A Race to the Finish
Issue: Winter 2019

A Race to the Finish

It's been a roller-coaster ride at the box office this year. During the midway point in June, the year-over-year box office was down about 9 percent, according to Box Office Mojo. However, there is no need to fret. There were some films that totally rocked theaters, drawing record crowds, with even more blockbusters still to come before the year closes out.

Avengers: End Game not only set a record for 2019, it surpassed all past records, making it the number one worldwide grossing film of all time, at $2.79 billion. Other big draws: Spider-Man: Far from Home, Captain Marvel, Aladdin, Joker, and Fast Furious Presents: Hobbs Shaw. And, soon the red carpet will be rolled out for everyone's favorite son, with the release of Star Wars: Episode IX - Rise of Skywalker.

On the animation side, Pixar's Toy Story 4 sits at number 5 for the year (setting the record for the biggest opening ever for an animated film, at $244.5 million). One month later, that record was surpassed by The Lion King, which grossed $246 million, roaring into second place in the overall worldwide take for the year. DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World holds at number 11. Of course, Disney's Frozen II has just been released, and its numbers are surging every day, even setting the record for the biggest opening weekend ever for an animated film, at $350.2 million worldwide. And on the horizon is Blue Sky's latest, Spies in Disguise. Ne Zha, however, is the highest-grossing fully Chinese-produced animated film of all time, and could prove trouble for the rest of the pack during awards season.

In terms of visual effects contenders, there are a number of films that I consider possible finalists in this category. (As of this writing, the Academy's Bake-off is right around the corner, so I am not sure how my predictions will fare.) Without question, Avengers: End Game will be on that list, as will Rise of Skywalker. But there is a lot of technical innovation in Gemini Man and Netflix's The Irishman in terms of breakthrough de-aging, while Alita: Battle Angel uses groundbreaking facial capture. And, Cats is using a novel digital fur technique.

Although The Lion King is an animated feature, its cutting-edge technology just may place it as a contender in both the visual effects and animated feature categories for various awards, as it truly blurs the line between live action and animation. The same may hold true for Laika's stop-motion extravaganza Missing Link. (In 2017, Laika's stop-motion film with animation, Kubo and the Two Strings, had this honor in the race for Oscars, becoming the first animated movie to do so since 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas.)

In the animated feature category, there is no question that Disney has a firm grip here, with contenders including Frozen 2, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4. Of course, there's also Missing Link, The Hidden World, and The Secret Life of Pets 2, all deserving of a spot, as do The Addams Family and Klaus.

Indeed, there are many movies vying for VFX and animation gold at a number of top cinema awards competitions, from the Academy Awards, to the BAFTAs, to the Golden Globes and more. While there are a number of films yet to be released, I, like Santa, have made my lists and have checked them twice. Not sure if voters will heed my advice.

Best in Visual Effects

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Avengers: End Game
  • Gemini Man
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • The Irishman
  • The Lion King

    (dark horses)
  • 1917
  • Aladdin
  • Ad Astra
  • Captain Marvel
  • Cats
  • Dumbo
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home
  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    Winner: Toss-up among Avengers: End Game, Gemini Man, Rise of Skywalker, The Irishman, The Lion King

    Best in Feature Animation

  • Frozen 2
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • Klaus
  • The Lion King
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4

    (dark horses)
  • Abominable
  • Spies in Disguise
  • The Addams Family
  • The Secret Life of Pets 2

    Winner: Frozen 2 or The Lion King