Great movies ruined by CGI and bad special effects

Over the years, computer generated effects have become an increasingly crucial tool in Hollywood's arsenal. The addition of CGI in TV and film have not only helped directors achieve some of the best action scenes money can buy, the technique has helped streamline the process—bringing to life epic sequences originally deemed too expensive or even impossible, and helping create a slew of theatrical successes.

That said, there's a right and wrong way to handle CGI. Where some directors have utilized the tool as a gentle paintbrush, others have clobbered audiences over the head with it, and big-budget disappointment is often the result. Not all the movies in this list are clunkers, but it's worth pointing out that if the digital effects were improved, they might have been better received. Without further ado, here are some of the movies most memorably ruined by bad CGI and special effects.

I Am Legend

2007's I Am Legend set out to adapt Richard Matheson's sci-fi horror novel of the same name. The film aimed to put Will Smith in a gritty adaptation of the story, and the first 40 minutes of the dystopian tale succeeds at doing just that.

The visual of Robert Neville (Smith), the lone survivor in a zombie-filled world, offers a chilling atmosphere for this post-apocalyptic tale—then the Darkseekers show up and ruin everything. The first moment Smith's Neville faces the humanoid threat, the audience is hit with an onslaught of CGI monsters that end up distracting from the movie's brooding tone.

According to director Francis Lawrence, this wasn't always the plan. In a conversation with Den of Geek, he admitted he wanted to use actors to portray the Darkseekers. "I really wanted to do a movie that I could approach in a more organic way," Lawrence said. "I was really disappointed by that part of the process on I Am Legend."

Lawrence hired "50 dancers and parkour guys" to play the feral mutants. In the end, the practical effects didn't work and the schedule wasn't on his side. "When I saw the dailies, I broke out into a cold sweat," he continued. "They were very pale, and covered in this chalky powder to protect their skin, which was a really interesting concept, but it looked like a bunch of mime artists running across Washington Square Park. It didn't work at all."

The Thing prequel

One of the components that make John Carpenter's classic sci-fi 1982 horror film so epic are its practical effects. Of course, it was made before CGI was even a thing. But there's a delightfully cringeworthy air about the slimy, visceral nature of the alien creature in the story. Not for nothing, but watching a severed head grow alien insect legs and scurry away always makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up.

Unfortunately, as much as first-time director Matthijs van Heijiningen Jr. worked to make his 2011 prequel fit into Carpenter's chronology, the movie's special effects don't hold a candle to Carpenter's original. That's not to say that the crew didn't try—the production hired special effects house studioADI to bring some gooey, gross aliens to life.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling and budgetary limitations, the company's practical effects never showed up in the film's final product. As Bloody Disgusting reports, "it was such a disaster that studioADI later fan-funded a film called Harbinger Down, which was made as an apology for what happened in 2011."

Tron: Legacy

Let's be clear here: the majority of the special effects in this highly anticipated Tron sequel are pretty great. The visual aesthetic of the grid hearkens back to the original film in all the right ways. The evolved digital dystopia of Tron: Legacy, along with Daft Punk's electronic score, really helped to bring the whole story to life. After 30 years, it was a great way to re-introduce Kevin Flynn to the world. And then the CGI face of a young Jeff Bridges appeared as Clu—the film's big A.I. villain—and the mockery quickly followed.

"He looks just like a young Bridges if young Bridges had had way too much plastic surgery, so it's hard to take him seriously," Time said in their review. "Clu seems more like an unfortunate Botox victim than a dastardly despot."

It's safe to say Kosinski and his team did their best to de-age the actor, but the digital rendering made it feel as if Bridges' weathered Kevin Flynn was actually facing off against his own Starman instead of any real formidable threat. In short, the villainous introduction of Clu fell quite short, making much of the finished product feel a bit silly.

World War Z

Amid rewrites, reshoots, and a production budget that ballooned to over $200 million, World War Z still ended up a box office success. The 2013 big-screen adaptation of Max Brooks' book pitted Brad Pitt against a global zombie threat. But while the finished product works pretty well on the horror-thriller front, the overuse of CGI effects end up downplaying a good portion of the movie's intended scares, showcasing undead hordes as cartoonish and floppy.

"The zombies were like army ants," George Romero told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2015 interview. Referencing the scene in which a mass of sprinting zombies fall over each other in order to scale Jerusalem's huge walls. Romero wasn't wrong. 

The concept of an insanely large mob of zombies rushing through town like an undead tsunami looked great on paper, but without any sort of human physics implemented in the movie, the end result is far from frightening. Thankfully, Pitt faced off against multiple zombies up close, making those jump scares more grounded and visceral.  

Hulk

Ang Lee's take on the Hulk was meant to be an adaptation comic book fans would flock to, but the special effects ended up being far from incredible.

"The effects used to create the Hulk keep hitting the limits of what 2003 CGI could accomplish," noted The Dissolve, "making the monster look more like a work of animation than green flesh and blood." Of course, having an Oscar-winning director at the helm brought huge expectations. The reliance on CGI may be this film's biggest downfall, but its editing structure—which tried to mimic comics visuals, to mixed effect—also didn't fit well within this big-screen superhero formula.

When Lee's Hulk hit theaters, the MCU was just a twinkle in Marvel's eye. Lee did the best with what he had but, at the end of the day, Hulk's big green giant left us pining for the good ol' days of Lou Ferrigno in all his body painted glory.

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

While the CGI effects featured throughout The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies aren't as distracting as some of the other films in this list, they definitely suffer when compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In fact, the entire Hobbit prequel trilogy represents a step back from Lord of the Rings, in quality and in tone. There are a number of reasons: an ill-prepared production, a rushed schedule, and huge differences between the visions of Guillermo del Toro (who left the project roughly two years into pre-production) and LotR director Peter Jackson, who came in to clean the whole thing up.

"[Jackson] spent years prepping the original Lord of the Rings trilogy," reported The Verge, "and on the Hobbit things got so bad that when they started shooting the titular Battle of Five Armies itself they were essentially just shooting B-roll: footage of people in costumes waving around swords, without any cohesive plan for how the sequence would actually play out."

If you take one look at this special feature clip from The Hobbit's home entertainment release, you'll see the whole thing was a mess from the get go. Heck, when Peter Jackson admits he doesn't know what he's doing, you know things have gone awry.

Green Lantern

Before Ryan Reynolds hit paydirt with Deadpool, the actor took on another comic book role with DC's Green Lantern—the first film in a planned franchise devoted to the glowing green hero.

Needless to say, those plans didn't pan out. While Reynolds told Yahoo! Movies that the script was to blame for the film's failure, the overuse of mediocre CGI effects was also a huge factor in the terrible reviews and lackluster box office returns.

"Green Lantern is mostly Ryan Reynolds grimacing and flexing in a CGI suit on a green screen surrounded by CGI aliens on a CGI world," argued ScreenCrush. "Almost nothing onscreen is real, up to and including the sense of adventure. It's just a bunch of digital stuff shooting other digital stuff. And some of that digital stuff looks really bad."

When you take into consideration that Reynolds, like most actors, work best onscreen when interacting with real people, practical props, and tactile scenery, it's easy to see how the green-screened environment of the production could come off disconnected from the story being told. Hopefully, DC's upcoming franchise reboot will prove Warner Bros. has learned from its mistakes.

The Mummy Returns

Brendan Fraser's Mummy franchise had a lot of promise, but once this sequel hit the big screen, the film's drama and action sequences ended up buried underneath the weight of some horrendous CGI.

Chock it up to timing. The Mummy Returns hit theaters in 2001, a time when digital effects were still very much in their infancy. As Common Sense Media summed it up, "The special effects of The Mummy Returns are dated but the fight scenes are well staged and very exciting." Unfortunately, writer/director Steven Sommers used the plastic-looking CGI effects almost everywhere.

Let's not forget, this was Dwayne Johnson's first foray into the big-budget world of blockbuster movies. Long before he became "franchise Viagra," the Rock was the Scorpion King—a character that got his own movie a year later. Unfortunately, the People's Champ ended up looking more like a poorly designed video game villain and less like a formidable big-screen baddie when all was said and done.

Van Helsing

It seems Steven Sommers didn't learn any lessons from the mistakes he made with The Mummy Returns. Just a few years later, the director returned with Van Helsing—packing so many CGI effects into the film's runtime that they blurred out important story elements and poignant plot points in the process.

From cartoonishly big-mouthed vampires to castle-swooping action shots, the performances of Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale—who play Gabriel Van Helsing and Anne Valerious—get lost in the shuffle. Every cool monster sequence was undermined by far too many awful ones.

Empire Online put it best, saying, "There is an inescapable feeling that if Sommers had the confidence to jettison some of his action licks—do we really need to see our heroes swing across a CG castle so many times?—and put in some pauses for breath and character, Van Helsing would have been a much … more fulfilling experience."

The Matrix Reloaded

The Wachowskis definitely raised the special effects bar when The Matrix premiered in 1999. The use of practical and digital effects, along with some epic stunt work, changed the movies—inspiring a whole load of copycats to follow suit.

But when The Matrix Reloaded hit theaters just a few years later, CGI took the driver's seat, mostly replacing the high-tech practical effects and wire work that made the original so jaw-dropping. From the big car-hopping chase scene to some overloaded fight sequences, distracting computer-generated visuals show up everywhere. This issue is most apparent during the movie's infamous "Burly Brawl" scene—a sequence that found Keanu Reeves' Neo battling hundreds of Agent Smiths. The concept probably jumped off the script during the table read, but the finished product is far from the riveting spectacle the Wachowskis were hoping for.

"What hurt the scene was their terrible creation," argued Screen Rant, "delivering a rubbery and off-colored texture that stood out like a sore thumb. The scenes where the human actors are fighting edited with the CGI figures hurts the momentum of the scene and takes the viewer out of the experience."