Some ABC affiliate did a little article about “Top Ten Revolutionary Effects Movies Of All Time”, but since they got it half wrong, I came up with my own version:
10. Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane was one of the best examples of insinuating special effects into a serious film and making it appear seamless. From forced-perspective shots to compositing of multiple images, to breakaway miniatures to matte paintings, Orson Welles used special effects to expand the world of what he could show on screen and how he could show it, all the while hiding its presence from the audience.
9. The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
The Wizard Of Oz remains one of the most effective and influential fantasy movies ever made. Its Kansas twister is an incredible effect even today, its sepia-to-color effect is magical, and all its characters are convincingly created through the work of the actors, the costumers and the special effects department.
8. The Invisible Man (1933)
In 1933, Universal had shown audiences some incredible sights through its wildly-successful horror movie releases, Dracula and Frankenstein, but The Invisible Man was the most ground-breaking in its special effects — clothes dancing around on their own, bicycles riding by themselves, footprints appearing in the snow — all of it beautifully done by John P. Fulton working for director James Whale.
7. Godzilla (1954)
Considering that Godzilla films are an industry of their own and a cultural pastime in Japan, I think an argument can be made that 1954’s Godzilla (aka Godzilla, King of the Monsters in the US) is one of the most influential effects pictures ever made. Tokyo miniatures, rubber suits — it’s not always technically realistic, but it’s almost always compelling entertainment that became a phenomenon.
6. Jurassic Park
Here’s where I start agreeing with the original list. Jurassic Park was watermark of computer animation, finally showing that CGI could create convincing, realistic animal characters. And, in spite of almost fifteen years of advancement in computer graphics, its dinosaurs still look convincing.
5. Toy Story
Another ground-breaking film, showing that when complete computer animation is used in service of a good story (written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, who won an Oscar for his screenplay), the results are infectious and compelling.
4. Terminator 2
Terminator 2 was the first movie to really make use of computer effects on such a grand scale, and proved how effectively they could be done. Plus, it gave the world “morphing”.
3. The Matrix
The Matrix has had a huge impact in just a few years, single-handedly creating a bullet-time, wire-fu craze in the US. Many of its techniques had been used to great effect in Hong Kong and elsewhere, but John Gaeta’s “bullet-time” was the real standout that no one had seen before.
2. Star Wars
What can you say? Star Wars virtually created the modern blockbuster action effects movie (with a little help from Jaws). Still as convincing as it needed to be to tell a strong, solid story and deliver the audience into a science-fiction universe that looked unique in movies at the time.
1. King Kong (1933)
If Star Wars created the modern blockbuster action effects movie, 1933’s King Kong was the ORIGINAL blockbuster action effects movie. The first film with a special effect as a lead character, it was also the first movie to create such emotion and pathos with an animated character. Willis H. O’Brien and his team were pretty much inventing the concept of special effects on a new scale with this film, developing stop-motion, camera and film printing techniques that would be used for the next hundred years and beyond. It is impossible to overstate the influence of the original Kong on moviemakers and audiences, even today.
There were a couple of movies I had a hard time leaving out:
I felt like Tron should be listed for being so far ahead of its time in computer effects and animation, but had a hard time justifying it against this list.
I was also wondering — if Toy Story, a completely animated film, is on the list, then shouldn’t Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs be there, too? Snow White was as groundbreaking as Kong in 1937, and to make it (and Fantasia a few years later) Disney’s animators and technicians created some amazing ways of filming animation.
But, if you bring actual animation into the list, there are plenty of other films that deserve consideration.