Collaboration is an integral part of the movie industry. Everything we see on screen goes through a stringent process of cutting, editing and – for big-budget spectacles – a whole lot more. With all that money to throw around, you’d think Hollywood blockbusters would hire the best of the best when they need CGI.
Yet some special effects prove difficult to achieve, even when Hollywood throws buckets of money at it.
Here are 12 Worst Examples of CGI in Big Budget Movies.
12. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012) – The Digital Baby
The Twilight franchise made $3.3 billion in total over the course of five movies, which is tear-jerking in itself, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. So when Breaking Dawn – Part 2 rolled around, a film that only existed because of a transparent and incredibly successful cash-grab, you’d hope that it at least looked pretty good. And it did! Or rather, it wasn’t bad, except for the CGI demon-spawn that was supposed to be Renesmee.
How this happened has to be worthy of a behind-the-scenes featurette in itself; there’s simply no obvious excuse for a multi-million dollar franchise to portray a baby/toddler this badly. The face of what is supposedly the most beautiful child in the world ended up looking like a PlayStation cut-scene from the late nineties. To make matters worse, entire scenes are built around people passing around this baby and declaring how cherubic and perfect it is instead of chucking it onto a bonfire for the crime of being a poorly-disguised mutant shapeshifter.
Look, we understand…real babies are hard to work with, and this was at least better than the original doll option, nicknamed “Chuckesmee” by the cast after they had to hold the thing. Still, it’s not like we’ve never seen a baby on screen before. Remember how Labyrinth used the power of ’80s film techniques to make us believe there was an actual baby on screen? 30 years later, this should not be a problem.
11. Matrix Reloaded (2003) – The Burly Brawl
Various sources agree that there’s only one Hugo Weaving in the world at any one time, so when The Matrix Reloaded had to portray Agent Smith multiplying himself into an army, various tricks had to be used to simulate the scenes. Body doubles, camera shots, clever split screens… the movie has all of them. But when it came time to film the iconic fight between Neo and the Smith Army, it was decided that rubbery CGI was the way to go.
The fight starts off playing it straight, mostly relying on wire work and clever choreography; however, things take a turn for the worse when Neo picks up the pole. Almost the entire fight from this point on turns into very obvious CG as the characters become cartoonish versions of themselves and the whole thing starts to feel a bit like slapstick. Granted, what’s happening on screen is extremely awesome – we’re not going to say no to a superhuman martial artist curb-stomping scores of evil Hugo Weavings with a metal pole – but the transition from human to digital movement is overly jarring…especially when the entire first half of the fight was done so well. When we’ve been treated to some of the best choreographed fights seen in American cinema, everyone on screen suddenly turning into bobblehead dolls ends up being memorable in all the wrong ways.
10. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – Crowd Effects
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was universally praised for bringing to life the world of Middle-Earth, using a combination of practical effects and well-placed CGI that manage to hold up almost fifteen years after the films were released. Then along came the Hobbit trilogy, and it was pretty clear that we weren’t getting much more of that.
Practical effects take a massive amount of effort, from sourcing craftspeople to shelling out money for materials, so it makes sense that Peter Jackson was exhausted from the first effort and wanted things done quicker. On top of all that, the character of Smaug was lauded for being brilliantly brought to life in all his Cumberbatchian glory. The Battle of the Five armies was thus where the whole affair fell apart, possibly a side-effect of the artificial lengthening of the story. The battle was CGI-heavy, leading to hordes of incredibly obvious digital armies, poorly-composited backdrops and a lack of immersion on the viewers’ side as a result.
The most dubious of these is undoubtedly the much-maligned (though kind of hilarious) scene of Legolas bounding along the falling stone steps like so many Super Mario Bros have done before him. We may be able to laugh off him riding down the stairs on a shield whilst firing a bow – at least practical effects were used there to make an intentionally ludicrous display – but watching the dignified elven prince turned into a conspicuous, bouncing slow-motion digital figure was a bit too much. And this is in a movie that include scenes of horrific death alongside a sneak-thief in a dress.
9. World War Z (2013) – Rubbery Zombies
World War Z might not have been what everyone was expecting, but it still stands on its own as a decent horror-thriller with some of the speediest zombies ever put to film (“zoombies,” as they have elsewhere been named) and that one scene that makes you crave an ice-cold Pepsi, just to relieve the stress of saving the world from an undead horde. Or a close-to-dead horde.
While the galloping zombies are still presented as a dire threat, they lose a lot of their scare factor when animated in large numbers, on account of all the overly-floppy CGI. Even the short previews of the movie couldn’t help but show the walls of advancing enemies tripping over each other and kind of just getting sucked into the crowd like they were made of plasticine. Since the movie involves quite a bit of this sort of thing, you’d think some realistic human physics would’ve been high on the list of priorities. Instead, we got the play-dough army.
The scene involving them piling on top of each other, thus forming a chomping human pyramid that manages to breach the walls of Jerusalem, loses most of its impact with how absurd it looks to see them flowing like water and building themselves up in a way that no pile up human bodies ever could, unless gravity itself was on break. It’s quite possible all the CGI money was spent on Brad Pitt’s scarf collection- which is fine, because he wears some very nice scarves- but when you have a zombie thriller on your hands, some thought has to go into actually making the zombies horrific.
8. Jaws 3-D (1983) – Jaws
The Jaws franchise is nothing without the titular shark- it’s there in the name. A combination of techniques were used to create the shark from the first movie, most famously the animatronic shark head. For Jaws 3-D, the shark got a CGI upgrade, which is to say that it was downgraded to the quality of a Windows 98 screensaver.
Watch in shock and awe as the actors themselves react with shock and awe at a shark that doesn’t even seem to be present in the same location, let alone chomping through the screen and taking a bite out of the audience. When it’s 2016 and the 3-D gimmick has never truly caught on, you can probably imagine what happened when they tried to make it the main centerpiece of a movie in 1983. The idea was to make the audience feel part of the terror that Jaws instils in beachgoers worldwide. The end result was something that just made audiences confused about all the fuss. Sometimes, practical effects are really the way to go.
7. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) – CGI Armies
You might remember The Mummy, the archaeological epic that briefly made Hollywood believe that monster movies were a good idea. It did well enough to earn itself a sequel, creatively titled The Mummy Returns, which contained 100% more Dwayne Johnson. While he went on to get his own spinoff, the series continued with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. As with most sequels with increasingly lengthy subtitles, it didn’t quite manage to capture the nuance of the original.
The special effects left something to be desired, particularly since this was 2008 and CGI armies had been done much, much better than this. The major battle scene has Brendan Fraser and love interest stumbling through not only a poor green-screen backdrop but also a jerky undead army seemingly created using the clone tool. The various beasts in the movie don’t inspire much of a reaction, with yetis and hydras that would be just terrifying if faced in The Ocarina of Time but not quite so much here.
Then again, the CG failure of the movie can’t be judged too harshly, given how the series built its reputation on wacky ancient hijinks. Once you understand that, you can probably just accept that Jet Li is riding through a field of poor CGI skeletons and not think too much of it.
6. Hulk (2003) – The Hulk, Monster Dogs
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe… there were some false starts. Ang Lee’s Hulk wasn’t a total loss, but it did have instances of extremely skewed direction and some shoddy CGI that perhaps showed that the industry just wasn’t ready to animate a giant green rage monster.
The Hulk can’t truly be represented by any ordinary human, meaning that a metric tonne of CG was needed to bring him to life. That didn’t work out, at least not so far as fans of the comic were concerned. Despite incredible effort being poured into his creation, Hulk ended up an odd shade of green with his skin almost flawless and without any sort of texture. However, we can forgive them for this being a first shot at the Incredible Hulk, what with superhero flicks not quite hitting their stride yet.
What’s less worthy of forgiveness are the CGI super-dogs. While it was bad enough that they were in the movie at all, they somehow ended up looking like rejected Rescue Rangers villains, with cartoonishly bizarre features and horrendously outdated movement animations. It’s hard to take Hulk’s life-and-death struggle seriously when he’s being torn into by a deranged mutant poodle that doesn’t move like any creature on Earth.
5. Die Another Day (2002) – Glacier Surfing
Die Another Day isn’t exactly a Bond favourite. 007 has had some misfires over the course of his career, but not many that made fans come up with theories that the entire thing was a drug-addled hallucination.
The film is riddled with massive, action-filled set-pieces, which partially explains why the CGI budget was stretched so incredibly thin. The crowning moment of awful comes as Bond goes glacier surfing and seemingly the entire world turns into a horrible green screen effect. The score swells to a crescendo that the visuals don’t match, and many a viewer is left squinting at the screen as they wonder how this could possibly be a serious effort. The water effects are lacking, while Bond himself is clumsily superimposed over existing footage until he lands on a very obvious inside set.
The rest of the movie fares no better, with incredibly obvious green screen effects and shoddy falling physics (we haven’t even mentioned the invisible car). In a series often lauded for its incredible stunt-work, it’s no wonder they felt the need to reboot. Props to Pierce Brosnan, however, who you can tell is doing his best to sell the whole thing.
4. Van Helsing (2004) – Big-Mouthed Vampires
Van Helsing, unlike a lot of films on this list, actually had some decent special effects where it counted. The action scenes mostly flowed well, and the monsters didn’t come across as too shabby. Unfortunately, they serve the make the failures even worse by comparison.
The director apparently had some kind of obsession with showing really big mouths, because it becomes a running theme throughout the movie. The vampires themselves don’t look bad, but whenever they have to show their aggression, we get a weird, rubbery bit of CGI work that looks kind of like their jaws were expanded using Microsoft Paint, and their heads seem to blow up like balloons to accommodate.
Helsing’s werewolf transformation also leaves something to be desired, as we see his skin just sort of… fall off, as if he was some kind of human werewolf egg that needed shelling. It’s a shame, as despite a roughly-done transformation, the werewolf (and as mentioned, a lot of the other effects) is well-rendered. Whether the acting in the movie is quite up the same standard is somewhat more contentious. But hey, it’s a monster movie.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Wolverine’s Claws
For a series that had to animate a plethora of increasingly bizarre mutant powers, the X-Men trilogy did most of it pretty well. Sure, a few golden flames around Jean Grey’s phoenix would’ve been nice, but still…that Golden Gate Bridge scene. Enough said.
This makes what happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine even more jarring, as well as a solid argument for practical effects. Back when Logan has bone claws, they look just great. Then we progress to the infamous scene in which he discovers his metal claws, and the effects quite literally look decades behind the times. Exactly what happened behind the scenes is probably worthy of its own featurette, but to see them jerkily bouncing off each other seems almost criminal when it came after a trilogy where the claws actually looked good. If you thought in a movie all about Wolverine they’d pay special attention to the claws…you were very wrong.
Also of note is Patrick Stewart’s uncanny valley cybernetic clone, who appears at the end to pick up the mutant children and generally frighten the actual children in the audience with a face that can’t quite sit right on his head. Once again, this de-aging effect had been done before in The Last Stand, so exactly why they went with this much worse option is a complete mystery. Unless you’ve seen any behind-the-scenes features, in which case…probably still a mystery.
2. Fantastic Four (2015) – A Lot of Things
2015’s Fantastic Four has been (figuratively) torn to shreds, flogged to death and generally lambasted to the point where it’s become almost not worth the effort. Anyway, here’s some more of that.
Like everything else, the CGI in the movie comes across as unfinished in many areas. Establishing shots look grainy and only half-done, while Planet Zero is entirely green screen and it really shows. Props to the visual effects team if they were trying to make the Baxter Building establishing shot look like it was taken right from a cartoon, but that probably wasn’t the aim.
The reshoots are also made obvious, with characters digitally inserted due to them not being available, shoddy effects work on their various powers (the Human Torch’s flames in particular have a habit of extinguishing and relighting in between shots) and a CG monkey that makes you wish they’d just used a real animal. Maybe a dog. A cute dog.
Special mention goes to Reed Richards stretching his face into a disguise; that was done pretty badly in the 2005 version, thought at least they have the excuse that it was a decade ago and the scene wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. 2015 is a year in which no real actor’s face, in a live-action movie, should ever be contorted into a digital monstrosity such as we saw here. They probably could’ve presented a better effect using actual, honest-to-goodness play dough.
1. Star Wars Special Editions – Unnecessary Changes
Star Wars was made in the late ’70s to early ’80s. That alone should disqualify it from most criticism in terms of CGI, since many of its effects were practical, and the industry itself was still in a fledgling stage. It was a stellar achievement, and is still remembered as such.
And then it was ruined. Sort of. The much maligned Special Editions have caused furious debate over whether George Lucas had the right to go back and change what already seemed just fine… but there’s no denying that many of his changes were for the worse. Scenes were all of a sudden crowded with out-of-place CG additions, sometimes blocking the entire frame and making themselves impossible to tune out. While there were changes that were applauded, the opinion of the fandom seemed to be that this was fixing something that wasn’t broken. Even when the CG was well-done, it was light years ahead of whatever else was happening on screen and thus managed to feel even more misplaced.
Of particular note is the new scene featuring Jabba the Hutt from A New Hope, during which Han manages to somehow float around the digital creation when he crosses behind, something Han Solo is not generally known to be able to do. Second is the “Jedi Rocks” scene, which replaced the costumed singer in Jabba’s Palace with a pair of glaringly-obvious CGI abominations. Instead of just being a catchy background number, the viewer is subjected to the two of them taking centre stage, parading right in front of the camera and generally looking utterly mismatched with literally everything else in the scene.
But at least Boba Fett now has the right voice. A gaping plot hole has been filled.
And more examples of terrible CGI we missed? Leave us a comment!