CGI Nightmares: Diving into the Films That Made Audiences Cringe

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is now a common feature in contemporary films. It spans various genres such as action, superhero, sci-fi, and epic fantasy.

However, achieving high-quality CGI is a challenging and costly endeavor. Creating convincing big action scenes and realistic visual effects pose significant difficulties. Thus, if not done correctly, CGI may have disastrous effects (pun not intended). Due to this, many films with an otherwise great story and plot may falling short in this aspect.

While spotting flaws in CGI productions might require a watchful eye and expertise, there are certain motion pictures where even a casual viewer can easily spot the mistakes. We present you the list of films with the most catastrophic ones.

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worst cgi films

Illustration: Lenka T.

CGI has undoubtedly revolutionized the world of filmmaking. Yet, there have been instances where the poorest CGI moments have proven disastrous for their respective movies.  

There is a prevalent misconception that the quality of CGI in a movie solely hinges on its budget. Surely, finances do play a significant role, this can’t be denied. Still, the expertise and effort the effects artists invest, as well as the time they have on their hands also greatly influence the CGI outcome. For this reason, it remains both unsettling and astonishing when movies with staggering budgets surpassing $200 million exhibit mediocre to horrible CGI. 

In the history of CGI, a groundbreaking moment occurred in 1973 with the film Westworld, where CGI was used to portray the perspective of an android. Since then, CGI has progressed at a staggering pace. 

When done with exceptional skill, CGI has the power to take a film to a new level, enhancing the overall cinematic experience. This is precisely why some films, particularly action or sci-fi, look authentic and realistic – just think of James Cameron’s Avatar. 

The very first film made almost entirely out of CGI was Tron. Nowadays, it has become a practice to not only include but rely entirely on CGI in filmmaking. However, doing so can be a double-edged sword. It can either enhance or detrimentally impact, or better to say destroy the final product.  

Owing to poor CGI, the following films were considered a complete disaster by VFX artists of Reddit.  

The Mummy Returns (2001) 

Released in 2001 as the highly anticipated sequel to the beloved The Mummy, The Mummy Returns did literally nothing but introduce audiences to a notoriously catastrophic CGI creation of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Scorpion King.  

Regrettably, the portrayal of the Scorpion King has etched itself in cinematic history as one of the most poorly executed CGI endeavors. At the time, Johnson, known primarily as a professional wrestler, was unable to provide sufficient reference footage for the digital artists, leaving them to fill in the missing details during the climactic showdown. 

The Scorpion King was a monstrous fusion of man and scorpion, with grotesque scars and clawed hands.  While this was an intriguing idea, the artistic execution failed to realize it. The lighting cast unflattering shadows, the movements appeared jagged and stiff, and the facial rigging lacked the finesse to bring the character to life, resembling a rudimentary clay sculpture. 

The Mummy Returns, a product of its era, persists as a haunting reminder for audiences of the CGI shortcomings that can endure over time. 

Matrix Reloaded (2003) 

Enriched with imaginative concepts, the captivating second chapter of The Matrix trilogy delivered an enjoyable movie experience. However, it was evident that Reloaded was excessively ambitious for its time.  

True, audiences may forgive (but not forget) grandiose action sequences and daring stunts within the film’s simulated reality. Yet, there was one scene that proved to be too agonizing for fans to disregard it. 

The epic battle between Neo and the multitude of Agent Smith clones fell short of the quality one would expect from such a film. Neo’s character appeared unnatural; the distinct boundary between the green screen and the real environment was glaringly apparent.  

The scene’s entertainment value has indeed inspired imitations across different media. However, the presence of poorly-rendered CGI characters in The Matrix Reloaded proves to be a significant hindrance that is difficult to overlook. 

Hulk (2003) 

In 2003, acclaimed director Ang Lee helmed the first live-action theatrical adaptation of Marvel’s formidable superhero in Hulk. If critics found issues with the CGI portrayal of She-Hulk, they would have encountered similar concerns with the implementation of CGI in bringing Hulk to life on the grand scale. While Bruce’s transformation was effectively executed, the physical depiction of Hulk suffered from flaws, lacking smooth and natural movements. 

Fans also expressed discontent with 2003’s Hulk due to the excessive reliance on CGI to introduce new enemies such as the Hulk Dogs. The gamma-infused creatures were intended to exude menace, but instead appeared overly cartoonish. Despite the Hulk’s reputation as one of the most formidable superheroes in movies, his power was undermined by subpar CGI. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 

Released in 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is widely regarded as a disappointing film for various reasons. The most infamous one was possibly its use of atrocious CGI.  

The movie came as a surprise to fans who believed the franchise had concluded with The Last Crusade back in 1989. Within the film’s narrative, Jones, accompanied by his lover and son, embarks on a perilous journey. In a bid to obtain the enigmatic alien artifact that gives the movie its name, he must face off against fierce enemies – Soviet agents. 

The inclusion of aliens in the Indiana Jones series is not only implausible but also ridiculous, as well as the use of extensive CGI in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Regrettably, the implementation of CGI adds little value to the film’s storyline; in fact, it makes the film even worse to watch. 

Whether it’s the unrealistic survival of Jones inside a fridge during a nuclear explosion or the spectacle of Indy’s son swinging through the jungle akin to Tarzan, the CGI effects fail to meet the expectations of dedicated fans. 

Green Lantern (2011) 

In Green Lantern, yet another superhero graced the screen wearing a completely CGI-generated suit. The intensity of the green costume and its peculiar interaction with Ryan Reynolds’ skin appeared remarkably artificial, almost resembling a coating of peculiar goo. Additionally, the mask covered his eyes, requiring them to be animated akin to a video game character rather than capturing the actor’s expressions during the film.  

Reynolds’ CGI-rendered body proportions in Green Lantern were noticeably distorted. His waist appeared remarkably narrow, his arms seemed slender, and his shoulders disproportionately broad. This exaggerated portrayal leaned more towards a cartoonish depiction rather than resembling a realistic human form.  

The film also featured numerous secondary characters entirely constructed via CGI, as well as the manifestation of their power rings’ green constructs. Disappointingly, even the villainous Parallax failed to captivate fans due to an uninspiring and inadequately executed CGI portrayal that lacked creativity. 

Justice League (2017) 

The theatrical release of Justice League underwent significant changes when director Joss Whedon took over the project after Zack Snyder’s departure. The film embraced a fresh, lighter tone that introduced a reimagined interpretation of the characters.  

However, Whedon’s involvement also resulted in the omission of crucial scenes featuring Cyborg, which significantly altered the overall narrative. The film also incorporated several reshot sequences that unfortunately showcased CGI effects that were, at times, unintentionally comical. 

Despite some questionable aspects of the battle scenes, a few prominent issues left even devoted Justice League fans disheartened. The climactic race between Superman and The Flash in the final moments was marred by excessive blurriness, making it almost indiscernible to the naked eye.  

The worst misstep, however, came in the form of the ill-fated attempt to digitally erase Henry Cavill’s mustache in the reshot scenes. The outcome was a jarring and unsettling appearance that forcibly disengaged viewers from the immersive action unfolding on the screen. 

Black Panther (2018) 

Black Panther stood out as a remarkable film, garnering substantial success at the box office, thanks to its compelling characters and groundbreaking worldbuilding. However, similar to several contemporary Marvel movies, it encountered a setback through excessive dependence on CGI over practical effects. The film presented ambitious action sequences, encompassing both intense one-on-one combat and grand battle sequences. 

One aspect contributing to the problem was the complete reliance on CGI for T’Challa’s suit. The CGI movements of Black Panther’s suit veered into an unsettling realm, crossing the threshold of realism. The situation was exacerbated by the decision of the editors to incorporate motion blur, presumably to conceal the numerous CGI errors that had occurred. 

Skyscraper (2018) 

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has established himself as a familiar face in over-the-top, lighthearted action films. 2018’s Skyscraper fits snugly into that category. However, viewers have voiced their dissatisfaction with the excessive use of CGI throughout the movie. Regrettably, the heavy reliance on CGI had the unintended effect of transforming otherwise captivating stunts into visuals reminiscent of a video game. 

Skyscraper presents a series of daring feats, including scaling steel girders and abseiling along the building’s exterior. However, the extensive use of green screens becomes all too apparent, resulting in Dwayne Johnson appearing incongruous against the clearly artificial backgrounds. As a result, Skyscraper falls into the category of forgettable movies heavily reliant on CGI, suitable for a casual viewing experience on a leisurely afternoon. 

Jurassic World Dominion (2022) 

The Jurassic Park franchise has undoubtedly seen more prosperous times. The first film was hailed as a cinematic masterpiece, even securing the prestigious Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. However, Jurassic World Dominion is a vague attempt to capture the essence of Steven Spielberg’s original creation, landing as a subpar offering.

While Jurassic World may serve as an entertaining choice for those seeking popcorn thrillers, its CGI elements leave much to be desired. Fans have expressed dissatisfaction with the unrealistic appearance of the dinosaurs, particularly when juxtaposed against snow-themed backgrounds. Moreover, certain rendering, lighting, and texture effects in Jurassic World Dominion exhibit an oddly dated quality, resembling filmmaking techniques from two decades ago. 

Black Adam (2022) 

In Black Adam, the eponymous character is released after a 5,000-year imprisonment and unleashed upon the modern world. Dwayne Johnson delivers his unique brand of uncompromising justice while facing off against the Justice Society of America. Regrettably, Black Adam also fell victim to some of the most disappointing CGI of 2022. 

One particular area where the CGI faltered was in the flashback scenes. Johnson’s head was digitally imposed onto a body double, resulting in a jarring visual experience. The stark disproportionality between his imposing physique and the body double became glaringly apparent. Although the intention was to portray Black Adam during his mortal days, this artistic choice proved to be a distracting element within the film. 

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