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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The 10 worst CGI special effects in movie history

We take a look at ten of the most glaringly, ruinously and hilariously fake special effects of the digital age

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
&
David Ehrlich
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The shark in Jaws, the T. rex in Jurassic Park, the E.T. in E.T.—Spielberg’s iconic trio of movie creatures all had one thing in common: They were all “practical” effects. That is, all three of those nonhuman characters were actually constructed by prop makers and captured on camera just like any of their human co-stars. That’s not the case with Jurassic World, where your favorite dinosaurs from the original (as well as some monstrous new ones) were mostly created by computers and added into the movie during postproduction. As today’s summer blockbuster movies make all too clear, computer-generated imagery (CGI) is still a work-in-progress. Here are ten of the most egregiously awful examples, in big-budget movies that should have spent their money on a puppet or two.

  • Film
  • Thrillers

There’s a kind of zany fun to be had with Renny Harlin’s crap-looking nautical thriller about genetically engineered sharks: “Bigger, smarter, faster, meaner” went the tagline. But unless helpless laughter was the intended effect, the film fails miserably—never more apparently than in this scene in which Samuel L. Jackson gets chomped mid-rant.

  • Film
  • Science fiction

The scene that inspired producer Joel Silver to claim that the Wachowskis had raised the bar for special effects so high that “now there is no bar,” the sight of Neo fighting a phalanx of Agent Smiths looks exactly like a man fighting a computer program. While that may have been the idea, the weightlessness of the visuals make the stakes feel so low that the movie can never recover from the silliness.

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  • Film
  • Fantasy

The first 40 minutes of this postapocalyptic spectacle, in which Will Smith plays the only person on Earth who hasn’t been transformed into a sprinting cannibalistic zombie, are actually quite chilling and atmospheric. And then the Infected come out of the shadows. Rather than casting a feral army of human extras to play the undead, director Francis Lawrence defaulted to an endless wave of identically bald CGI baddies.

  • Film
  • Drama

This would be Stanley Kubrick’s final film—the director died of a heart attack six days after screening his final cut. Shamefully, the studio decided to alter his last offering, softening some orgy nudity with black CGI silhouettes that spoil the mood. Roger Ebert famously slammed the maneuver, calling the altered cut the “Austin Powers” version.

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  • Film
  • Science fiction

The idea of master filmmaker Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) doing a Hulk movie was rapturously received, and if we’re being honest, his effort, loaded with psychodrama and complexity, turned out to be a lot more interesting that most superhero movies. But persuasive CGI effects—not to mention those dumb purple shorts—were beyond the director’s grasp. He made up for it eventually with Life of Pi.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

We happen to think that this maligned fourth installment of the Indiana Jones saga has a lot going for it, but Shia LaBeouf’s “Mutt” Williams is a major misstep, and the infamous sequence in which he swings above a high-speed chase is downright indefensible. Combining bad green screen, worse compositing and some CGI monkeys for good measure, this is the least believable moment in a movie that ends with aliens using the power of raw knowledge to disintegrate a Russian Cate Blanchett. (The clip below is a fan-made homage.)

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4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), the troll

All told, the Harry Potter films do a great job of conjuring a believable world of witchcraft and wizardry, but the series didn’t exactly hit the ground running. The first film—the one where Voldemort is a digital face smushed into the back of a lackey’s skull—bottoms out with a scene in which Harry and his pals fight a troll so fake that it defies any sense of movie magic. Accio…better special effects!

  • Film
  • Horror

No list of CGI disasters is complete without a nod to The Mummy Returns, which ends with a fight between Brendan Fraser and this hilarious chimera of digital sloppiness that resulted from someone trying to Photoshop the Rock’s head onto the body of a giant scorpion. Not even the likes of Sharknado insulted the mind as thoroughly.

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  • Film
  • Science fiction

Released to celebrate the 20th anniversary (of George Lucas’s bank account), the Special Editions of the original trilogy weren’t loved by anybody. But even with those schlocky new droids and the “Han shot first” controversy, the worst offender was a fake-looking Jabba the Hut, never properly integrated into his awkward scene with Harrison Ford.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The 20th Bond film had plenty that was wrong with it—from excessive product placement and gadgetry to an overabundance of Halle Berry. But its absolute nadir (possibly of the whole franchise) was the sight of then-Bond Pierce Brosnan’s parasurfing over a fake CGI tsunami and crumbling ice glacier. Come on, guys: Can’t you do better?

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