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Sci-Fi Movie Showcase : Groundbreaking Special Effects
© Various RevolutionSF artists
January 06, 2011

With the release of the admittedly beautiful but soulless Tron: Legacy, I started wondering about the best groundbreaking special effects movies. Films such as Star Wars, Forbidden Planet, King Kong (1933), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Matrix, Wrath of Khan, Who Killed Roger Rabbit?, and Superman changed the standards of special effects while also offering an excellent cinematic experience.

Along those lines, I asked my fellow RevSF editors and contributors to name similar films. The insightful responses varied in content and style. I can safely say that I've never before seen Toy Story compared to The First Wives Club. Or expected the inclusion of Be Kind Rewind -- Rick Klaw

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As the first full length computer animated feature, Toy Story blew all of us away in 1995.  It told the simple story of a toy who was afraid his place was about to be supplanted by a new one, the same story as Black Beauty and First Wives Club). This was the beginning of CGI in animated movies, and also in live action ones. The plastic looked so lifelike, a far cry from usual cartoons. Toy Story also made Pixar a household name and began their unbelievable string of hits. And I love the scenes of Buzz pressing the laser and the flashing light comes on, and when Woody opens Buzz's plastic visor. -- Deanna Toxopeus, podcast goddess

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Frankenstein, 1910: Thomas Edison put the big guy on the screen!

King Kong, 1933: Long live Ray Harryhausen.

Barbarella, 1968 The Zero-G strip scene became a classic that was often imitated.

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 Set the standard for realistic space films.

An American Werewolf in London, 1981 Werewolves would never change the same way again.

The Thing, 1982 Wilfred Brimley gets his arms chomped off by a suddenly hungry rib cage. Mu- hahahahahaha!

Terminator 2: Judgment Day The liquid living metal scenes were eye popping. -- Todd Shearer, designer of RevolutionSF logo

* * * * *

A Trip to the Moon For the moon with a rocket in its eye alone.

Citizen Kane Orson Welles did more ground breaking cinematic things in that movie than in any twenty movies before. I know it isn't sci-fi, but a lot of films, let alone sci-fi films wouldn't exist without the tricks and effects he used to create that movie (including animation done by Walt Disney).

Creature from the Black Lagoon Underwater filming. Full body suits. 3D!

Alien Amazing effects and creatures across the board.

Brazil: In scale and vision this movie really is remarkable.

Blade Runner It still really looks as good today as it did when it was released.

A.I. Terrible ending aside, it really is a very pretty movie.

Lord of the RingsWETA exploded on the scene with this series.

District 9 This proved that films with small budgets can pull off effects scenes to equal the big spenders. -- Matt Cowger, tech guy

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Frankenstein (1931) for a makeup job more iconic than Mary Shelley's own description of her character.

King Kong (1933) for integrating models and ape suits into a living, breathing character you can fall in love with.

The Ten Commandments for the parting of the Red Sea.

Jason and the Argonauts for many Harryhausian reasons, not least of which is that in-filking- credible skeleton fight.

Star Wars for the sheer scale of spaceships and battles.

Jurassic Park for making me believe that dinosaurs still walk the earth.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy for world building as complete and seamless as Tolkien's own.

Forrest Gump not for inserting Forrest into interactions with historical figures, but for legless Lt. Dan.

Mary Poppins for integrating human actors with animation. Who Framed Roger Rabbit' did it better, but compare the work in Poppins to Ralph Bakshi's terrible botch job Cool World nearly 30 years later. -- Peggy Hailey, RevSF books editor

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The Matrix: This did its special effects so well they set their own bar too high for themselves. They did it so well that when I saw the first Matrix sequel, I laughed when those effects showed up again, because they had been in parodies and comedies a zillion times in the years in between.

  Superman II: It illustrated in live action a superhero fight for the first time. When we were little, everyone said no one could ever do superhero movies, because the super-fights would be too expensive. In Superman II, but I had never seen anything like them.

Today it's no problem for an actor to look like he's throwing a bus. But in Superman II, it looked like Sarah Douglas was really doing it. That blew my mind. I assume Sarah Douglas worked out and got strong enough to really throw a bus. I have no other rational explanation for how they did it. -- Joe Crowe, RevSF big cheese

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Although Michael Gondry developed his cardboard-and-construction-paper special effects technology to its pinnacle with The Science of Sleep, it was his 2008 film, Be Kind Rewind, that democratized the process. At once an homage and a response to special effects bloated Hollywood, Be Kind Rewind demonstrated that a sense of wonder can spring from the humblest of effects. The film inspired an entire movement of "Sweded" versions of Hollywood spectacle, an army of amateurs who combat CGI with DIY. -- Matthew Bey, editor at large

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