Whether it’s being used to cover up an unwanted moustache or create an entire character from scratch, dodgy CGI is a filmmaker’s bane. Ropey digital effects have the potential to shatter audience immersion and turn a movie into a laughing stock.
Many Hollywood blockbusters have been shot in the foot by their own FX department and the problem isn’t always a lack of budget. Indeed, some of the ugliest CG abominations ever created have crawled out of the biggest studios in the business.
This issue is particularly prevalent where superhero movies are concerned, as CGI is often essential to convince the audience that a man really can fly, or run faster than the speed of light, or even swing across New York like an oversized arachnid.
When the film industry’s special effects gurus play their cards right, the illusion can be seamless and the punters leave the theatre filled with a sense of awe. But when they get it wrong, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards… and that isn’t a reference to Kevin Spacey’s career, in case you were wondering.
10. Superman (Justice League)
Justice League is easily one of the most disappointing superhero movies ever made, and not just because of its underwhelming box office takings. The movie thrust several of the greatest comic book characters ever conceived into the mix together, so anything less than spectacular was always going to be considered a failure.
Zack Snyder’s team-up showcase fell far short of its potential in virtually every way. It was plagued by all kinds of issues from the moment it entered pre-production, so the last thing it needed was the now-infamous Henry Cavill moustache saga.
The star had grown facial hair for his role in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and when Justice League reshoots called for him to be clean-shaven again, Paramount Pictures saw an opportunity to make things difficult for Warner Bros and said no.
Warner’s solution was to give Superman a digital shave, which meant covering up the lower portion of the actor’s face with CGI and superimposing Cavill’s mouth on top of the whole thing. The results, which stood out jarringly in the film’s opening sequence, made it look like he had applied too much Vaseline to his lips.
One scene in, and Justice League did a better job of killing Superman than Lex Luthor and Doomsday managed in the previous film.
9. Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider)
Heavy CGI usage in the Nicolas Cage-fronted Ghost Rider and its sequel Spirit of Vengeance was pretty much unavoidable, since dousing a stunt double with gasoline and setting their head on fire wouldn’t have been an option.
Unfortunately for Johnny Blaze fans, when he was in full flaming skull mode, the effects were ropey even by 2007 standards. Needless to say, they haven’t aged well and now look like something from a bad Xbox 360 game, before post-production.
The scenes in which Cage takes on the form of the vengeful spirit aren’t the only offenders. There’s a sequence where a jacked-up Blaze is checking out his newly-acquired abs in a mirror, and here, the actor’s torso has clearly been tampered with.
Although Cage got himself in good shape for the role, before and after pics confirm that he had a little help from the special effects department, and that has to go down as one of the most pointless instances of CGI usage in recent memory.
8. Hal Jordan (Green Lantern)
When Deadpool travelled back in time to assassinate Ryan Reynolds before he could make Green Lantern, his actions were completely justified, not least because he saved the world from some of the most abominable CGI in movie history.
Virtually every scene in the film is an eyesore, marred by the most artificial-looking digital effects you’ll ever see. The biggest problem is Hal Jordan’s suit. It looked naff seven years ago, and these days, there are Snapchat filters that are more convincing.
Reynolds’s name was poison among comic book movie fans for a while, but most have now forgiven him since he’s gone on to become the definitive Deadpool, and even ripped on Green Lantern at every opportunity while in that role.
7. The Hulk (Ang Lee’s Hulk)
There wasn’t much down for the Hulk when Ang Lee and his creative team decided that he should be all-CGI back in 2003. This was just 12 months on from The Scorpion King, the yardstick against which all horrible digital effects are measured.
Technology didn’t move on anywhere near enough to make the Green Goliath look even halfway convincing, or even tangible. Post-transformation, it was basically lead actor Eric Bana’s face superimposed onto a mass of ugly green plastic.
In all fairness, The Hulk’s biggest problem was that there was far too much talking and nowhere near enough smashing, but the dodgy CGI didn’t help matters.
6. The Fantastic Four (Any FF Movie)
All three Fantastic Four movies that have been released to date have one thing in common: they’re all terrible, and abysmal CGI is part of the reason.
The stretchy digital effects used to portray Reed Richards’s superpower is arguably the worst offender in every case, often creating the illusion that his body parts have been replaced by Plasticine. This is more excusable in the Tim Story originals, given that they’re over a decade old. Josh Trank’s reviled reboot has no such excuse.
Several special effects-heavy scenes look patchy in the 2015 movie, the result of extensive reshoots that everyone involved completed half-heartedly. The Human Torch’s flames, for instance, extinguish and relight between shots.
Goofy CG is a running theme in the Fantastic Four movie series. In three attempts, filmmakers have proved incapable of representing the gang’s powers convincingly. Hopefully, this will change if/when Marvel reclaims the rights to the property.
5. Silver Surfer (Fantastic Four 2)
One of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’s few redeeming features was the stellar performance by mo-cap master Doug Jones in the role of Norrin Radd. The part relied heavily on CGI, and in fairness, the effects weren’t completely egregious.
But they weren’t entirely convincing either. The Surfer’s design was reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, an FX trailblazer in its day – but that was back in 1991.
The second Fantastic Four film leans too heavily on technology that looked like it had barely moved on since the early ’90s. Even Jones’s solid performance wasn’t enough to convince the audience that they were looking at a living, breathing character.
4. Colossus (Deadpool)
One thing fans love about the Deadpool movies is their dedication to practical effects. Sure, there’s CGI in there too, but decking Ryan Reynolds out in an actual costume instead of covering him with digital effects worked in their favour.
Colossus is one of the few all-CG characters in these films, and while the effects used to create him aren’t the worst ever seen in the comic book movie space, the steely mutant looks somewhat out of place next to the other mutant characters.
Alongside other computer-generated X-Men, Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin wouldn’t stand out as the most poorly-rendered of the bunch, though there are scenes in both Deadpools where his torso looks more computerised than metallic.
3. Peter Parker (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man)
Sam Raimi got plenty of things right about Spider-Man, from his close relationships with his aunt and love interest Mary Jane, to the depiction of iconic villain Doctor Octopus. In hindsight, though, special effects are not included on that list.
The first chapter in the trilogy, in particular, has not aged well. Spidey’s first big-screen outing comes from an age where CGI in blockbuster movies was only just becoming commonplace and filmmakers were still figuring out how to maximise its potential.
Looking back at Spider-Man today, any scene where the Green Goblin is suited up looks like something from the Dark Ages of Hollywood, but the most jarring CG sequence comes early in the film when Peter Parker first acquires spider powers.
The fledgling hero goes on a rooftop run to test drive his new abilities, and the special effects which made that possible would have been rightly torn apart by the gaming press if they had appeared in a PlayStation 2 title.
2. Wolverine (X-Men Origins)
There aren’t too many positives to draw from X-Men Origins: Wolverine beyond the mindblowing war montage at the start, but the fans should at least have been able to rely on Logan’s solo debut to produce half-decent special effects.
Three X-Men movies preceded the film and they had no problems portraying Wolvie’s Adamantium claw pop using practical props. For some reason, the Origins creative team thought it was a good idea to use shoddy CGI for this instead.
Wolverine’s digital claws look hideous throughout the film. In most scenes, they appear to be hovering awkwardly over his knuckles, rather than protruding from them.
To say they look like they’ve been created using Photoshop is an insult to a useful piece of image-editing software that has been the industry standard for years.
1. Daredevil (Daredevil)
Daredevil’s cinematic cut was a mess. It was hacked to pieces in the editing room and the version which ended up on the big screen arrived with its heart ripped out. Redeeming features are few and far between in this iteration of the Ben Affleck-fronted superhero film, but special effects might have been among them if it wasn’t for the final act.
During the Man Without Fear’s final showdown with Colin Farrell’s Bullseye, the two combatants end up facing off on top of a ridiculously large pipe organ; except it’s not actually them. It’s a pair of cheap-looking digital stunt doubles.
Digital doubles can work if you have the budget and the technology to create them convincingly, but it seems Daredevil had neither back in 2003, so the sequence ended up resembling a video game boss fight… from the PSone era.
How this scene didn’t end up joining the masses of exorcised footage on the cutting room floor is a mystery.