In terms of special effects and designs, the world of film has certainly come a long way since the days of Pepper's Ghost and Harryhausen monsters. With today's technology, we can board a strange vessel, visit other planets, encounter strange and fantastical creatures, and all with a green screen and some imaginative computer wizardry. This doesn't diminish our love for practical effects, but it does take a special set of skills to bring these incredible things to life, but it also takes a special set of skills to perform against a green screen and make it look believable. Though the effects artists make it seem easy, it can be hard to be taken seriously in a tight green suit.
That all being said, we applaud actors and actresses who can perform under unconventional circumstances, including being covered in CGI effects. This happens a great deal particularly in our beloved sci-fi genre, but it's not limited to any one type of film or any one type of actor for that matter. Everyone from Cate Blanchet to Kurt Russel has had to tango with the green-screened monster, and they've worn it exceptionally well. These actors and performers have worked so well with CGI, that we just had to show our love. From spacemen to superheroes, these performances shine even brighter than the effects that bring them to the screen. Here's our list of 20 great performances under CGI.
20 BRUCE BOXLEITNER (TRON)
Honestly, anyone who entered the Game-Grid deserves this spot, but we gotta give it to the man himself. Tron was a Disney flick ahead of its time in both story and effects. It was a look into the future, but at the same time, it's absolutely saturated with '80s cheese. Though the effects are dated by today's standards, the performance from its lead and its cast still shines.
Bruce Boxleitner plays the programmed hero, Tron, and he doesn't disappoint. The CGI of the film was revolutionary for its time, and Boxleitner and the rest of the cast made us believe in the world they inhabited. It was a starting point for CGI with a stellar performance, what better way to start our list?
19 MICHALE JAI WHITE (SPAWN)
Now we move from classically cheesy to shamelessly cheesy with Spawn. Despite the effects resembling early PS2 cutscenes, we can't deny the performance of the film's titular lead. Though the story is insane, Michale Jai White still gives us a more than convincing performance as Spawn, even with that ridiculous cape effect.
As hard as it is to believe, this film won awards for its visual effects. Yes, the demons are bland and stupid, the armor gets cartoony, but despite its obvious shortcomings, White still delivers the dark superhero we want to see. He's intimidating, strong, and most of all, believable as Todd Mcfarlane's most famous character. If not for the laughable effects, watch it for him... Or John Leguizamo in clown makeup, your call.
18 ANDY SERKIS (KLAUE)
Surprisingly, Andy Serkis does not make this list for his motion-capture performances, but for our favorite smuggler of the MCU. Serkis's performance as Klaue gives us someone who really loves his job and does it joyously, especially if that job involves a cybernetic laser arm.
With an insatiable hunger for cash and Wakandan technology, who better to play this guy than the scene-stealing Andy Serkis? It's not a lot of CGI, but with Serkis's acting chops, we believe every second of it, even though his arm opens up into a freaking laser cannon, we can't think of many who could pull off that look better. We just wish he could've stuck around for Endgame.
17 DOUG JONES AND JAVIER BODET (SPIRITS OF CRIMSON PEAK)
Guillermo del Toro is the absolute king when it comes to monster movies and practical effects. Though most of the vengeful spirits of this gothic masterpiece are magnificent makeup jobs and incredible costumes, a little CGI goes a long way when making some monsters. And nobody helps bring them to life better than Doug Jones and Javier Bodet.
Everything about these ghosts has a freaky factor cranked up to twelve. From the moth-eaten body of Edith's mother to the broken Lady Sharpe, the performers not only deliver under massive amounts of makeup and prosthetics but also some eerie CGI effects.
16 TOM HARDY (VENOM)
No matter where you stand on Venom's solo film, Tom Hardy still impressed more than a few audiences. Hardy's performance as Eddie Brock and the titular sinister symbiote were both possessed eerie excellence that drove home the movie. His portrayal as Brock is sympathetic and likable where his Venom is ravenous and haunting. Mix it with some seriously scary CGI, and you've got a symbiotic relationship.
Seeing Hardy morph into this mass of tendrils and teeth is enough to give even us the shivers. Though the CGI effects are brilliant, it's Hardy's portrayal of the character that really sells it. Hearing that gravelly voice come out of that maw of fangs is what really gives the character his bite.
15 CATE BLANCHETT (GALADRIEL)
No matter what role she's in, be it Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Kathrine Hepburn, or Asgard's queen of death, Cate Blanchett absolutely drips with elegance and grace with every performance. With a description like that, it's no wonder she was picked to play Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings. She makes the list not because her CGI was for enhancement, but for intimidation.
All shall love her and despair when we see the elven mystic tempted by the power of the One Ring. The effects placed upon her make her as beautiful and terrible as the dawn, more treacherous than the sea, and stronger than the foundations of the earth. Though the transformation is brief, it's Blanchett's ethereal performance and chilling delivery that leaves us trembling.
14 PAUL RUDD (ANT-MAN)
Though it's one of the more purely comedic entries in the MCU, the Ant-Man films have some spectacular performances. Next to Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd's portrayal as Ant-Man is surprisingly huge in and out of the suit. Let's get real, it takes a lot of CGI to pull off this kind of superhero, but Rudd does not disappoint in the slightest.
Though most of his skill is shown when he's not on superhero duty, Rudd still manages to make the world he visits as Ant-Man believable and real. The way he moves and behaves in the CGI world helps us give in to the illusion. The performance helps us suspend our belief in a way that the effects become the world, but not the star attraction.
13 CHRIS EVANS (CAPTAIN AMERICA)
We're pretty sure you can figure out why Chris Evans makes our list. Anyone familiar with the first Captain America film in the MCU knows about the CGI sorcery that turned the ripped and ready Evans into the slim and shrimpy Steve Rogers. We're colored impressed due to two factors: the CGI is believable, and Evans's performance.
Before Rogers undergoes the super-soldier treatment, we're shown a slimmed-down version of our patriotic protagonist. It could have been so easy to just see this as Evans's head stuck on an animated body, but like Paul Rudd's Ant-Man, we're too pulled in to the story and the performance to notice. No doubt a great performance, but we still find the effects deserving of a chuckle or two.
12 HUGO WEAVING (RED SKULL)
While we're on the subject of Captain America: The First Avenger, let's not forget HYDRA's most notorious leader, Red Skull. Portrayed by the always brilliant Hugo Weaving, Red Skull is one of the Marvel canon's biggest threats, and certainly bears one of the most intimidating designs.
We've seen before already how much CGI can affect costumes and makeup, but the devil's in the details when it comes to this HYDRA commander. The use of CGI to create more skull-like features on Weaving's already impressive makeup is easily worth noting, but it works in harmony with the actor's performance of this insidious character, not unlike another member on this list. Stay tuned, readers.
11 ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (IRON MAN)
How can you talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not think of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? One of the biggest names on the laundry list of actors in the series, RDJ is so invested and attached to the character, it's easy to forget he's not really wearing a suit of power armor. His performance is so infectiously engaging, he's one of the many beloved characters that make us forget we're watching a movie.
A seamless performance paired with more than impressive visuals makes RDJ practically ideal for a superhero role. Even when we see him under the helmet with the blue-lined sensors and radars, we still buy the performance as genuine. He blends with everything so well, it's no wonder he made this list.
10 KURT RUSSELL (EGO)
Kurt Russel is a huge name in the Sci-Fi genre, so it's no surprise that he found a home in the MCU alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy. For those unfamiliar with the series, Russell portrays Ego the Living Planet, Star-Lords estranged father. Since cosmic beings are so hard to get into showbiz, the CGI wizards at Marvel do their best to turn Russell into character.
Despite his star power, Russell perfectly outshines the visuals that give him his celestial status. Even when he goes freaking supernova on the Guardians, we still see the incredible acting skills of this veteran performer. Some stars just shine brighter than others it seems.
9 PAUL BETTANY (VISION)
For our last foray into the MCU, we take a look at our favorite AI Avenger, Vision. The mix of makeup and visual magic that brings him to life is absolutely astounding. Not only does he greatly resemble his comic book counterpart, but Paul Bettany's cool and calculated delivery make him more than just JARVIS with a humanoid shell.
Bettany's performance shines brighter than his scarlet silicon skin as he breathes soul into the machine. His emotional plot and compelling nature continue to keep us enraptured. Easily one of the heavier CGI characters in the Avengers series, it takes a lot to bring a character like Vision to the screen, but Bettany is just the guy for the job.
8 JOHN CAROL LYNCH (TWISTY THE CLOWN)
Easily the creepiest icon out of American Horror Story, Twisty the Clown is every Stephen King-fueled night terror made real. John Carol Lynch is responsible for the nightmare that is Twisty, and we can't help but think he'd be just as intense without the effects.
At times, Twisty makes Pennywise look like Ronald McDonald, and it's all thanks to Lynch's deranged performance. Even when he's unmasked and relating his tragic backstory, he still makes us all more than a bit uneasy. You can truly measure a horror actor's prowess by the amount of terror created by his presence alone. Color us creeped out.
7 BILL NIGHY (DAVY JONES)
No matter what they're working with, Disney always tends to go the extra mile, especially with their effects. One of the most prominent of these examples happens to be the captain of the Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones. Brought to life by a mix of motion-capture, CGI, and a full-bodied performance from Bill Nighy, Davy Jones becomes one of the creepiest characters to ever set sail.
The CGI plays a bigger part in bringing this guy to life, but it'd be just a hollow animation without Nighy's performance and gift for dialogue. The slithery motions of the cursed pirate's tentacles never fail to skeeve us out, but it's Nighy's commanding voice and cruel nature that puts him at the helm. He always shivers our timbers.
6 RALPH FIENNES (VOLDEMORT)
The evilest wizard in all of literature definitely needs an effect driven adaptation to bring him from the page to the screen. Ralph Fiennes portrayal of Lord Voldemort absolutely oozes with insidious charm. We're so invested in his performance, in fact, we forget that nearly all of his face is covered by CGI.
The wraithish robes, the pale, sickly flesh, and the snakelike facial features are all created by a combination of makeup, wardrobe, and green screen, but it's Fiennes who creates the biggest effect. His performance is something straight out of the shadowy depths of the Wizarding World, the CGI is just there to spice it up. We're sure he could be just as perfect with a black robe and a wand alone.
5 AARON ECKHART (TWO FACE)
Christopher Nolan's adaptation of the Batman mythos definitely deserves the praise it earned, even if it tried to be a more realistic take on the comic book genre. That being said, it did give us a more reality-based depiction of one of Batman's most tragic villains. Aaron Eckhart plays the White Knight of Gotham in The Dark Knight, and his twisted performance matches the effects that turn him into Two-Face.
The effects are used to both convey the identity of the character and display the corruption of the man who was supposed to be Gotham's savior. The facial effects are more than enough to steal the show, but Eckhart manages to match the caliber, giving us a performance that leaves us torn in two.
4 JOHNNY DEPP (TARRANT HIGHTOP/THE MAD HATTER)
Johnny Depp might be the most dynamic and unpredictable take on the Mad Hatter we've ever seen, and we love him for it. Love it or hate it, Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland definitely had a creepy and colorful look all its own. Nowhere is that idea better expressed than in the characters that dwell in Underland.
Mad just barely scratches the surface of Depp's performance. The erratic mood swings and the wild attire perfectly capture his mental instability, but a little CGI goes a long way. The effects are used mainly in his eyes to further drive home that unhinged look. His irises change color with his moods, and one eye is larger than the other, resulting in perfect visual insanity.
3 HELENA BONHAM CARTER (THE RED QUEEN)
While we're in Underland, let's pay a visit to another popular resident. The Red Queen, brought to life by the magnificent Helena Bonham Carter, is Burton's take on the Queen of Hearts. With her Elizabethan attire, tantrums, and enormous head, the artists and animators certainly went the extra mile with her creation.
Carter's performance is as big and fiery as her character's head. She plays the queen as a spoiled brat in an adult body with a cruel amount of power, and it works. Even without the giant head, we're certain that she could still wear the crown.
2 BILL SKARSGARD (PENNYWISE)
Show of hands, who else got goosebumps from Bill Skarsgard's portrayal of Pennywise? Tim Curry might still hold the crown for the most enjoyable performance, but Skarsgard creepy even without the CGI monster effects. Despite a few aesthetic changes, he's a near perfect adaptation of the novel's horrific antagonist.
Though certain CGI sequences are a bit too over-the-top, when done correctly they definitely get a scream or two out of us. Skarsgard's performance absolutely smashes every level of creepy, just building onto what horrors It might change into next. Whether he's just lurking with some balloons or gnawing on a severed hand, we're definitely wary of this painted creep.
1 DOUG JONES (AMPHIBIAN MAN)
We've already mentioned him once before, but we figured an Oscar-winning performance definitely deserves first place on our list. The Shape of Water is possibly the magnum opus of Guillermo del Toro, and the leading monster was played by none other than Doug Jones. Though the performance was mainly created through Jones's acting skills and some incredible creature effects, some CGI did help give the monster life.
The effects were used sparingly but the little touches here and there helped create a magnificent monsterpiece. The true talent, however, comes from the actor. Doug Jones is famous for his creature performances and it truly shines this film. He not only struts his stuff, but he also wears the gills gloriously.