Movies that changed CGI FOREVER

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The inclusion of special effects and CGI in movies in this modern era does have its ups and downs. Back in the mid to late 80’s computer generated effects were cutting edge technology used to help enhance imaginative sequences and cinema goers lapped it up. Nowadays our expectations are so high that we won’t accept anything other than ultra-realistic scenes. In fact the movies that rely most heavily on CGI are the ones trying their hardest to make things look as authentic as possible but they’re often the movies criticised the most. However, there are a number of timeless classics renowned for phenomenal CGI incorporation so check out our list below and let us know your favourites.



In 1991 director James Cameron continued the story of his classic sci-fi creation ‘The Terminator’ and decided to use this movie as a chance to showcase a whole host of new and impressive special effects and computer generated techniques thanks to the talented artists over at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). ILM were instrumental in manufacturing some of the movies most iconic scenes, most notably creating the look and feel of the liquid metal based T-1000 villain of the piece.



One of the biggest effects-laden projects, and one of the most successful box-office successes of its time, is Steven Spielberg’s dino-epic ‘Jurassic Park’. The story, which was based on the novel by the late Michael Crichton, required a combination of effects that included some animatronic magic from FX legend Stan Winston and digital compositing from ILM. The result was a spectacular cinematic experience that conjured the most lifelike on-screen dinosaurs we had ever seen. The fourth instalment in the franchise arrived in theatres only this year and the franchise itself has become a huge commercial success, spawning a plethora of merchandise and even games like the Jurassic Park Online slot.



This sci-fi classic was undoubtedly a game changer when it arrived in theatres back in 1999. With the likes of ‘Terminator 2’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and the entirely computer generated animated hit ‘Toy Story’ all making their mark in the 1990’s it wasn’t until the end of the decade that the Wachowski brothers stunned audiences with their mind-boggling epic. Expertly combining futuristic martial arts, techno-heavy themes and innovative shooting techniques that included popularizing the exciting visual effect known in the industry as “bullet time”, the Matrix set the precedent that many feature films have since followed.



Movies that incorporate CGI sparingly to help tell the story have proven to be successful as opposed to simply plastering it aimlessly throughout. Thankfully in director Paul Verhoeven’s hit ‘Hollow Man’ the technology was employed with great purpose to help actor Kevin Bacon quite literally disappear from our screens using a combination of digital removal, motion-controlled cameras and volume rendering software.



Star Wars fans had to wait 16 years for George Lucas to pull his finger out and revisit his popular universe with the beginning of a whole new series of sci-fi epics that served as prequels to the events of his original trilogy. Sadly fans were left disappointed at the somewhat underwhelming experience that was The Phantom Menace; an instalment that appeared to bypass characterisation and development completely in favour of a number of overly- merchandisable elements.

If Episode I was a failure in storytelling it was a triumph in equal measure for computer generated effects with the film containing nearly 2,000 visual spectaculars including full blown CGI characters which certainly detracted attention away from the rather lacklustre script. In fact Lucas’ feats would come to be recognised as an incredible achievement and a game-changing experiment. Unfortunately, off the back of this success Lucas was inspired to perform similar and unnecessary CG re-tweaks to the original instalments, much to the dismay of some of the franchise’s true traditionalists.



Another big special effects spectacular that managed to break technological boundaries was James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic ‘Avatar’. The movie was filled to the brim with innovative effects techniques that included revolutionary motion capture animation; bringing to life the on-screen humanoid tribe of blue Na’vi. The movie also incorporated pioneering stereoscopic filmmaking measures that ensured audiences everywhere could enjoy the movie in 3D with more added depth than ever before.



In 1996 director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin’s produced a visually memorable interpretation of Alien Invasion via the all-out, action-filled blockbuster ‘Independence Day’ which captured the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The movie contained 3,000 effect shots including a large number of sequences that’s boasted cutting-edge computer-generated effects. The most iconic shot in the movie featured The White House exploding which was interestingly enough achieved via a simple model shot built at a 1/12 scale, which was subsequently blown up.



One of the finest examples in our list of where computer-generated effects are used to truly enhance the story was in Neill Blomkamp’s incredibly striking mockumentary sci-fi fare ‘District 9’. New Zealand’s much famed effects company Weta Workshop created an entire race of stranded alien beings that populated the movies main location. The effects were authentic and believable and this style of filmmaking was refreshing, earning the effort a Best Picture nomination that year.



Eight years after he blew up The White House and most of the world in ‘Independence Day’ writer/director Roland Emmerich turned his attentions to climate disaster for this next entrant on our list. The cataclysmic events that were portrayed in The Day after tomorrow were conjured by effects company Crack Creative who were responsible for generating the LA twisters as well as the tidal wave that swallowed up Manhattan.



Marc Webb’s Spidey sequel certainly helped push a few boundaries in the comic-themed movie genre when the flick debuted back in 2014. The expert visual effects team placed a lot of emphasis on the title hero himself by paying extra detail to the physical movements of Spider-Man in full motion to bring us the most visually authentic movie of them all. The animation was superb allowing Spidey to effortlessly swing around town in scarcely believable fashion without neglecting the human facets of the character.

  • wendell ottley

    Cloverfield needs to be here. Forget about the monster, almost the entire city was cgi and looked amazing.

    • Anthony Whyte

      Agreed! I would also suggest Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Everything in that movie was CGI except for the actors.