50 Best Movie Special Effects

Amaze your eyeballs with the impossible

King Kong (2005)

The Effect: The titular giant ape (Andy Serkis) fights dinosaurs, falls in love and generally monkeys around.

Why So Impressive: An extension of techniques pioneered by Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis in The Lord Of The Rings , with Serkis acting the part via motion-capture technology.

Geek Fact: Serkis travelled to Rwanda to study mountain gorillas in the wild.

Gremlins (1984)

The Effect: Gremlins go on the rampage in a bar and a cinema.

Why So Impressive: The sheer number of Gremlins required for the scenes, which, in pre-CGI days, were a mix of marionettes and mechanical puppets designed by Chris Walas.

Geek Fact: The scene of Gremlins tying Gizmo to a dartboard was the FX technicians’ revenge for having to deal with the troublesome prop.

A Trip To The Moon (1902)

The Effect: Astronauts launch a rocket into space, which strikes the Man in the Moon in the eye.

Why So Impressive: Because this was made over 100 years ago, and is still one of sci-fi’s most recognisable images.

Geek Fact: Georges Méliès made an estimated 23 films in 1902 alone.

Return Of The Jedi (1983)

The Effect: Jabba The Hutt, the biggest slug gangster on Tatooine.

Why So Impressive: This is how they did things back then – a puppet that weighed one ton and took three and a half months to construct.

Geek Fact: The sound effects for Jabba’s movement were created using, amongst other things, a bowl of cheese casserole.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest (2006)

The Effect: Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) comes after Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to collect his soul.

Why So Impressive: The animators took Nighy’s motion captured performance and transformed into him into half-man, half-octopus, with an impressively mobile tentacled face.

Geek Fact: The starting point for Davy Jones’ skin was a coffee-stained Styrofoam cup.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

The Effect: The crew of United Planets Cruiser C57-D are attacked by an invisible ‘id monster’ that can only be seen when fired upon.

Why So Impressive: Forbidden Planet is a what’s what of the state-of-the-art circa 1956 (matte paintings, chunky robots) but this animated beast remains the most startling effect today.

Geek Fact: The id monster’s outline was animated by Disney veteran Joshua Meador.

Society (1989)

The Effect: Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) discovers that his family are alien parasites capable of connecting their gloopy appendages together in an orgy of “shunting.”

Why So Impressive: The aptly named Screaming Mad George doesn’t hold back, creating a congealed mass of flesh that required a dozen crew members to control.

Geek Fact: Director Brian Yuzna hung a sign on the “shunting” set door that read, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Monsters (2010)

The Effect: Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able) make a perilous journey through monster-“infected” Mexico.

Why So Impressive: Director Gareth Edwards redefined what can be done with FX. Shooting fast and loose on a tiny budget, all references to the monsters – including signs – were added in post-production.

Geek Fact: Aspiring directors take note. "You can go in the shop now and you can buy a laptop that's faster than the computers they made Jurassic Park on,” says Edwards.

The Fly (1986)

The Effect: Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) gene-splices with a house fly and gradually transforms into Brundlefly.

Why So Impressive: Huge attention to detail on prosthetics and puppetry enabled a plausible process that made the switch from Goldblum’s performance to the final FX onslaught a real emotional kick.

Geek Fact: The final Brundlefly was designed first, and FX supervisor Chris Walas worked backwards to figure out the transitional mutations.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

The Effect: A flashback shows Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) as they looked twenty years ago.

Why So Impressive: Rather than recast, the film pioneered digital skin-grafting to make Stewart and McKellen look younger.

Geek Fact: The technique involved splicing contemporary footage with old photos of the actors.

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