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Top Ten Revolutionary Effects Movies of All Time

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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.

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About Jeff Coleman

  • none of those old Ray Harryahusen films? Mighty Joe Young, any of the Sinbad movies or Clash of the Titans? I know they’re kinda cheesy, but I think they were ahead of their time. I know I really enjoyed them when I was a kid.

  • This is a well-compiled list. All of these films fit the “revolutionary” bill to the tee.

    One could also arguably include The Polar Express and maybe even the soon-to-be released A Scanner Darkly.

  • gonzo marx


    “Destination Moon” – won an Academy Award for special effects, the “set” for the “capsule” was enitely enclosed and placed on gimbals so it could be rotated to any angle…give the “weightless effects….watch it now and it mimics what we saw on the Apollo flights decades before the first space shot…Bonestell paintings of all the starscapes which are as accurate as real photos

    “Metropolis” – from the 30’s, if memory serves, no one can watch this and not reconize how incredibly groundbreaking those special effects were/are

    “Nosferatu” – the beginnings of the “horror” film in many way…a silent classic…Schrecks make up, rotoscope fades, color filters…so many effects begin here

    gotta agree with the Ray Harryhausen stuff…the original Kong and Mighty Joe Young are awesome bits of stop motion magic

    there’s more….but who cares, eh?


  • Not to nitpick, but JAWS is considered to original blockbuster and iniator of what we now call summer movies.

    This was a great article and I’m glad to see T2 and Matrix showing up. Revolution indeed

  • speed reading sometimes backfires

  • kinda seems like 2001: A Space Odyssey should be on here somewhere… there’d be no Star Wars if 2001 hadn’t come first…

  • One of the most memorable special effects that sticks in my mind was the bone-cracking and horrific transformation into a werewolf from “An American Werewolf in London”…and that was done prior to the advent of the movie computer animations.

  • That is a damn good mention, Deano. The work Kurtzman, Nicotero and Berger were doing on special makeup effects in horror movies around the time of “The Thing”, “American Werewolf in London” and “Evil Dead 2” is remarkable stuff.


  • Andy:

    Harryhausen’s work may be some of the best ever, but Kong came first, and this is a list of revolutionary effects films. Technically, the 1925 Lost World was first, but Kong really showed what it could do.

    I would agree Tron deserves a spot. It’s still impressive, esepcially given what they had to work with.

    Oh, and kudo for giving the orignal Godzilla props and not just ripping on it like so many people enjoy doing (and likely having never seen it).

  • Thanks Matt. I think “Kong” deserves the spot more than “Lost World” because of the empathy of the Kong character. “Lost World” definitely has amazing effects thought, especially the brontosaurs falling off the plateau.

    And I only wish there was an American DVD of the real 1954 “Godzilla” film without the Raymond Burr stuff. It had a small re-release for its 50th anniversary in theaters last year and it’s just terrific.


  • i agree on jurrasic park, though i’ve come to think that cgi has ruined filmmaking.

  • Heh, because nobody made lousy movies before CGI?


  • Baronius

    Definitely 2001. At the time, it was breathtaking. It was comparable to Star Wars in its impact. Probably the first space movie that didn’t require a HUGE suspension of disbelief.

    Jurassic Park, I don’t know. There are plenty of dinosaur-in-the-background scenes that didn’t work. There’s one shot of a t-rex chasing a jeep that’s held up as proof of the movie’s brilliance, but it’s actually quite unconvincing.

    Citizen Kane. I’ll have to think about that one. It’s definitely a thought-provoking list.