Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Movie Marketing is Hard! "Wedding Daze"

Another in our Movie Marketing Is Hard! series.
Hey, look! The folks behind the "American Pie" movies have created another chapter of the "American Pie" saga! But hold on... something's amiss. "Wedding Daze" is not actually a sequel to the "American Pie" movies.

The "Wedding Daze" DVD cover certainly, ahem, borrows a few visual elements from the branding of the "American Pie" series, don't you think? And the ad campaign (including its television commercials) seems especially intent on ripping off the visual style, tone, and title-osity of "Pie's" third film, "American Wedding." The only thing missing from the cover is a tagline like, "If you liked 'American Pie,' you'll love "Wedding Daze!'" And that would be a tad awkward, because the films were created by different studios.

Jason Biggs prominently featured on the cover? Check. Actors, in tuxedos, isolated from their backgrounds and placed against a white backdrop? Check. Big, boldy, red title, with white specks to dirty it up, and a freakin' rectangle around the title? Check. Slight counter-clockwise tilt of the title graphic? Check. A redhead actress on the cover? Check. "Wedding" in the title? Check.

"Wedding Daze," an MGM film directed by Michael Ian Black, is actually a complete rebranding of the film originally titled "The Pleasure of Your Company," which apparently was completed in 2006. MGM, it seems, sent the project directly to DVD and retitled the movie. I'm sure the marketing folks at Universal are thrilled about "Daze's" marketing campaign.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Predicting the Visual Effects Oscar, Part 4

Now that we know the Academy Award nominees for Best Visual Effects, I suppose we should run the numbers and see if we can predict who will win the Oscar, based on critical acclaim and box office earnings. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Oh, boy. You should probably read Predicting the VFX Oscar Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)

So let's run the numbers for 2007, where the nominees are "The Golden Compass," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," and "Transformers."

Our conclusion in Part 3 was "although it can be wrong, critical acclaim is generally a better predictor of the winner of the Academy Award for visual effects than box office popularity." According to our hypothesis, "Transformers" should win the Oscar, because it has the highest Tomatometer rating (our standard of judging critical acclaim), at 57%.

In addition, Michael Bay's film edged out "Pirates 3" at the box office, too. And on that note, here's an interesting tidbit. "Transformers" had the highest acclaim, and the largest box office among the nominees. Over the last 23 years prior to 2007, 11 years we saw a single film dominate both acclaim and box office, among the nominees. The visual effects Oscar went to that dominating film 10 out of those 11 years.

The films that earned both the highest critical acclaim among other nominees, and the highest box office among the other nominees, since 1984:
  • 2004, "Spider-Man 2" (won the Academy Award)
  • 2003, "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (won)
  • 2001, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (won)
  • 2000, "Gladiator" (won)
  • 1997, "Titanic" (won)
  • 1996, "Independence Day" (won)
  • 1992, "Batman Returns" (did not win)
  • 1991, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (won)
  • 1988, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (won)
  • 1986, "Aliens" (won)
  • 1985, "Cocoon" (won)
So, you could say, that according to history and our little theory, "Transfomers" has more than a good chance of winning the Academy Award. We'll find out on February 24! Now, let's just hope there will be an actual awards ceremony.

Read on - here is Part 5.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Academy Award Nominations Announced

The 80th Annual Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning:

Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects

Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood

John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier

Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Click here for the complete list of nominees.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BAFTA Nominations Announced

The nominees for the 2008 Orange British Academy Film Awards were announced today:


  • THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – Peter Chiang, Charlie Noble, Mattias Lindahl, Joss Williams
  • THE GOLDEN COMPASS – Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Woods
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX – Tim Burke, John Richardson, Emma Norton, Chris Shaw
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END – John Knoll, Charles Gibson, Hal Hickel, John Frazier
  • SPIDER-MAN 3 – Scott Stokdyk, Peter Nofz, Kee-Suk Ken Hahn, Spencer Cook

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Predicting the Visual Effects Oscar, Part 3

If you don't read the previous parts of this article, you'll be in a world of hurt.
  • In Part 1, we talked about winning the visual effects Academy Award, and trying to determine if critical acclaim or box office popularity informed Academy voters' choices.
  • In Part 2 we barfed out 23 years of data, comparing each years' nominees' critical acclaim and box office earnings.
  • Here, in Part 3 we'll try and make sense of all that data.
Basically, we're trying to determine which is the best predictor of the winner of the Academy Award for visual effects - the most critically acclaimed nominee, or the nominee with the highest box office earnings?

How can we possibly compare all of this data that appeared in Part 2? Well, for starters, and simply enough, let's ask two questions:
  • For each year, how many visual effects Oscar winners earned the highest critical acclaim?
  • For each year, how many visual effects Oscar winners earned the biggest box office take?

click on the chart to get a larger view

Right off the bat, it looks like critical acclaim has been a better predictor than box office, with 15 matches, relative to 13, out of 23 years of data (including a 10-year winning streak). Interesting, but I think this is a far too simplistic way to look at the data, since it doesn't take into account the relative differences between acclaim and box office between the nominees. Plus, acclaim's 2 year accuracy advantage isn't very much, considering our data set is 23 years.

What do I mean by relative differences? Look at the data from 2000. "Gladiator" was the clear victor in critical acclaim, by a wide margin. It was also the box office champ; however, it's victory at the box office was quite slim. And, over time, does a large victory margin in one area dictate the Academy Award?

After I tabulated all of this data, I let it sink into my melon for a while and ultimately came up with two methods of charting. In each category, how much of a margin exists between the Oscar winner's value, and the next highest rated film's value?

Take a look at the next chart. This chart compares the Tomatometer rating of the Oscar winner (in blue), and the film with the next highest Tomatometer rating (in green).

click on the chart to get a larger view

One fascinating curiosity of this chart is that it indicates that critical acclaim for the top two nominees seemed to go together, from year to year. For example, in 1995, both "Babe" and "Apollo 13" were extremely well-reviewed, and the very next year, both "Independence Day" and "Twister" were both relatively panned.

We obviously notice how acclaim accurately predicted the award in 15 our of 23 years, but, interestingly, when it was wrong, it wasn't wrong by much. The margin is quite small for those years it proved incorrect - look at 1993, 1994 and 1995, how the blue line (the winner) follows quite closely to the green line (the next highest nominee), which means it was wrong, but not by much. The exceptions are 1992 (when "Death Becomes Her" won the award over the better-reviewed "Batman Returns") and 2006 (when "Pirates 2" won the award over the better-reviewed "Superman Returns"), where the relative amount of wrongitude was significantly high.

What happens when we look at box office the same way we just looked at critical acclaim? Well, acclaim was judged on a Tomatometer percentage, which gives us a good apples-to-apples comparison. The same simply isn't true with box office. The only fair way I could surmise to compare box office returns between years was to add up all three nominee's box office totals and determine what percentage of all three films did the Oscar winner earn. You can see this data in the pie chart next to the box office returns on each year's charts.
click on the chart to get a larger view

This time, we see a wide disparity between years it was correct, and years where it was wrong. It's all over the map, with deviations of more than 50% from year to year.

The next chart summarizes the previous two charts, comparing the percentage accuracy of the two different predictors, with Critical Acclaim in purple, and Box Office in red.

click on the chart to get a larger view

Check out the purple line, representing Critical Acclaim Accuracy, and notice how its deviation is minor, relative to Box Office Accuracy, and also how often it is in positive territory.

For me, this clinches it. Although it can be wrong, critical acclaim is generally a better predictor of the winner of the Academy Award for visual effects than box office popularity. In the past 23 years, acclaim has been wrong by a significant amount only twice, while box office has been wrong far more, and with less consistency than acclaim.

And, to state the obvious, this theory surmises that critical acclaim, which initially drives the wave of publicity, such as "For Your Consideration" advertisements, Oscar "buzz," and the self-fulfilling prophecy of "If people are saying it's Oscar-worthy, then it must be Oscar-worthy"... all of which ultimately informs Academy voters.

Whew... that was quite a journey. Was it worth it? Probably not. And there are probably a few cracks in the data, too.

Sneak peek: Oh, you know where this was going. On January 22, the nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards will be announced. And we'll be here, with statistics in hand, to test our theory and try to predict the winner of the visual effects statuette. And here's the link to Part 4.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Another Recap Montage

A follow-up to our "ABC Mimics Sopranos Fan Film" post. HBO, after having a fan create "The Sopranos" recap, took it upon themselves to make a recap montage for "The Wire."

So I guess the "recap montage" is truly for real, now.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Predicting the Visual Effects Oscar, Part 2

If you start reading this post without first reading Part 1, you're gonna be in a world of hurt. -tv

Okay, let's get knee-deep in data. We laid down the ground rules in Part 1, and we acknowledged that being the winner of the Academy Award for visual effects (or any category, for that matter) is not nearly as important as being nominated. Let's dive in and see if we can answer the question: forgetting about actual innovation and creative achievement (which is what most Academy voters automatically do), which is the better predictor of the winner of the visual effects Oscar: critical acclaim or box office popularity?

A note: you may notice a pie chart that appears next to the box office take in each slide. This chart represents each films' box office earnings as a percentage of all three films. This pie chart will come into play later, as we try to quantitatively (and fairly) compare box office earnings over several years.

1984, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"
click on a chart to get a larger view

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" won the Oscar in 1984, edging out "Ghostbusters" and "2010." On the Tomatometer, "Indy" and "Ghostbusters" are pretty much tied, and "Ghostbusters" made a bit more money than "Indy," as well. "2010" fared much worse at the box office, and although positively reviewed, didn't get the accolades of the other films. 1984's data supports neither critical acclaim nor popularity.

1985, "Cocoon"
"Cocoon" towers over its rivals ("Return to Oz" and "Young Sherlock Holmes") in box office, and, although all films were positively reviewed, had the most critical acclaim.

1986, "Aliens"
Although both "Aliens" and "Little Shop of Horrors" were positively reviewed, "Aliens" was almost unanimously celebrated by the critics, and also earned over double its other fellow nominees at the box office.

1987, "Innerspace"
"Innerspace" and "Predator" earned nearly identical mounds of critical acclaim, but "Innerspace," the winner of the Oscar, actually earned a great deal less at the box office.

So far, between 1984-1987, it looks like critical acclaim might be a better predictor of Oscar success. Let's keep going.

1988, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
Both "Roger Rabbit" and "Die Hard" received nearly unanimous critical acclaim, but "Roger Rabbit" destroyed "Die Hard" and "Willow" at the box office.

1989, "The Abyss"
Of the three nominated films of 1989, "The Abyss" barely edges out the other nominees in critical acclaim, but was destroyed in the box office by "Back to the Future Part II".

Two more years, and two more instances of critical acclaim trumping box office popularity for the visual effects Oscar. Continue, we shall...

1990, "Total Recall"
With no competition, this year screws up our data. And, most certainly, there deserved to be other nominees for the visual effects Oscar. "The Hunt for Red October," "Back to the Future Part III," "Ghost," "Die Hard 2" or even "Robocop 2" were all worthy of nominations.

1991, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
"T2" edged out "Backdraft" in critical acclaim, and towered at the box office over the hits "Backdraft" and "Hook."

Oh, here's a bit of trivia: "Hook" was the worst reviewed film on our list of visual effects nominees from 1984-2006, with 22%. The next two worst reviewed films were "Pearl Harbor" (at 25%) and "Hollow Man" (at 28%).

1992, "Death Becomes Her"
1992 certainly is an interesting year. "Batman Returns" ruled in critical acclaim and in box office popularity, earning accolades far higher than "Death Becomes Her" and "Alien 3." But "Death Becomes Her," which truly had the best visual effects of the three films, took home the Oscar. 1992 certainly was the year that illustrated that sometimes, every once in a while, visual effects innovation and quality can overcome poor critical acclaim and lack of popularity.

1993, "Jurassic Park"
All three films were greeted with positive critical acclaim, but "Jurassic Park" out earned its competition by a gigantic amount.

1994, "Forrest Gump"
Each of the three nominees for 1994 were well-received by critics; however, in a field of blockbusters, "Forrest Gump" made over double the box office of the popular films, "The Mask" and "True Lies."

If you're keeping track, 1991, 1993 and 1994 all had the box office champ winning the Oscar for visual effects, somewhat diminishing our earlier assessment, that critical acclaim might be a better predictor. More data is necessary!

1995, "Babe"
Yep, the year the pig beat out the astronauts. Although both films were equally hailed by critics, "Apollo 13" actually out earned "Babe" by almost threefold.

1996, "Independence Day"
A fairly dismal year for quality visual effects films, 1996 saw "Independence Day" earn a sliver more critical acclaim than its competition (which isn't saying much), while out-earning "Twister" and "Dragonheart" at the box office.

1997, "Titanic"
"Titanic" not only earned the greatest amount of critical acclaim, but earned a staggering $601 million at the box office, which makes "Lost World"'s take of $229 million seem paltry.

So that's two years in a row where critical acclaim and box office success both predicted the award. You're still reading this? Wow, you're a brave soul. Let's dig deeper!

1998, "What Dreams May Come"
Another pathetic year for quality effects films (similar to 1996), "What Dreams May Come" slightly edged the two other crappy films that were nominated for the Oscar, in critical acclaim. However, the crap-fest "Armageddon," one of the dumbest movies ever made, destroyed "Dreams" and "Mighty Joe Young" at the box office.

1999, "The Matrix"
While all three nominees were big hits, "The Matrix" clearly had the greatest amount of critical acclaim, while its $171 million box office take was dwarfed by "The Phantom Menace's" $431 million.

2000, "Gladiator"
Another clear victor in the critical acclaim realm, "Gladiator" towered over its fellow nominees "The Perfect Storm" and "Hollow Man" by the critics; its box office take was slightly higher than "The Perfect Storm," although they were both big hits.

The year 2000 was, in my mind, the poster child year of the clear inequities and unrealities of the winner of the visual effects Academy Award. The aesthetic and technical breakthroughs of the work that ILM created for "The Perfect Storm" and the work that Sony/Tippett created for "Hollow Man" clearly, clearly towers above the visual effects accomplishments of "Gladiator." The "Gladiator" effects, by and large, were extremely well executed and had a classic feel while updated for today's audiences, and the artistic sensibility of director Ridley Scott. But to actually give it the award over the phenomenal and innovative work in "Hollow" and "Storm" was quite a difficult pill to swallow.

The full Academy, which votes for the winners of each category (as opposed to the visual effects professionals that decide on the nominees) simply did not care about the breakthroughs or innovations that "Storm" or "Hollow" had to offer. "Gladiator" was, plain and simply, the better movie. And Academy voters, in my opinion, want to reward the better movie, regardless of the accomplishments of the other nominees.

Moving forward...

2001, "The Fellowship of the Ring"
The era of "Lord of the Rings" began in 2001, with "Fellowship" earning the highest critical acclaim, while earning more than "A.I." and the crap-fest "Pearl Harbor."

2002, "The Two Towers"
The staggeringly highly acclaimed "Two Towers" won the Oscar over the well received "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II." And all three films were gigantic hits, each earning over $300 million, but "Spider-Man" was the top earner at over $400 million.

2003, "Return of the King"
In terms of acclaim, 2003 was a banner year for our visual effects nominees. All three films earned big numbers from the critics, but "Return of the King" posted the highest ratings. And although "Pirates'" $300 million take is impressive, it pales in the massiveness of "Return's" $377 million take.

2004, "Spider-Man 2"
The critics and the box office go hand in hand for 2004, with all three films earning critical acclaim and big box office numbers. But "Spider-Man 2" was on top of both charts, followed by "Harry Potter 3" and "I, Robot."

2005, "King Kong"
Audiences and critics were treated to three critically acclaimed films in 2005, all three of which were big box office hits. "King Kong" barely edged out "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe" and "War of the Worlds," and although all three were box office smashes, "Lion" earned around $70 million more than its competitors.

2006, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
While both "Pirates 2" and "Poseidon" fared far worse with the critics than "Superman Returns," "Pirates 2" earned a kajillion dollars (actually, $423 million) while "Superman" earned less than half that amount.

Wow, that's a lot of data. What does it all mean? We'll find out in Part 3.

Monday, January 07, 2008

VES Awards Announces Nominees

From the VES website:

Los Angeles, January 7, 2008 - The Visual Effects Society (VES) today announced the nominees for the 6th Annual VES Awards ceremony recognizing outstanding visual effects in over a dozen categories of film, television, commercials and video games. Nominees were chosen Saturday, January 5, 2008 by numerous panels of VES members who viewed submissions at the FotoKem screening facilities in Burbank.

“We received hundreds of submissions from around the world and we are proud to present nominees that push the boundaries of how visual effects can enhance the storytelling process,” says Jeff Okun, VES Chair. “Looking at the level of complexity and creativity of this year’s nominees, it is clear that the VES is the single most important pool of talent, experience and knowledge in the visual effects world.”

The nominees for the 6th Annual VES Awards are the following:
(feature film categories listed only)

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture
I AM LEGEND - Janek Sirrs, Mike Chambers, Jim Berney, Crys Forsyth-Smith
TRANSFORMERS - Scott Farrar, Shari Hanson, Russel Earl, Scott Benza
THE GOLDEN COMPASS - Michael Fink, Susan MacLeod, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END - John Knoll, Jill Brooks, Hal Hickel, Charlie Gibson
SPIDER-MAN 3 - Scott Stokdyk, Terry Clotiaux, Peter Nofz, Spencer Cook

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture
RATATOUILLE - Michael Fong, Apurva Shah, Christine Waggoner, Michael Fu
ZODIAC - Eric Barba, Craig Barron, Janelle Croshaw, Chris Evans
WE OWN THE NIGHT - Kelly Port, Julian Levi, Brad Parker, Olivier Sarda
THE KITE RUNNER - David Ebner, Les Jones, Todd Perry, Leif Einarsson
BLADES OF GLORY - Mark Breakspear, Randy Starr, Shauna Bryan, Kody Sabourin

Best Single Visual Effect of the Year
TRANSFORMERS - Desert Highway Sequence
Scott Farrar, Shari Hanson, Shawn Kelly, Michael Jamieson
John Knoll, Jill Brooks, Francois Lambert, Philippe Rebours
300 - Crazy Horse Sequence
Chris Watts, Gayle Busby, Kirsty Millar
SURF’S UP - Riding the Visual Effects Tube
Rob Bredow, Lydia Bottegoni, Daniel Kramer, Matt Hausman
SPIDER-MAN 3 - The Birth of Sandman
Scott Stokdyk, Terry Clotiaux, Spencer Cook, Doug Bloom

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture
SPIDER-MAN 3 - Sandman
Chris Yang, Bernd Anger, Dominick Cecere, Remington Scott
Richard Frances-Moore, Martin Hill, Marco Revelant, Daniel Barrett
Hal Hickel, Marc Chu, Jakub Pistecky, Maia Kayser
Tom Gibbons, James W. Brown, David Richard Nelson, John Koester
TRANSFORMERS - Optimus Prime
Rick O'Connor , Doug Sutton, Keiji Yamaguchi, Jeff White
I AM LEGEND - The Infected Leader
David Schaub, Marco Marenghi, Josh Beveridge

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture
SURF'S UP - Chicken Joe
David Schaub, Moon Jun Kang, Brian Casper, Andreas Procopiou
John Cleese, Guillaume Aretos, Tim Cheung, Sean Mahoney
BEOWULF - Beowulf
Keith Smith, Scott Holmes, Pericles Michielin, Kenn McDonald
SURF'S UP - Cody
David Schaub, Pete Nash, James Crossley, Shia LaBeouf
Janeane Garofalo, Jaime Landes, Sonoko Konishi , Paul Aichele

Outstanding Effects in an Animated Motion Picture
BEOWULF - Dragon Chase
Theo Vandernoot, Vincent Serritella, Rob Engle, Pericles Michielin
Matt Baer, Greg Hart, Krzysztof Rost, Anthony Field
Jon Reisch, Jason Johnston, Eric Froemling, Tolga Goktekin
SURF’S UP - Riding Wave - CG Style
Rob Bredow, Daniel Kramer, Matt Hausman, Danny Dimian
Darwyn Peachey, Chen Shen

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Motion Picture
SWEENEY TODD - The Old Bailey
Raf Morant, Julian Gnass, Nakia McGlynn, Christine Wong
Frank Losasso Petterson , Paul Sharpe , Joakim Arnesson , David Meny
ZODIAC - Washington and Cherry
Wei Zheng, Greg Szafranski, Janelle Croshaw, Karl Denham
David Vickery, Philippe LePrince, Trina Roy, Jolene McCaffrey
Barry Williams, Robert Weaver , Jay Cooper , Masahiko Tani
I AM LEGEND - Times Square Hunt
Daniel Eaton, Blaine Kennison, Ron Gress, Daveed Shwartz

Outstanding Models or Miniatures in a Motion Picture
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END - Practical and Digital Ships
Ken Bailey, Bruce Holcomb, Carl Miller , Geoff Heron
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD - Freeway Sequence - F35 Miniature and Effects
Ian Hunter, Scott Schneider, Scott Beverly, John Cazin
Dave Fogler , Ron Woodall , Alex Jaeger, Brian Gernand
Jose Granell, Nigel Stone
SPIDER-MAN 3 - Building / Crane Destruction Miniature and Effects
Ian Hunter, Scott Beverly, Forest Fischer, Raymond Moore

Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture
Pat Tubach , Beth D'Amato , Todd Vaziri , Mike Conte
Lou Pecora, Joel Behrens, Ted Andre, Kevin Lingenfelser
Eddie Pasquarello , Katrin Klaiber, Jen Howard, Shawn Hillier
I AM LEGEND - Seaport Evacuation
Darren Lurie, John Sasaki, Rita Kunzler, Fish Essenfeld
Areito Echevarria, Gareth Dinneen, Norman Cates, Caterina Schiffers
Jolene McCaffrey, Jelena Stojanovic, Victor Wade, Adam Pashke

Outstanding Special Effects in a Motion Picture
John Richardson, Stephen Hamilton, Richard Farns, Stephen Hutchinson

Friday, January 04, 2008

Predicting the Visual Effects Oscar, Part 1

When I was much younger, I naively thought that the honor of winning an Academy Award was synonymous with being 'the best.' I even thought of the honor as equivalent to having the highest batting average in Major League Baseball for a particular year. There was no doubt that in 1984, the best batter in baseball was Tony Gwynn with a .351 average. In that same year, there was no doubt that "Amadeus" was the best film made that year... because it won "Best Picture" at the Academy Awards... right?

Of course, since then, my eyes have been opened and my outlook matured. Film is an art form, and by definition, not quantifiable. And any attempt to quantify the subjective nature of the appreciation of art is a ridiculous endeavor.

Unfortunately, the Academy Awards are still looked upon as a horse race, as if winning the award will somehow magically launch one's career into the stratosphere, and 'losing' the award should cause one great heartache and agony. The frenzy around awards season will, as it always does, reach a fever pitch, as we argue who 'should' win the Oscar, who 'deserves' it for their performance, or who 'deserves' it for their body of work.

Which reminds me of a pre-"The Departed" Onion article about Martin Scorsese's lack of Academy Awards...
Achieving the honor of an Academy Award nomination is an important milestone for a film, or an individual. In the visual effects world, like other branches of the Academy, getting a nomination for Achievement in Visual Effects is highly significant, because the nominees are determined by the branch itself, meaning visual effects professionals have decided that your film deserves the recognition of a nomination. Being honored by ones peers is quite meaningful. Although politics certainly come to play, the sometimes overwhelming force that is general popularity is diminished, and the art and innovation play a significant role.

As we all know, the entire Academy votes for the winner, and the force of popularity comes back into play. And since the Academy membership largely consists of retired actors, you can be assured that the film with the hottest buzz, or the one with the most aggressive ad campaign will win.

For branches of filmmaking such as visual effects, cinematography, sound design, editing, and the other non-acting branches, one should look at the nomination as a wonderful acknowledgment of your hard work and talents, and an actual statuette as the cherry on top of an already fulfilling chocolate sundae.

I have written about this before on this blog; Industrial Light & Magic got a bum rap for 'losing' the Academy awards for eleven years straight (after winning 14 visual effects awards in 18 years) . Of course, its achievements in those eleven years were extraordinary, and ILM (like Martin Scorsese) had nothing for which to be ashamed.

Over the years, I have come to believe that the winner of the Academy Award can be predicted fairly well, even without seeing the nominated films (much like the Academy voters, themselves). Anyone who has been to one of my Oscar parties knows that I'm a pretty good predictor of who will take home a statuette. It really has nothing to do with the most amazing cinematography, the most realistic visual effects, the most moving score, or the gutsiest performance. It all comes down to how these retired actors vote.
However, I've always wondered if there exists a statistical relationship between the winner of the visual effects Academy Award and some sort of quantifiable criteria which, of course, informs the Academy's voting. After heated debates with co-workers, I decided to hunker down and do some real statistical analysis. Using the quantifiable criteria of North American box office receipts and acclaim by film critics, I wondered if one could accurately predict which nominee wins the award. And, most importantly, which is the more accurate predictor of the visual effects Oscar - critical acclaim or box office success?

In conducting my research, I've laid down these statements:
  • Popularity for a film would be rated by gross box office revenue in North America, as a proxy for ticket sales. Data was provided by Box Office Mojo.
  • Critical acclaim for a film would be rated by the Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer rating, a website that tracks accredited film critics' reviews of Hollywood movies. The percentage rating indicates the percentage of approved critics who recommend a certain movie. More info on the Tomatometer can be found here.
The added benefit of using Tomatometer data to represent critical acclaim is the fact that is is measured in a percentage, which helps us fairly compare critical acclaim between years.

And now, some notes on the research and data:
  • The statistical dataset begins in 1984 and runs to 2006, because I wanted to track modern visual effects films. In addition, the Tomatometer ratings, although still accurate, pull from a smaller set of critics as one goes backwards in time.
  • Even though I'm using box office revenue as a proxy for ticket sales, we don't need to do any messy conversions to account for inflation, since we're only interested in intra-year comparisons.
  • However, even though we won't be comparing inter-year box office, we will need to compare the relative size of box office margins, to help compare box office between years. (more on that later)
  • Academy Award nominees and winners come from the website Visual Effects Headquarters, which was a pretty darn good website, if I do say so myself.
  • Unfortunately, there exist three instances where the data is skewed between 1984-2006. Two occur in 1987 and 1995, when, due to a rare voting anomaly amongst the visual effects branch, only two films received nominations ("Predator" and Innerspace"; and "Babe" and "Apollo 13", respectively), instead of the usual three. In 1990, after the votes were tabulated, only one film qualified to receive a nomination ("Total Recall"). After the 1995 incident, the voting rules were changed to better guarantee three nominees.
Of course, it's utterly ridiculous that the Academy doesn't allow five nominees for Achievement in Visual Effects. With the amount of quality work being produced these days, there are certainly enough quality films to fill five measly nomination slots. For example, the competition was so fierce in 2003, neither of "The Matrix" sequels made the long list of seven films that presented their work at the bake-off.

Does this all sound exciting? It better, because in Part 2, you'll be inundated with charts galore. Finally, in Part 3, we'll summarize the data and see if we can answer the question - is there a way to predict the winner of the visual effects Oscar?