In 1933, special effects in movies hit a milestone with King Kong. It's pioneering use of stop-motion animation and miniatures set the benchmark for everything that was to follow, and cinematic illusions in Hollywood have been evolving ever since.
The special effects game went through another breakthrough in the early '90s with the ability to experiment with CGI-- computer-generated imagery. Films like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day raised the bar with this new technology that astounded audiences everywhere.
Today, CGI has become a staple in blockbuster cinema, so much so that we often take it for granted. Great CG has the power to make or break a movie, with enough potential to turn a blockbuster into a bomb or a would-be disaster into a runaway success.
For this list, we're taking a look at movies that were saved by CGI, and others that were completely ruined by it. The "saved" films on this list are movies that should have been complete disasters if not for some spectacular visuals, while the "ruined" ones were projects loaded with potential before the hooks of terrible CG sank into them.
With that said, here are the 9 Movies Completely Ruined by CGI (And 7 That Were Saved By It).
16 Ruined: Justice League
Sure, this year's Justice League suffered from a variety of problems, but one of the most glaring is its half-finished CG. If nothing else, superhero tentpoles are expected to have at least mind-blowing visuals, so when Justice League couldn't even manage to check that box off, you know there were problems.
From the clearly unfinished design on Cyborg to the completely CG-rendered Steppenwolf who looks like he stepped straight out of a PlayStation 2 game, the visuals in DC's superhero team-up aren't just subpar-- they're downright embarrassing.
However, the biggest issue is Henry Cavill's notorious upper lip, which was distractingly altered to erase a mustache that he probably should have just shaved off.
If Justice League 2 ever come to fruition, let's pray that the filmmakers take a little more time on how their heroes and villains look before rushing out the finished product.
15 Saved: Furious 7
In 2011, the Fast and Furious franchise was revived from near death with Fast Five, which turned the laborious racing movies into action-packed heist flicks.
The new formula worked, but by 2015 the odds were stacked against Vin Diesel and the rest of the crew with the series' seventh adventure, Furious 7. For a movie that should have been stale, repetitive, and disastrous, Furious 7 is far better than it ever could be, becoming the highest grossing entry in the franchise.
That success should be credited to director James Wan's eye for fantastic visual effects. Wan has cars fly through windows into adjacent skyscrapers, helicopters crashing onto surface streets, and entire buildings crumbling at the feet of Vin Diesel. It's some of the most outlandish CGI imaginable, and audiences loved every second of it.
14 Ruined: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Sure, most fans ate up Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999, but Episode I is not a film that has aged particularly well. Creator George Lucas turned his beloved space opera into a CGI nightmare that now leaves viewers completely ashamed and confused.
Watching it today is an even bigger embarrassment when you realize that the visuals don't hold up in the slightest. The set pieces on Coruscant and Naboo are obvious green-screen backdrops and Jar Jar Binks and the rest of the Gunagns are downright cringe-worthy when compared to the motion capture effects rendered today.
After the anticipation for Episode I melted away, fans acknowledged that Lucas had indulged perhaps too much in CG effects. Thank the stars for J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, who redeemed the franchise from a galaxy far, far away by blending CG with old-school effects.
13 Saved: Transformers Franchise
Okay, we admit that the Transformers movies aren’t exactly masterpieces. They're continuously slammed for their shallow characters and lazy plots, with juvenile humor only a 4th grader could love in scripts that seem to be written by someone even younger.
However, its one saving grace and the one redeemable factor that this series has going for it are the CG effects. Big, super-charged robots beating the snot out of each other is indeed ridiculous, but on some primal level viewers can't help to be slightly slack-jawed when the action explodes on the big screen.
Yes, by this point in the franchise the battle sequences and robot throw-downs have become mind-numbingly repetitive, but if you wind up sitting in the theater for one of these things, you can at least take a sigh of relief that you'll be treated to some competent effects.
12 Ruined: Hulk
As Logan and Deadpool have recently shown, the best superhero flicks are the ones that take risks. In 2003, Marvel took a huge risk by hiring filmmaker Ang Lee to helm a big-budget Incredible Hulk movie.
Angsty, dark, and slow-burning, Lee's Hulk is certainly a big gamble-- an artsy melodrama wrapped in a comic book exterior. While comic fans and moviegoers have been debating how well the movie works ever since, one thing that everyone can agree on is that the lackluster CGI does little to help the film.
While the effects in Marvel's recent Hulk outings are breathtaking and steal the show, the effects in Hulk are now considered laughably bad.
The sad attempt to capture actor Eric Bana's likeness in the green monstrosity are jarring, as are the few CGI battle sequences featured. Though we respect Lee's vision, we can't ignore Hulk's rather dated visuals.
11 Saved: Jurassic World
Steven Spielberg revolutionized computer-generated imagery in 1993 with the release of his dino-adventure film Jurassic Park. The movie, which has since been deemed a classic, brought velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rexes to life with a seamless blend of animatronic technology and CG visuals.
Jurassic World went a different route in 2015, relying solely on digital effects to make their prehistoric creatures come to life on the screen. Also, unlike its predecessor, World doesn’t offer a whole lot new to the franchise besides its gorgeous cinemascape.
One can argue that the story and characters in Jurassic World are largely one-dimensional, relying on tropes and clichés that audiences have seen many times before.
Still, seeing a gigantic sea-shark leap out of the water and scarf down a pterodactyl is worth the price of admission alone. Let’s hope Fallen Kingdom provides a better story along with its amazing visuals.
10 Ruined: The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix is one of the most influential sci-fi films ever made, jam packed with exciting characters, interesting lore, and action scenes that seemed to pop right out of the screen.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of its sequels, including The Matrix Reloaded in particular, which is way too much of a good thing.
Everything in Reloaded is ratcheted up to the nines, including a nauseating amount of CG. Scenes like Neo’s burly brawl against the gang of Agent Smiths is particularly laughable, especially when you compare them to superior CG-rendered fight scenes from films today.
Other effects in the bloated highway chase, the inner-workings of Zion, and the jarring visuals of having Neo soar above the clouds certainly don’t stack up on repeat watches today. In hindsight, we wish the Wachowski siblings had taken the blue pill and never pushed their luck with this sequel.
9 Saved: Pirates of the Caribbean
At this point, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is running on fumes. While the first movie benefited from a fresh concept, eccentric characters, and gorgeous visuals, the sequels are largely a confusing, jumbled mess.
The only reason that audiences show up to the movies anymore is for Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow and the incredible CG used to bring the seven seas to life.
Wacky monsters and gorgeous vistas are the last silver linings of this franchise. Even if you can't follow what's happening in the Pirates movies, you're at least treated to some cool looking visuals, including Davey Jones' slimy tentacle beard, fearsome mermaid demons, and a giant krakens that can swallow entire pirate ships whole.
Sure, the Pirates series isn't the smartest, and it certainly isn't the most well-received, but the one thing that you can count on is being consistently awestruck by some cool looking visuals.
8 Ruined: Godzilla 1998
Godzilla might be one of the most famous movie monsters of all time. That's why Western audiences lined around the block when the radioactive dinosaur got his first big-budget Hollywood debut in 1998. Moviegoers couldn't wait to see the King of Monsters stomp around Manhattan in all his glory on the big screen.
How disappointing it was when we found out that director Roland Emmerich had turned Japan's famous kaiju into an oversized iguana that looked closer to the Giant Gila Monster.
Even for its time, the CGI in the 1998 Godzilla is horrendously shoddy. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park look better and that was shot five years prior to this movie. What should have been the movie that fans had dreamed of turned into a CG monstrosity that most of us like to pretend never happened.
7 Saved: 300
Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but the guy knows how to shoot an action scene. The director's films are often chastised for poor storytelling, but what they have in spades are fantastic CG fight sequences that get the blood pumping.
One of Snyder's earlier films, 300, does just that. The 2006 epic, which tells the story of 300 brave Spartans that were able to hold off an army of Persians, is a CGI extravaganza that leaps off the pages of the graphic novel its based on and onto the big screen.
From giant piles of dead bodies to blood splatter flying across the screen, the visuals in Snyder's film are exaggerated, over-the-top, and every bit a blast.
Is 300 historically accurate? The furthest thing from it, but no one will ever complain that the visuals don't at least make it a fun watch.
6 Ruined: Van Helsing
On paper, a Van Helsing movie sounds like a cool idea, especially when you have Hugh Jackman starring as the titular monster hunter. However, instead of being inspired by the practical effects of the classic monster movies of the '30s and '40s, the 2004 rendition went CGI heavy and became a complete disaster.
There are so many awful CGI moments in Van Helsing, it's hard to choose where to start. The vampires have comically enlarged mouths, the werewolves look like killer hogs, and Frankenstein's monster is so botched that it would have looked better if it was Lou Ferrigno painted up in green makeup.
For some reason, Hollywood just can't seem to get monster movies right. Maybe that's because they should stop trying to make them bloated action extravaganzas instead of actual horror flicks.
5 Saved: War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg has proven time and again that he is the leader of action filmmaking. His 2005 remake of the popular 1953 sci-fi adventure War of the Worlds, which was based on the novel by H.G. Wells, is yet another masterclass in disaster storytelling in which humanity finds itself under the boot of alien invaders.
Admittedly, the film does suffer from a tired plot and Hollywood miscasting. Tom Cruise isn't the most convincing as a hardened New Jersey dock worker, but the alien monstrosities onscreen are more than terrifyingly genuine to make up for it.
It's all thanks to some truly jaw-dropping CG that brings the giant alien pods to life in petrifying fashion. Though War of the Worlds suffers from some problems, its convincing effects manage to grip the viewer for the entirety of the runtime and never let go.
4 Ruined: Green Lantern
Warner Bros. had been trying to get a Green Lantern movie off the ground for years until they finally succeeded in 2011. Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds was originally going to kick off the DCEU. Instead, it became known as one of the worst superhero flicks ever made.
What went so wrong? Well, the movie was a boring origin story with too much exposition and not enough characterization, but the real nail in the coffin was some of the worst CGI in a modern blockbuster... ever.
The majority of alien races look like unfinished concept art, the set pieces are cartoon catastrophes, and even Reynold's costume is a CG nightmare.
The worst of all is the design of villain Parallax, which ends up a sloppy, ugly-looking CG cloud. Let's hope that, if WB ever gives Green Lantern another shot, they'll put a little more time into the effects.
3 Saved: Kong: Skull Island
King Kong is a movie monster that was made for big CG spectacles. Back by popular demand, the giant ape returned this year in Kong: Skull Island, which retooled Kong's origin into a monster-mash set during the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
Though backed by a wonderful cast including Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, the movie is mostly an uneven B-movie that's saved by some incredible looking giant monster CGI.
The towering Kong looks amazing up close and personal with his tattered fur and jagged scars. The various monster fights are enormous in scale and scope, saving the movie from drifting off into obscurity.
We have no doubt that Kong will look just as good when he turns up to fight Godzilla in their 2020 matchup, and maybe there will be as much detail put into the story as there is in the CG.
2 Ruined: The Mummy Returns
Has there ever been a more awkward case of CGI madness than the climax of The Mummy Returns? To refresh your minds, the filmmakers of this adventure sequel decided to completely CG the Rock as the Scorpion King, making the plastic-looking villain look more like the King of Uncanny Valley.
Although The Mummy Returns had a higher budget than its predecessor, it somehow has far worse effects. The mummy made of sand in the first movie was fresh and original, while every effect in the sequel seems lackluster and sloppy.
From the awful looking impish mummies to the PS2 rendition of the Rock, the visuals are so awful that the filmmakers of The Lawnmower Man wouldn't want them.
It's a shame because, visuals aside, The Mummy Returns is a great deal of fun. If only it didn't sting your eyeballs every time you watched it.
1 Ruined: Alice in Wonderland
Director Tim Burton made a name for himself in the late '80s and early '90s for his gothic aesthetics and quirky sensibilities. With classics like Edward Scissor Hands, Beetlejuice, and the '89 Batman, Burton's signature style of imaginative practical effects and dark humor seeped into the cracks of Hollywood, influencing an entire generation of filmmakers in the process.
What a shame then that, in 2010, Burton abandoned his usual style in favor of CG madness for his rendition of Alice in Wonderland. With a stellar cast that includes Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway, Wonderland is chalk-full of dynamic potential that is ultimately wasted.
The revolting CGI is visual overload, a multi-colored kaleidoscope that takes all the charm out of a Tim Burton production. Entire characters end up coming off like cartoon caricatures, especially Depp's Mad Hatter who would probably be more at home in Scooby-Doo.
Can you think of any other movies that were ruined or saved by CGI? Let us know in the comments!
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