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Top 10 Films With The Best Special Effects

Will Carroll . . . Comments

Cinematic portrayals of war, epic fantasy battles and fiction brought to life are all prominent parts of filmmaking as we know it today because of special effects. They can turn an artist’s vision into an icon of popular culture and they can make each film unique from the last. Without the imagination that goes into ground breaking special effects we’d have no variety whatsoever in the modern film industry.

This list covers a handful of films that I believe to be truly outstanding with their use of special effects, and despite there being a plethora of films that could be on this list, these films are the finest example of modern day technology pushed to its very limits.


Deep Impact


Deep Impact is a 1998 science-fiction disaster film which finds a 7-mile wide comet, discovered by young astronomer Elijah Wood, to be heading toward Earth with the predicted consequence of mass extinction. The film is particularly known for the impact of the comet fragment, detached from the much larger original comet that is destroyed in a suicide mission by a team of specialist astronauts lead by Robert Duvall, as it hits the Atlantic Ocean and causes a supersonic mega tsunami.

The power and destruction of the comet fragment is really quite impressive, and the tidal waves that proceed to engulf New York City are incredible to behold. This film may not be the highest-earning film, nor have won an endless list of awards and commendations, but it still remains one of the greatest and most realistic disaster films of our time and utilizes special effects to a level of outstanding realism for its time.


Saving Private Ryan

220Px-Saving Private Ryan Poster

I was hesitant about placing a war film on here, due to the nature of its special effects being very different to the other entries. However, this film is arguably the greatest war film of all time and not only contains the acting talents of Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore and Giovanni Ribisi but also holds Steven Spielberg as the director of this emotional tale of 7 soldiers’ brave campaign through World War II.

The film is noted for its opening 27-minute portrayal of the D-Day Normandy beach landings on June 6th 1944. This opening alone is the reason this film deserves a place on this list. The gritty realism has been said to be too much for surviving veterans, and younger generations are struck by both awe and horror at the loss of life. A film that can evoke so much emotion through incredibly realistic special effects and carefully planned screenplay deserves not only to be on this list, but to be seen by everyone as a reminder of human history and the arduous campaigns that fill our past.


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope


All of the original trilogy Star Wars films contain incredible special effects for their time, but I thought it fitting for the film that started it all should be here to represent them. George Lucas crafted the most memorable depictions of space ever to appear on the big screen, and the unforgettable cast and plot helped to make Star Wars one of the greatest film series of all time.

For a film of 1977 origins, Star Wars manages to still captivate and wow modern day generations with its battle scenes and intelligent use of special effects, and have helped make this series one of the targets for modern day visual artists who hope to recreate Lucas’ space opera classic.




Michael Bay’s robot science-fiction film was met was immediate praise from critics and the general public after viewing, most notably for its breathtaking special effects. The 32-feet tall Optimus Prime wowed audiences with his stunning realism and and attention to detail. The film was nominated for four Oscars regarding its visual technologies used, and it’s not hard to see why. This film has spawned two successful sequels, the latest being the 4th highest grossing film of all time. Michael Bay spent a fortune on the special effects in Transformers, and it easy to see where the money went.


Independence Day


Director Roland Emmerich, known for his audacious use of special effects (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) brought us this alien invasion disaster film in 1997 which showed off some truly spectacular scenes. A personal favorite is the memorable attack on the White House, in which a beam from an alien ship obliterates the building into mere dust and fragments.

This film received a medium response by critics, but mainly due to the acting and plot as the special effects were regarded highly despite this. The explosive invasion of Earth holds some truly stunning scenes of special effects, and is a must see for sci-fi action film lovers.


District 9

220Px-District Nine Ver2

Peter Jackson produced this Best Picture nominated alien epic, and his talents couldn’t have been portrayed any better. The South-African based science-fiction film entices viewers from its very opening as an alien mother ship is seen hovering over Johannesburg . The sheer size and immense power of the ship is some of the greatest vehicular design in all of film making and it is clear that director Neill Blomkamp’s childhood dreams of CGI masterpieces were brought to life. It is said he wanted Weta Digital to work on the effects for the film’s creatures, but they were busy working on James Cameron’s Avatar. However, with other tools and people at his disposal, Blomkamp crafted a sci-fi benchmark.


King Kong

220Px-Kingkong Bigfinal1

With a budget of $207 million dollars, the special effects in King Kong still remain some of the most amazing ever used. Peter Jackson brought Kong to life through his intuitive screenplay and some help form the versatile Andy Serkis in his role as Kong. For his performance, Serkis donned a full suit in the shape of a gorilla in which he would act out the Kong motions and behavioral patterns. Serkis’ performance as Kong earned him significant praise and Jackson’s adaptation of this into the film was also praised. King Kong was criticized for its three hour running time, but the epic fantasy adventure is still adored by loyal fans and Kong is still one of the most lifelike fictional creatures ever to appear on screen.


Lord of the Rings: Return of the King


Another Peter Jackson entry here, but he returns as director in Return of the King to end the most memorable epic high fantasy series of all time and craft the 5th highest grossing film of all time. The final battle scenes, taking place outside of Minas Tirith, remains the most spectacular fictitious battle ever to grace our screens.

J.R.R Tolkein’s Middle-Earth writings are some of the most renowned in literature, and Peter Jackson has brought to life Tolkein’s vision in amazing fashion. It took myself 10 years to finally get around to watching the films, and they lived up to everything I hoped they would.




Christopher Nolan is known for creating mind-boggling, eccentric plots and mesmerizing screenplay, but Inception has to be his greatest piece to date. With an all-star cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joesph-Gordon Levitt, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy amongst others, Inception is the intriguing look into the world of dream theft and how our world can be so easily manipulated when we lie in bed every night. A particular scene in the film shows off the visual effects to a stunning level when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Arthur, is running down a revolving corridor in zero gravity. This scene was filmed with an actual corridor placed on a revolving axis, to simulate the anti-gravity effects. Watching the scene alone brings about a excited nausea, I can only imagine what it must have been like to film such a stunt.




Did you really expect anything else? The only film to gross more than $2 Billion, nearly $3 Billion, and a film that creator James Cameron had to wait seven years for technology to catch up with. Officially budgeted at $237 million, and going on to gross $2,782,275,172, Avatar changed the way filmmakers and cinematographers view the world of camera effects and CGI, and has been called a ‘breakthrough in cinematic technology.’ The film made extensive use of cutting-edge motion capture filming techniques to produce a true 3-D experience, that was filmed entirely in these ground-breaking techniques as opposed to having a 3-D overlay placed on the film at the end for that final drop of profit. The average film is shown in 24 frames per second, and Cameron has already announced his plans to film the sequel to Avatar in 60 frames per second. Cameron has taken CGI and technology in cinema to incredible heights, and he shows no sign of stopping his forging of modern day special effects.

  • skywatcher

    No “The Giant Claw?” That Mexican puppet scared me silly!!!

    • Notimpressed

      These films are all American films, as to be expected with this completely biased website.

      But I will let this one slide; the lion’s share of film financing for special effects is in America.

      • Scott

        Then stop reading this “biased” website you giant whiner.

      • Sgt. York

        Missed District 9 Did you?

        • vanquiz

          District 9 is #5, Sgt. York.

    • Really good list. Transformers was impressive – as was Inception. Movies are only going to get better with special effects as technology advances.

      • mjlangenbrunner

        Listverse you need some editing.

        Transformers was nominated for 3 Oscars not 4. 2 of the nominations were for sound editing and mixing.

        Also the film wasn’t necessarily “met with immediate praise by critics.” It has a rotten rating of 57% on

        • Fred

          In fairness, he didn’t say it was met with universal or even wide-ranging praise. To fit the bill, only two critics had to have offered some praise right after seeing it. A very low bar, indeed.

  • Not a bad list Will and no doubt some of the films you didn’t include will have their supporters. Has a list ever been done for “Worst Special Effects”? I’ve no doubt that there’d be many nominations.

    • Hercules321

      Lol true.. The werewolves in Twilight make me laugh every time!

  • Hercules321

    Good list. District9 was an incredible movie! I hope there is a sequel..

    In terms of special effects maybe “2012” also deserved a spot.

  • skywatcher

    I still feel that nothing tops the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. That was the first time I felt a movie deserved a major award for Special Effects alone. You can argue that other movies since then have had better effects, and that’s what this list is about, but Jurassic Park will always be special to me because it blew away everything I’d seen up to then.

    • ILuvDubstep

      But the T-Rex wouldn’t exactly qualify here as that wasn’t CGI, it was Animatronics..

      • Arnor

        The title says Special Effects. It doesn’t specify CGI.

      • skywatcher

        I usually go by the title or the overall intro. I didn’t see a restriction to CGI.

        • Maggot

          Well it’s not like the T-Rex was the only element of special effects in that groundbreaking film anyway (I know that wasn’t the intent of your initial comment). As many have already said, the film should be on this list. I just remember seeing it when it first came out and being completely awestruck by the realism. It was like nothing seen before it.

          • JurassicSpark

            Actually, the T-Rex seen in “Jurassic Park” was a combination of animatronic and CGI. Puppets were used in closeups, but CGI was used for wide shots, e.g. the final roar with the Jurassic Park banner falling around the T-Rex.

        • Greg

          There’s also a difference between special effects and visual effects. Special effects refers to anything done on set (not computers), like animatronics or miniatures. Visual effects are effects done on a computer and added after its been filmed, cgi

    • Jennifer

      What is great about Jurassic Park is that nearly 20 years (God that makes me feel old) it still looks fantastic.

  • what about ‘sand sharks’? Those sharks can swin in sands!

  • AussieNik

    Oh come on lol!!! No Out Of africa???? Those lions looked real as!!! lol!! Aussie Aussie Aussie lol lol lol!!!!!

    • NiksMum

      I hope a wallabe eats your face

  • Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, eh? Where? You need to define special effects first.

    • skywatcher

      Special Effects started largely with the work of George Melies around 1900. So it’s been improving for over a century. But it’s all eligible to be the best. From the Robot Monster’s bubble radio to the stop-motion of Ray Harryhausen to the carpet-covered dogs that were the Killer Shrews, it’s all Special Effects.

      • Apart from a couple, most are CGI movies. And if one includes Inception, doesn’t make any sense to not have Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 on the list. Strange selections.

        • Jim

          yes, Terminator 2 should definitely be on this list +Matrix (see comment below)

          • Maggot

            I believe T2’s “liquid metal” CGI technique was first used in The Abyss, another relatively early use of CGI and where the effects don’t dominate the entire film as with some of these newer ones coming out these days.

          • The Abyss , while a pretty ordinary movie in many ways, had some awe-inspiring special effects. I’ll still watch it just for the beautiful effects.

        • Maegar

          nikosJune 20, 2010mpravo vagkeli poli oraio iamhtma!mporis na mou lisis mia aporia? pos tha to apothikefso etsi oste na paizi san avi h san opiodipote allo arxio gia na to valo sto diadiktio?

  • Backdraft also had some incredible effects. Very underrated movie.

  • Ben

    Weak list. Content is all opinion and common knowledge, and grammatical construction is poor.

    • Exactly. The “creator” (*cough* *cough*) of this shyte list must be caned, at the very least, Starship Troopers-style. THIS LIST BOTH SUCKED AND BLEW AT THE SAME TIME!

      • bam

        I think this list would have been much better if they said special effects for their time. Obvisiously effects get easier and easier. We should praise the ones ahead of their time. Such as king kong. Yes to use today it may look silly but it was made in 1933. That’s more impressive to me than the 20 movies that come out each year with explosions and what not. I would have liked to see movies that came out before 2000

    • kit1


      • Pauly

        This entire list needs to be scrapped, and every movie replaced with the REAL winners; every SyFy original ever made on basic cable.

  • lilkty

    I am going to go with the above comments and say that I agree Jurassic Park should be here. Those dinosaurs were amazing!

    • Beej

      I agree. That T-Rex still scares the sh*t out of me. LOL

  • Disappointing list man. :-/ Not possible to make a Top 10 special effects movies list. Has to be Top 20. 2001: A Space Odyssey should have been included. Can think of a dozen better ones than Independence Day, Inception and Deep Impact.

  • Jim

    I know that you are going to get a lot of “what about [insert name of B grade film here] ?”.

    But, you don’t mention the Matrix. This movie has been so influential in terms of special effects; bullet time, time slicing, Hong Kong style wire work and much more. Many of these effects are so common-place now that many people don’t realise how ground-breaking they were in 1999.

    • Xyroze

      Couldn’t agree more. The Matrix, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 set some of the biggest benchmarks in movie special effects and were renown for such, much more so than several entries on this list.

  • skywatcher

    Maybe we need two lists, one for CGI and one for non-CGI. I have to say that a lot of the early CGI really sucked. A lot of prehistoric monsters were running around without shadows. And Avatar really sucks in 2-D.

    • jerk

      your mom sucks in 2-d

  • The best special effects film bar none is still “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It was the only film in which the laws of physics (including gravity and mass) are treated with any respect in it’s effects concepts. (No sound in space, what a concept.) And hate to burst the bubble of the “no film before Luke Skywalker is worth considering” club, but I’d stack the effects images in the silent masterpiece “Metropolis” against any of the listed films.

    • dizit

      Metropolis was/is an amazing film for it’s truly ahead of it’s time special effects. I can still watch it with awe.

    • Jose

      “Here’s some intsteering …Extraordinarily intsteering data presented in a “let date speak manner.”You know I’ll want to check data before commenting but I sure will.Anything you can add about how to do that will be welcome. You may have already guessed I’m a tech dummy.Twain,I think the N&O will resist any way it can reporting the truth of the Duke lacrosse case.That’s what it’s done from the beginning when it described the accuser as “the victim” and framed the students as her victimizers.We need to build public awareness to the point that enough decent citizens demand corrections, and force someone at McClatchy to step in and try to undo as much of the harm the N&O has done as possible. We different but similarly focused action in the legal domain. Corrections, removals, redresses and apologies by those two domains will leave Duke University as the final major contributor to the monumental injustice we call the Duke lacrosse case. Duke will be the toughest of the three domains to set right. Joan,Like so many others, I continue to admire what you re doing. You’re making a real contribution to the struggle to right major injustices.As regards what I posted about Melanie, take a look at ME’s comment and my comment to him.If you still think I need to do something by way of what I posted about Melanie’s “new,” I’ll take a look at what you say.ME,You’re right. Melanie was more restrictive than I said.But she did say “new,” and I linked 3 times to her post so readers could see for themselves everything she’s said there.When corresponding to or talking about Melanie I try to do two things:1) Make fact-based criticisms.2) Understate my criticisms.If a reader makes the smallest mistake in an otherwise very important and correct comment, Melanie picks out the small mistake for response. Witness, for example, what happened at the Editor’s Blog a few days ago.Days after Melanie had said she’d make no more comments on the most recent EB Duke lacrosse post thread, and days after she’d said nothing in response to thoughtful and very informative comments, a few commenters said something about a story being in the Sports section.Very soon thereafter, Melanie ** PRESTO!! ** commented. She corrected the readers, telling them the story had appeared on page one.When you seek to be fact based and contend with a dissembler, the dissembler always has you at a disadvantage.You’re restricted to facts. The dissembler can pick at your facts and dissemble too. Woe betides you if your facts aren’t right. The dissembler will cluck-cluck from the highest rooftop.That said, if you’ve been visiting EB for some months, you may have seen where many times Melanie has said something I said was wrong. Almost every time I’ve quoted back to Melanie what I’ve said, and asked her to tell me and readers what specifically, factually was wrong with what I said. Almost always at that point, “the blog moves on.” I’ve said enough about Melanie. She can comment if she likes. Folks at the N&O tell me she often looks in at JinC; and you know from her comments at EB that she keeps following things even after she says, “the blog moves on.”Anon and Twain,Thanks again for fine comments.Joan and ME,Fine comments, also. And lots of people who don’t know what you do at EB would thank you tonight if they knew. You add a great deal to the EB . You and others like you, by keeping up the readers’ side of the “conversation” insure that EB isn’t just all “talkie-talkie” N&O PR.Thanks all four of you.Best,John

      • Louis-Alexandre Simard


  • Will Trame

    Good list, but some honorable mentions go out to “The Matrix” (already noted in the comments of course) and a number of the “Star Trek” motion pictures.

  • Pisspott

    Jurassic Park DUH

  • kannanchettan

    where is Jurassic park ?

  • Cata

    I feel bad. You did not include many of the special effects films that made these films possible. You will hear cries for many moons, friend.

  • I couldn’t help but wonder why Harry Potter isnt on this list ?

    • Is That Suppose To Be Your John Thomas?

      Because you’re a filthy mudblood and Dumbledore liked to laugh behind your back…..

  • dizit

    Brilliant list.

    Of course there are many, many other films with equally good special effects, but any list restricted to 10 is going to have to leave out the majority of qualified possible entries. Will has made his choices from those available to him and they are good choices. Sure, there are a multitude of films I’d have chosen over some of these, yet I respect all of the films on the list and can easily see why those were included.

    Will, I think a follow-up is in order.

  • Phil Giordana FCD

    Too SFXian…

  • Some good choices here Will.

    Having worked with CGI/live action in Hollywood, I know how difficult it is to produce these wonderful effects. So, while there are, as many posters have already pointed out, many other films deserving of a place in a list such as this, the choices made here are all good.

    Perhaps, as a couple of posters have already pointed out, a second list (or a third) is in order. One list could be CGI, one animatronics.

    Whatever, great list Will :D !

  • Amidoinitrite

    This list is too movie-centric. This type of close-mindedness is all too typical of someone from your culture who supposes that everyone likes movies. What about plays? Where are they on this list?

    • Phil Giordana FCD

      “Top 10 plays with the best special effects”.

      I’d love to read that stuff!

  • Greg

    Good list…but one tiny correction (that means nothing in the context of the list…but I wouldn’t be an internet commenter if I didn’t point it out).

    Independence Day was released in 1996, not 1997.

  • Saving Private Ryan best war film of all time? Are you kidding? Its bloody awful, lots of moralistic discussions, improbably language and caricatures of every character. Utter rubbish, and I say this as a veteran of 2 tours of Iraq and 4 of Afghanistan.

    Best War films ever? Thin Red Line, Dam Busters, Paths of Glory, Waterloo, Battle for Algiers, The Longest Day (Sorry Canadians), Battle of Britain, Gettysburg, All Quiet on the Western Front, Flags of Our Fathers and if you want a historically questionable yarn, Where Eagles Dare!

    On Special Effects, Im with the chap that suggested 2001 as well, and Avatar was a hateful waste of pixels as a movie, but the effects were good…

    • Arsnl

      Pearl Harbor.

      • Pearl Harbor?

        Words now fail me….

        • Arsnl

          Red Dawn

          • You will be saying U571 next!

    • DanF

      I reckon 99% would disagree with you on that.

    • Doh! Nearly forgot Das Boot!

      • mom424

        and that would be an egregious error…

        • Das Boot is a brilliant film!

          It has the rare quality that you sympathise with the crew, even though they are Nazis, then still able to feel a sense of satisfaction (Spoiler alert) at the end and their boat is destroyed, killing most of them. The characters are believable, unlike those in Saving Private Ryan. Don’t misunderstand, SPR is a good film, but I think Will is over-egging it slightly by describing it as “arguably the greatest war film of all time”…

          Happy to hear alternate suggestions.

    • ConstableDubs

      Der Untergang is the best film about World War II. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Hitler is fantastic. The directors took a big gamble in humanizing Hitler and making him into a three-dimensional character, and it paid off.

  • Jay Karlson

    2001 was definitely ahead of its time…

  • Krispy


  • oouchan

    Agree with just a few on this list…however it really lost all credibility having Avatar as number one. It\’s more subjective so I\’m not really impressed. Also, there are several Japanese films that could outdo the ones listed.

    Not a fan of this list.

    • anyonjwtw

      Avatar had an average story, mediocre acting and many plot holes. But this isn’t about the film, this about the effects of that film. And for that avatar has to be number one.

      • oouchan

        I don’t really agree with that. Avatar had pretty colors that gave the effects some merit, but it was totally lost on a plot that had me bored silly. So with all it’s cuteness…it totally lacked the stuff to keep me entertained. Now…had the story been good, it would be number one, but I would say Star Wars (for its time) was better.
        Just like this list, this is my opinion. :)

  • DanF

    Would have liked to see a tip of the hat to some claymation classics like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the argonauts, Sinbad etc.

    I also have to agree that the Matrix should have been mentioned for the reasons posted on previous comments.

    • Maggot

      Jason and the argonauts

      Great call Dan, I was going to mention this one if no one else had. Hard to define what “top” means in a list like this, as old-school techniques will look hokey and dated by comparison and will forever be improved upon going forward, but if an homage is going to be paid to the original Star Wars by claiming it as “the film that started it all”, then Ray Harryhausen’s landmark work on JatA is a glaring omission. This was one of my favorite films as a kid, and still love it today.

      • DanF

        Yeah i know what you mean, the way the monsters moved used to really frighten me as a child. Might see if i can find it on amazon on DVD.

      • skywatcher

        The battle against the skeleton army, the Colossus of Rhodes coming to life, the Medusa… magnificent effects by the master! I’d love to see a list of Harryhausen’s greatest effects.

  • The term best sadly eliminates many many stunningly well-done special effects in their time… like the first version of Kind Kong was truly masterful… AND a great movie. Or even When Worlds Collide? Ray Harryhausen gets overlooked for the easy computer effects…

    • Maggot

      The term best sadly eliminates many many stunningly well-done special effects in their time

      Agreed. I said something similar just above your comment here. For example, the Red Sea parting in Ten Commandments was a stunning special effect for its time, yet it’s not really fair to compare that to something like The Matrix. Another “problem” is that the earlier cutting-edge films might’ve had an amazing scene or two featuring some groundbreaking technique or fantastic visual, while later films could exploit it for use throughout the entire film.

  • Carmen

    Transformers was immediately praised? I must have missed it. This list should have been broken down into CGI and practical effects, then Jurassic Park could have gotten the top spot it deserved and Carpenter’s The Thing would have at least gotten a mention.

    As for Avatar, maybe if Cameron had chosen a color other than bright blue it would have been more convincing, it still looked cartoony to me.

  • joe

    it says in the opening spiel that “without the imagination that goes into groundbreaking special effects there would be no variety in cinema at all” i beg to differ. i think that its because of special effects there is little variety. there is an over reliance on fx and directors and producers rely too heavily on them. often at the expense of script and plot.

    • piperlauderdale

      I agree completely. Look at Tim Burton. Beetlejuice, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Batman Returns; those movies are just as magical as they were when they first came out. Meanwhile, Sweeney Todd already looks really dated, same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland is just ugly. I know that now he thinks he can make bigger and more beautiful worlds, but instead it just looks lazy.
      The magic of Tim Burton was that his worlds were always real, as in you could reach out and touch them. Alice and Wonderland could have been so perfect, had he not tried to take the easy way out.
      Sorry, I know no one was talking about Tim Burton, but he is a perfect example of a brilliant artist spoiled rotten by CGI.
      IMHO. :)

  • Jakeryder

    CGI sucks. The best special effects are the ones you never notice. Watch Citizen Kane it has more special effects than Star Wars but you can never tell.

  • JDCarna

    King Kong s u c k s, he didnt even have big gorilla ba lls

  • Armadillotron

    This is my personal view, but I think the Transformers live action movies are horrendous. When the Hell did Megatron look like a cheese grater and turn into a plane? This-“we can`t have a robot that turns into a Nazi pistol,” is political correctness gone mad I swear.

    • Lammy

      I don’t think them not having him turn into a pistol was a matter of political correctness as much as having a forty-foot robot turn into a pistol is just plain silly.

  • Kiwi

    Not a bad list, but I tend hate CGI. I just think it looks fake. I would suggest The Thing for some good non-CGI effects.

    • Which The Thing?




      • nadia

        obviously the 1982 version…

        • Kiwi

          Yeah the 1982 version. The new one was mostly CGI, and I’ve never seen the 1951 version.

          • The 1951 version, the one that started it all, is old school effects. Well worth a look.

          • Roman

            Actually, the 2011 prequel used mostly practical effects, and only CGI’d in things like tentacles and more fire (they didn’t want the stunt men and women to be on fire too long, because being on fire is kind of bad for you). If you would have watched the documentaries on the DVD (which you may not have, I realize), you’d have seen that all the monsters were animatronic.

  • captain churro

    avatar is like porn, great to look at but the plot sucks

  • Sbtier

    No I, Robot? Terrible acting except for the robot, but I like the special effects.

    Thanks for the handsome picture of Viggo Mortensen, though.

  • Terry

    No Matrix?

  • magoopaintrock

    This isn’t top ten movies with the best special effects. This is Will’s top ten DVD picks for a Saturday night.

  • Thorlite

    I think you could have included an older film, jason and the golden fleece perhaps, also Jurassic park should have been on there, as a movie it moved cgi to another level and still stands up today.

  • Wow. ;D

  • squid

    all CGI? smh.

  • Old_Film_Fan

    Interesting list, but rather limited. As noted above, “special effects” have been an integral part of the movies since the movies were invented.

    A comprehensive list of the “best” special effects movies should go back several decades.

    One film I would definitely include is “San Francisco” from 1936, which vividly recreates the terror and confusion caused by the 1906 earthquake, it’s after-shock, and the fire that destroyed the city.

    The initial earthquake scene is presented using a montage of rapidly increasing quick cuts showing the destruction and the reactions from the victims. (The more dramatic “aftershock” scene follows the same format.) As a result, the viewer is drawn into the chaos.

    One stroke of genius on the part of the film’s director was to distract the viewer’s attention, so when the earthquake finally hits, it’s impact is more powerful from an emotional standpoint.

    This grainy clip, which shows a portion of the initial earthquake scene, only provides a hint of what I’m talking about.


  • petet2112

    A Very Good List, indeed. But for me and considering as to when the movie was made, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957) starring Grant Williams was incredible and fun to watch. There is a mathematical theory called “The Square-Cube Theory” which this movie takes full advantage of. And, I have also pinpointed that for me personally, this is the movie or “thing” that has given me a lifelong and morbid fear of Tarantulas. But when I watch the movie now, without the Tarantula, the movie would be another dull B-rated movie.

  • GK

    Wow, I cant believe Matrix is not on this list. There were some effects in the first movie that had never been used before.

  • Andres21

    No Figth Club ???…This S:.U:.C:.K:.

  • Voorhees

    Avatar was awful and had the same look as the star wars prequels, not realistic at all, more like a cartoon. This just led to companies adding crappy 3D after the fact to make extra money. Even Cameron is rereleasing a 3D version of Titanic. Also his 60fps thing is only because Peter Jackson is filming The Hobbit at 48fps.

  • Dana

    To this day i do NOT understand what the fuss is about Inception.

    • bwahhhh

      just watch it dude. it’s really good!

  • Lisa Marie

    At the time I am commenting here, “giant whiner was what I loled at”. That being said I loved District 9 (minus the cursing). However, there is a site I love, HISHE, and they did a spoof. I hope they have part 2. Minus the cursing…

  • dizit

    Clips of each of these films, showing an example of the FX, would have been a major addition to this list.

  • lol :)

  • Meh. “Best” special effects is a matter of opinion. We need more lists with researched facts, not biased opinions.

  • Maggot

    Waiting for someone to make the claim yet again of how great and under-appreciated of an “actor” Andy Serkis is, in this case for his “Oscar-worthy portrayal” of King Kong. Animated CGI footage created using motion-capture assistance is not “acting”, kids.

    • Animated CGI footage created using motion-capture assistance…

      Exacalicious! Originally, animated motion-capture cgi was called

      brute-force animation and the person being used as a model for the cgi was considered nothing more than a body upon which to plot points. That’s all it is. There is no acting involved.

      • The_Snowdog

        other than that do you like segues?

        • Lifeschool

          Yes! Twice every morning and once every night. Can’t beat it.

          • Twice every morning and once every night

            shhhhhhh You promised me no one would ever know ;)

    • I worked with cgi/live action from the get-go of it’s use in film. It was/is an exciting field. I was present at the first application of brute-force animation, it was a commercial for the can industry, and the work the animators and directors do creating it is amazing.

      I once included a clip of that process on an earlier list. I’m looking for it, and will included it here if I come up with it. :)

    • Trinity enigma

      Aaah but when he does actually act he is pretty good at it.

      • when he does actually act he is pretty good at it

        No argument there! :)

  • john

    no 2001: a space odyssey?

  • OddJobb

    Pretty good list, but I think it could have been improved (or another list) if was the ‘Best Special Effects by Decade.’
    For example, 1990s could be either Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park, 1970s could be Star Wars etc. etc.

  • VFX

    i’m a visual effects artist myself, and although I agree for the most part with the list, here are some other ones people who work in this business tend to respect for innovation, originality, or just plain great work : Day after tomorrow, Spawn, Sin City, Iron Man, Terminator 2, Matrix, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth

  • Anton

    Great list, finally I’d seen at least half of the movies on a list.
    P.S. Had it been an overall best movie list, from these movies, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King would’ve won.

  • Bassbait

    Where’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? It has more convincing special effects than Avatar.

  • BryanJ

    Good list. The Wikipedia article on the most expensive films in history brings up some more good examples.

    Pirates of the Caribbean (2007)
    Tangled (2010)
    Spider-Man 3 (2007)
    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)
    X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
    2012 (2009)
    Quantum of Solace (2008)
    Terminator Salvation (2009)
    The Golden Compass (2007)

  • ConstableDubs

    How about The Thing. It’s sad how puppets and animatronics from 1982 look better than most CGI from 2012.

  • George

    star wars IV has no business on this list. an excellent story for sure but the special effects were pretty crappy. the special effects of the prequels with the story of the originals would be an awesome series to watch.

    • atheistnation

      you sir are the deffinition of an idiot. how dare you insult star wars like that. That movie revolutionized the special effects industry for its time and still looks great today. go crawl into a ditch and die.

      • George

        you are the definition of a virgin who has no taste. not to mention your lack of reading comprehension skills. this isnt a list about movies that revolutionized special effects. this is a list of movies with the best special effects. the original star wars were crap. rubbing vaseline on the the lens to try to blue the wheels out does not make good special effects. once you crawl out of your moms basement and lose that virginity that you have been guarding with your life you will realize that.

        • Will Carroll

          I fail to see how his sexual prowess has anything to do with his argument, but its a cute idea.

  • dragon

    also the dragon from Dragonheart was a spectacle in itself

  • atheistnation

    as a film buff and a SPFX/CGI artist I find this list offensive. where is 2001? where is blade runner? where is Alien? where is predator? this guy has no idea about real special effects.

    • Crumbed Jutzes

      I have to agree with you, atheistnation. I expected more from a list so named. The omission of Blade Runner is particularly telling. Most disappointed.

  • Kay

    Surprised Terminator didn’t get a mention here, again James Cameron who set the motion with CGI in this film.

  • Jozef

    Fail fail EPIC fail. This list really is made by someone who has NO clue what good special effect are. No Blade Runner , No Aliens , No The Thing . Shame on you SHAME on YOU. You just took some DVDs from your parents collection and thought “Wow ! I know what special effects are !”.

  • Sgt. York

    There were no special effects in Avatar. It was entirely CGI. If you want a film that pioneered a “breakthrough” in technology with people acting in front of green screens, then you should have chosen “Sky Captain and the word of Tomorrow”, which made far better use of the concept.

    And TRON should have been in there somewhere.

  • Sidhant

    Absolutely jurassic park deserves place betn top 3.A very perfect special effects.

  • Tuesday

    Good God all you people do is complain…..complain…. And complain.

  • darkknight9761

    Very, very good list! I was a little surprised at some the entries, but after watching clips on You Tube, I would have to agree with every entry on this list! I liked the suggestion by cqsteve; what about the worst special effects list? That would prove very interesting!

  • Ben

    I think that District 9 only had Peter Jackson tied to it so that it would have a better chance at success; he didn’t have any actual involvement in its production.

  • adam

    Avatar at number 1? Wow, just…Wow shitty, shitty shit. It wasn’t impressive in 3d and it is just as unimpressive without it. Nothing there that regular, run of the mill sci fi movies(which Avatar is, as it isn’t special at all) don’t have.

  • Justin

    I thought the effects in The Fountain might be mentioned since they were done using microscopic slides of plant pollen and stuff like that. The director didn’t use CGI because he wanted the movie to have a more timeless look and feel to it. It’s a beautiful movie overall, but definitely in the visual sense.

  • Nate

    You should do a greatest Practical Effects list ….

  • Cody

    It’s a disgrace that you list the original Star Wars as having better special effects than the newer entries…the lightsabers alone have been upgraded so much it’s not even funny.

  • moviebuff

    good list… i would have put Jurassic Park over King Kong though… just my opinion

  • moviebuff

    good list, but i would have put Jurassic Park over King Kong in my opinion

  • grey_fox

    Maybe it would be better if we change the list to Top 50 or Top 100 Films.. in no particular order.. Well.. Just to make everyone happy.. Just a random thought..

  • The_Snowdog

    special effects or no special effects – both Inception and Avatar sucked

  • Forbidden Planet.Not only a great plot, Leslie Nielson as a leading man but groundbreaking special effects for the 50s

  • Gaara

    It’s the square-cube law, not a theory.

  • Crumbed Jutzes

    ‘…this film is arguably the greatest war film of all time…’

    Guess what the operative word in that sentence is.

  • dave

    Cgi overload! One throw away comment about Star Wars, the opening sequence is still amazing (should be way higher) where is T2, Jurasic Park or Aliens?

  • No list such as this is complete without listing Terminator 2. There are other movies that I would like to have seen mentioned, but this list without mentioning T2 is an utter failure/joke.

  • Hellion

    I would like to add “The Matrix” to the lists and subtract the worthless Transformers movie.

  • Hellion

    I agree with you. He also left off The Matrix which basically revolutionized movie making in 1999.

  • S

    ….Tron Legacy? How can you have a list of films with the best special effects and not have Tron Legacy? Heck, most people only saw it for it’s effects!

  • Applerod

    I don’t know exactly what criteria the author was using, but 2001: A Space Odyssey seems like a notable omission..?

  • Mabel

    Avatar was ALL special effects and no story. But it looked pretty.

  • Scott

    Where’s Jason and the Argonauts and the original King Kong?

  • axest2el

    Whot? Huge mistake putting an entry with “Saving private Ryan” while forgetting about one of the movies that revolutionized the industry at the time, and it’s still pretty much a masterpiece in terms of Special Effects, that movie is the Matrix.

  • Eier

    To the author have you ever seen – We Were Soldiers? That’s a war movie with some brilliant effects – Saving Private Ryan? don’t quit ur day job

  • John Egan

    I think I would have chosen 2001 A Space Odyssey over Star Wars and kinda think The Ten Commandments should have been squeezed in, if only as an honorable mention. The parting of the Red Sea may be a little dated now, but was incredible for its time.

  • Reblogged this on cashzilla.

  • Anonymous

    i just love how people think special effects had only come out when Computer Generated Images had appeared… there’s always been special effects in film. I would like to give the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey a thumbs up for special effects. Natural special effects are a lot more intriguing to see then something done up on a computer, but hey that’s just me talking.

  • Cactuszack

    Too bad Avatar blew. Looked good, bad acting, terrible plot…

  • The sfx in “Independence Day” were good — in the theatre. In the DVDs I have seen of it, the special effects do not look very good; in fact, they look like a Movie of the Week.

  • Trinity enigma

    Not sure anyone would agree with me but I think a notable omission (along with a few others already mentioned in the comments) is titanic. They were pretty ground breaking for their time.

  • Chessmasterandy

    I though Sucker Punch looked pretty cool

  • Chris

    About saving private Ryan… At the time I was in the army, a Green Beret (Special Forces and ops) and the prospect of going to war was at a climax back then and we were as much as possible pscyched up and the tension was thick in the atmosphere. In any event I had a one day leave and decided to go with a friend to the movies and decided to watch Saving private Ryan… The theatre was completely full and we had trouble finding seats. Within ten minutes the theatre started emptying and there were some cases of vomiting. Within 30 minutes the theatre was almost empty only a handful remained. The scenes were indeed very graphical, very real and horrific, showing the real horrors of war. I was shocked and started questioning myself and my abilities, and if i had the stomach to go through that in reality. It was not about gloryfying war… it was about mercilessly showing the horrors of war. From that day on I wasn’t enthousiastic about the possibility of going to the battleground. (If you are wondering, no war happened it was just climaxing but eventually things calmed down)
    So in my books this goes as Number 1 no questions asked. No other movie effects had such an effect on me.

  • jesse

    ummmm THE MATRIX??

  • diana

    great choices esp AVATAR thats mah first choice that got in my mind ..anyways how about Harry potter movies and Alice in Wonderland .. can i suggest top 10 animated films with the best special effects ?>>??=)

  • Lifeschool

    Highly subjective list. No mention of Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Star Trek Reboot, Beowulf – and seems very modern. I agree the LOTR films deserve a mention as well as Star Wars, Independence Day and Avatar – although the next one will simply blow the prevous Avatar away. I was hoping for maybe Citizen Kane, Tron, Terminator 2 – but I guess you can’t have everything.

  • Conor

    You could replace any of these movies with T2 and JP and no one could argue. Poor showing my friend, poor showing. Deep Impact? Really bro?

  • Dave K

    And The Matrix didn’t make the list ??? Methinks the special effects were as good or better than a number of those films listed….

  • Jericho

    No Matrix? C’mon…

  • matrix_rules

    err….no1 know the matrix? astonished

  • GodZilla

    I do hope that they will also have better plots. So far the good movies are remakes or adapted from novels. Those that I thought were good basing on their trailers had me disappointed.

  • philipe3d

    And what about the films of Ray Harryhausen, like old Simbad films? Remember the fight of griffon and the ciclope? Pristine special effects many decades before CGI appears… All hand made!

  • This is a wrong list,.the author definitely didn’t know the difference between SPECIAL effects and VISUAL Effects.

  • Alandy

    I am still amazed by the graphics from 1993’s Jurassic Park…20 years on, the dinosaurs are still awe inspiring

  • surya

    where is Tron Legacy! you are too ignorant

  • Sarah

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  • jose

    saving private ryan!? c’mon! yeah that film really hits home and all, but we’re talking about BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS here! and that means loads of CGI, animations and stuff. i love SPR but it doesn’t really break new grounds interms of special effects

  • lostsok

    Avatar didn’t blow me away visually. It looked too much like a comic book. I never stopped NOTICING how it looked. Frankly, ever since other Cameron movie had better affects to me…

  • Nicky Santoro

    Fucking seriously? No Titanic? No Jurassic Park? No Who framed roger rabbit? Instead Redundant pieces of shit like transformers and deep impact? This list sucks, this list SUCKS!!

  • The matrix has to be arguably one of the best films to have special effects. The color contrast of certain “dark” scummy areas, the slow motion, the way the agents sway back and forth, truly a great piece of special effects.

  • Or Armageddon, such as it near ending scene and most of the movie to begin with. If you make a sequel to the list, please include those.

  • pop culture reference

    Alright list. Except for Avatar, that movie was awful and the graphics were half decent.

  • Amadeuss

    How come there’s no MATRIX? OK, i’ll admit that the sequells aren’t that good, but the first Matrix was way better than Transformers.

  • Alaster

    Anything notable by Zack Snyder?

  • TheTransitMtl

    Peter Jackson didn’t produce Neil Blomkamp’s District 9. Bloomkamp is a South African director who made District 9 with a very small budget and the movie caught Peter Jackson’s attention. He helped it get a international distribution deal and now Blomkamp is Jackson’s protégé. This is why on the image of the theatrical poster shown with the entry it says ‘Peter Jackson Presents District 9’ on the top part of the poster. Neil Blomkamp was completely unknown in the US and none of the actors had ever been seen by the american public so by associating the movie with Peter Jackson who was at the time riding high on the critical and financial success of TLODR trilogy it gave some credibility to the little unknown sci fi movie with a total budget probably lower than Transformers catering budget.

  • TheTransitMtl

    It is true that Nolan used a corridor built inside a box with a revolving axis allowing it to rotate top to bottom for a full 360 degrees but this in no way simulates what who mistakenly call anti-gravity at one occasion and zero gravity at another (anti and zero gravity are two different things. Anti gravity refers to the ability to cancel the force of gravity on a object and it has yet to be achieved and if it where it would be the greatest technological breakthrough since the wheel. Zero gravity is when a body is at a great enough distance from earth or other gravity inducing mass to no longer feel the effects of gravity and effectively float. Zero gravity is in reality micro gravity as far as humans are concerned because those who experienced it where either in space or in a special NASA training plane and in both cases are not really in zero gravity because they are just falling towards earth at the same speed as the vehicle they are in.) What Nolan wanted to simulate with this was the spinning the characters where experiencing which was caused the tumbling of the van in the dream level right above them. The zero gravity part comes when the van falls from the bridge and at that point the characters in the dream experience zero g’s because they are free falling in a enclosed space which itself is free falling at the same speed. Although not all in my comment is relevant to the post it remains clear that you need to to more research about different facts if you are to write them in a site of this overall level.

  • westpointdrew

    This must have been a tough list to come up with (considering how many movies have awed people with their special effects), but overall I think you did a good job. Few of the movies I feel should be in the top ten great special effects films would go back a few decades. Films like Ben Hur, Space Odyssey, and Superman are a few that have brought a new level of special effects to the industry and subsequent films had to work hard to match that.

  • Dolan

    No 2001: A Space Odyssey? That movie has the best special effects ever put on screen!

  • Courtney

    I disagree with all of these except for Inception and I know of other movies with MUCH better SFX! What a disappointing and heart breaking list…

  • Anand

    special effects confused with visual effects!