How These Movies Looked Without CGI

By Molly 1 year ago

1. The Matrix

Image Source/Wall Street Journal
The Matrix hit theatres in 1999 and blew away everyone with it’s insane CGI. With bullet-time special effects and slow motion set-pieces, the Matrix has had a lasting impact upon the movie industry and its use of CGI was absolutely groundbreaking for the time.

2. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

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The culmination of George Lucas’ work on the Star Wars saga, Revenge of Sith pushed the use of CGI further than any film had ever done before, with armies of CGI clones and droids, planets, set-piece battles and of course, lightsabers. The work of Lucas’ company; Industrial Light & Magic has defined the way modern movies are made today. Maybe the force is always with us then?

3. Space Jam

Image Source/Warner Bros.
Upside Down (Round-N-Round)
- That’s what the Warner Brothers team had Michael Jordan doing on set with his green screen Looney Tunes roster. Following the Roger Rabbit formula, Space Jam morphed the cartoony world of Looney Tunes into the real life setting of 90s NBA basketball. Y’all ready for this?

4. Blade Runner 2049

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The sequel to the 80s cyberpunk masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by blowing audiences away with it’s spectacular use of CGI. Even if you’re still a little bit confused about the “interlinked” bit, you have to admit, it’s a beautiful film.

5. Transformers

Image Source/Alex Petifer (YouTube)
Transformers: Robots in Disguise 
(Quite literally!) Michael Bay shocked the world with his first Transformers film, bringing to life every 80s kid’s dream. The use of special effects for the Autobots and Decepticons was revolutionary, with Optimus Prime holding the record at the time for most moving parts in an animated character ever produced. Roll out!

6. The Martian

Image Source/Variety
Whilst you can’t always count on Matt Damon to stop getting lost and isolated in space, you can certainly expect the films he’s in to look awesome and The Martian is no exception to that rule. Combing a mix of practical and special effects, The Martian’s use of CGI will hold up for years to come, unlike Damon’s space camp.

7. Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War

Image Source/Rotten Tomatoes
The Avengers: Infinity War was arguably the blockbuster event of the decade when it released in 2018. The cinemas were packed, we were all there; even my Grandma was there. Whilst Thanos managed to erase half the galaxy in the snap of a finger, you can sure as hell bet the awesome CGI took a bit longer to produce.

8. The Dark Knight

Image Source/Time Entertainment
Christopher Nolan is famed for his distaste of CGI, once claiming: “I prefer films that feel more like real life.” But, that doesn’t stop him from using it, the most famous use being that epic scene in the Dark Knight when the evil “Two Face” was revealed to us all. Stay in the shadows honey.

9. Arrival

Image Source/Paramount Pictures 
Whilst “Arrival” wasn’t as exciting as Blade Runner 2049, it was just as gorgeous. Denis Villeneuve is famed for mixing special and practical effects, as seen in all the Alien Monoliths that our heroic pair venture through. It’s a truly beautiful film and the perfect example of how to include CGI into a grounded Sci-Fi experience.

10. District 9

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Half “mockumentary”, half Sci-Fi action masterpiece District 9 managed to use CGI in a convincing and realistic style, mixing handheld camera shots with mind-blowing action. Prawns, motherships and a whole load of explosions, District 9 is a roller-coaster.

11. Cats

Image Source/Daily Mail Online 
We didn’t say all of these were going to be good did we? Cast your minds back to 2020 (or maybe don’t), Cats released and to be honest with y’all, we should’ve taken the hint it wasn’t going to be a good year. Cats released in cinemas with quite possibly one of the most disturbing uses of CGI in years. I’m getting nightmares just thinking about it, make it stop.

12. Avatar

Image Source/ComicBook
Y’all thought we had messed up, of course Avatar is going to feature on this list. Avatar stands amongst itself in the CGI conversation. James Cameron might be a famous shouty man on set, but he certainly knows how to make a CGI blockbuster. Did you know, this movie is 40% live action, and 60% CGI? Wild!

13. Ready Player One

Image Source/Digital Trends 
A truly groundbreaking CGI extravaganza; Ready Player One blew us all away when it hit cinemas. If you’re like me, then the last game you probably played was Pac-Man, but my-oh-my, this film looks awesome. Hats-off to Spielberg, he’s done it again. The team that worked on this film even used its own AI!

14. Okja

Image Source/Cartoon Brew
Using CGI for a main character can always be a risky move, especially in films that are made to pull at our heart-strings. Okja took this risk, and let’s just say they were pretty successful in doing so. Okja tells the story of a genetic super-pig, designed to bring an end to world food shortages, but what’s more interesting is the fact the film turned thousands across the world in to vegans. So I think the CGI might be a little bit convincing, don’t you?

15. All Quiet on the Western Front

Image Source/Los Angeles Times
Picking up several Oscars, All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most visceral and gob-smacking portrayals of warfare ever scene on screen. The film manages to work together the perfect blend of practical and special effects, all in the context of truly mind-blowing cinematography. A true visual spectacle.

16. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy is up there with the most significant pieces of art in modern history. The tremendous use of spectacular visual effects, in an age where CGI was still being interpreted in varying degrees of success, Lord of the Rings will remain re-watchable for decades to come. A cinematic goliath. My precious.

17. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Image Source/Twitter
Another triumphant trilogy (we’ll forget about the other films, don’t worry) Pirates of the Caribbean was Disney flexing their muscles in the VFX department. As seen above, these folk really were pushing the boundaries and breaking new ground. Or should I say... water?

18. The Day After Tomorrow

Image Source/VFXexpress
Of course a Roland Emmerich film was going to make this list, who do you take me for? The Day After Tomorrow showed us a world on the verge of destruction because of the effects of climate change. Doesn’t sound familiar at all does it? Whilst the subject matter is somewhat depressing, the use of special effects to depict such catastrophic events is truly breathtaking.

19. Terminator Salvation

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Salvation saw the return of the Terminator to cinemas after a lengthy hiatus, and boy did it look good. Like all the previous films, the team used a combination of robotics and visual effects to create the most terrifying Terminators yet. Some even had boots, clothes and motorcycles…

20. Life of Pi

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How do you make a film that’s set in the middle of the ocean without having to actually go out to the middle of the ocean? Well, you make the world’s biggest whirlpool. Yep, that’s what the Life of Pi team did! Oh, and they also made an entirely CGI and puppet tiger. You could definitely say they’ve earned their stripes.

21. Alice in Wonderland

Image Source/ShotOnWhat? 
Tim Burton is no stranger to CGI in his films, seeing as most of his films are set in fantastical worlds far from reality. Alice in Wonderland used ground-breaking CGI techniques to create a believably silly and artistic world, and one that is utterly genre-definining.

22. The Wolf of Wall Street

Image Source/Fstoppers
Whilst the story might be based on true events, the sets in the Wolf of Wall Street are somewhat less real. Michael Scorsese’s blockbuster hit placed a real emphasis upon the utterly consumptions world of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, so much so he decided to use bombastic visual effects to create an exaggerated 80s aesthetic.

23. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Image Source/The Verge
Rogue One kicked off what would be a CGI revolution over at Industrial Light and Magic and Disney. The techniques to bring deceased actors likeness back to the big screen enabled shows like the Mandolorian and Obi-Wan to bring back younger versions of former actors in the Star Wars universe.

24. Tron Legacy

Image Source/The Art of VFX
Quite like Rogue One, Tron Legacy broke new ground when it released back in 2010. Combining clever usage of practical lighting, electronic suits and blue-screen CGI, Tron Legacy was able to modernise the Disney classic in a visual experience like no other.

25. Devotion

Image Source/Flight Journal 
It’s a bit hard to faithfully re-create a fully functional Korean War era aircraft carrier, but the makers of Devotion managed to do just that. Using a rung-way, and a few bits of clever set-design, the team were able to use CGI to fill in the gaps and create an utterly believable setting. I guess y’all could say they’re 
to their jobs.

26. Lion King

Image Source/Pro Video Coalition 
The Lion King showed audiences why not every animated film need not be made in to live-action. However, it also showed us just how darn good CGI technology is. The team were able to use virtual reality to animate the animals we saw on the big screen. Fairly clever if you ask me.

27. The Harry Potter Series

Image Source/Drama4Kids
The Harry Potter series is where the magic of Hollywood meets the magic of Hogwarts. Harry and co were assisted throughout the production of the wizard-themed epic with new and unique CGI techniques which have since been replicated across the industry. Whilst everyone knows Harry’s a wizard, I think it’s time we heard about the wizards behind the camera too.

28. Inception

Image Source/Sujay Thomas
As we’ve already mentioned, Christopher Nolan isn’t the biggest proponent of CGI, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use it. Inception combined massive set-design with unbelievable visuals to create a dream—world like no other. Inception has ONLY 500 digital effects shots in total!

29. Spider-Man Far From Home

Image Source/The Art of VFX
Our favorite web-slinger has a long history of genre changing CGI use. In Far From Home, the incredible team at Industrial Light and Magic were able to create a frightfully similar rendition of London’s Tower Bridge that certainly got all our spidey senses tingling.

30. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Image Source/i-D Magazine
Wes Anderson is known for his stellar cinematography and whilst the Grand Budapest Hotel is rightfully remembered for such, it’s also known for it’s extremely clever and beautiful use of CGI background that create the most immersive and Wes Anderson-esque world we’ve ever seen.

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