Is there anything worse than really, really bad CGI in a movie? The story can be wonderful and the characters engaging, but if the effects look like they would be more appropriate to a third grade play, it completely ruins the experience.
Of course, when it comes to superhero movies, the stakes are high, because it’s near-impossible to create a movie about comic book heroes without a little help in the FX department.
From the superpowers themselves to the occasional fantasy landscape (where super-adventures take place somewhere other than Earth), superhero movies are heavy on the CGI… and occasionally, that becomes a problem.
Bad CGI knocks the viewer straight out of the fantasy world that a movie creates; we might be able to believe that a man can fly, or that claws can pop out of his hands, or that magic exists… but in order for that to feel real, it needs to look real.
Watching a villain who looks more like they belong in a low-budget video game just isn’t scary. Watching a hero whose powers look tacked on without any real though just isn’t inspirational. And having to cringe at terrible effects is just plain distracting.
From individual scenes that stand out to entire movies that are just plain bad, we run down the worst of the worst when it comes to superhero CGI.
With that said, here are the 16 Superhero Movies Completely Ruined By Cringeworthy CGI.
16 Justice League (2017)
One of this year’s biggest movies, and one that fans have been waiting for since Superman first came to the big screen, was Justice League. The DCEU’s big team-up movie brought together some of the biggest names from comics for the first time, and despite criticisms, it is one of the best offerings from the DCEU so far.
However, there is one thing that pretty much everyone agreed on; the CGI was well-nigh unwatchable. From Henry Cavill’s disappearing moustache and plastic-looking cape to Steppenwolf and his parademons, the effects in Justice League just weren’t good enough for a superhero movie this massive.
This was due at least in part to the extensive reshoots that left insufficient time (and swallowed a chunk of the budget), but at this point in the superhero genre, DC simply needs to do better.
15 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
There are a plethora of problems with Origins: Wolverine, and the CGI is definitely up there with the biggest of ‘em. Wolverine himself doesn’t need much help, given that his superpower is the ability to heal and to pop claws out of his hands.
However, this film is one of the few that spectacularly failed when it came to making those claws look believable. They appear flat, unshaded, and very obviously computer-animated.
In one scene, it looks like the claws aren’t even attached to Hugh Jackman’s hands, and in others, they are so ridiculously long as to be physically impossible (do they bend? are they telescopic? do they just rip out of his elbows?).
The terrible CGI doesn’t just end there, though. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is accepted as the worst part of the movie, and his CGI’d lipless face is definitely not doing this version of the character any favors.
14 Blade (1998)
Blade is arguably not a terrible superhero movie (even if it is often forgotten about in the modern age of the MCU and the DCEU), with its great fight scenes and Wesley Snipes doing incredible work as the comic book vampire-hunter.
However, if it’s been a while since you watched this movie, expect to be surprised by just how awful the CGI is when you re-watch. There is obviously no way that a film from twenty years ago is going to be able to compete with the best of the FX from today, of course, but several scenes here are just flat-out awful; especially the final battle with Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff).
The moment where Frost is chopped in half by Blade looks like it is a cartoon drawn over an actual action scene - and even if fans can get past the cheesy evaporation of the vamps in the rest of the movie, that moment is enough to make anyone cringe.
13 Green Lantern (2011)
A film that always makes it onto ‘worst superhero movie’ lists, one of the biggest issues with Green Lantern is the horrible CGI.
It’s so bad that even the star himself, Ryan Reynolds, pokes fun at it in Deadpool when he says "just don’t make the suit green, or animated." The suit in question was unquestionably one of the worst parts of Green Lantern.
It looked cheap, fake, and strangely managed to be both flat and over-complicated at the same time. The suit alone wasn’t the only problem with Green Lantern, though.
The other lanterns, the alien races, the projections that are the heart of the Green Lantern’s powers, even the other planet that Hal Jordan visits to train… they are all cartoonishly bad.
12 Fantastic Four (2005)
Really, both the original Fantastic Four and the reboot made a decade later could find a place on this list, as neither showcase the kind of CGI that we have come to expect from superhero movies.
The saddest thing is that the 2005 Fantastic Four wasn’t terrible in every aspect, and if the effects had been great, it could have been recognized as one of the better superhero movies in the modern renaissance.
Unfortunately, the fun tone and the straightforward origin story are overshadowed by flat and fake-looking effects. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) looks about as plastic as an actual Stretch Armstrong doll, and the final battle with Doctor Doom involves some of the most awkward lightning bolts we’ve seen in recent film.
11 Batman v Superman (2016)
Batman v Superman is a film that falls down on several levels, but like Justice League, one of the biggest problems was how utterly awful the villain looks. Doomsday, one of the biggest bads of the DC universe, should have been a terrifying, hulking beast.
The DCEU may have managed to get the villain’s size right, but the resemblance ended there. From the bulky body to the flaming eyes, Doomsday was poorly animated and just not threatening at all. From his first appearance in a trailer, people were unimpressed, but held onto the hope that the CGI wasn’t finished, or that Doomsday would somehow become better… but were sadly disappointed.
Fans drew comparisons to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and cheap cave trolls, and while response to the film as a whole was mixed, response to Doomsday himself was pretty unanimous: he was terrible.
10 Daredevil (2003)
Daredevil has been redeemed in the live-action comic universe by the Marvel/Netflix series, but this earlier attempt at bringing the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen to life fell horribly flat. The visuals were particularly frustrating because they were so inconsistent.
There were a few moments that looked really phenomenal, and the color palette was perfectly suited to the character. Because there were great moments, though, the bad moments just seemed even more obviously… bad.
A lot of the movie was made without relying on CGI, but Daredevil’s showdown with Bullseye (Colin Farrell) looked like something out of a video game. Sadly, it just tried to go too big too soon, with too small a budget. Even Ben Affleck himself freely admits that this was a low point for his career.
9 The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may not be as well known as some of the other DC (and Marvel) comic movies, but it’s still a comic adaptation, and it certainly suffers from the curse of terrible comic CGI.
The worst offender by far was the hulking Mr Hyde that appeared out of Jason Flemyng’s Dr Jekyll. His battle with a bizarrely veiney red monster-type (who had abused the serum themselves) is the stuff of bad-CGI legends.
Add in a character turning into an unconvincing colony of bats and flying away, a particularly bad portrait of Dorian Grey, and a few other gems that pervert both the original literature and the comic book that inspired the film, and we have a winner for one of the worst CGI offerings in recent comic memory.
8 Catwoman (2004)
Even if the CGI on this monstrosity had been perfect, there still wouldn’t be much of a salvageable movie in Catwoman.
A film made by people who seemingly never actually read a comic, but definitely watched the Tim Burton version of the character, Catwoman fails as a comic book movie on almost every level.
CGI cats are one of the more disappointing parts of the film, as are some of the bigger action pieces; the film may have been inspired by some video-game style shots when it came to seeing Halle Berry run over the rooftops, but fans would have hoped that the finished product didn’t look like it was directly lifted from a mid-budget game.
From costumes to CGI, this was simply a terrible outing for Selina Kyle and one of the best characters that DC has to offer.
7 Elektra (2005)
After the terrible response to Daredevil, it’s impressive that the follow-up, Elektra, even got made. However, the Marvel name (and the low bar set before the beginning of the MCU) was enough to warrant a sequel… and it’s one where the CGI is even less impressive than it was in the original Daredevil.
The worst-performing movie featuring a Marvel character since Howard the Duck, Elektra’s villains included Tattoo (Jason Flemyng), who may be the worst-ever CGI character whose physical shape is not in any way altered.
Instead, his tattoos literally come to life and burst out of his skin, and they do not do it well. Instead, it looks like a cheap mock-up of what we should have seen on screen… and the rest of the characters aren’t much better.
6 Supergirl (1984)
Like Catwoman, this early attempt at a female-fronted superhero movie couldn’t have been saved with the best CGI in the world, but even for the mid-'80s, the effects here are absolutely terrible.
Helen Slater’s Supergirl spends a reasonable amount of time flying… in front of a hazy green screen (or blue screen) that would be hard to accept as a believable background even in 1984.
The finale battle (between Supergirl and a witch who are fighting over a hot guy, just in case you were wondering how this film approached the idea of a female lead) features some equally terrible moments. Many of the early Superman films haven’t aged well, but the effects here are about as bad as the rest of this best-forgotten movie.
5 Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
The second of the early offerings in the Superman franchise that can’t quite blame its terrible effects on the style at the time is Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
Often considered the worst of the Superman movies (not including Supergirl, which is in a league of its own), Superman IV had to work with about a quarter of the budget that the earlier films had-- and it shows.
The blue screen is so obvious that from the opening moments that the fans are cringing. The battles between Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow, voiced by Gene Hackman) are painful to watch, and the low budget that led to these terrible effects are echoed in every other aspect of the film. From lackluster sets to stilted writing, The Quest For Peace deserves the scorn heaped on it over the years.
4 Spawn (1997)
Another oft-forgotten member of the superhero genre that is best-forgotten, Spawn is the epitome of bad ‘90s super-movies. This ex-assassin hellspawn had a half-decent shot at a good movie, thanks to the popularity of the character in the mid-nineties, but the terrible FX make the movie impossible to really enjoy.
The various weapons and spikes that Spawn creates throughout the film would give Wolverine’s Origin claws a run for their money in terms of fake-looking weaponry, and his suit may not be quite as bad as that of Green Lantern, but it’s certainly not a whole lot better.
The worst of the worst, though, is Spawn’s signature cape. In the film, it appears to be cheap, billowing, strangely two dimensional silk, that doesn’t quite obey the laws of physics. Not in a cool, superheros-are-above-science kind of way, either. In a ‘good lord, why does it look like that’ kind of way.
3 The Spirit (2008)
It’s also one that could almost be considered to include intentionally bad CGI, with a heavily stylized approach that was clearly banking on appealing to the same audience that loved Sin City.
However, without the sold plot and characters to back up the unique style, The Spirit just doesn’t work on any level.
In addition, the style isn’t as clean and consistent as that of Sin City, so it just ends up looking low-budget and lazy, rather than crisp and striking. The Spirit was a dud on every level -- which may be why it’s so rarely mentioned in the lists of superhero cinema, and the CGI certainly didn’t help with that.
2 Hulk (2003)
The same year that Daredevil made its terrible debut, a new version of Hulk found his way onto the big screen. Before Mark Ruffalo became the Bruce Banner that we love, Eric Bana took on the role. Ang Lee’s version of Hulk was sad and moody, and his transformation was impressively bad.
Bright, flat colors combined with awkwardly bulging muscles seemed to take inspiration from Popeye, rather than the Hulk comics, and it started with a normal-looking Bruce Banner turning a fun shade of green.
However, it was his CGI hair that really topped things off. For some reason, the closeups of moody Hulk involved the wind blowing through a crop of black hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pixar film.
1 Suicide Squad (2016)
This DCEU offering may have done a decent job of bringing Harley Quinn to the big screen for the first time (thanks largely to Margot Robbie), but it dropped the ball on multiple other levels, including the all-CGI villain and his largely-CGI sister, Enchantress (Cara Delevigne).
Both of these big villains failed to impress on the big screen, and the bizarre CGI choices were a big part of the reason. From Incubus spinning through the city in a cloud of cheap effects to Enchantress’s weird green undulating, these villains just didn’t work on the big screen.
The villain problem was far from the only one with Suicide Squad, but if there were some compelling (and believably rendered) bad guys in this film, it would have been a whole lot better.
Can you think of any other superhero movies that were completely ruined by CGI? Sound off in the comments!