Home Entertainment Top List Thursdays–Top ten ground-breaking special effects

Top List Thursdays–Top ten ground-breaking special effects

6 min read

We all go to the movies to pretty much watch a great story unfold. But it doesn’t hurt to have a film that is easy on the eyes. And then you get the following films which make viewers forget about the actors in front of them, as it wows them with unreal special effects from the bleeding edge of technology. Here are ten such films which set eyeballs ablaze over decades of work and progress.

Tron: Legacy (2010)


Overall, Tron Legacy is a slobber-knocker of visual effects. But while seeing a new version of the Grid may be something incredibly imaginative on its own, the top honours here belong to Jeff Bridges and Jeff Bridges. Or more specifically, the amazing work that was done to have the veteran actor show up alongside a younger version of himself in the sequel.

With only a slight hint of uncanny valley, the end result is something magnificent. Twenty years younger and a helluva lot more malevolent, the Codified Likeness Utility that serves as the primary antagonist of the film was created by mapping the face of Bridges in a process that took two years to do so from start to finish.

The Matrix (1999)


Transport your mindset back to this film, and remember seeing for the very first time when a hacker managed to jump into the air, freeze time, shift reality a few degrees and crane kick a policeman through the chest. While the special effects in the first Matrix film weren’t the stuff of legend, it was the application of such visuals that made it so ground-breaking.

New filming techniques, an arsenal of cameras and wire-fu led to some intense sequences, as well as a ridiculous amount of imitations for years to come, before the sequels Reloaded and Revolutions stepped things up a further notch.

Transformers (2007)


Michael Bay may get a lot of flack for his slick style of directing, but personally, I love it. And no matter what anyone can say about the patron saint of Baysplosions, the man knows how to make a movie look good. And in the first Transformers flick he did just that, with special effects that weren’t just mind-blowing, but insanely detailed as well.

Just look at the bots on the screen, the amount of parts they have, how they move, breathe and react. And on that front at least, each new film just got better and better.

Jurassic Park (1993)


1993 was a great year for dinosaurs. With Steven Spielberg going big with Jurassic Park, audiences were treated to a movie that combined cutting edge animatronics from Stan Winston and his studio, through to bleeding edge special effects that gave the savage carnivores a lethal sense of reality and movement.

It’s a film that still holds up phenomenally well today, as it set a new benchmark in special effects back then. With two more films having had a run at the box office, and a 3D re-release on the way, it’s safe to say that Jurassic Park had quite a few clever girls creating something magical.

Metropolis (1927)


Metropolis isn’t just one of the very first blockbuster films of its time. It’s also one of the very first films out there to actually use special effects, as Eugen Schüfftan went all out to create a world of tomorrow. From miniatures and illusions, through to radical new camera rigs helped sell the film, while the costume worn by Brigitte Helm gave audiences an unreal taste of future robotic love.

It took over a year to shoot Metropolis. And after eight decades of existence, it’s still a fantastic piece of film.

Star Wars (1977)


Before George Lucas started adding more green to his films and generally tweaking everything he could get his hands on, the first Star Wars film was a ground-breaking look into the future of film-making. Massive in scope, and with some timeless Ralph McQuarrie designs helping to sell the idea of a universe far, far away, Star Wars was a blockbuster in the making.

Bold, nostalgic and using the very first CGI sequence ever created in the form of the Death Star trench run, Star Wars paved the way for sequels and an entirely new genre in the industry, before it was eventually acquired by the house of mouse last year.

Who framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)


Cartoons and live action movies have existed ever since the movie industry began, but rarely did they ever cross paths. An expensive and time consuming thing to do, such projects were usually balked at, so you can imagine what director Robert Zemeckis must have gone through to get this tale of murder and toons off the ground.

But oh man, was it a blast. Funny, charming and batsh$% scary when Christopher Lloyd revealed who he really was. But with help from both Disney and Warner Bros, and 14 months of post production work, Zemeckis had created a film that bridged the gap between real and toon, in one benchmark of a film.

Avatar (2009)


You can thank James Cameron and Avatar for the fact that movie theaters have anb erection for making movies 3D now. Cameron proved that when done properly, the gimmick could work marvelously  as his tale of tall smurfs grossed all the money in the world at the box office. But from a technical standpoint, Avatar is a massive achievement for Cameron, and don’t be too surprised if it goes down in history as his final masterpiece. in 3D.

Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (2001)


There were plenty of films released in the early parts of the 90s and 2000s that took advantage of revolutionary work that Pixar had created with Toy Story, but frankly, the first Final Fantasy film was an underrated example of pure genius and unbelievable visuals. Realistic to a fault, filled with talent and more importantly, hair, the film tanked at the box office. But when it comes to CGI masterpieces, this one will always hold a fond place in my heart for not only looking great, but by being able to use those visuals to create some gloriously emotional scenes.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)


Until Peter Jackson had managed to convince New Line Cinema to take a gamble and part with hundreds of millions of dollars for this epic trilogy, no one had really been able to capture the feeling of a truly epic fantasy film. But when Jackson got New Zealand effects house WETA to get to work, he cemented the hit that this film would become.

Massively detailed, convincing and able to easily make audiences believe that they were visiting Middle Earth and all it’s various locales and battles, the movies will remain precious for years to come. Yes, myyyyy preciouuussssss….

Last Updated: January 10, 2013


  1. Nathan Horne

    January 10, 2013 at 15:44

    I recently watched Jurassic Park again and was amazed at the realism of the dinosaurs!

    Also, the ‘scale model’ space ships in Star Wars look better than some of the CGI ships in the new trilogy. I’m still amazed at how they pulled it all off.


    • James Francis

      January 11, 2013 at 08:15

      The best way to appreciate how Star Wars changed the game is to look at sci-films released after it. Specifically, both The Black Hole and Flash Gordon were released after Star Wars, but come nowhere close to its special effects.


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