There is a certain synergy required to make a good movie. All the individual pieces have to fit together and get along nicely. Think of each element of a film from the script, to the actors, the director, and the score like gears in a clock. Meticulous measurements and calculations go in to making sure ever cog works together. Movies are there own kind of perilous, high wire ballet of ideas and execution. There is barely any breathing room to make an error. The tiniest misstep, the most minute miscalculation and the bottom falls out from under you.
The tension is raised when you consider the average budget for a mainstream Hollywood film is near a hundred million dollars. You would think with this kind of money on the line and so many disparate reputations at stake that nobody involved in the machine would let something terrible get released. There are dozens of checks and balances and producers, executive producers, editors and censors who have to evaluate a movie before it is released that surely nothing terrible could make it out into the world for public consumption, right?
Well it turns out Hollywood isn’t perfect. Even something as important as the hero of the film can be ruined. Not because the actor gives a terrible performance, but because someone somewhere decided it was okay for the character the audience spends the most amount of time with to be rendered in cheap, unfinished computer graphics. It’s unreal. It’s uncanny, and its why we’re here.
Here are 15 movies that were utterly ruined by a terrible CGI protagonist.
Even Marvel can make mistakes. Before they became the power house production studio everyone has come to know and love for their dozens of billion dollar movies, they were known for releasing middling, clumsy tent pole disasters. In 2003, they unleashed a brooding, contemplative Hulk movie on an unsuspecting public. Most people remembered Lou Ferrigno in green body paint growling, and flexing around on the small screen. Ang Lee gave us a grimacing day-glow green train wreck in cinema sized portions.
While Lee’s introspective approach to the Hulk was an inspired choice, the rendering of the monsters jade visage was a neon nightmare. Asking the audience to relate to a grimacing green smurf that looks like a gamma radiated cartoon was a step too far for even Ang Lee and Eric Bana. The film received mixed reviews and the box office never quite made the return Marvel needed to justify a sequel. There is a kind of poetic justice to it all though. After all it was a gamma bomb that brought him into the Marvel Uxniverse, so its only fitting that it was a bomb of a movie that brought him out of it.
Sometimes it seems like DC just can’t catch a break. Their cinematic universe has been haunted by a darkened adolescent aesthetic and the pseudo philosophic musings of Zack Snyder since it debuted with Man Of Steel. You might be able to forgive them for taking the gritty road if the movies didn’t also suffer from rushed production, forced set ups and anti-climatic set ups with no pay off.
With so much already going wrong behind the scenes and on screen, it really is hard to say how Cyborg turned out the way he did. It’s probably a bad idea to encase 95% of your one POC character in armor that all but obscures and erases him, and it’s even worse when the rendering of said armor is so shoddy the audience giggles every time they see him fully lit. To be fair to Joss Whedon, he had to take over a half finished film at the zero hour and try and turn it into something halfway watchable. But the audience paid full price for half decent CGI, which they didn’t get.
13. Hero Boy
Tom Hanks is everybody’s cool uncle. It is really hard to make him unlikable. There is something about his presence and the way he takes up the screen. He knows how to act but he also knows how to just be.
Which is why the uncanny valley nightmare film The Polar Express was such a creepy disappointment. Tom Hanks plays multiple roles in this film and each is more unsettling than the last. Humans don’t move like that. Humans don’t emote like that. Humans don’t do anything remotely like what the CGI in this film suggests they do. This is a Christmas family film, but we bet you don’t remember that about it because you were too preoccupied with the hairs standing up on your arms every time a character said or did anything. Bottom line; this film tried to jump the gun on hyper realistic human animations and dropped the ball at every turn.
12. Green Lantern
Maybe there is just something about the color green. Kermit wrote a whole song about how hard it was to pull off, Marvel couldn’t quite make the Hulk work, and now DC has fallen into the jade jaws of failure with Green Lantern.
Ryan Reynolds has always been bankable, if not likable. He has a smarmy, Canadian charm that has pulled him through slogs like Wolverine: Origins. Sadly, even his own super natural charisma was smothered by the awful and unnecessary CGI costuming experiment in Green Lantern. Probably the worst part about it isn’t how fake and shiny it made him look. It’s that they didn’t really need to slather him up in computer skin for this movie. A cloth costume or perhaps some cool space armor would have worked just fine. The Lantern suit wasn’t just bad, it was superfluous and audiences stayed away because of it.
Before Batfleck there was Bendevil. The best thing that can be said about the CGI costuming in this film is that at least it wasn’t in every scene. Daredevil wears a red leather battle suit and all things considered, it works. However, there are enough action scenes featuring a CGI dummy of Daredevil battling a somehow worse CGI version of Bullseye that the viewer feels like they are flipping back and forth between a 90s video game and the movie version of it.
The stiff movement, the choppy animation, the mismatched red coloring and the waxy pallor of Daredevil is so distracting that it pulls you right out of the movie. By the time Bullseye is throwing a handful of glass at Daredevil, you have completely checked out because its basically Mortal Kombat for Sega Genesis. No wonder the film never got a sequel.
Whatever was going on with early 00s Hollywood effects, we should all be glad it’s over and we’ve moved on. Catwoman suffers from the same lack of vision that derailed Green Lantern and Daredevil, with needless use of CGI as stunt doubles for the already underwhelming action scenes in the film. You could argue that they were maybe trying to show off Catwoman’s super natural jumping, spinning, and wall climbing abilities or have a grand action spectacle set piece. Sadly, the execution of the animation quite looks like GoldenEye 007 on N64. At this point, Hollywood had been making films for decades. You’d think they’d know better.
Halle Berry ended up winning and accepting a Razzie for her performance in the movie. One wonders if it is an award that should have been shared with her CGI stunt double, who somersaulted around, defying gravity and good taste.
The Scooby-Doo TV show was such simple, subversive entertainment. Somehow the show about teenagers who drove around and solved supernatural mysteries has become a part of Americana. The movie could have been a no brainer. Dog based franchises like Air Bud and Cop Dog had done great at the box office, so why not Scooby-Doo?
The answer, of course, is because of the ugly way they animated him. Technically the movie was trying to be a live action cartoon (this never works by the way), so it doesn’t have to look photo realistic, just cool. Scooby-Doo looked neither cool nor realistic. Scooby-Doo looked like a blurry, wet cartoon who was over lit and poorly rendered. The scenes in which actors had to interact with him are cringe-inducing to this day.
8. The Beast
The war is over and nostalgia won. We’ll never have an original idea again. We don’t need them. Movies about toys we played with as five year olds make billions of dollars now. Nothing matters. Well, almost nothing. It turns out you can’t put a live action spin on an old cartoon and hope people won’t be creeped out by the melted demon face on the titular character.
Beauty and the Beast is for kids of all ages, sure. But it’s also for discerning millennial who have enough sensibility to notice that the titular character looks like a Baphomet made of balloons. The technology for realistic looking human animal hybrid characters is here. We’ve seen it in the Planet of the Apes movies. Maybe Disney didn’t want Beast to look realistic because technically that would also mean he’d look terrifying and their target audience is seven year olds who don’t want to have nightmares about a ballroom dancing were-man. However, their compromise was just as unnerving.
7. Maz Kanata
Lupita Nyong’o is a singular talent and the vocal performance she delivers as Maz Kanata is seriously remarkable. However most of the buzz around the character were jokes about how her eyes resembled a certain part of the human anatomy. We’re not gonna finish that joke for you here. Whenever Maz is on-screen, the film is ruined because we’re all focusing on her eyes and the fact that she looks like an off brand Yoda carved out of dog food. Despite a terrific piece of voice acting, the animation really ruined that for the audience. It was a miscalculation on the art departments side that takes you right out of the movie.
The 2007 film Beowulf promised to be a faithful re-telling of the original legend. If you only saw trailers for the movie on a small non digital TV, you could be forgiven for not realizing it was an animated movie. However. once in the theater the breadth of the uncanny valley in Beowulf is unprecedented. It was the first movie since The Polar Express that dared to offer up CGI humans in as real a form as the animators could muster… and it just didn’t work.
Our brains are smarter than we are. We can spot fake even if we don’t know why or how we’re spotting it. For all the gravitas that Beowulf purported to have, it was all deflated by the strict adherence to reality the animation tried to cling to. You can’t focus on the movie as a whole when you’re distracted by the lead character as an individual being nothing more than a glimmering hologram. Maybe in a science fiction movie this kind of off-kilter sub humanity would be acceptable but not for the gritty reality of Beowulf.
5. Ghost Rider
Nick Cage is probably the only actor on Earth who could convincingly sell that his face is a flaming skull with no special effects or make up. In fact, audiences might wish that is what we got in the case of the 2007 Ghost Rider film. In the early aughts, Hollywood got reckless with its use of CGI. Ignoring decades worth of progress in mechanical effects, make up, nuanced CGI and clever editing, they decided to go whole hog on computer rendered cartoons which were laughable to audiences.
Ghost Rider is a film about a man with a flaming skull for a head and, with all due respect, this is a tricky effect to pull off for anyone. But director Mark Steven Johnson and his effects team strayed so far from practical effects into the realm of cartoon foolery that it clashed with the grit and gravitas of a film about a man who sells his soul to the devil to save his adopted father. With such an astronomical budget and the focus of the film being around a CGI rendered character, you would expect more care, but in the end Ghost Rider ended up looking less realistic than Jar Jar Binks.
2017 was the year doom came to the Zack Snyder DC cinematic universe. First, Wonder Woman was a massive hit and a major departure from the established tone of the films and, second, Justice league was almost completely re-shot and re-edited at the zero hour before release. As a result of this, re-shooting actors were called back while already working on other projects. One such actor, Henry Cavill, was already busy filming Mission: Impossible 6 and the producers of that movie wouldn’t let him shave the mustache he had grown for it in order to film the Justice League re-shoots.
Stuck between Kryptonite and a hard place, director Joss Whedon made the call to film Cavill as Superman with the mustachio and use CGI to buff it out later. The resulting rubber faced Superman ended up becoming a punchline to the joke that was 2017, inspiring countless memes, jokes, and speculations about the franchise’s future and hurting the films over all box office and critical reception. The one take away society as a whole had about this movie was how bad they botched the main character’s face. Not a good look.
3. The Fantastic Four
It is a rare case that a non-animated film features four lead characters who are all augmented by CGI and who all look absurd. When Josh Trank was given the chance to re-imagine the Fantastic Four, he wasted no time in making it grim (sigh), gritty (double sigh), and grounded in realism (shakes head). Or at least that was the company line.
In reality, Trank spewed out a body horror sci-fi film that was filled with horrible bodies. The lesson being “don’t tempt fate.” From the clumsy rendering of The Thing’s rocky exterior and his uncanny human eyes, to the cartoony flames that erased Michael B. Jordan and the repulsive nature of Mr Fantastic’s stretching; you could say that the effects over extended themselves. A certified rotten box office bomb, Fant4stic Four might have been tolerable if the titular characters weren’t so hard to look at.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Why do their faces look like that? Nobody expected a TMNT reboot produced by Michael Bay to be a critical darling or really even that good, but with the technology Hollywood has at its disposal, it seems reasonable to expect lead characters in a major franchise to have a physical weight to them and not look like giant green fools.
While the look of the Ninja Turtles has changed drastically over the years, they have always looked cool with big cartoon eyes and rounded noses. The 2014 TMNT for some reason decided to graft semi-human looking noses, eyes, and mouths onto floating green orbs and the result was an unnerving mess. The film barely made enough to justify a sequel and you have to wonder if that was because the trailers scared off the potential audience of seven year olds it was aimed at.
The ancient Jedi wisdom Yoda offered in Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi have become timeless quotable sayings referenced dozens of times in pop culture, written as E-mail signatures and shared among friends. There was simple dignity in the Yoda character. A kindly, wise old puppet who came to life before our eyes through the magic of Frank Oz and Industrial Light & Magic puppeteers.
It is unforgivable that decades later, the very same man who created Yoda would think the best use of him is as a laser powered CGI fidget spinner. Twirling and dashing around the screen. Barely recognizable. Fully intent on using his laser sword to do the opposite of everything he taught us in Empire and Jedi. In any movie, seeing a hobbled old puppet suddenly turn into an acrobatic ninja would be unsettling, but doing it to Yoda, of all people, was the nail that stabbed the horse’s back. An already uneven movie made entirely unwatchable.
Which of these bothered you most? Let us know!
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