Skip to main content

Top 20 Best CGI Movie Moments

Computer graphics have opened up a whole new dimension in special FX, and at their best can possess an artistry and beauty that enhance a great film, or give you something worth watching in a rubbish one. Here are SFX's pick of the best CG movie moments, some for technical reasons, some for groundbreaking reasons and some because they're just damned cool.

But GG isn't just a force for good. At times, when budgets are low, directors are lazy or time simply isn't on the FX house's side, it can all go hideously wrong. For a list of the Top 20 movie CG clunkers, check out the Total Film website.

20 FORREST GUMP (1994)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, putting Gump into all that historical new footage was kinda clever, but the real CG breakthrough in this film was the idea of using the technology to remove something rather than put something into the picture – in this case Gary Sinise’s legs. At the time, it was such an ingenious and new use of CG, many in the audience assumed that Sinise must be an amputee. But really, it was only an extension of the technology that had allowed wires to be painted of stunt shots.

19 THE ABYSS (1989)
Water tentacle

James Cameron just can't make a film without advancing CG in some way (Terminator 2, Titanic, the upcoming Avatar). The Abyss was no different, giving the movie world its first CG water. The showstopping effect, though, was the alien “pseudopod” creature – a kind of watery, shapeshifting tentacle. The 75-seconds of pseudopod imagery took eight months of work to achieve (about the same period of time it felt like you were living through when you saw the movie). It won an Oscar for best visual effects.

The Clone Evolves Into Ripley

Overall, the film was a severe letdown, but it had a few genuinely great moments, and this was one of them. Using simply morphing technology, a clone grows from a baby to an adult version of Ripley in effectively unsettling style. It was certainly better than the CG versions of the Aliens (which, especially underwater, looked and moved like Wile E Coyote in a gimp suit) and proves that CG can often be effective when at its most subtle.

The festival

The follow-up to one of the greatest anime films ever may have left people cold in terms of its overly complex storytelling but its marriage of traditional animation and CG borders on visual poetry at times. The highlight is a lush, eye-popping festival scene which seems illuminated by some mystical, internal power all its own. Rarely has CG looked so downright beautiful and emotive.

16 CONTACT (1997)
The tour of the universe

The film opens with what was then the longest ever continuous CG FX shot (outside of an animated CG movie that is, but you know how marketing people can bend the truth in the name of a good angle). Starting with an image of the Earth, the virtual camera pulls back through the solar system and then through the galaxy and into the outer reaches of the universe, until the stars finally vanish into the blackness of the pupil in the eye of a young girl. The girl’s eyes were digitally recoloured to make them match those of actress Jodie Foster, who plays the same character later on, as an adult.

And now to the Best CGI Movie Moments 15-11