10 Classic Sci-Fi Movies With Better Effects Than Modern Films
1:25 PM PDT 9/20/2013 by Mark Hughes, Chris Godley
While moviemaking has made leaps and bounds in the realm of visual effects, there remain plenty of "classic" (at least 20 years old) movies with special effects that rival or even surpass what we can accomplish today.
The greatest science fiction film of all time, with visual effects that are some of the most realistic and stunning representations of space travel ever to have graced the screen. That such extravagant effects were possible in 1966-1968 is hard to fathom. The images as a shuttle docks at the revolving space station remain one of the finest sci-fi visual sequences ever created.
'The Abyss' (1989)
Having started out doing special effects work in movies, it's not surprising James Cameron's films became increasingly revolutionary in that field. The computer animation here would lay the groundwork for some of the effects shots in T2 a few years later, and still holds up well today.
H.R. Giger's hellish inspirations define the standout visual effects in this masterpiece. Technical details aboard the mining ship set a realistic tone, and that approach continues in the presentation of the hostile alien environment on the strange planet, the incomprehensible alien ship, and the terrifying moment when the alien bursts from Kane's chest.
'Blade Runner' (1982)
The technical detail of the effects shots make this the most beautiful sci-fi movie to look at. Not only do the effects look incredible and modern, they have a flavor that defines the whole experience of this film. The cityscapes and environment are characters, the story's themes being deeply embedded within the visual experience.
'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977)
No other film about aliens has come close to the perfection of Spielberg's classic, including its incredible visual effects depicting the aliens' arrival. When the mother ship rises above Devil's Tower like a glittering city, you believe it and you feel humbled by the majesty of these sublime effects.
'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' (1982)
Modern digital effects create some great characters entirely with animation, but this film did so with old-fashioned animatronics and costumes. The visual effects for the spacecraft are equally realistic and lovely to behold, as are other moments such as the famous bike ride across the moon.
'Jurassic Park' (1993)
Computer animation took a big leap forward with this movie, but there were more practical effects than CGI. Blended seamlessly, the technical advances in digital effects alongside mechanical, animatronic, puppeteered and other live-action visual effects produced a sci-fi adventure that remains superior to most every "giant monster" production made today.
'Star Wars: Episode IV' (1977)
The film that started our modern fixation on visual effects wizardry, and did so on a relatively modest budget using practical effects and spare model parts. The effects work in Star Wars is legendary, requiring new means of approaching visual effects shots.
'T2: Judgment Day' (1991)
James Cameron's films have been at the forefront of visual effects innovation for more than two decades. Terminator 2 is the film that comes to most people's minds as a defining moment, introducing audiences to the potential of CGI to make almost anything possible on the big screen.
'The Thing' (1981)
The best sci-fi-horror movie ever made, this film stands as a testament to the power of practical effects work and animatronics. The creature effects are brilliant, some of the most realistic and horrific imagery in cinema (can any sci-fi or horror shot rival the decapitated human head that sprouts spider legs and crawls away?), and are superior to just about any creature effects in modern movies.
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