CGI is a lot like mayonnaise; it doesn’t age terribly well, too much can be overpowering, and if it’s bad, it’ll make you sick. While bad CGI can be a lot of fun to watch, it can also really pull the viewer out of the illusion of reality, making the manufactured qualities painfully obvious. That being said, bad CGI does not always equate to a bad movie. Plenty of excellent films have some iffy CGI quality. Usually, though, if the attention to detail is not there for the CGI, it will almost always be missing in other areas as well. When it’s really bad, like the entries in this list, however, it is impossible to ignore and difficult to forget.
If we were to look at movies of all shapes and sizes, the list would be a lot longer, but for now we will only focus on bigger budget films, or at least films that have no excuses for their brutal CGI quality. While there are some CGI settings and environments that look worse than pre-millennium video games, this list will focus only on characters, the people and animals in movies that move and react to their environments in whatever hilariously fake way the VFX teams could muster up.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the 15 worst CGI characters in film.
15. Dain II Ironfoot – The Hobbit
The entire Battle of the Five Armies scene is just jam-packed with flashy CGI, sometimes warranted and sometimes not. Dain’s character is one of those unnecessarily computerized scenes. After shooting in costume, Billy Connolly’s character is completely redone in CGI, but, instead of highlighting the character positively, as was their intent, it makes him look foolish out there, like a glowing cartoon character bouncing around on a silly pig. While I am big fan of the films and I think they are wildly over-criticized, this scene deserves any hate it gets.
14. The Deer – The Ring Two
This film had a $60 million USD budget, and I can guarantee that not one of those dollar was spent on creating lifelike CGI deer. Instead, I posit, that the directors simply used the deer from the classic arcade game Big Buck Hunter, or better yet, that these gentle creatures were designed purely from memory, and buddy’s memory wasn’t too sharp to begin with. What we get is just super blurry and out of focus deer to confuse audiences so we can’t focus on them.
13. Dark Seekers – I Am Legend
The original plan to create the zombie-like dark seekers in I am Legend was to use real actors and practical effects. But, for whatever reason, be it time and/or budget, the amazing latex masks that people saw in makeup test footage became, instead, computer-generated, rubbery-faced, dead-eyed, completely unbelievable things. In what is otherwise a pretty good movie, these fake CGI zombies are a major blemish on the finished product, unscary and kind of laughable really.
12. Jar Jar Binks – The Phantom Menace
Jar Jar Binks might be the most reviled character in film. Partly because of the legacy of the Star Wars Saga, partly because he doesn’t quite fit into the feel of the films, either way Jar Jar stinks. He feels like something completely alien to a film that’s filled with them. While his design might not be the worst (in fact it might be the best on this list), his stupid antics, childish humor and punch-worthy face, plant him firmly in the minds of Star Wars fans as a very dark bruise on one of a greatest set of films in history. For posterity’s sake, please note that if this character’s faults end up being intentional, I will apologize to poor Jar Jar.
11. Green Lantern – Green Lantern
This sweet gem had a budget of $200 million USD, which is just crazy to think of because it’s almost entirely CGI, and often really, really bad CGI. Like everything in this movie is CGI, and so much of it is painfully bad. The settings, while creatively imagined, are cartoonish and insanely fake. Ryan Reynolds, star of every other superhero movie not starring Chris Evans or Ben Affleck, wears a stupid CGI costume. Even the mask, the little eye covers he wears is CGI. How come the 1950s black-and-white Zorro television series didn’t need a CGI mask, but Hal Jordan’s little sleepy mask needs it?
10. Jabba the Hut – Star Wars: A New Hope
When George Lucas and the Star Wars team decided to digitally remaster the original films for the 20th anniversary, I think most fans were excited. But when Lucas started changing elements of the originals, it drew the ire of many. Outside of the “Han shot first” arguments, the most egregious of the additions/changes is the scene with a CGI Jabba confronting Han Solo. By himself Jabba looks decent, but when Harrison Ford interacts with him, it descends into chaos. The eye lines don’t match up, Han’s hand seems to float through Jabba’s skin, and don’t even get me started on the tail stepping. I read somewhere that the original film did OK. Why change it unless it is absolutely necessary?
9. The Langoliers – The Langoliers
Yes, it’s a TV miniseries, so it’s not fair, but neither is life, and it wouldn’t be right to ignore this sewage. I’m sure that Stephen King’s imagination can be hard to animate, but I find it hard to believe that anyone looked at the final product of these stupid flying meatballs and said, “Yep, that’s exactly how I pictured them.” I write this, but it’s possible that he was helping out his neighbor’s kid or something, giving them a chance to hone their graphic design skills on a major television event, it’s tough to say for sure. Either way, these brown PAC-MAN things come on through and start eating everything in their path like Marlon Brando circa 1960, and boy oh boy do they look bad. This probably should be number 1 on the list, but it’s so depressing I’ll just put it here.
8. The Hulk – The Hulk
The movie may not be as bad as people like to say, but much of the CGI is. Eric Bana’s Hulk looks foolish, almost like he’s been face swapped, and the way he interacts with other characters and the environment makes it impossible to appreciate. Between his skin texture and his hilariously animated shorts, it’s difficult to say which is the worst part, but it’s not really surprising that they called for a reboot only 5 years later. Even though Bruce Banner was hit with gamma radiation, his superimposed body shouldn’t glow on screen the way it does. Superheroes are fake, sure, but bad CGI is the only reason we can’t take this Hulk seriously. And maybe the Hulk dogs too. Yeah, one of the reasons we can’t take this Hulk seriously.
7. Malebolgia – Spawn
When Spawn first meets Malebolgia in Hell, it should be a scary moment, but it’s just not good, not good at all. Instead of looking imposing, he is made to look superimposed. Whoever on the VFX said they could make a realistic demon with CGI just blatantly lied. It looked like an animated dog or wolf, not anything like the original comic designs, so I’m not even sure what they were going for. Outside of that, I actually don’t mind this film. The cape takes some heat, but it’s not nearly as bad as the garbage fire that is Malebogia.
6. Sharks – Deep Blue Sea
The scene in this movie when a shark eats Samuel L. Jackson is meant to be funny and jarring and is it ever, but not for the right reasons. The floppy, gummy computer-built shark that pops out to eat the CG Mr. Jackson is just dreadful. Sam Jackson is even faker than he is on Snakes on a Plane. It all makes for a really ridiculous scene in total. Now, as miserable as this scene is, and it really is miserable, it has actually become far more popular than the film itself. But with a $60 million USD budget and 24 years to build on the work done on Jaws, there is no excuses for the appalling quality. Shame. Shame.
5. Liu Kang – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
The moment when Liu Kang changes into his dragon form could have been so epic. I’m sure that was the initial vision. Instead, what the audience got was a CGI gut punch. But, since I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, let’s look at the positives. By the time this scene takes place, luckily for us, the shiny veneer of the film had already been stripped away. Whatever excitement there was for the anticipated Mortal Kombat sequel had, by this time, already been sucked out of us Dementor-style. But on this one I feel for the actors. As Jax with his metal arms is forced to fight what is likely the fakest CGI monster I’ve seen, I begin to feel pity for him, and, as he tirelessly punches the butt of the poorly superimposed monster, you can see shame welling up in his eyes, carefully replaying the choices he has made to lead him to this sad moment in his career.
4. The Claws – Wolverine Origins
Straight out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Toontown, comes Wolverine’s claws from the masterpiece that is Wolverine Origins. Not a character, sure, but it’s part of a character. Seriously, how did these babies get into the final cut? Like, do you ever enviously seethe over the fact that some incompetent numbskulls are able to hold prestigious jobs when they clearly have no idea what they’re doing? I like to picture that some delivery guy on his first day was dropping off a package to the studio when the director, mistaking him for a designer, yelled at him to sit down and finish the claws, so he did. Someone better have been fired for these pieces of trash. These claws single handily ruined how I feel about animators to this day. I can’t even watch Saturday morning cartoons anymore because of these hand turds.
3. Catwoman – Catwoman
There are many films that overdo CGI unnecessarily and this is one of the worst. It seems that anytime Halle Berry was required to move, they would use CGI to capture it. The transformation scene has a cat, less realistic than Garfield breathing on her. What? The basketball scene, oh my stars, which might be the worst scene of all time, makes me physically violent I hate it so bad. She takes the ball, does a few tricks with it and jumps off the wall exclaiming, “I haven’t done that since I was a kid.” What? What haven’t you done? A travelling violation? Smarten up, Catwoman.
2. Blarp – Lost in Space
This creepy little lizard monkey was originally supposed to be an animatronic puppet, but it was decided at some point to do it with CGI instead. Great. When has this ever turned out to be a good decision? Blarp or Blawp, or whatever, looks just atrocious, almost 3D-like because he stands out so badly against the others in the scene. The worst part is, as he squirms about in Joey Tribbiani’s hands, the fingers don’t even react. Heather Graham comes in and starts petting the thing, not even touching the little guy, it’s really embarrassing for everyone, even me, and I didn’t even help.
1. The Scorpion King – The Mummy Returns
This one is something alright. It’s almost as if the makeup and costume team quit mid-production and the only computer they had to develop a Scorpion King model with was a Commodore 64. The textures, the colors, everything; it’s brutal. You have to wonder what the Rock did to the VFX team for them to make him look like such a jabroni. With a $98 million USD budget, The Mummy Returns and the Sega Genesis version of Dwayne Johnson take the title of worst CGI character ever.