Technology is and always shall be progressive. It gets better over time. And nowhere is that more apparent than in film special effects. Going from the well lit models of Star Wars or the big mechanical non-functioning shark of Jaws to amazing looking de-aging in Captain Marvel or fully digital characters like Thanos would be shocking once. But now we are in a world where CGI looks pretty darn good. Well, most of the time. Sometimes, even for the time it looks atrocious. So here we are to look at some of the worst CGI in comic book movie history. A quick note: this is not to pick on older technology for not holding up. The goal here is to look at effects that looked bad for the time they came out during.
10. Parallax (Green Lantern)
I was there Thursday night at Midnight for this one. Boy howdy was that a disappointment. I considered marking Green Lantern on this list with the costume itself but no, it’s gotta be Parallax. The gigantic demonic bug beast of the comics was replaced with a big yellow goop cloud that wasn’t a discernable character in the slightest. Just a hunk of the screen that swirls and does evil and nothing really else. But the design work is only half the problem. It also just looks unmemorable. As an antagonist, it fails, as a visual effect it fails and as a piece of moviemaking, it, uh, falters.
9. The Vampires (30 Days of Night)
30 Days of Night is a bad movie. And nothing is worse than its boring vampires. The monsters stalking the town of Barrow, Alaska are marked by their saucer-plate eyes and stuck on teeth. But their motion is the worst part. The film often uses cgi to augment the jump scares with widening mouths and fluid motion. This just makes them look like odd bags of goo with sharp teeth. Oh and adorable puppy eyes. I know the intention was to make them beady and dark, but I can’t help but see them as cute little dog eyes gazing outwards. I don’t want to run away from them, I’d rather give them some tummy skritches.
8. Galactus (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer)
Yet another “evil big cloud” villain, the only big screen incarnation of Galactus to date takes inspiration from Gah Lak Tus, the bug swarm from Warren Ellis’s Ultimate Galactus Trilogy. And as disappointing as it was in print, it only looks worse on the screen. Galactus has barely any screen time and his big scene involves him being lectured to by the Silver Surfer. This scene is all the weaker because, as it turns out, a cloud cannot emote. We do see a hint of the “true” Galactus here, in the shape of his classic helmet outline amidst the evil cloud. Particle effects are cool and all, but maybe we should stop trying to make characters out of it.
I’m still blown away that this movie came out in 2014. But while the first Amazing Spider-Man had a terrible looking villain, it was nothing compared to Electro in the sequel. Now, I understand they weren’t going to go with the classic starfish-face design but they could’ve tried to make it look, I don’t know, finished? The resulting blue effect is somewhat less convincing than Dr. Manhattan from 2009’s Watchmen and even more unsettling. My favorite moment is when he makes himself materialize and somehow spontaneously generates pants. Or maybe he brought the pants with him through the phone line? It is unclear. ASM 2 is fairly meme-worthy, but Electro’s increasingly silly blue face will never not be the goofiest thing about it.
6. Stretching (Fantastic Four (2005))
The two Fantastic Four movies (of four, somehow) have somewhat lacking effects. From the Thing’s ambitious rock suit that falls flat in execution to the Human Torch’s entirely CG fire body, There are flaws to be spotted. But none is more apparent than Reed Richards’s entire power set. Now to be fair, Mr. Fantastic has proven to just look wrong in live action in general, with his powers distorting the human body to terrifying degrees when not confined to animation or the comics page. But that does not excuse the Kronenbergian horror of seeing Reed’s body stretch across both Tim Story FF films. It was scary then, it’s scarier now.
5. Wolf Tummy (Elektra)
There are numerous bad effects in Elektra but I’ll limit it to two scenes. One is the fight with Kirigi as represented above, which is a real attempt to do Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon on a budget. The weird slow speed sword throwing is odd and not super fun to watch but the CG weapon effects are the real low. But our other effect of choice is what I have dubbed the Wolf Tummy. One of the villains of the movie has tattoos that come to life and one of those tattoos is a wolf on his lil tum-tum. And it comes to life in the silliest darn way possible. It looks like what happens when my dog decides to lay her head in my lap. Nevertheless, Wolf Tummy cannot be the worst possible special effect because it gave the world the greatness that was Wolf Tummy.
4. Whatever is Going on in Catwoman (Catwoman)
This was during the period of time while we thought stunt actors could be replaced by CGI. As it turns out, that is not the case. I know I’m not shocking anyone with the revelation that the film Catwoman is not particularly good but it’s CG is even worse than everything else about it. Except maybe the editing. Hallie Berry’s body replaced with a rubbery facsimile bounding around New York is essentially a house built in the center of the Uncanny Valley. Humans are remarkably stiff, in reality in a way comic book characters are not. But when you try and bend a real person into the shape of a comics icon, it comes out looking like this.
3. The Big Monster (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might be one of the worst comic book movies of all time. It’s a shocking attempt to turn a quiet, personal, literary work into a full throated blockbuster. It’s the closest comic book movies have come to that ‘90s Three Musketeers film. But not only is it bad, it also looks bad. The Mr. Hyde effects are not awful, especially for the time but in the climax we get to see a monster I will dub “Double Hyde”. Double Hyde is scary, but not for the intended reason. He’s mostly frightening because your brain actively hates looking at him. The effect is so bad and unfinished, it feels Lovecraftian. “This should not be!” your brain shouts, “it is an abomination against god and man!” And it is.
2. Spawn’s Cape (Spawn)
Impressively bad. I tried to leave old effects off this list but this one had to be there. And in the end it came down to a debate of which was worse, all of the demons, or this friggin’ cape. And it was an easy one. Look at this clip right here. You can literally see the cape clip through the guy in the bottom right. This is one of the only CGI objects I’ve ever seen that makes no attempt to interact logically with the actual space. I accept that they were going for a larger than life thing to the cape’s movement, but when it literally looks like a screensaver effect floating over the film, maybe it’s time to change your direction. I mean, it’s not like the rest of the movie looks great but this one is almost shocking.
Honorable Mention: The Scorpion King Because Come On, How Could We Not?
This one isn’t even a comic book movie but it’s maybe one of the worst CGI scenes I’ve ever seen. Look at that. Look at the Rock-Scorpion in all his glory. But even that, even as bad as it is, it holds no candle to our number one…
1. Bathroom Claws (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
This is perhaps the worst effect I’ve ever seen make it to the screen. Just watch that clip. Just… just watch it. It’s almost beautiful. Wolverine goes into the bathroom and pops his metal claws for the first time. And they look like clip art pasted onto the frame. I honestly thought the version I found was a sarcastic fan edit except I checked and it’s real. And it’s real bad. What’s so shocking is that the X-Men movies before this one had done a pretty good job of the claws. They were usually practical effects and they had a distinct weight to them. Here, they suffer from weightlessness, but also from the most grievous sin a CGI effect can commit: looking really fake. And they look really fake. Like they missed a coat of whatever magic CGI paint they stick on things to make them look real.