8. Scooby-Doo – Scooby-Doo
As the video we link in this article proves, the first live-action film starring Scooby-Doo (2002) is not a masterpiece of subtlety. The film still made a more than decent amount of money, and got a sequel two years later. The cast was accettable, with Sarah Michelle Gellar fresh of her success with Buffy, and some big names like Rowan Atkinson and Linda Cardellini (and an on-point Shaggy by Matthew Lillard).
The film works now as a minor cult movie representing the worst tendencies in silly early 2000s movies, and among these tendencies shaky CGI is certainly the most obvious. While bad special effects are central to some scenes, the problem with Scooby-Doo is that the eponymous character is perennially present in almost every scene, and he is rendered horribly.
It is a really distracting view throughout the whole movie, as this obviously fake, plastic-like dog moves around and interacts with the characters. Sure, the rest of the movie is so clumsy that one could forgive the CGI as just one of the film’s many issues. Not that these issues take anything away from its value as a guilty pleasure.
7. Die Another Day – Tsunami surfing
The good thing about the 007 film saga is that each entry somehow manages to be memorable, one way or the other. Daniel Craig’s first outing Casino Royale will likely be remembered for its gritty tone, while the follow-up Quantum of Solace is still discussed today for its over-bloated approach and its value as a more Jason Bourne-y Bond. The point is James Bond always leaves a mark in the shared culture, either for the good or the bad that is found in his movies.
Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s last outing in the role, is certainly remembered for the bad. The story, the acting, the general style of the movie are an epitome of bad early-2000s action films. CGI plays a big part in this cinematic nightmare, as the film is filled with badly executed effects enhanced by an achingly experimental editing style.
The most infamous scene in the movie, and the best example of its bad visual effects, is the one where Bond surfs on a gigantic tsunami wave (although the invisible car is memorably bad as well). 007 has been in quite a few absurd scenarios, and maybe this is not the most absurd of them all, but it is certainly the worst-looking.
6. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – Jabba the Hutt
Few people in Hollywood get as high a level of love and hate as George Lucas does. He is the main author of arguably the most popular film franchise of the 20th century, but has also repeatedly reworked the original material in a way that often seemed questionable, not to mention the often ridiculed prequel trilogy. Still, Lucas’ changes to the original trilogy are still his most hated work.
In 1997, Lucas remastered and made some significant changes to the original trilogy, adding a lot of computer graphics. As he worked on the prequel trilogy, he released additional re-workings of the original films, with more CGI and many other changes (like the appearance of Hayden Christensen in the finale of Return of the Jedi). We could choose a number of examples, but the appearance of Jabba the Hutt in Episode IV fits perfectly in this list, both in the 1997 version and in the later 2004 one.
The scene was cut from the 1977 film, and featured a human Jabba. The dialogue between him and Han Solo was added in the new versions of the film, and it looks really bad, especially when Solo is near the CGI Jabba. A good example of how not to tamper with original material.
5. Catwoman – Catwoman jumping
The word “famous” in the title of this list could seem forced for a film like Catwoman; infamous might be a better adjective. In fact, as infamous movies go, Catwoman is at the top of the list. An endless series of aspects of the film are fundamentally wrong; sure, taste is subjective, but filmmaking is also craft, and the craft of Catwoman is abysmal.
What separates Catwoman from the many mindless blockbusters Hollywood constantly produces is the directing style by Pitof. Pitof is a French filmmaker who worked for many years as a visual effect supervisor before making his debut with the film Pitocq, which is such a sore to the eye that no right-minded individual should have given him another directing work. Yet, he got Catwoman, and the movie turned out unwatchable to say the least.
The editing is nauseatingly fast, and almost every single visual choice is terrible. CGI plays a large role in this: the way an experienced visual effect supervisor like Pitof could be so tasteless in his choices is a mystery. Catwoman’s movements are unnatural and as fake-looking as they could be while she jumps through the buildings… which are equally unnatural and fake-looking. Still, CGI remains only one of bad aspects in the cinematic train-wreck that is Catwoman.
4. Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Renesmee
The Twilight saga is with no doubt one of the most successful franchises of the 2000s. It was a cultural phenomenon, reviving the trend of films made specifically for teenagers which combined romance and horror themes.
The “sexy vampire” cliché was reborn with Twilight, and a generation of teenagers fell in love with a brooding Robert Pattinson. Pattinson, together with Kirsten Stewart, was for a long time associated by the general public to the quite ridiculous performances that the Twilight script forced him to give. Still, he and Stewart both were able to move on to better roles and actually prove their strength as actors. Unfortunately, the Twilight movies still exist, and they are still full of cringe-worthy moments.
One of the worst is certainly the CGI rendition of Renesmee, Bella and Edward’s daughter. The moment is supposed to be touching and meaningful, but it ends up being the grotesque reveal of a digital face which looks completely unrealistic.
Sure, there is plenty of bad special effects in the Twilight films, but none as ridiculous as this. It would seem right to criticize the filmmakers for their choice, but at least they did not go with the original plan, a doll that looked absurdly creepy. Footage can be found online of the original scenes featuring the doll (jokingly called Chuckesmee), a testament of the poor decision making behind the production of Twilight.
3. The Mummy Returns – The scorpion king
This is often remembered as one of the worst-looking effects of recent filmmaking. The Mummy trilogy starring Brendan Fraser started in 1999 and ended in 2008. The films work a competent exercise in action/monster movie filmmaking, with no particular intent other to entertain an audience as large and distracted as possible.
The film is an easy prey for critics, but one scene in particular in the second installment of the series has been universally laughed at, the CGI scorpion king “played” by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “Played” is in quotes because in the finale the character is completely digital, including the face. The level of graphics is below the “bad videogame” line, and the absurd expressions on what is supposed to be Johnson’s face are cringe-worthy. A bad CGI moment for the ages.
2. Spawn – Spawn in Hell
In 1997, the legendary comic book character Spawn received his first feature film adaptation. The film was produced on the basis of Spawn’s great success in the world of comics, a success of which Todd MacFarlane, the writer/penciller who created him, was well aware of. Fearful an unfaithful adaptation, MacFarlane sold the rights for a low amount of money, in exchange of the chance to consult on the film creatively.
A film based on the established other-worldly iconography of Spawn needed a certain type of visual direction behind it, thus the decision to give Mark A.Z. Dippé, a former ILM visual effects artist, the direction.
The film is messy mixture of ambition and bad decisions. Overall, one could see how the challenges of certain effects (like Spawn’s cape or the Violator character) were so difficult that some errors can be excused; moreover, the make-up was impressive.
However, a particular scene is so laughably bad that it is hard to understand how the former ILM artists that worked on the film could let it happen: the descent of Spawn into hell is everything you do not want to see in a scene with CGI, and in no way resembles something that should be featured in a film.
1. Justice League – Moustache-less Superman
Superhero movies make numerous appearances on this list. The reason is easy to see: they usually require a large number of visual effects in order to show the incredible things superheroes do, and the incredible places they go to. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy broke with this habit, since the director tried to use as many practical effects as possible.
When Zack Snyder took over the DC world owned by Warner Bros and started planning a shared universe which included Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and many others, it was clear that the approach was going to be heavily CGI-oriented.
Behind-the-scenes footage show how big Snyder relied on these effects, to the point that in Batman V. Superman even Batman’s cowl is often completely CGI. The choice was fitting to the director’s style: one could like it or not, but it made sense.
Then, Justice League came. The very troubled production of the movie and its consistent changes may be the reason behind the bad CGI in it, but the fact remains that most of the movie is visually ridiculous. The characters, the scenery, it all lacks any credibility or realism. Just look at Steppenwolf or Cyborg, or how the Russian city in the grand finale looks.
All of this absolutely pales in comparison to the worst looking special effect in a big budget movie the world has ever seen: Superman’s face. The story is well known: Henry Cavill was contractually obligated to keep the moustache he grew for Mission Impossible: Fallout, so he had to film Justice League’s reshoots with it, forcing Warner Bros to spend thousands of dollars in digital effects to remove it.
Any other word may be unnecessary: you just have to look at the scenes with Superman’s face and understand how laughable a movie becomes when one of its main characters looks like this, especially in a supposedly epic moment like the finale.