Computer generated imagery is a double-edged sword: it can create wonders or total disasters. Some films use CGI very carefully to enhance practical effects, like in Mad Max: Fury Road. Other films rely very heavily on CGI, like the colorful fever dream that is The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. CGI is an important tool that must be utilized with absolute care, and as many filmmakers have learned, poorly executed CGI can sink a movie, even if the movie has potential.
Digital effects have only improved as the years have passed. To avoid being too unfair, this list will only focus on films that are relatively recent, or ones that could have utilized more practical effects to achieve their visual goals. Not all of these films are completely meritless, but sometimes, truly ugly CGI can be hard to look past.
You’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who has never cringed in a movie theater before, but if you are somehow that person, maybe look into a few of the movies below. You may not like what you find. Here are 15 Movies Ruined By Cringeworthy CGI.
Ang Lee’s Hulk probably isn’t the worst entry on this list, but for a big-budget blockbuster starring a well-established superhero, these effects probably should have been better. Make no mistake, bad CGI isn’t this film’s only problem, but it certainly didn’t help it much.
The Hulk had been done practically before on television, with makeup and prosthetics. Naturally, this film chose to go big and give audiences what they believed would be a true adaptation of the Incredible Hulk, with a more authentic, giant-sized CGI Green Goliath. It sounds great in theory. Sadly, it may have come a little too early, as the effects just weren’t good enough. For many, this rubbery Hulk is a bit too cartoony to take seriously—and don’t even get us started about the Hulk-hounds.
CGI can be much worse, but this rendition of the Marvel hero was outdone with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and outdone again with his appearances in the MCU. And thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok has the Hulk looking better than ever.
14. Tron: Legacy
For all intents and purposes, Tron: Legacy actually looks quite good. The original Tron was ground-breaking in the special effects department, and its aesthetic needed to be both updated and recaptured in the sequel. While the world looked pretty decent, the most glaring special effects oddity came in the form of the film’s villain, Clu. With the CGI face of a young Jeff Bridges, it did not look good.
This CGI trick has been popping up more and more lately, and with each use, the de-aging effect has improved. Disney itself has used this effect quite a bit since their release of Tron: Legacy, in MCU movies like Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The de-aging effect has come a long way, but with this film back in 2010, it just wasn’t quite there yet. Clu looked rubbery, unnatural, and completely distracting. The movie itself was met with mixed reception anyway, but CGI Jeff Bridges did nothing to improve the film’s quality.
13. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t feature flat-out awful CGI, so much as overwhelmingly mediocre CGI. This is only made worse by the fact that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy is littered with beautiful practical effects that still hold up today. It’s a shame that this franchise—one that looked breathtaking only a decade prior—took so many steps backward with its prequel trilogy.
So much of the makeup, costumes, prosthetics, and sets of the original trilogy have been replaced with green screens and CGI. While it isn’t all bad, the locations lack visual depth, some characters look way too bouncy in action, and the armies themselves look so fake that the battle lacks any real emotional affect. It took a lot of work to make those original films look so real, and not repeating those painfully difficult endeavors is completely understandable. It’s just hard to go from the jaw-dropping battle of Helm’s Deep to the mushy gray chaos that is the third act of this film.
12. Jurassic World
Similar to The Hobbit, here’s another film franchise that has a reputation for excellent effects, but could not deliver with a sequel. Forget about all the other entries in the franchise — Jurassic Park still looks great. Spielberg used both practical and digital effects to create what many consider to be one of the best outings of his career. Jurassic World comes around and shows some real promise, but it features none of the realism that the original managed to create.
Sure, complaining about realism is silly when dinosaurs are taking center stage, but the CGI in Jurassic World is merely passable and way overused, without yielding any kind of affect from the audience. The effects don’t capture the intimacy or depth that the original did, and it produces none of the fear, either.
11. Gods of Egypt
Interesting in theory but not in execution, 2016’s Gods of Egypt was met with whitewashing controversy, critical derision, and about $140 million dollars worth of cringe. In a world where Egyptian gods live on Earth, slightly taller than everybody else, with animorph-powers and lots and lots of gold —ugh. Look, this movie is a bit of a mess.
After director Alex Proyas’ social media meltdown, there is little reason to bash this film more than it already has been. All you need to know is that the CGI is really unconvincing and silly-looking, and it more than earns its place on this list. Despite the great cast and surprisingly expensive budget (for an original property), this movie just looks goofy.
To be fair, we’re not so sure that better digital imagery would have saved this one. For something so expensive and so recent, there is little reason for it to look as bad as it does. With that said, the other movies on this list somehow manage to put Gods of Egypt to shame. So just hang in there. It only gets uglier.
10. The Transformers Franchise
At face value, the CGI in the Transformers franchise looks decent. It’s impossible to make life-like giant alien car-robots out of practical effects anyway. The imagery here isn’t necessarily ugly, even if it isn’t exactly the most accurate representation of the cartoon. What is ugly, however, is the way the CGI is used.
A common complaint associated with this franchise comes from the action sequences. Things are often so loud and explosive, while the Transformers themselves tumble around brawling with each other on-screen. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who is fighting who, and that’s an understatement — you’ll often find the screen filled with unintelligible, sparking, flaming, jagged metal when you sit down for these flicks.
The constant misuse of CGI elements can be considered Michael Bay’s over-the-top chaotic style, but it can also be considered for this list. The look of these films only gets worse with each entry in the franchise, and the visuals only get noisier and harder to soak in. Make no mistake, better visuals won’t fix this franchise. Perhaps nothing can. But the least Bay can do is craft action that looks distinct enough to be memorable, and not scrapyard explosions.
9. Green Lantern
Green Lantern wasn’t a hit by any stretch of the imagination, but it had potential. A new superhero for cinema audiences who could create whatever he wanted out of light with his special ring. Ryan Reynolds! Crazy alien stuff! Cool cosmic adventures! New franchise! Boy, if only.
In brightest day, in blackest night, this movie is an uninspired sight. There is a lot wrong with Green Lantern, but the CGI is a glaring issue. Again, the effects look somewhat mediocre, but they didn’t even use them for anything unique or original. They relied so hard on it that even Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern costume was CGI. It can be argued that that was a creative decision, but it isn’t anywhere near as impressive as it sounds.
Perhaps there isn’t much that can be done to make “light constructs” look believable, but this movie is filled with more of the rubbery aesthetic that comes with bad special effects. Green Lantern has been covered (and bashed) plenty before, and there isn’t much left to say. Maybe he’ll have better luck in the DCEU.
8. The Polar Express
Hold on a second. Just hear us out. This film has become a Christmas classic for many, and despite mixed critical consensus, an all-around lovable family film. However, the animated-motion-capture hybrid thing just isn’t a good look.
It falls into the uncanny valley, where something looks real, but seems just off-putting enough to stir up discomfort in the viewer. This was just when motion-capture was getting good, too. The Polar Express was a huge step forward for that technology and its viability as a filmmaking tool, but something about it just doesn’t look right. The motion capture aims to look natural even though animation yields the opposite effect, creating something that can come off creepy at times. Anyway, here it is on the list.
7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Another film that has been trashed into oblivion, blatantly awful CGI is among the many sins committed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Even at the time, it looked dated. The third act makes the laughable effects and green screen look pretty noticeable. That is, if it all somehow slipped by when Wolverine first looks at his brand new DIGITAL adamantium claws. Fake, CGI claws. Why? What was the point? Was that somehow cheaper to create than the handheld prop that Jackman squeezed his fist around?
Thankfully, the likes of Logan has all but erased this movie from Wolverine’s reputation, but such cheap-looking CGI is inexcusable for a $150 million dollar budget — especially for such a well-known character in a massive franchise with widespread appeal.
6. Lost in Space
A mostly unremarkable TV adaptation, Lost in Space suffers from classic ’90s CGI in all its plastic and ugly glory. It might not be that recent of a movie (or a good one sans CGI), but even by ’90s standards, the effects were pretty cringeworthy. The most obvious cringe-inducer came from the film’s entirely digital character named Blarp.
Look too long, and this nightmare-creature might capture your very soul. This awful rubbery alien thing is the quintessential example of an awful CGI character — maybe even the worst (other than Jar Jar Binks, maybe). Clearly fake and clearly not cute, the visuals in this movie were bad enough without Blarp. We might see some bad CGI in movies, but looking at this horrifying thing shows just how far we’ve come — which is great for cinema, but not so much for Lost in Space. In any case, chalk this cringe-fest up on the list.
5. The Matrix Reloaded
The original film set the bar for modern special effects, both practically and digitally. Its sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, wasn’t exactly met with the same praise. While the film itself received a number of complaints, CGI was relied on a bit too heavily in Reloaded, resulting in (admittedly creative) action sequences that have not held up with time.
Notoriously, the fight between Neo and a multiplying Agent Smith looks like a late ’90s video game, and the physics-defying, car-hopping highway chase sequence doesn’t look much better. The practical action here is still pretty great, but the dated CGI is really distracting. It may have been given a pass at the time, but certainly not anymore. So sadly, despite its predecessor’s reputation, The Matrix Reloaded will forever stand as one of the most snicker-inducing CGI spectacles ever.
4. The Mummy Trilogy
Another case of “cool at the time”, the years have not been kind to these Brendan Fraser-led action-adventures. Even upon release, the special effects here weren’t as scary as they were comedic. These movies are kind of like the Evil Dead series, but with all the of camp and none of the charm. It doesn’t help that some CGI moments were clearly unnecessary, and probably could have been accomplished with more effective makeup and costume design. With mummified victims in the first, the Scorpion King (or The Rock’s uncanny CGI Torso) in the second, and the awful digital armies in the third, this film series has bad CGI at every turn.
Surely, these are some guilty pleasure films that aren’t all that bad, but that doesn’t exempt them from the list. They also deserve some credit for the creative visual idea of having the titular Mummy turn into a sandstorm. But still. Just look at what they did to Dwayne Johnson!
3. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
This entry in the family-friendly franchise was made with the intent of pushing visual effects, and capitalizing on the then-renewed interest in 3D movies. Trapped in a virtual reality video game, the Spy Kids…oh, who cares. It’s basically just Ready Player One, but probably worse. Honestly, this checks all the boxes: lots of green screen, rubbery effects, and characters made up of CGI (mostly, in this case). On top of all this, it is presented in 3D — but not just any 3D. The old-school, throw-everything-in-your-face 3D that somebody somewhere thought was cool but totally isn’t.
Less CGI probably wouldn’t have made this movie any better, but anything is an improvement over these obnoxious special effects. The film’s saving grace? The bizarre finale, which features tons of cameos (Steve Buschemi! Bill Paxton! Danny Trejo as Machete?) and Sly Stallone’s hilarious performance as the film’s campy villains. Yes, villains — plural. One of them is actually George Clooney. It’s a…weird movie.
2. The Lawnmower Man
Released in 1992, this rough Stephen King adaptation might have early technology to blame for its dated and ugly special effects, but that doesn’t give it a pass. Like any other technology, CGI will only improve with time, but this film demonstrates just how poorly digital effects can age.
The Lawnmower Man, a sci-fi-horror flick about Pierce Brosnan experimenting on a “simple” gardener to make him smarter (wait, what?) utilizes heavy amounts of CGI to create an early ’90s interpretation of virtual reality. At the time, it was probably a fresh sight, but today, it just looks laughable. Somehow uglier than early PlayStation cutscenes, the shiny, doughy CGI not only looks unpleasant, but age may have only worsened its aesthetic. It’s become so ugly over the years that it’s now borderline frightening.
The CGI here is truly, legitimately cringeworthy and almost unnerving. Heck, it’s making us uncomfortable just thinking about it. Give it a look and see for yourself—but not too long a look. Because ugh.
1. Star Wars Special Editions
You probably saw this one coming. What happens when you take some of the best looking practical effects in film history, and enhance them with CGI unnecessarily? You get some of the worst moments in the film industry’s most beloved franchise. Some of the Star Wars rereleases actually added welcome changes, but the extraneous CGI allowed George Lucas to commit some pretty heinous retrospective editing. This resulted in overcrowding shots with creatures and buildings, making Ewoks blink, the addition of Return of the Jedi’s awful musical number, and generally tampering with what already worked well. The series has its fair share of shortcomings, but not all of them can be fixed with CGI. These changes are largely unnecessary.
Remember the shot in A New Hope where a CGI creature walks into frame and fills the screen end-to-end, in the middle of dialogue? Then you probably haven’t seen the special editions. You don’t have to, but if you want to see a director go mad with CGI-power, take a long, hard look. And yes, Han most certainly shot first, and don’t you ever forget it.
There is plenty of bad CGI out there, and this list just barely scratches the surface. From blockbusters to B-movies, dozens were left off the list. Feel free to leave some of your favorites in the comments section.
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