One of the strongest baseline tests for the quality of CGI is when the film calls for the dramatic transformation of one thing into another. These examples are from films that provoked the wrong kind of reaction from audiences.
A Goose Turns Into A Driver in 2015’s Cinderella
Released only four years ago, you probably forgot about this Disney adaptation despite it once making all the money while receiving positive reviews. After all, why go back and watch the live-action remake when there’s a perfectly good animated version available?
Case in point: the moment we experience Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother work her magic on the nearby wildlife — mutating a hapless goose into a snooty carriageman… but not before briefly turning him into a Dr. Moreau abomination in the process. This process is no less terrifying for the mice and the lizards as well… because some things should simply stay as a cartoon.
Michael Keaton Turns Into A Muppet in Jack Frost
The plot of this 1998 family film about a deceased dad resurrected in snow is grotesque enough without the introduction of a Henson Company snowman puppet augmented with CGI. But it’s only once you sit down and take in the full spectacle can you see why this $85 million dollar endeavor was a tremendous flop.
To be clear: the puppet itself is quite impressive. But every effort to digitally animate it in an elaborate snowball fight and sledding sequences turns this already ghastly premise into a straight-up horror show. And I simply can’t stress this enough: we’re watching a movie about a dead dad haunting his child as a reanimated holiday decoration.
Jake Becomes A Na’vi in Avatar
You probably recall the CGI Na’vi in Avatar as cutting edge — and that’s most likely because the last time you saw this film was in 2009. Don’t get me wrong: this extremely forgettable film remains a breakthrough in special effects. However the transformation of actors Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver fall just short of the uncanny valley — more than enough to be creepy.
Why is that? Mainly because while the Na’vi avatars included mighty attention to details such as skin creases and veins, they remain oddly clean and without imperfections throughout the film. There’s a waft of rubber to them, and the result is a creature that doesn’t quite fit into reality.
Silver Samurai is revealed in The Wolverine
As the second of three attempts at a solo film, 2013’s The Wolverine is an unfortunately forgotten but overall decent origin(ish) story about an old man’s quest to harness the titular character’s healing powers via giant robot. This extremely odd plan culminates into a CGI battle between Logan and the Silver Samurai.
Then the funniest thing happens. The behemoth metallic villain drops mask to reveal himself as the elderly mastermind, puppeting the Samurai as a mech suit. In terms of CG this is totally fine to watch, but conceptually it’s a hilarious moment on par with the jarringness of seeing Jeff Bridges don the Monger suit in Iron Man. And speaking of this exact thing…
Ares Reveals Himself in Wonder Woman
You may have noticed that we’re not going to simply point out poor CGI, but rather transformation scenes that are fundamentally bad for reasons ranging from execution to the mere notion. The new Wonder Woman is absolutely a fantastic film, but the idea of seeing the scrawny British actor David Thewlis transform into a swole demon of Ares is beyond silly.
And yes — that is why the transition works in terms of the plot. His unassuming presence makes the transition more jarring, making the result both effective and funny at the same time. It’s a paradox, you guys. One that takes me out of the movie every time I see it.
The Sudden Dragon in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
I don’t expect you to remember or have even seen The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an objectively bad movie. So simply believe me when I say that there’s a scene in Chinatown where Nicolas Cage punches an old woman and then a dragon puppet transforms into an impressively dated CGI version unworthy of the film’s $150 million budget.
I can’t stress this enough: for such a high budget film from 2010, this dragon looks like it was made ten years prior. The weirdest part being that the rest of the movie’s effects aren’t half bad — meaning that they clearly ran out of cash from all the CG broomsticks and bitchin’ leather coats.
Electro Is Created By Eels in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Hoo boy, was this film real or did we all have a collective and mediocre nightmare? To its credit, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the much-needed rock-bottom that pushed Sony toward the fantastic Spider-Films we’re seeing today. And if there was ever a rock-bottom to this rock-bottom moment, that would be the scene where Jamie Foxx is pummelled by CGI eels.
For starters, they just look terrible. But also, and more importantly, the origin of Electro being a Farrelly Brothers-style fall into a comically-placed vat of electric ocean snakes is the pinnacle of screenwriter laziness and should frankly have resulted in jail time.
Everything That Happens in the 2011 Version Of The Thing
Free advice: if you’re rebooting a classic horror film renowned for its still-amazing practical effects, try not to use bafflingly cheap CGI. The tragedy of 2011’s The Thing is that it was originally shot with beautifully-made puppets, only to be digitally “enhanced” in post-production. The result is heartbreaking.
There’s nothing wrong with a few augmentations here and there… but can you imagine the deranged thought process behind whoever choose to spend more money to make their film considerably worse? Clearly this was not the work of a real human being, but rather some kind of sinister facsimile.
Jordan Is Turned Into A Basketball in Space Jam
If you pause this sequence at just the right moment, you’ll discover a blocky rubber man being contorted impossibly before turning into a ball-like mass with Michael Jordan‘s clearly superimposed face on it. It’s horrifying on many levels, including the numerous questions about cartoon biology going on in this scene.
Is Michael a cartoon at this point? Considering that there’s a chunk of the plot devoted to him learning to break the rules of physics, it’s safe to say that in this moment he is experiencing an existential torment unlike anything we could possibly imagine.
The Majority of Ang Lee’s Hulk
I have to confess something here: I really enjoy the 2003 Hulk directed by Ang Lee. I understand that it is not a good film, nor can I defend it in any way. But there’s something undeniably unique in its comic book-style editing and campy performances. It’s an adorable film from a time where we didn’t fully understand what comic book fans wanted in a movie.
That said — the CGI is distinctly early-2000s… meaning that it’s from a time where we were painfully over-confident in what we thought was “photo-realistic”. No better example is the moment Eric Bana is confronted by a giant cartoon poodle. But at least they had the good sense to shoot the scene at night!
“Young” Flynn in Tron: Legacy
Okay, I have a second confession: I really liked Tron: Legacy. In terms of following up the original I consider it a visual and story success and want nothing more than a third film that will sadly never come. That said, no sane human can deny the profound madness that is Jeff Bridges’s gumby CG face.
In the era of de-aging actors, there would inevitably be a few false starts. But holy hell is it a haunting attempt at humanity. You’ve likely seen still images of it, but can’t truly appreciate the failure until you see it action. This is why I implore you to go rent Tron: Legacy, so that you can witness it first-hand and maybe… you know, give the film a financial boost.
Everything From Transformers 2 Through 5 Is Terrible
In a way, the Transformers series has accomplished the impossible. Specifically: it has managed to make an entire generation bored with watching giant robots fight. One of the many ways it fails has to do with the transformations themselves — which increasingly became more casual as the franchise progressed.
Have you ever taken a stopwatch to these films? You might be surprised to learn that each transformation sequence has been steadily getting faster and more muddled — making it just one more detail lost in the noise of incomprehensible CGI. It’s no surprise the box office results waned and the series was thankfully rebooted.
Dr. Smith The Spider in 1998’s Lost In Space
The 90s were a wild time. Not only did we think Matt LeBlanc should have a movie career, but we took a 60s television remake and used it to portray a dark alternate timeline filled with spider mutations and grizzly death. Does anyone remember the ending of 1998’s Lost In Space or have we all successfully repressed it?
If you don’t remember, here’s a hint: Gary Oldman turns into a CGI monster with a razor mouth. And no, it doesn’t look good. For many reasons. Between this sequence and Blarp — the atrocious digital monkey-alien — never has a film so boldly showcased its poor visual choices.
Krueger The Caterpillar in Freddy Vs Jason
There was once a time where the Nightmare On Elm St films were considered effective horror… but that time was not 2003, when the film Freddy vs. Jason was released. In a bleak case of “be careful what you wish for”, fans were finally granted the crossover slasher of a lifetime, only to receive a dry turd of a sequel.
And speaking of “dry turds” this film features a CGI Freddy caterpillar smoking a ton of weed. While that’s a slam dunk on paper, the filmmakers decided to not use a puppet, but rather the “realistic” digital rendering you can expect from a mid-budget horror movie from the early-2000s.
Baby vs Dog in Son Of The Mask
If you ever wanted to see a cartoon dog try to murder a rubber-faced infant then Son of the Mask is the film for you. Not only does it feature CGI that’s considerably worse than the decade-older predecessor, but forces the audience to mentally picture a sex scene between a human woman and living cartoon.
Yes — the premise of this motion picture is that someone conceives a child while wearing the mystical Loki mask, spawning an animated toddler somehow more disturbing than the Ally McBeal baby. If the Devil ever got into directing, this would be the result.
Logan’s Claws in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
As far as cinematic sins go, this is a minor one. Still, in a film where your main character has extendable claws, it’s pretty amazing that X-Men Origins: Wolverine somehow managed to botch this up — especially since we’re talking about three metallic slabs with no complicated moving parts.
Seriously, how did they mess up gray rectangles so damn much? And why couldn’t the production afford a practical apparatus? Had they even swung by the Halloween store, the results would have been more realistic than what we got.
CPR from CGI in Catwoman
I’m honestly not sure this qualifies because the 2004 Catwoman isn’t so much a movie as it is a series of vaguely upsetting lights and sounds. There are countries where showing the film is considered a sensory assault punishable as a war crime. I haven’t actually looked it up, but this film has killed 600 people.
In one particularly unwatchable scene, Halle Berry is transformed into the title character via a cartoon cat — who seemingly breathes cat-magic into the unconscious character. It’s terrible. Everything is terrible. Do not watch this movie or even speak its name.
Agent Smith Gets Duplicated in The Matrix Reloaded
The first Matrix revolutionized how we used computers to make a film, spearheading the “bullet time” effect that made the action so unique. The sequel, Matrix Reloaded, managed to completely reverse that accomplishment when it transformed Agent Smith into a mannequin army. This hilarious error is best featured when Neo is tasked with fighting off an entire horde.
Not only do they look like PS2 versions of Hugo Weaving, but the manner in which this rubbery throng is cartoonishly despatched highlights the absolute bonkersness of the movie physics. In the end we get a scene entertaining only for its comedic value.
The Cyberspace Showdown in Johnny Mnemonic
While we’re on the subject of CGI Keanu Reeves… Johnny Mnemonic is the forgotten pre-Matrix cyperpunk romp starring everyone’s favorite Ted. Along with lightsaber whips, a Jesused-out Dolph Lundgren, and a surprising amount of cyborg dolphins (exactly one), the movie also features a laughably 90s “cyberspace” fight showcasing graphics worthy of your Amiga 4000.
Truly is this film a museum-worthy time capsule of 90s-style visual representations of “the net” — a place filled with neon tubes and flying disks. Oh, and did I mention that both Ice-T and Henry Rollins are in this movie? It’s vital that you get the full picture of just how amazingly 90s Johnny Mnemonic is.
The Vampire Brides in Van Helsing
Remember that scene in The Devil’s Advocate where the lady’s face twists into a demonic grin? How cool and shocking was that? Well friend, how would you like to experience that same effect, but nearly ten years later and inexplicably worse? I have great news for you, new best friend, because Van Helsing is a movie that definitely exists.
It an incredible feat of incompetence, the lady vampires in this movie sneer with all the digital realism of the Black Hole Sun music video. But don’t worry, because our hero eventually crossbows them into ashes in what is somehow an even worse transition into a dusty CGI skeleton.
The Subway Transformation in American Werewolf In Paris
Believe it or not but this extremely bad 1997 remake has a few moments that are frustratingly close to being good. Most of these moments are sadly squandered with terrible humor or, more often, excruciatingly dated werewolf effects. This is made equally sad by the occasionally passable practical gore caught up in all the crap.
If you have any fond adolescent memories for the CGI (or any aspect) of this movie, my stern suggestion is to never rewatch it ever. Not only have you forgotten just how cartoony the effects are, but also the fact that this film has a scene where Tom Everett Scott eats a condom.
The Clown Becomes The Violator in Spawn
The 1997 Spawn movie manages to be boring, aggressive, gross, and baffling all at the same time. Most law-abiding members of society probably only remember seeing John Leguizamo in clown makeup. Anyone depraved enough to have re-watched this in modern times is either in jail or writing for the internet.
We’re getting into the dark territory of overtly horrendous CGI that was seen as groundbreaking in the 1990s. You might even remember the scene where Leguizamo’s clown character transforms into a hell demon as being “well done”. I’m here to tell you that this is not the case. You’re welcome.
The Serum Wears Off in The Nutty Professor
Honestly I haven’t seen this film, but considering that it’s from the same people behind Ace Ventura: Pet Detective I’m sure it’s a good-natured and tasteful representation of the social anxiety that overweight individuals suffer. What I have seen, however, are the sequences where the magic slim serum wears off. And jeez… it is… something.
Question: is this film meant to horrify and repel? Is there some underlying Cronenbergian message about the follies of genetic tampering I’m not aware of? Because from what I’ve seen, the moral of this film appears to be “do not mess with science lest you become a walking house of mirrors.”
Jango Fett’s Shapeshifting Assassin in Star Wars: Episode II
Don’t worry everyone; I went ahead and Googled this and the shapeshifting assassin’s name is Zam Wesell. She is of the Clawdite race of shapeshifting reptile aliens — known for their extremely unbelievable, or fake, appearance and the desire to cover their faces despite being able to look like anyone.
Boy, these prequels have some terrible CGI, don’t they? Since we’re specifically talking about “transformations” I am forced to highlight but one of many unrealistic examples. Still, these films manage to fail at every aspect of its effects (even the models) by creating such a weightless and green-screened world that sometimes you have to just stand back and admire the garbage fire of it all.
The Creation Of Bane in Batman and Robin
Shocking revelation from Batman and Robin: when you give someone super-strength, the muscles don’t actually grow — but rather their entire body inflates like a waterlogged Stretch Armstrong. Also, all it takes to get this desired effect is a generous injection of “venom”. You know it’s the good stuff when it has a skull and crossbones on the bottle.
Without a doubt this is the worst CGI’d villain origin in any superhero film. In terms of non-CGI origins, however, this film still holds the title by flinging Arnold Schwarzenegger into a giant vat of dry ice.
King Koopa the Dinosaur in Super Mario Bros
As a wee child I remember being amazed at how super-realistic it was seeing Dennis Hopper become a giant dinosaur before splattering into old Gak. As an adult I am amazed at how dumb of a child I apparently was. But I do understand the confusion: there is a brief moment in this sequence where they use an actual puppet. The rest is embarrassing ones and zeroes.
And of course, this isn’t the only terrible transformation of this film — which not only turns Mojo Nixon into a tiny-brained lizard face, but also magically warps a giant wad of trash goop into Lance Henriksen.
The Anamality Battle in Mortal Kombat Annihilation
The first Mortal Kombat establishes itself as both a CG spectacle and a martial arts show. Naturally the sequel decided to combine the two, turning our main hero and villain into chonking cartoon monsters that awkwardly fight for our confusion. It’s a real misjudgement of a sequence — not that the rest of the film is any good either.
And what’s more hilarious: the fight doesn’t last much more than 30-seconds … implying that either the filmmakers quickly ran out of post-production money, or immediately realized their mistake and pulled the plug. Either way, the damage had already been done.
Jobe Goes Inside The Computer in The Lawnmower Man
For all its faults, if The Lawnmower Man was aiming to make their heel-turned villain Jobe into a virtual nightmare… they absolutely accomplished that. Unfortunately that’s because everything that exists in the VR world of this film is a glow-in-the-dark and disproportionate abomination. That’s right… the CGI is so bad that it’s actually scary.
And if you’re hoping there’s a virtual sex scene where one character morphs into a liquid impression of a Men In Black alien before vomiting love-goo everywhere, then you’re in luck… pervert. This movie delivers. It gives you all the worst effects you could desire and then pushes that expectation into the realm of exhaustion.
The Scorpion King in Mummy Returns
Did you think we wouldn’t include it? The infamous rubber face of Dwayne Johnson glued to a badly rendered arachnid is the Citizen Kane of “bad CGI” lists. As much as I desire to stand out among the many, there is simply no denying the single cringiest digital reveal of any film known to man.
One can only assume the amount of times this image has been printed to poster size and hung on the walls of effect warehouses with the caption “NEVER AGAIN” in big bold letters. It is, without a doubt, the single worst effect in cinematic history. We’re all lucky to have been alive for this.
Ash The Dummy Head in Alien
“Hold on,” you scream, red-faced, at your screen… “that isn’t a CGI shot!” Well, you’re right. And also, you’re way too invested in this list. But there’s a shot in the original Alien that deserves our attention. It’s when they plop down Ash’s obviously-a-dummy head and the movie jump cuts to actor Ian Holm. It’s jarring, and why they didn’t simply use a cutaway is beyond me.
The lesson here is that a movie can be the best goddamn thing ever and still have a terrible effect. Nor does that effect have to be CGI… since I would argue that this moment (in this amazing film) is a worse transformation than anything else on this miserable list. Reflect on that. Or don’t. Whatever, man.