Computer-generated imagery has changed the entire landscape of film-making in every genre. Whether just doubling up images of sheep to make a farm look like an actual farm to movie sets that are constructed of basically only green screens (looking at you, Jupiter Ascending). CGI has enabled us to present worlds and sequences that were previously impossible to represent on-screen. Many directors have used groundbreaking CGI that has changed cinema forever.
But we have also witnessed many missteps in the field. Clumsy representations of monsters, embarrassing backgrounds projected on green screens, and unrealistic faces have all made for unappealing and poorly received movies. Even some beloved films have accrued critique for CGI in certain scenes, or patterns in CGI use.
In this list, we’ve included examples of some of the poorest CGI use we can remember. Now this list was obviously made with regard to the technologies at hand (and the budgets at hand) when the film was made. The first green screen used in film shouldn’t be judged with the same criteria as The Hobbit, for example.
15. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
What happened? While the Harry Potter franchise has become known for some expertly done CGI, if you can remember way back when the movies were first being made, before kids started dressing up like Gryffindor students every single Halloween, you might remember some less-than-believable CGI from The Sorcerer’s Stone. Two moments in the film stand out: the troll fight, and Voldemort’s head plastered on the back of Quirrel’s skull. The troll looks like a paper cutout for most of the scene, so badly does it blend into the scene. And Voldemort’s face looks like a Walking Dead version of Clint Eastwood. Yikes.
14. Wolverine: X-Men Origins
What happened? It’s safe to say that Wolverine: X-Men Origins was the most poorly received of any of the films of the X-Men franchise. And that’s not saying that much. While massive blockbuster hits (and admittedly one of this author’s favorite superhero franchises), not all of the films have been critical successes. In general, X-Men movies have had great CGI, from Banshee’s shockwave to Mystique’s transformations to plenty of mutants working telekinetic powers, with metal or other materials. But the Wolverine movie fell short in almost every regard possible, and the CGI was no exception. Critics have especially ridiculed Wolverine’s CGI claws. These especially stand out since they were done better in earlier films, making the ineptitude of a later film inexcusable.
13. The Matrix Reloaded
What happened? Sometimes movies that are iconic in some of their effects stick out where they fall a bit short. Everyone who considers themselves a movie buff has seen The Matrix and remembers that memorable bullet-stopping scene. But one of its sequels in particular has been memorable for other reasons. The Matrix Reloaded features an action-packed scene between Neo and hundreds of Agent Smiths. While there are definitely cool (though inarguably hokey) parts to the action, at some points the scene just starts to look like a cartoon, with bodies flying all over and limbs looking inhumanly floppy.
What happened? Catwoman has been through the wringer as far as critical reception goes, and we hate to continue heaping on the hate, but it’s just too easy with a movie like this. When Halle Berry‘s Patience Phillips makes her transformation into Catwoman, with enhanced abilities and an almost liquid movement, she makes an entrance that is so edited it appears to be a bad video game intro – you know, where the story is introduced, before the player has any agency. She leaps from building to building, her body bending unrealistically and plastic skin reflecting an unknown light source. When compared to all the other poorly done parts of the movie, the CGI hardly sticks out. But it left enough of an impression to include in this countdown.
What could have saved it? Halle Berry’s movements and general sensuousness gives off a cat-like vibe anyway. Preventing this misuse of CGI wouldn’t have saved the movie, but leaning heavier on Berry’s movement could have helped, at least in this small problem area.
11. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
What happened? Steven Spielberg and a tremendous franchise with a returning Harrison Ford: what could go wrong? Well, the magic of the grounded previous episodes in Indiana Jones was lost in this overly CGI-ed film. Some critics have already lambasted the cheap looking explosions and odd computer-generated monkeys for being unbelievable and amateur. While the movie itself wasn’t the worst ever created, its CGI made it one of Spielberg’s worst, if not the absolute bottom of the pile of his list of accolades.
10. Fantastic Four (2015)
What happened? A movie slammed for both its lack of character development and lack of interesting or engaging fight scenes begs the question of what it was doing for the two hour run time. We know for sure that time spent watching it would have been more valuable sleeping, and it sure wasn’t filled with interesting visuals. Settings looked like they were picked out of stock photography albums, with rocky backdrops announcing the green screens that were heavily leaned on throughout. The final conflict, which is too much at once, too late in the movie, is full of expected and unimpressive CGI blasts and bubbles.
What could have saved it? We know this movie faced a lot of issues through its development, so its hard to point a finger at a single problem source. All we know is that a superhero movie should have believable effects, fight scenes, and settings. F4 f-ed up on all of those counts.
9. Jaws 3-D
What happened? Though it’s the oldest film on this list, the special effects used in this one are bad enough to earn it a spot in the top ten, even considering the much more limited resources at its disposal. The infamously poor scene features a shark in an indubitably un-menacing advance towards the camera, until it shatters a previously unnoticeable glass window. After a cut, we see water pouring into the protagonists’ lookout point. The immobile shark dragged across a background compliments the least believable glass breakage every created. A classic for sure!
What could have saved it? The salvation of the first Jaws movie was its lack of depiction of the shark. That’s how they built tension. Jaws 3-D could have benefited from a bit more of this strategy. Trying to show the shark more made everything less scary and less believable.
8. The Hulk
What happened? The Hulk‘s central character was the main problem in the film. Being basically a jolly green CGI giant, it’s hard to overlook that he looks pasted into most scenes, and his weird blue pants look like they’re just an extension of his cardboard skin.
What could have saved it? Some critics have said the issues with Hulk’s clothing could have been resolved by using a simulation to make the clothes hang instead of cling. Not sure if this one was on the artistic directors or the actual technology available, but watching The Hulk felt like watching some bootlegged version leaked a year before production finished.
7. Die Another Day
What happened? The creators of this 2002 James Bond flick must have gotten projects mixed up with a Miniclip game production. Because that’s exactly what this one looks like. Sheets of blue plastic-looking waves with shard of unconvincing ice hunks floating in them provide the obstacle for this not-so-thrilling Pierce Brosnan moment. And before you blame it on how long ago this was made, remember that the first Lord of the Rings movie was released the year before. Seriously, watch this and wonder how these two films could even have been released in the century, let alone decade.
What could have saved it? During the movie’s credits, there were some actual shots of surfing, which were pleasant enough in their realism. But seeing as reasonable CGI work has been done since 2000 and James Bond has always been known for big budgets, there seems to be little excuse for this one.
6. Freddy vs. Jason
What happened? The caterpillar monster. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what we’re talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, avert your eyes. This is some of the least thrilling CGI possible. A combination of drug use, bad CGI, and awful acting make for a scene that leaves an impression in the worst way possible. Jason appears as a bong-toting worm, reminiscent of The Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, and kills the other person in the room before being slurped through the door in a physics-defying, all-too-unscary exit.
What could have saved it? Portrayed more obviously as a hallucination or some dreamlike apparition, perhaps the CGI would have been more forgivable. But as an oddball assassination, the whole thing falls flat and fake.
5. Green Lantern
What happened? If you saw it, you know the CGI’s biggest issue can be summed up in two words: the suit. Now, this isn’t a summation of all the movie’s CGI issues, and not even touching on the movie’s broader issues (like script, character, pace, and key digressions from source material). The movie was basically Ryan Reynolds and a green screen, and for as much stake it put into CGI, it wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. But returning to the suit. Fans were in an outrage at the idea of it, and the execution left all of their fears realized. Neon green with a glowing center. Farcical, an embodiment of why this movie didn’t work. The creators learned their lesson, it seems, as Green Lantern 2 never gestated.
4. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2
What happened? We’re passing over the Aslan-like wolves of the Twilight saga in order to settle on a scene that sank an already sub-par film. It’s one thing to use gratuitous or unneeded CGI during action-filled, dragons-breathing-fire, werewolf-saving-vampire kinds of scenes. But for the reveal of a child? Unnecessary bordering on the absurd. Sure, they wanted to make it otherworldly and a bit superhuman. And it was worth not using the original plan of an animatronic Renesmee. But this feels like a case of overcomplicating a minute problem.
What could have saved it? This one’s almost too easy. There are babies everywhere. Use a real one. Maybe it won’t move its face in exactly the way you wanted it to move, but that’s kind of what makes babies look… you know… real. On the other hand, maybe they could have CGI-ed some expressions on the other actors’ faces too. Kristen Stewart‘s infamously one-note expression reflected our response to the movies pretty well.
3. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
What happened? Video game movies have always walked a fine line between pandering to fans and actually trying to create a movie worth its budget. The Mortal Kombat franchise is a perfect example of this balance. In Mortal Kombat:Annihilation, the creators tried to reflect an ability within the game that allowed fighters to transform into monsters within the storyline. While fine in theory, the CGI was too behind to make this a riveting part of the climax. And when the hero and the villain both transformed into embarrassingly clunky dragon-like creatures, hissing and yelling, with the supporting characters watching the green screen in faux anticipation.
What could have saved it? It’s pretty harsh to tell a director to shoot lower, but what seemed like an attempt at being ahead of the CGI curve ended up being evidence of the movie’s lack of innovation. If they had waited two years to release, the technology might have caught up with their vision.
2. The Mummy Returns
What happened? The Rock on a scorpion body. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, first of all, don’t bother. And secondly, you’ll know why this is on the list the second The Rock’s face appears morphed into this weird computer-game-boss abomination. In a movie where special effects were actually on top of their game for most of the film, the atrocity of this lobster centaur stands out in the worst way possible. Honestly, who is responsible? And why would they do this to us?
What could have saved it? Dwayne Johnson is a god among men. If he were the villain in some movie about Egyptian movies, the climax would be awesome. Why not just leave it to his acting, domineering physique, and on-screen charisma? We don’t need six legs and a pixelated thorax to convince us of high stakes on screen.
What happened? Dissertations could be written on the strangeness of this venture. With a budget of $45 million and a well-known cast, Foodfight should have been more of a success. More of a success being relative to its complete bombing with critics, viewers and the box office. But obstacle after roadblock arose and squashed the all-CGI flick’s of endearment to audiences. For starters, it was fundraiser and businessman Larry Kasanoff’s first time directing an animation flick. Then there was the fact that the film was announced in 2000 and released in 2012, partially blamed on part of the film being stolen at one point (but who would steal this garbage?), causing a total project restart in 2004. The plot is as equally perplexing as the film’s origin story, with food brand icons rallying to fight a war together. The casting was bizarre while high profile – not many films could bring Hilary Duff, Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria and Wayne Brady in on the same project.
And now we come to the good stuff: the actual animation. It looks as polished as you might expect from a sixth grade fooling around in free-for-download animation program, which is explainable when reviewing the hands the film had passed through, resulting in a half-finished, sloppily edited film with CGI that was far surpassed by other fully computer generated animations such as Toy Story.
What could have saved it? After years and millions wasted, nothing.