Film buffs continue to be mixed on the use of CGI in film. On one hand, it can be revolutionary, creating new worlds as big and as wondrous as the imagination of the people envisioning it. On the other hand, it’s replacing the amazing and dedicated craft of practical sets and effects. Those can add a sense of realism to the audience at times. Where the debate really heats up is between the creation of CGI characters or “make-up” over the use of practical make-up effects. Sometimes, it’s necessary and easier to create a CGI character, but other times we need to question: ‘do we really need it?’
While the technology has definitely grown, it can still inhabit the territory of the uncanny valley in observers. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the feeling of eeriness that you get when something looks like a human or humanoid, but something about it looks fake enough to creep you out. It’s been used a lot more in conjunction with humanoid or human CGI characters in film or video games. Though there seems to be more tolerance with it in video games.
With this in mind, it’s time to get a little uncanny and dive deep into some really, really bad CGI that makes those goosebumps rise. To palette cleanse, we’re off-setting it with some amazing CGI that proves that the medium is getting better. Here are 10 Actors Who Looked Terrible With CGI Effects (And 10 Who Looked Better).
20 TERRIBLE: Dwayne Johnson – The Scorpion King (The Mummy Returns)
Dwayne Johnson is the winningest movie star at the box office at the moment. Why shouldn’t he be? He's a charming, charismatic, a good actor, and just a lovable dude. We’ll love the Rock forever. Considering his start of his career, it’s amazing how he’s grown to be a seriously bankable star. Consider his first movie role as Mathayus, the Scorpion King, in 2001’s The Mummy Returns. Now we can't entirely fault the Brendan Fraser led franchise, its ambition often eclipsed its budget.
The Scorpion King looked out of place in the film, with his unnatural facial movements and overall appearance.
In the end, however, it is just that bad. Johnson looks more like an animated doll than an actual person. The Scorpion King gives us the creeps and it’s amazing that they gave him his own spin-off movie. We suppose that’s Johnson’s charisma coming full force, or an apology for the bad CGI.
19 BETTER: Robert Patrick – T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day)
While we don’t understand why Avatar is getting a franchise expansion ten-years after its debut film, we definitely can’t fault what James Cameron did for CGI effects. The earliest example comes in with one of the greatest sequels of all time: Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Most older CGI rarely looks as good as what was used on Robert Patrick’s T-1000.
A shapeshifting, liquid metal Terminator is definitely a tall order to make. It easily could go the territory of Alex Mack. Yet, the effects used on Patrick looks seamless and natural. It’s definitely no surprise that the film nabbed Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Art Direction. It should also get another award for CGI That’s Aged Super Well.
18 TERRIBLE: Eric Bana – Hulk (Hulk)
Ang Lee has done some amazing things with CGI and VFX over the years: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi are two examples of it. It’s honestly a bit baffling how things got so fumbled with 2003’s Hulk. While Lee wanted to bring in a genuine comic book feel to the movie, it suffered from a meandering story and bad CGI. While many things suffered in the movie, like the bizarrely nightmare-ish Gamma Dogs and whatever was going on with Nick Nolte’s character, no one suffered quite as much as the Hulk.
The Hulk kind of looks like a badly animated Jolly Green Giant. You know, like the giant found on the packaging for frozen vegetables.
There was the too-bright green skin color, the awkward proportions and movement, and the fact that he looked more like a puppet than a rampaging green rage monster. Please take the pick to what made this character go from ‘SMASH’ on the page to ‘flat’ on the screen.
17 BETTER: Mark Ruffalo – Hulk (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
While 2003’s Hulk was bad and 2008’s was mediocre at best (much like their respective movies), the character finally was done well in 2012’s The Avengers and subsequent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Using motion capture on Mark Ruffalo, the Hulk’s facial expressions and performances appear real and more genuine. Adding in an advance on CGI technology, the Hulk actually looks like a person, with wrinkles, chest hair, and a resemblance to his actor, which allows things to make sense.
Given his extended time as the Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok, it just shows that Marvel Studios knows what they’re doing here. Audiences were never taken out of the movie by the use of CGI on Ruffalo’s Hulk.
16 TERRIBLE: Henry Cavill – Superman/Clark Kent (Justice League)
Audiences can forgive, well mostly, bad character design. What they can’t forgive is messing up a perfectly handsome actor’s face. Woo-boy, that mustache mess though. When Justice League needed to go into reshoots, Henry Cavill had grown a mustache for his role in Mission Impossible 6. He wasn’t allowed to shave it. Apparently, there were negotiations between Warner Brothers and Paramount about it. It was a thing and oh did the Internet roast it.
Mustache-gate left a terrible taste in our mouth, but made way for amazing memes.
When Justice League hit screens, we’re betting the WB wish they negotiated harder to get him to shave. The CGI to digitally remove Cavill’s mustache left his face looking horrible. The proportion between his mouth to his nose was all off. It was even more jarring when they went with a scene that didn’t need to be reshot.
15 BETTER: Stefan Kapičić – Colossus (Deadpool and Deadpool 2)
Deadpool knew what was up when in the movie’s credits, they introduced Colossus as a CGI character. We see them more and more in our superhero movies. Outside of that one joke and others about Colossus’ heroic nature, there was nothing to joke about that CGI. It looks amazing in both films, especially how they get light to reflect on his metal skin. Or scuff marks from an explosion. It all looks absolutely amazing.
Considering how relatively small a budget the first Deadpool movie received, it’s amazing that they got Colossus looking as awesome as they did. Stefan Kapičić was totally transformed in the best of ways. While Ryan Reynolds isn’t sure we’ll get a third film, we’re hoping that Colossus makes a return.
14 TERRIBLE: Guy Henry/Peter Cushing – Grand Moff Tarkin (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
With holograms of non-living celebrities becoming a thing, it makes sense that there would be something similar for actors who passed. Rogue One takes place right before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. Naturally, they also used characters that were in use at the time of filming Episode IV. However, this issue came up when they needed to use Tarkin. Peter Cushing, who originally played Tarkin, passed in 1994.
While his reflection in a window looked promising, when he turned around, our dreams were dashed with his oddly terrifying features.
Using Guy Henry as a stand-in, the crew of Rogue One tried to use technology to bring Cushing back. The result was… well a bit frightening to be honest. Tarkin looked plasticky and weirdly shiny in comparison to the other actors. It just left the vague sense of unease and made him look very unreal.
13 BETTER: Josh Brolin – Thanos (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Now, Thanos is a very proportional genocidal manic, right down to his oddly symmetrical square chin. One thing we have to admit, even though he was responsible for ripping out all our hearts, is that the use of CGI on Josh Brolin was amazing. It totally transformed him into a character that came straight out of the comic book pages. The only thing recognizable about Brolin was his voice coming out of Thanos’ mouth.
Even next to characters who use more traditional make-up, such as Zoe Saldana’s Gamora or Karen Gillian’s Nebula, audiences couldn’t even tell the difference. He looked that much part of his environment. Avengers: Infinity War is definitely the pinnacle of what can be done with CGI in film nowadays.
12 TERRIBLE: Ciarán Hinds – Steppenwolf (Justice League)
In terms of modern CGI fails, Justice League probably tops the list in a big way. The biggest reason is Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf. It’s hard to tell if the personal troubles of director Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon stepping in messed with the VFX process in the movie. Something had to shuffle around last minute for what was done to Steppenwolf. He’s supposed to bean emissary of Darkseid, a first look into the world of the New Gods. He also doesn’t look finished or like a final boss in an early 10s videogame.
Steppenwolf is another grey hulking villain with mediocre CGI.
Either way, audiences were expecting something truly epic here. This was the first time the Justice League were together on-screen. He had to look amazing, but it just failed ultimately. Now we can only hope that the CGI sins of Steppenwolf don't follow Ava DuVernay in her take on the New Gods.
11 BETTER: Toby Jones – Dobby (Harry Potter franchise)
Even back in 2002, Dobby the House Elf was probably a precursor for some the amazing VFX work done since then. In fact, a lot of what we have today can probably be traced back to the Harry Potter franchise. They had to develop a lot of technology to truly bring the Wizarding World to life. Since then, no one has quite stolen our hearts like Dobby. Even though his role in the films was drastically reduced in comparison to the books, audiences all believed that he was on the screen.
He looked at characters, interacted with them, and they interacted with him. The CGI work was so believable that audiences went along with it. Even to the very end, then we all cried over Dobby.
10 TERRIBLE: Matthew Lewis and Daniel Radcliffe – Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Before Dobby turned the game upside down in terms of CGI, we had Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The CGI for the people? It was laughably bad back then, especially in the flying scenes. Both Matthew Lewis and Daniel Radcliffe suffered the worst from this. When Neville Longbottom went on a wild ride on his broom, the CGI on Lewis looked bad by 2001 standards. It made him look more like an unfinished puppet, especially before Neville hit the ground.
Sadly, the individuals working on the film couldn't use some wizardry to make the CGI better.
Then the Quidditch scene. With the cuts back and forth between real people and CGI puppets, it just heightened the feeling of Uncanny Valley. Between this and The Scorpion King? 2001 was not an amazing year for CGI in movies.
9 BETTER: Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent/Two Face (The Dark Knight)
The Dark Knight remains one of the pinnacles of what a superhero film can achieve. Between its stellar performances, moody atmosphere, and excellent direction, this Batman film achieves an unprecedented level of perfection. One of the best parts of the film is the CGI used to achieve the half-burned look on Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent.
Nolan described the process, “When we looked at less extreme versions of it, they were too real and more horrifying. When you look at a film like Pirates of the Caribbean – something like that, there's something about a very fanciful, very detailed visual effect, that I think is more powerful and less repulsive." We think things look fairly gruesome, but it certainly does invoke powerful images.
8 TERRIBLE: Jeff Bridges – Young Flynn/Clu (TRON: Legacy)
As technology changes, studios are using it to turn back the clock for the older actors. In the past, when they needed to have an older actor look younger, they hired a younger actor that looked the older one. However, with the advances in technology, many studios are using CGI to turn back the clock. It tends to fail more than it works. One of the sadder examples is Tron: Legacy.
Despite their best efforts, the "younger" looking Jeff Bridges just made audiences uncomfortable.
A highly stylized, highly CGI movie, the film wanted to bring back Bridges’ youthful looks for the computer program Clu. As a program, he wouldn’t age. It makes sense. What happened, however, was that it ended up looking off. The whole film ended up being a bust, but the worst offender is how uncomfortable the attempts to make Bridges younger made audiences.
7 BETTER: Michael Douglas – Young Hank Pym (Ant-Man)
Ant-Man is actually a masterclass in CGI usage. Between the amazing shrinking set pieces and the dizzying dive into the quantum realm, director Peyton Reed definitely knew how to bring the fun with the hero’s powers. One of the more technically proficient moments, however, was the use of CGI to make Michael Douglas younger in the 1989 scenes.
Unlike the extended time that Bridges was given in Tron, Ant-Man smartly made sure to keep the scene short and sweet. It gave those charged with rewinding the clock time in order to make sure that it looked pretty perfect. The final product is Douglas’ performance center-stage and a believability to the CGI. Hopefully, the age reversal can only get better from here.
6 TERRIBLE: Ryan Reynolds – Hal Jordan/Green Lantern (Green Lantern)
2011’s Green Lantern was supposed to harken a DC Cinematic Universe. Horrible reviews and poor audience reception quickly put the kibosh on those plans. While the story was a bit confusing and frustrating, a larger part of the criticism came from the CGI for the film. From Parallax to Sinestro, the characters in the film all looked a bit too fake to be interacting with Reynolds, especially on the expanded time he was training with the Corps.
The worst of the worst, however, remains Reynold’s superhero suit. Rather than making a realistic suit, they opted for an entirely CGI suit, making it look like Reynolds’ muscles were exposed and green. It was completely mocked by audiences and by fans alike. Even Reynolds takes potshots at it, especially in 2016’s Deadpool. Let’s leave the superhero suits realistic, at least.
5 BETTER: Benedict Cumberbatch – Smaug (The Hobbit franchise)
For the most part, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit should be an example on how to totally transform an actor using CGI. From the more recent, though possibly unnecessary, trilogy comes Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. Using mo-cap and filming on soundstage, the filmmakers were able to beautifully transform Cumberbatch into the dragon. In fact, audiences can definitely see Cumberbatch’s face in Smaug’s design, which adds another level of detail to the production.
The end result leaves audiences with a truly mesmerizing, virtually realistic dragon that interacts with his environment. It also amps up the danger when audiences see Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and others near Smaug. It’s no surprise that character won an award with the Visual Effects Society.
4 TERRIBLE: Jamie Bell – The Thing (Fant4stic)
Fantastic Four, or Fant4stic, is one of those superhero movies that is just so bad, people can only talk about how bad it is. Not in a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. While Michael Chiklis didn’t look much better as Ben Grimm/The Thing in the 2005 film, Jamie Bell fared far worse. He just didn’t look complete, much like everything else. You just feel like the time done with reshoots and digitally adding in actors would have been better spent making The Thing look like The Thing.
It wouldn't have hurt to animate The Thing some pants, it's cold out there.
It just looked painful to be him. There was the general weirdness about him wandering around unclothed, sd we all knew he was in his birthday suit. They couldn’t CGI him some hot pants or something? It was just weird.
3 BETTER: Andy Serkis – Gollum (The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchise)
We all must bow at the altar of the visual effects teams for Tolkien’s works because they are the true O.G.’s for actor transformation using CGI. For over a decade, they’ve continuously knocked it out of the park by transforming Andy Serkis into the crazed hobbit obsessed with the Ring, Gollum. Not only does he look amazing for early-00’s CGI in the original franchise, he still holds up on the rewatch. Gollum looks perfectly at home on-screen right beside the real actors next to him. The fact that it holds up almost 20 years after the first movie was released says a lot.
Without Gollum paving the way, then audiences probably wouldn’t have seen some truly amazing CGI characters brought to life. He also showed how important CGI character creation can truly be for a film.
2 TERRIBLE: Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars franchise)
Is a list about the worst of things really complete if Jar Jar isn’t on it? We can debate this metaphysical question until the Tak Taks come home. One thing we definitely know is that the CGI for Jar Jar is pretty awful. Part of it is because the movies were made in the late 90s to early 2000s. It’s a time that is not known for its absolutely amazing CGI characters.
Weesa no sure whya kids love him whena da prequels came out, heesa looks creepy.
Another, larger part comes from the fact that Star Wars was a franchise that used practical effects to great success. Yoda, in the original trilogy, was a puppet created by the Jim Henson Company. The switch to CGI was pretty jarring to most fans, but Jar Jar in particular just stuck out like a sore, orange-ish thumb.
1 BETTER: Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata (Star Wars franchise)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is Maz Kanata. Introduced in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the former pirate and smuggler turned tavern keeper looks absolutely amazing. From the wrinkles on her skin to her diminutive size, she truly looks like she belongs in the galaxy far, far away. There’s less of a rubbery quality to her facial movements. In comparison to Jar Jar, Maz is a masterpiece in visual effects and completely transforms Nyong’o.
It also shows how motion capture really helps along good CGI. The facial expressions look authentic and real, given the actor was actually there to interact with the scenery and other actors. It shows how technological growth and making a good character can actually help the CGI process.
Did we miss any movies with terrible CGI characters? Tell us in the comments below!