Top 10 Worst CGI In Sci-Fi Movies
VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
Watch out for that... alien? For this list, we'll be looking at the most lackluster and fake-looking visual effects in the genre. Our countdown includes scenes from "The Lawnmower Man", "Tron: Legacy", "Deep Blue Sea" and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 worst CGI in sci-fi films. For this list, we’ll be looking at the most lackluster and fake-looking visual effects in the genre. Which of these do you find the most jarring? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: The Motorcycle Chase
Both a financial and critical flop, “Ultraviolet” stars Milla Jovovich as Violet Song Jat Shariff. She’s part of a group of altered humans who have to hide from society. Unfortunately, Violet couldn’t conceal how shoddy the effects of the movie were. Not only are the color schemes often bright and headache-inducing, but the CGI is exceptionally poor. A motorcycle chase scene is especially bad thanks to horrific green screen work, wonky physics, and visual effects that look incomplete. Practically every bit of CGI here comes off as poorly rendered or cartoonish. It certainly gives the scene an otherworldly atmosphere, but not in a good way.
#9: The Car Crash
“In Time” (2011)
Car stunts are almost always better when done practically. However, “In Time’s” story includes a questionable digital accident in a future where money does not exist. Instead, people exchange the “time” that is left on their lifespans. One scene has Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried riding in a car when Timberlake’s character drives over a spike strip. When the car careens into a nearby channel, we get an effect that couldn’t be more hilarious. The physics are not in the least bit realistic because the car is floaty and seemingly weightless. On top of that, the vehicle looks way too small in the surrounding environment. The CGI here definitely crashed and burned.
#8: The Mainframe
“The Lawnmower Man” (1992)
“The Lawnmower Man” stars Jeff Fahey as Jobe Smith, a gardener who develops a God complex after entering a piece of virtual reality. Despite its high concept premise, the CGI couldn’t clear the very low bar for the time period. When Jobe eventually enters the mainframe and becomes a digital being, the results are very ugly, to say the least. What should be a thrilling piece of CGI instead becomes a source of unintentional laughter. Even though this scene would’ve been more acceptable in 1992, it’s hard to believe audiences took this construct seriously. Maybe Jobe should’ve worked a little bit longer on creating a better digital body.
#7: Clu-Less CGI
“Tron: Legacy” (2010)
De-aged actors are mind-blowing when they look good and incredibly distracting when they don't. Unfortunately, this is an instance of the latter. The filmmakers de-aged Jeff Bridges by about 25 years to create the villain Clu. To accomplish the effect, double John Reardon performed the antagonist’s physical actions and Bridges’s digital head was added in post. Unfortunately, this resulted in a very “floaty” head that didn’t really match the rest of the body. Furthermore, the work on Bridges’s face was questionable at best. Not only did it lack definition, but the facial expressions came across as very artificial. Disney thankfully got much better at de-aging people than this after “Tron Legacy” beamed into theaters.
#6: The Waves
“The 5th Wave” (2016)
In this adaptation of Rick Yancey’s novel, Earth comes under attack by aliens. The assault comes in “waves” that prove very exciting, indeed. But the action is undercut by the special effects. Seeing planes fall from the sky and massive tsunamis batter cities and landmarks could’ve been mind-blowing. However, the movie’s relatively small budget doesn’t do the disaster justice. The falling plane looks horrendous. It seemingly drops out of the sky with little regard to physics or weight. Additionally, the park flood is also noticeably poor, because water is awkwardly composited into the scene. While the movie does what it can, these types of scenes need big bucks behind them. But “The 5th Wave” just didn’t have that.
#5: A Shark Kills Russell
“Deep Blue Sea” (1999)
A fun B-movie from the ‘90s, “Deep Blue Sea” is about a group of genetically engineered sharks who hunt the inhabitants of an underwater research station. In the movie’s most famous sequence, Russell Franklin is attacked in the middle of a heroic inspirational speech. Even though the sequence is very tongue-in-cheek, it doesn’t excuse the extremely shoddy CGI here. The horribly animated shark doesn’t come off as realistic or believably in the same room as Franklin for a second. As a result, any terror or awe we should be feeling from this sudden death is replaced by embrassment for how horribly animated the shark is. Luckily, the scene is over in a flash.
“Lost in Space” (1998)
Adapted from the TV show of the same name, “Lost in Space” cost a reported $80 million to produce. You wouldn’t know it looking at CGI like this. Blarp is a tiny creature that the Robinson family encounters on their intergalactic adventure. Unfortunately, the CGI for little Blarp is really bad, even for the late ‘90s. Poorly detailed, badly composited, and not lit in a convincing manner, very little about Blarp actually works. It looks even worse when sharing the screen with an actor since the differences in lighting between the real and fake characters are staggering. Space movies should wow us with their creations, but “Lost in Space” only had us shaking our heads in disappointment.
#3: The Xenomorphs
“Alien: Covenant” (2017)
The first two “Alien” movies had magnificent practical effects that still look great to this day. But director Ridley Scott decided to ditch lots of the practical work in favor of CGI while making “Covenant”. Throughout the film, the aliens have a distractingly glossy and smooth look to them. They also tend to move in a very jerky manner that never comes across as natural. None of the aliens elicit even a fraction of the terror as the xenomorphs we saw in the 20th century. For a franchise that once prided itself on its groundbreaking visual effects, it was sad to see “Covenant” resorting to such run-of-the-mill and mediocre CGI work.
#2: Too Many Smiths
“The Matrix Reloaded” (2003)
There’s no denying that action sequences like the ambitious freeway chase were definitely worth the price of admission for “The Matrix Reloaded”. However, the infamous fight where tons of Smiths fight one Neo really failed to measure up to the franchise’s best sequences. While the concept and choreography of the fight are great, it’s all let down by some bafflingly poor CGI. The fight begins with every character looking visceral and realistic. But as the melee continues, the scene starts to look more and more like a video game. The characters get increasingly digitized with smooth, waxy textures and some janky physics. We know the Matrix is a computer program, but this is taking it too far!
#1: The Special Edition Changes
“Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)
They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” George Lucas didn’t heed that advice when adding new digital changes to the original “Star Wars” for its 20th anniversary. Within the fandom, many viewers have noted that a lot of the new CGI distracts from the story on screen. The inclusion of Jabba the Hutt looks downright awful. Not only does he look flat and poorly detailed, but he badly clashes with Harrison Ford in terms of lighting, depth, and physical interaction. Additionally, changes like making Greedo look like he shot Solo first alter the very nature of both the scene and characters involved. (xref) While Jar Jar Binks may look pretty crude at times, he’s a masterclass in CGI compared to these unnecessary changes.