar for Best Visual Effects


Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope revolutionized VFX, transporting audiences to a galaxy far, far away and forever changing the landscape of cinema with its innovative blend of practical effects and pioneering technology.

Greatest Academy Award for Best Visual Effects Winner

1. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049  •  VFX Breakdown

In an extraordinary fusion of artistry and cutting-edge technology, Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 transcended the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. As a visually arresting sequel to the 1982 classic, this masterpiece melded practical sets, miniatures, and state-of-the-art CGI to craft a dystopian world that exuded both a futuristic aura and a tangible sense of reality. 

Best VFX Oscar of All Time


The mesmerizing visual effects of Blade Runner 2049 not only elevated its storytelling but also cemented its status as a modern tour de force in the realm of VFX cinematography.

These films not only pushed the boundaries of what was possible in visual effects but also proved that VFX could be used to enhance storytelling and create unforgettable cinematic experiences. Their impact on the filmmaking industry is undeniable and will continue to inspire future generations of VFX artists and filmmakers alike.

up next

What is VFX?

Every movie on this list has pushed the innovation of VFX forward. Where did VFX start and what types of VFX are used in film? Check out our next article to learn more.

Up Next: VFX Explained →
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