Weekend Roundtable: Worst CGI Effects in Movies

Here we are in the heart of the summer movie season, when visual effects spectacles reign supreme. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the years, some of these films put more effort into their effects than others. We’ve previously celebrated some of cinema’s finest visual effects in an earlier Roundtable. Now it’s time to do the opposite, and castigate the worst. When I sent this topic out to the staff, my original intention was to include special or visual effects of any sort (models and miniatures, rear projection, makeup prosthetics, the works). As it turns out, everyone’s first instinct was to immediately call out movies with crappy CGI. So be it. Here are our picks for movies with the most egregiously awful uses of Computer Generated Imagery.

Tom Landy

Every time I think of bad visual effects scenes, the one that always pops into my mind first is the Jabba the Hutt sequence in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope – Special Edition‘. I think we can all agree that George Lucas’ incessant tinkering has generally done more harm than good to his movies, but for me this scene really takes the cake. Cobbled together from a deleted scene in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) encounters the vile gangster in Mos Eisley Spaceport, a computer-generated Jabba has been inserted in the original actor’s place. Han is then digitally shifted to make it appear that he’s stepping on and over the Hutt’s tail – but it just doesn’t work. Worse, CGI Jabba doesn’t look anything like the Jabba in ‘Return of the Jedi’. It’s no wonder that Han swindles this giant blob of brownish-green goo. How could anyone take a mutant baby turd seriously??? The end result is so amateurish that the film was far better off without the scene.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I made the mistake of trying to watch ‘Spawn‘ a couple weeks back. Turns out hardly anyone thought all that much of the movie fifteen years ago either, but it was still pretty much universally lauded for its breathtaking, groundbreaking visual effects work. Sure, sure, 1997 was very early in the CGI timeline, but this is what passed for astonishing digital effects wizardry back then:

The not-the-devil’s mouth doesn’t even move when he talks! A lot of the other CG effects in ‘Spawn’ are understandably crude but still competent. But Malebolgia here… well, he’s a monstrosity, all right, but not the kind that the movie wants him to be.

Brian Hoss

The Fountain‘ is not a crowd pleaser, but I consider it a masterpiece. After a failed production attempt, Darren Aronofsky had to rethink much of the project in order to greatly reduce its required budget. The minimalism and economy of the sets for the scenes from the past and future timelines reflect an incredible ingenuity and visual brilliance. Of particular beauty are the outer space backgrounds created organically and captured by macro photography. However, one notable scene really stumbles visually for me, and it involves flowers. At a difficult and crucial point in the film, these flowers make me cringe. While the filmmakers prototyped a different implementation of this visual effect, what they wound up with was close to a show-stopper for me. This scene mars what is otherwise a visual powerhouse.

Mike Attebery

It’s hard to believe that ‘Air Force One‘ came out fifteen years ago! It’s just as hard to believe how few decent movies Harrison Ford has appeared in since. But the hardest thing to believe is the fact that the film was released with such a horrible visual effects sequence at the end. It’s one of the worst ever! The plane crash looked dated the day the film was released, all blocky and crappy, like something from a videogame in the original ‘Tron’. It’s just laughably bad. Literally, laughably bad. I can still remember watching the film in the theater with all my movie geek friends. Everyone broke out laughing as soon as that last scene started playing. Horrendous.

Aaron Peck

When I think about terrible effects in movies that I generally like, I always fall back to the awful, awful, awful CGI Scorpion King in ‘The Mummy Returns‘. The ‘Mummy’ movies are dumb fun, at least for me, but when The Rock appears as a giant computer-generated scorpion at the end of the movie, it’s hard not to laugh at how dreadful it looks. The worst thing is that it makes no sense why it would look so bad. The rest of the visual effects in the franchise were pretty good, from Imhotep’s rotten regenerating face, to the giant wave of water that bears his likeness as it rushes down a narrow canyon. Those effects were fine and looked good. So, why then, when we get to the finale of the second ‘Mummy’ movie and we see the Scorpion King in all his CGI glory, does he look like he was animated by a first-year computer graphics student who didn’t have enough time to finish the project? I played videogames on the original PlayStation that had more believable human faces than that.

M. Enois Duarte

Some may be more forgiving than I am because it released way back in 1996, but for me, Schwarzenegger’s ‘Eraser‘ has one of the best hilariously bad CG effects around. If the idea of shooting and instantly killing a massive crocodile with only one shot through the mouth isn’t gloriously stupid enough, the cartoonish-looking visual effects put this scene over the top. Compared to the rest of the movie’s photography, the coloring on the animal is way off, shadows are noticeably out of place, and the poor innocent creature moves with a horrible blocky stutter. Even back in 1996, when a buddy and I watched the movie in theaters, we laughed at the terrible CGI. The movie has always stuck in the back of my mind ever since.

Josh Zyber

Mike already took my first pick with ‘Air Force One’. I remember leaving the theater and commenting that the plane crash looked like it had been drawn by crayon. That scene is insanely bad. How something like that gets past Quality Control, I’ll never understand.

The 1998 movie version of ‘Lost in Space‘ is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s pretty damn dumb. However, it also happens to have some fairly interesting stuff going on visually, from the production design to the costumes to some of the quite-good visual effects. Unfortunately, the movie’s production was very rushed, and it’s painfully obvious that some of the VFX were slapped together at the last moment. Case in point: the irritating CG alien monkey thing named Blarp. Wow, is this awful! Blatantly drawn on top of the live action footage, never in any scene does it convincingly appear to exist in the same reality as anything else on screen. It looks like a rough-draft animatic. I can’t believe that the studio went through with releasing the movie in this clearly unfinished state. It either needed to be pushed back a few months, or all of the scenes with Blarp should have been cut.

Believe us, this list is by no means definitive. Surely, you’ve seen plenty of other movies with lousy CGI. Give us your picks for the worst in the Comments.


  1. Alex

    Before I even started reading, I thought to myself, I hope no one mentions Air Force One, because I want to bring it up.

    I LOVE Air Force One. I honestly do think that there should be a 15th Anniversary Edition released and call it a “Special Edition” and just replace that ONE SHOT. The rest of the effects in the movie are just fine (some of the parachutes are a CG-ed, but I can live with that), but for goodness sakes, Paramount, please fix that one shot.

    • Ted S.

      Just FYI, Sony released Air Force One not Paramount. But I agree that scene needs to get fixed if there’s ever a re-release of the film on BD.

    • flskydiver

      I can NOT live with the CG’d parachutes. They are so bloody awful, I can’t even begin to vent my anger at that scene.

      The worst thing is, skydivers come cheap. They could EASILY have done that practical at a fraction of the cost of they probably spent on that God-Awful CGI.

      Mission Impossible had some crappy parachute deployments too. I think it was the second film – Tom Cruise’s base jump from a building? Again, they should have done it for real. But Tom’s ego had him do the fall himself via green-screen wire work, so I guess they felt they had no choice but to fake the parachute. I’d have suggested otherwise.

  2. JM

    The CGI nudity in ‘Machete’ was totally squandered.

    Robert Rodriguez should CGI nudify the entire cast of ‘Machete Kills.’

    Danny Trejo as Machete Cortez
    Lindsay Lohan as April Booth
    Michelle Rodriguez as Luz
    Vanessa Hudgens as Cereza
    Amber Heard as Miss San Antonio
    Sofía Vergara as Madame Desdemona
    Demian Bichir as Mendez
    Mel Gibson as Luther Voz
    Jessica Alba as Sartana Rivera
    Alexa Vega as KillJoy
    Lady Gaga as La Chameleón
    Tom Savini as Osiris Amanpour
    Charlie Sheen as the President of the United States
    Electra and Elise Avellan as Nurse Mona and Nurse Lisa
    Samuel Davis as Clebourne
    Edgar Arreola as Esteban
    Sophia Hoang as Miss Houston
    Heaven Elizabeth Fearn as Miss Amarillo
    Cuba Gooding Jr. as El Camaleon
    Zoe Saldana
    Edward James Olmos
    William Sadler

    Digital tits and cocks for all. In fact, give Edward James Olmos two cocks.

  3. Sean M

    The dinosaur scene in Tree of Life was truly laughable. I found it quite hard to piece together what Malick was trying to tell us because I couldn’t shake the fact they apparently used a first-generation XBox to render the animation.

    Cruddy effects 15 years ago? I can forgive, sort of. Cruddy effects in 2012? Gimme a break.

  4. William Henley

    One of the things about CG is how your expectations change over the years. Movies and shows that I thought had incredible CGI when they came out just do not seem to hold up to the test of time. Some examples:

    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Chamber of Secrets – In the first movie, the cenetars looked like they were animated by someone who didn’t know a thing about muscle movement. Really jerky animation, and extreamely flat. In the second movie, compare Dobby to how Dobby and Kreacher look in the 7th movie. The difference is night and day. The flying car also doesn’t look like it was lit right, and just looks really goofy when its flying.

    Terminator 2 – the scene when the atom bomb goes off in the dream sequence looks awful, but I think most of that was in camera. The T1000, while it still looks cool for most of the movie, looks a bit hoakey when he is walking around in the liquid metal state. Its still a great movie, and the majority of the effects still rock, so don’t get me wrong there.

    Star Trek: Deep Space 9 The Changelings and, in later episodes, many of the ships, look pretty bad. In fact, I think in the opening of Voyager they accidently put an incomplete shot in one of the shots. Once you know its there, and are looking for it, it is almost laughable. You have this beautiful ship going buy, and then in this one shot, there is a lit 3D model that hasn’t had all the textures applied yet!

    Red Dwarf Okay, so the special effects were a little hoaky to begin with, but later they went back and remastered the earlier seasons with REALLY bad CGI. However, the bad special effects were part of the charm of the show. The optical effects, though, seemed to be of much higher quality.

    Avatar I am trying to figure out if the CGI was SUPPOSED to look cartooney. It was fine later in the movie when everything was CGI, but some of the earlier parts, where you are mixing live action with CGI looked REALLY bad.

    That being said, just because something is old doesn’t mean that it didn’t live up well to the test of time. Two movies that come to mind that still look good are Titanic and Jurassic Park. Yeah, there are a couple of shots that are obvious that the actors are standing in front of a green screen or something in Jurassic Park but at least the dinos still look real!

    • William Henley

      Should have proof read – In Terminator 2 my comment about the atom bomb was pretty much about the way that the flesh burned off and the way that cars and busses got thrown around – however, I don’t think those were CGI – I am pretty sure those were done in camera. It is still an incredible movie, and still has incredible special effects, there are just a few scenes where its obvious that my expectations over the last 20 years has tainted how I see the movie now when I look back at it.

      • Dan

        The H-bomb dream sequence is, after all, a dream. It’s supposed to be stylized like that. If you want more realistic thermonuclear destruction see the 1983 made-for-tv drama “The Day After”.

  5. VIOZ

    I really hope they don’t redo the ending of “Air Force One” because I forgive it: it’s such a great movie that by the end you just don’t care. (I don’t like changing movies on principle: I wanna experience exactly what people did when it was released, good and bad.)

  6. I have never seen ‘Air Force One’, but now I want to see this CGI-crapshot! However, searching “plane crash air force one” on YouTube gives me nothing but real plane crashes and I’m not the kind of guy to enjoy such sad (real) footage.

    My pick always goes out to ‘Jumanji’. I’ve even posted it on this same site, but the quote that summed it up best (in a bad way) was on the LaserDisc cover: “special effects that make Jurassic Park look like an amateur film”. WHAT!? How can you claim that … ‘Jumanji’ looked awful when it was released, Jurassic Park is still awesome.

    What pot was Paul Wunder from WBAI Radio (the quote’s auteur) smoking?

  7. I have to agree with the mention of the Jabba scene in Star Wars. Most of the CG effects over all 6 films, even the worst, are better than most movies. But the inserted Jabba scene is so terrible you wonder if there’s some strange bet going on…

    Also, Mummy 2. I’ve come to the conclusion, after G.I. Joe and Van Helsing, that Stephen Sommers is so determined to get every last effect out of his budget, that he’s less bothered about the quality of them. The Scorpion King in Mummy 2 isn’t even the worst effect. Check out the atrocious motion tracking when the train pulls up alongside some ruins, or the clearly rushed aerial view of an island during the search/pursuit montage. They make the CGI at the end look positively superb! 😉

    I’m also going to go for Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. Sometimes if you can’t do an effect convincingly, you need to know when to step back and take a different route. It may have been ‘cutting edge’, but unfortunately cutting edge just isn’t good enough yet, for that purpose.

    There are plenty of films with mediocre effects in some places, but I don’t think it’s fair to criticise those where it’s more because of budget(e.g. Escape from L.A.). It’s when it’s a big budget film that should be able to do better that I think it’s fair to say “Hey! that’s bad!!”. 😉

    I find most ‘questionable’ CGI that gets criticised is often not because it’s bad, but because it’s simply not as good as its practical equivalent would be.

    • flskydiver

      You can’t call out young Jeff Bridges for looking CGI’d in TRON Legacy!

      He’s a computer program! He’s SUPPOSED to look that way. How could he look any different?

      I thought the effect was awesome.

      • EM

        In my experience, that’s a rather novel interpretation of Flynn’s character in the scene where he interacts with seven-year-old Sam. Care to elaborate on this theory?

        • If all of the other ‘digital’ characters in the film were done the same way, you may have a point, skydiver, but they weren’t (And that’s if we ignore the scene EM mentions as well).

          At the end of the day, it was an attempt to do an advanced effect that we’re not quite capable of doing convincingly yet. Simple as that. Then again, I can’t help but think I might have been more forgiving if the film had been even a tenth as good as its progenitor (or even just good).

  8. Jon D

    Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla. Looked kinda sketchy even back in 1998, now it looks absolutely horrid. Big green never has any sense of weight or realistic movement and is poorly composited into almost every scene.

    Spiderman 1. I understand that it’s a live action cartoon but those scenes where he’s flipping between buildings look pretty bad even by those standards.

  9. Anything on the Syfy channel, I understand big budget messing up scenes when they shouldnt, but companies like Asylum live off of bad CG, movies that they make used to be made low budget with practical FX all the time and it was awesome (Full Moon and Troma know whats up), now its awful CGI that looks like most of what was mentioned here, instead, and to me its unwatchable no matter how cheesy good the movie COULD possibly be

    • Jon D

      I think those awful CG effects are intentional though, as part of the cheese appeal SyFy knows these ‘films’ have. Most of the other examples on here were from movies that wanted the effects to be taken seriously but were so poor that you couldn’t.

      • William Henley

        Totally agree. I think the bad visual effects on SyFy are part of the appeal of the shows. They are like this generation’s “B-movies”.

        • They arent part of the appeal to me, they are lazy and low budget replacements for the good old days of practical low budget FX. You cant tell me that the budget doesnt play a huge part in the quality of the CG in even the movies on Syfy?

          Of course it does, the budget is so low they HAVE to make bad CG like that, Asylum pumps out movies like crazy on ultra low shoe string budgets and then they throw in the WORST CG possible. It would be one thing if the movies were GOOD in that ultra cheesy B movie way, but they try to play them SO damn serious it just doesnt work and then you throw in CG that just makes you want to turn the channel.

          I’m a firm believer that these movies can easily be compared to even high budget movies with lots of CG, I mean the CG in those SyFy movies dont look any better than Blarp in Lost in Space. Having shoddy FX like that even on a super low budget doesnt excuse them, hell miniatures would look SO much better than the crap they do for stuff like Sharktopus and Mega Piranha (somehow I actually sat through that whole thing)

  10. I agree with Josh. Lost In Space had some of the most amateur special effects for a movie!! All the CG looked like cheap video game fare. The “city” on that moon or wherever it was supposed to be looked like some of the most garbled digital modeling I have ever seen!! Not even remotely real-looking. Plus the movie was really stupid.

    • Alex

      I’m amazed you guys remember Lost In Space that well. I’ve tried to repress that horrid memory.

      • William Henley

        I own it on Blu-Ray and DVD. I liked that movie. As for the special effects, well, it WAS 1998. A majority of the special effects are pretty good, but I will admit that Blarp looks awful! Then again, I caught an episode of the original series on TV the other day, and Debbie’s makeup is totally unconvincing. 🙂 So we went from something that looked fake in the original series to something that – looks fake. Six of one, half a dozen of another!

        • William Henley

          BTW, it being 1998 wasn’t an excuse for bad CG on Blarp, but I do remember when I saw it, I thought most of the CG was incredible. I still like how the Jupiter 2 looks. But yeah, Blarp and the spiders do look pretty bad

        • A few computer animated movies released in 1998:

          A Bug’s Life (I could rest my case, but I’ll keep going…)
          Deep Impact (with CG asteroid destruction effects)
          Godzilla (bad movie or not, had some excellent CG)

          Compared to Lost in Space, these movies were Citizen Kane.

          • William Henley

            Um, yeah, I could say that Blarp looked just as cartoony as A Bugs Life or Antz did. 🙂 Poor argument. And the CG in Godzilla was hideous.

  11. There werent TOO many movies in the mid to late 90s that had amazing CG, you’ve already named a few that did pretty well at the box office. Spawn only cost $40 million to make, thats pretty low budget even back then, Lost in Space cost $80 million and besides for Blarp had some pretty good FX and visuals, as did Spawn with the suit and CG for that, it obviously had issues with some other stuff as well. Mortal Kombat was out that year too and Reptile was horrible looking even then. Most anything that used CG (besides stuff like Jurassic Park) was pretty bad and not very sophisticated yet, Jurassic Park only cost $67 million or so to make and like T2 was ahead of its time when it came to CG, T2 for the most part still holds up today as does Jurassic Park, but a lot in the 90s didnt 🙂

  12. Ryan

    Wow, The Fountain!? I thought the FX were pretty flawless across the board. Even the flowers (which were mostly practical fx)

  13. Edward Davis

    I know it was a made for tv movie, but The Langoliers had the absolute worst CG i have ever seen. It kills the movie for me.

  14. Yesterday I saw “Species” again after 15 years. The movie still sucks and the CGI from the showdown belongs to the worst I’ve ever seen.

  15. slade

    How anyone has not mentioned Lockout yet, i don’t know.

    The chase scene on his motorised unicycle or whatever is without a shadow of a doubt worse than all of these examples so far. We throw around the “looks worse than a video game” comment a lot nowadays – some video games now are pretty advanced and would put a lot of movies to shame – but this scene will honestly take you back to the days of the Supernintendo – was the first nail in the coffin of what was certainly the worst film in recent years.

    As someone mentions – if you don’t have the budget for a scene don’t half ass it (Lockout barely 5%asses it let alone 50%) cut it out your movie!

  16. I guess the problem your saying about The Fountain was the scene where the flowers overtake the conquistador Hugh Jackman. I can agree with you there. But the rest of the movie is beautiful and got a bad rap at the box office. Its a great movie that everyone should see

  17. Alex

    How did we miss this one, guys? No one has mentioned the werewolves in the Twilight series. The whole series is an insult to so many sensibilities, but the werewolves are just awful, and it only gets worse when they try make them speak telepathically.

      • Alex

        Fair enough, but I’m sure there’s a couple of other folks on this forum that got dragged to the Twilight flicks by a significant other.

        Oh, but if you haven’t, it’s almost worth enduring the rest of Breaking Dawn just to see the telepathic wolves. I laughed until my eyes watered, then I got a genuinely vicious look from every teeny-bopper in that theater and I laughed harder.

        • William Henley

          Well, I made it through the Riff Trax of the first movie, and got the Riff Trax of the second, third and fourth movie. So maybe when I want to have a bad movie marathon, I will stick one of them on.

          BTW, I did get dragged to the first two by someone close, but I try to block it. Thanks for reminding me of a painful movie experience. 🙂

  18. Rob K

    I guess someone needs a lesson on the stopping power of the 50 calibre pistol round.

    Now, if he would’ve complained about the amount of times Arnold fired the pistol, he’d have a case.