The Best of the Worst Special Effects in Movie History

For movie-going audiences, some of the most memorable viewing experiences can be found by chasing that sense of morbid curiosity which resides in all of us. While this desire can occasionally be quenched via grotesque extreme cinema or tear-jerking tales of sadnessmany find that the best way to satisfy their cravings is by seeking out some legendary “so bad it’s good“films. Being able to laugh at a movie’s obvious shortcomings is a time-honored tradition among not only professional critics, but even just between friends sitting together on a couch, with one of the most common ingredients within these fascinating flubs being an assortment of awful special effects.

One could consider modern audiences to be spoiled in a sense, with blockbuster movies containing cutting-edge computer generated effects being released left and right. However, even the most spectacular of these groundbreaking visuals still tends to not be as remembered as its less-than-impressive counterpart. Bad special effects serve as the metaphorical cherry on top to any bad film, but in some cases can be an unfortunate blunder in an otherwise decent picture. In either sense, here’s our picks for some of the most enjoyably bad special effects in movie history.


8 Air Force One

Tragically for the first entry on our list, the case of bad effects soiling an otherwise decent movie rears its ugly head. Air Force One is your standard issue Harrison Ford action adventure, brimming with over-the-top fight scenes and endearingly corny dialogue. Despite everything adding up to a pretty fun popcorn flick, the film’s legs get swiftly kicked out from under it during the climax, when a dramatic plane crash scene is undermined by a distractingly bad-looking computer animated plane splashing into unnaturally misty and still ocean water .

With the action movie now finding itself within public discourse only when on the subject of observing bad effectsit goes to show how attempting to cut corners on visuals can spell death for any film. Air Force One still manages to deliver the action and entertainment throughout, just be ready to be sucked out of the experience when it all comes crashing down.

7 Die Another Day

Considered a low point for the suave British spy, Die Another Day would see Pierce Brosnan play James Bond for the fourth and final time. The 2002 adventure provides a plot riddled with cartoony ideas and ridiculous set pieces, though none shine a beacon of bad effects brighter than the infamous “tsunami surfing” scene.

Related: These Movies Have Some Of The Most Laughably Bad Special Effects Of This Century

Watching Brosnan pretend to grip a paraglider tightly while being badly green-screened onto a fake-looking tsunami does come with its entertainment value, as long as viewers are willing to put up with how campy the entry can become. It is not an absurd notion to consider the visual effects to be akin to that of a video game, which does fly in the face of the franchise’s otherwise sophisticated nature. While not a favorite among fans, sometimes it is necessary to hit rock bottom in order to improve, and with the gritty Daniel Craig era of Bond following suit, it was a worthy sacrifice to make.

6 Anaconda

What’s better than a horror movie where the big bad is a giant, badly CGI animated snake? 1997’s Anaconda serves to demonstrate the answer to that very question, and is just the thing for any casual viewer’s next trip into cult-classic territory. There’s no holding back in this case, with the entire movie hamming it up from its unique cast to its crazy kills. Although utilizing a mix of animatronics and computer effects, it’s when the titular giant anaconda is fully animated and interacting with humans that the cracks really start to show, for better or worse.

Bashed by critics, the film still managed to be a box office success, and even spawned several sequels. A reboot is also rumored to be in the works as well, though we can only assume the pattern of having amazingly bad effects won’t be continuing along with it.

5 Green Lantern

Perhaps the most despised superhero film of recent times, it seems no one possesses fond memories of Green Lanternincluding even its director (and star Ryan Reynolds, who famously mocked it in Deadpool). The bad news is that a beloved comic book character’s legacy was dragged through the dirt in an abysmal adaptation; the good news, to some, was having a new movie to make the butt of every joke. While the writing, action, and performances were not particularly up to par, it was the constant overuse of CGI for nearly every visual element in the film that delivered the final nail in the coffin.

In an era where popular superhero movies reign supreme in theaters across the globe, it’s surprising to see a well-known character be put in such a lackluster adventure. Though everyone involved has happily gone on to bigger and better things, many may never forget the pain from their first viewing of this otherworldly mess of special effects.

4 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

When it comes to bad effects, there’s rarely a more talked about example than the likes of George Lucas’ infamous visual edits to the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Needlessly tinkering away with his own classic creations, the level of contention towards Lucas for these adjustments was unmatched, with arguably the worst of the changes being done to the original 1977 film, Star Wars: A New Hope.

Adding background creatures, unnatural head movements, and full on reanimating entire characters from scratch were merely a part of the laundry list of tweaks made, frustrating fans who wished to see the film as it was originally released rather than an updated version with inconsistent visuals. Though the heat surrounding Star Wars‘re-releases being toyed with has died down in recent years, it’s hard to think of another case where the phrase “if it ain’t broke, do not fix it” applies more appropriately in film.

3 The Mummy Returns

A sequel to the fun and well received 1999 original, The Mummy Returns has a legacy of its own for all the wrong reasons. While performances are just as fun and ham-fisted as you’d expect, the visual effects here are all but mesmerizing in their lack of detail or polish. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being a fully animated CGI Scorpion King (literally) serves as the most memorably bad moment in the film, with any possible drama or excitement being thrown away immediately upon seeing the character emerge.

Funnily enough, the very character in question would receive their own spinoff film the following year, and luckily Johnson was much more present than he was in The Mummy Returns. Though modern computer animation can provide nearly life-like visuals these days, 2002 was not quite ready for a fully animated human to look quite right, though for fans of bad effects it was a treasure waiting to be found. It certainly did not seem to sink the franchise, with the spinoff receiving several direct-to-video sequels itself, and tomorrow Mummy movies coming afterwards.

Related: Douglas Trumbull, Special Effects Pioneer and Director, Dies at 79

2 The Lawnmower Man

An unnerving combination of Flowers for Algernon and Tron, The Lawnmower Man hoped to create the next popular big screen adaptation of famous horror author Stephen King’s work. What awaited audiences was a version of King’s story so distant from the original in both plot and quality that the production company found themselves sued by the authorwho demanded they’d remove his name from the film entirely.

With so many liberties being taken with the script, it’s not a surprise to see that early ’90s CGI was a big part of the production, with one glance at the animated portions of the movie being enough to explain why anyone remembers this misguided retelling. What may have seemed futuristic to some at the time has aged as finely as milk, though ironically enough has given the flop a new shelf life as a must-see visual train wreck.

1 Plan 9 From Outer Space

Maybe never to be topped, Plan 9 From Outer Space was released way back in 1959, and although it would seem the film should be cut some slack for its age alone, the effects on display still manage to be dated, even for the era. The undeniable charm of watching Ed Wood’s actors read their lines while UFOs on strings loom above keeps the film in the public eye even all these decades later, with many affectionately labeling it as “the worst film of all time,” with love, of course .

Bad special effects can take many shapes, and with the advent of computer generated animation, a whole new world opened up to show us that the uncanny valley is a very funny place to be. Being years before such a method would even be conceptualized, the practical effects within Plan 9 carry with them a special type of bad, one that took genuine, good old-fashioned laziness and lack of skill rather than a rushed schedule or an underpaid animator. Unable to be replicated in today’s vastly more advanced landscape of film, cardboard sets and cheap costumes will always be the recipe for a true journey into the worst special effects you can find.

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