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Top Special Effects Movies of All Time

Updated on September 21, 2016

Film makers use special effects to enhance movie scenes and to create images that are out of this world. Stunt doubles, hidden wires, miniature models, and camera angles are used to make actors to perform heroic deeds. Blue screens and computer animations are now used to conjure up environments and images without the actors ever leaving the confine of the sound stage. A movie does not need the special effects to make it great. But, a well applied and believable special effects can make watching movie a satisfying and memorable experience as the following movies demonstrate.

Independence Day (1996)

This movie can be regarded as the best alien invasion film ever made. It features amazing, heart-pounding, and realistic special effects that mesmerize audience in their seats holding their breaths. It starts with the arrival of huge, dark, and menacing alien spacecrafts that will soon blast away key cities around the world with intense out-of-this-world energy beams. The size of the alien spacecraft is not fully appreciated until the humans counterattack with their own airplanes that appear as mere flies in its presence. Just when it appears that humans are overmatched against the alien’s much more advanced weapon technology; the special effects showcase a cliffhanger aero dog fight between a human and alien pilot. The combat is taking place in a twist and turn, hard-to-maneuver Grand Canyon type environment with realism and excitement and is eventually won by the human. The movie climaxes with explosive and feel-good special effects that see the destruction of the alien spaceships in the sky as well as the mother ship in the outer space.

The director, Roland Emmerich had made several popular size-matter special-effects-laden movies - Stargate, 2012, and Godzilla. His success was due to his ability to use elaborate special effects to enhance the stories of human-struggle that the audience can identify with.

Contract Killer (1998)

This movie from Hong Kong can be regarded as the best Kung Fu drama that Jet Li ever starred in. Its success is primarily due to a good story, interesting characters, and well-choreographed special-effects-laden fighting scenes. There is the expert Kung Fu fighter equipped with finger rings that emit laser light to blind the opponent, a desperate rescue mission of an elderly man from a gang of hit men in a rundown and crowded apartment complex, and a fight to the death in an elevator shaft while the carts are moving up and down. The movie ends with a body flying and shattering glass gun battle mingled with bare hand verse samurai sword duel all occurring simultaneously with hair raising realism and spine tingling tension.

Jet Li not only demonstrates his usual sophisticated fighting techniques but also is allowed to display his humor and emotion.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

This action-packed, suspenseful, tension filled, and special-effects-laden movie cements director, James Cameron as the master of the genre without peer. The unrelenting pursuits and jaw-dropping combats showcase never-before-seen, the indestructible and intelligent machine that is made of liquid metal. The T1000’s ability to change shape is not surprising. What is amazing and memorable is when it melts into the floor or liquefies through the protective bar barrier. All these sequences are seamlessly woven together by the elaborate special effects.

This movie’s success and popularity are due to good story, good acting, suspenseful plots, and well constructed and choreographed action sequences enhanced with imaginative computer generated images and special effects.

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

This martial art fantasy from Hong Kong is the first film that employs special effects effectively to bring some of the well-known ancient Chinese fighting techniques to the big screen. Just like the beloved American comic book characters - Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc., the Chinese have long been fascinated by and sometimes have addicted to the popular martial-art themed novels featuring heroes as well as villains well-trained with deadly and powerful fighting skills. For example, the followings are showcased in the movie with well-thought-of special effects:

1) The Lion Shout – A high energy sound wave emitted by a Kung Fu master is intended to injure or disable the opponents. In the movie, it is demonstrated by the cigarette-smoking landlady who is concealing her true identity in the rundown community.

2) The Music of Death – A true master can inject energy into the musical instrument to generate musical note that can penetrate and cut like knife over great distance. In the movie, it is demonstrated by the two weird-looking assassins playing the Chinese Harp with deadly consequences.

3) The Toad Skill – The Kung Fu master who acquires this technique will be able to harden his body like a rock and leap through air over great distance to knock down the opponent. In the movie, it is demonstrated by the villain released from the prison for the paranormal and hired to squelch the dissidents.

4) The Buddha Palm – As the legend goes, only the very gifted and lucky individual over rare circumstance can attain this omnipotent technique. In the movie, it is demonstrated by the central character who read the secret scroll when he was a boy, survived the poisonous snake bites, and the near-death encounter. The energy outputted by the Buddha Palm is so powerful that even the toad-skilled master who can catch the bullet from a firing pistol is as defenseless as a new-born baby.

Final Destination 2 (2003)

This is a modest-budget franchise movie in the like of Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Saw. They are all made with no-name stars, have formula scripts, and get cheap thrills by showing people dying a gruesome death. The Final Destination series distinguished itself by creating mayhems out of everyday familiar surroundings that the audience can identify with.

The 2nd installment of the Final Destination showcases probably the best special effects enhanced highway traffic accident ever staged. It starts with a truck hauling a full load of heavy logs that are breaking loose due to faulty tying chain. As the long logs begin to roll and bounce onto the coming passenger cars, the nightmarish scenario is enfolding on the big screen with no bloody details unvisited. The realistic and horrific carnages will no doubt stay in the audience’s psyche for a long time. As a movie, it has achieved one of its primary goals that is to enable the audience to experience a realistic catastrophic event without getting personally involved.


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    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Very well done....I really enjoyed reading this hub....lots of great me when new technology has to be created for a movie scene...that is always impressive....T2 falls into that well as Willow.....voted up and awesome.