CGI — an acronym for Computer Generated Images — is pretty commonplace these days. However, there are some films which have absolutely breathtaking CGI effects which, not only enhance the movie, but steal the show. These special-effect laden films tend to belong the sci-fi genre, but there are nonetheless some remarkable examples from other movie genres. Read on to discover some of the best CGI movies ever. 

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Top 10 Best CGI Movies of All Time

Love and Monsters (2020)

Love and Monsters was a big hit last year, featuring the ever charming Dylan O’Brien battling his way across apocalyptic land in order to be reunited with his high school girlfriend. While the set on this movie was remarkable, with the Australian wilderness and new-age cluttered underground bunkers, what really made this film stand out was the cutting edge CGI monsters. 

O’Brian’s character Joel, comes into contact with 13 mutant creatures on his travels, all of which — thanks to a myriad of detail and texture — are completely believable on screen.  Production designer on the film, Dan Hennah, said the visual effects team based each of their design on real-life crustacean and amphibian species, which helped make the mutant versions extra realistic. 

Avatar (2009)

James Cameron’s Avatar is probably the best CGI movie ever made. The project was filmed using stereoscopic 3D, a technique which combines live-action and CGI imagery to produce a ultra-realistic looking result. 

Cameron actually began working on Avatar back in the early 1990s, but had to put the project on hold as contemporary technology simply wasn’t capable of capturing his vision. It wasn’t until 2006 that motion-capture animation tech had made enough progress to bring his ideas to fruition. And, as fans of the sci-fi genre would agree, the end result is stunning.

The Irishman (2019)

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman might not strike you as a special effects-laden movie, but it was actually a game changer in the sphere of CGI due to the novel de-aging technology used. While the Marvel franchise had already demonstrated this new technique with it’s de-aging of Chris Evans in Captain America, The Irishman took it to the next level. 

This remarkable technology allowed Robert de Niro to portray his character, Sheeran, over several decades — convincingly looking as young as 30 when the actor is in fact over 70!

Titanic (1997)

James Cameron always finds a way to match budget with ambition, and Titanic is no exception. To create the epic iceberg collision, Cameron used a variety of techniques — some CGI and some practical. 

For instance, Titanic miniatures were broken in half and shot to show the full-shot sinking scenes, while the colossal iceberg was completely CGI. The surrounding sea and sky was created using a green screen, and bizarrely some extras in crowd shots were even computer generated.

Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuarón’s epic blockbuster Gravity cleaned up at the award shows, winning 7 Oscars total. What made the film so remarkable was its stunning use of CGI technology. According to Tim Webber, the VFZ supervisor on the film, there is more CGI in the movie than there is real live-action. For many of the shots, the only thing filmed in a traditional way was the facial expressions. In fact, even the space suits were made by visual effects artists!

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix is another huge CGI success story, but unlike Gravity, it’s praised for its modest and sparse reliance on the technology. In fact, the film prioritised live-action and used CGI effects to embellish and heighten performances, rather than occupy the whole show. 

For example, in the scene where a bug is inserted into Neo’s body, animatronic replicas of both were used, and nothing was animated. When the actors are crawling along a wall fleeing the agents, harnesses and a special set were used. The result was hyper realistic, which contributed to the unique and influential aesthetic of the movie, ultimately making it one of the best CGI movies ever. 

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

The original Lord of the Rings Trilogy is heralded as one of the most masterful fantasy book adaptations of all time. To help create a convincing Middle Earth and fantasy creatures, a combination of superb costumes, abundant sets, attentive location scouting and — of course — CGI was used. 

Part of what made the original trilogy overall far more captivating than the subsequent Hobbit saga was the way they used special effects to enhance reality, and didn’t attempt to replace it completely. 

For example, all of the Orcs were portrayed by actors in prosthetics, makeup and costume rather than being computer generated, or requiring actors to wear green screen bodysuits. 

Gollum was one of the few aspects which relied on CGI for its portrayal, however each of his scenes was performed by Andy Serkis against a real background, and the actor’s actual face was used as a base for the digital character. This ensured that every scene featuring Gollum was highly realistic.

Terminator II: Judgement Day (1991)

Terminator II features a great deal of CGI to intensify the shapeshifting android assassin, T-1000 allowing the character to shapeshift into any material it touches. In fact, for its time, the cgi used on T-1000 was the most ambitious since Tron and The Last Starfighter — which were both made over a decade before!

Interstellar (2014)

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was the stunning culmination of decades of the director’s own space research. From childhood, his and his brother Jonathan (who collaborates as screenwriter on the movie) were obsessed with watching footage of space launches, and both shared a passion for Star Wars and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

However, for a movie about space, there isn’t a great deal of CGI. Like Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, Interstellar is a great CGI movie precisely because it doesn’t over-rely on the technology. 

To ensure the CGI worked seamlessly with the live action shots, the special effects team created all of the effects before shooting began. That way, they could be shown alongside the actors performances, instead of using a green screen. This ultimately improved actors’ performances, as they knew precisely the how the scene would look and were able to actually feel as though they’re in another world. 

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In 2011, the visual effects team responsible for War for the Planet of the Apes changed history, using CGI to achieve images with new heights of realism. Basing the apes on human faces (most notably Andy Serkis, who also portrayed the CGI Gollum in LoR), each ape-character depicted emotion and intelligence, ultimately making their plight alluring and the movie mesmerising. 

Bonus Picks

CGI has gone from strength to strength over the years. In addition to the above list, below are more of best CGI animated movies. 

The Giant Wave (2000)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

The Jungle Book (2016)

Tron (1982)

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Altering Perceptions

The best CGI movies are all about altering your perception and creating new realities. If that’s your kind of cinema, make sure you check out Best Minding Movies while you’re here. 

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