Sometimes it’s the art direction, sometimes it’s the technology available, and sometimes it’s just done poorly. Here are a bunch of examples from movies and TV shows both new and old that will have you rolling your eyes.
Jar-Jar Binks from “The Phantom Menace”
Some people have softened on this oft-hated character, but most people still see him as an unnecessary comic relief, a time sink in an already-long movie, and even somewhat prejudiced. The series very quickly got away from him after this movie, but he's still one of the big reasons why “The Phantom Menace” was and still is being mocked.
As a full-motion capture character before it was commonplace, there are plenty of times when Jar-Jar just doesn't look right. Standing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, it's hard to drag your eyes away from the goofy, out-of-place look of Binks.
The Proton Packs from “Ghostbusters II”
We can chalk this one up to coming out in the eighties, but there were still plenty of special effects that had blown people out of their seats by 1989, when “Ghostbusters II” dropped. Still, you have to admit that the look of the proton packs nabbing a ghost and confining it down into one of their special containment units looks pretty dated.
It doesn't hurt how the movie goes, of course – it's still a classic – but it can be a little off-putting if you've never seen it before and you're used to Marvel movies.
The Cats from “Cats”
Coming out in 2019, “Cats” was immediately torn to shreds by viewers and critics alike as a horrendous movie that is only just slightly worse than having an actual illness. Poor acting, singing, and choreography, poor casting, confusing changes to the subject material (which wasn't exactly straightforward in the first place), and, finally, the awful special effects.
Nothing looks natural, nothing looks right, and the cats are, famously, missing a certain part of their anatomy. Incredibly, human-shaped cats with human faces look really, really strange no matter what you do with them after that.
The Swamp Thing from “Swamp Thing”
Sure, you could say that this outfit from “Swamp Thing” (1987) was an homage to some of the original creature features that had obvious dudes in rubber suits as the big baddie, but we expected a little more from Wes Craven. The man is practically the master of horror!
However, as much as was done to make this swamp thing look good, it still just looks like a man in a rubber suit, with a lot of makeup and some dirt sprinkled on top of it. It doesn't look terrible, but it's not getting into any top-ten lists, either.
The Toxic Avenger from “The Toxic Avenger Part II”
This isn't the kind of Avenger you're used to. “The Toxic Avenger Part II” came out in 1989, and just like most sequels, it took a step down in quality from the first one, thanks to the director shooting way too much footage and cutting the film into two parts, this and “The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie,” which also came out in 1989.
Toxie, the hero of the piece (really) just kinda looked gross. Not bad, per se, but it was hard to root for him when he looked like a big pile of sludge.
Almost Everything from “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
If you're into movies, you're probably aware of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” It's one of the most famously bad movies in existence. Almost every part of it is so slip-shod, it's impossible to watch it without laughing your head off. It even has Bela Lugosi! But he died during the filming and they had to get a stand-in. Yikes.
This classic shot of toy UFOs hanging in front of a black-and-white sky opens the film, despite the movie coming out in the late fifties – years after color was becoming commonplace. The color was expensive, though and this movie is nothing but cheap.
The Liquid Metal from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
“Terminator 2” is fondly remembered for a lot of reasons, but it's a bit surprising to see that the special effects haven't aged as well as you might think. Some of the fast-action scenes are clearly CGI, and the liquid metal of this movie's killer robot has taken a hit in look as time went on.
While it doesn't take too much away from the film, it's just too hard to see it as anything other than obvious computer work, even while the T-1000 is fighting Arnold and Sarah Connors. Still, a good movie.
Batman from “Batman”
No, he technically wasn't special effects, but you have to admit the first of the modern Batman movies, from 1989, didn't look ideal. Michael Keaton played the caped crusader, and the suit was so hard to move in, it was frequently brought up in later movies as a gag.
People watching nowadays will be able to pick it apart a little more, but at the time it was a fantastic way to show Gotham. The gothic architecture, the shadows, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker make it easy to brush past the smaller issues of the movie, like the bat suit.
Arnold's Fat Lady Disguise from “Total Recall”
“Total Recall” from 1990 showed us a lot of cool stuff. A science-fiction plot that goes to Mars, saves lives, and leaves us with a question. However, one part of the movie sticks out as a strange special effects failure. It looks okay before the reveal – since it's just an actor – but once it cracks open to show the film's lead inside, it's clear that it doesn't look natural.
Plastic, clay, whatever they used, it clearly wasn't skin. The action kicks off right after that, so it's easy to forget, but it still doesn't look very good.
The Werewolf from “An American Werewolf in Paris”
As the werewolf stomps through a Paris subway, viewers are left puzzled at the monster on the screen. This movie came out in 1997, which means CGI hadn't yet reached a respectable point (thanks to movies like “The Matrix” or “Fellowship of the Ring”) but it was starting to get more use, including full-motion capture for monsters or non-human creatures.
This is a good example of the growing pains that the technology had to go through before it would start to blow us away. It might have been scary at the time, but no longer.
Camera Angles from “The Matrix”
While “The Matrix” is often seen as one of the better movies that have come out in recent decades, and the graphical advances it made were mind-blowing at the time, it's a little sad to say that some of the effects have aged. In addition, the next two movies, Reloaded and Revolution, weren't as entertaining, which meant they got a little more scrutiny.
In particular the sweeping camera angles for a single, slowed-down shot – a hallmark of the series – can come off as kitschy and dated now. Still, at the time, they shocked people with how good they looked.
The Driving Scenes from “Casablanca”
Thankfully, “Casablanca” isn't the kind of movie that relies on its special effects. This love story, a war story, and an emotional tale is one-of-a-kind, and despite it being eighty years old it's still fondly remembered and re-watched. On the other hand, Hollywood hadn't exactly figured out how to have their actors drive around in cars safely, while being well-lit and reading their lines.
That's how you get Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman sitting in a car as a clearly-fake backdrop unrolls behind them. Luckily, it's easy enough to pass it off as a technical limitation of the time – the movie as a whole certainly stands up.
The Shark from “Jaws”
The beauty of this fact is that the movie's director, Steven Spielberg, was fully aware that the shark didn't look great – that's why actual shots of it are so rare in the movie. They hit it behind swells of water, murky depths, and frantic camera angles to make sure nobody in the audience could get a good glimpse of it.
A still like this one makes it clear that it isn't a real shark, but if you're watching this movie for the first time, the chance of developing a fear of water and of sharks is all too real.
The Doll from “The Witches of Eastwick”
There are tons of effects in “The Witches of Eastwick,” and while some of them look okay (the movie did come out in 1987, after all) some of them haven't stood the test of time. In particular, the little wax voodoo doll that the three main characters use to try and get rid of Daryl looks a little too cartoony to be taken seriously.
Any of the effects that have to do with the doll, and with Daryl after the fact, don't hold up to snuff.
The Death Effects from “Death Becomes Her”
“Death Becomes Her” contains some freaky stuff, such as Meryl Streep's head twisted all the way around on her neck. It's gruesome to look at, but in this day and age, it's pretty obvious that it isn't really going on. The movie actually won an Oscar for the work that it was able to do, pioneering several techniques.
Most commonly this refers to the scene where Streep's character has her neck broken and dislocated. These advancements went on to movies like “Jurassic Park.” Still, the movie came out thirty years ago, and it's clear it isn't real.
The Ring Effects from “Green Lantern”
In 2011, superhero movies had been growing in acclaim. “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” had come out to huge box office pulls and high marks from critics. Warner Brothers tried their hand with “Green Lantern,” and it was roundly, and rightly, mocked. In particular, the special effects that came out of the green ring whenever its power was necessary were seen as a hard sell.
Not terrible by any means, just not convincing enough to audiences. There were also the alien worlds, which just didn't have the depth and life that some recent examples are able to show us.
The Dog from “There's Something About Mary”
If you've seen “There's Something About Mary,” you remember the vicious little pooch that doesn't stop at anything when it's in a scrap. You also probably remember the scene when one of the characters has to try and shock it back to life using wire leads.
Even when the movie came out, it was clear that some of the shots were using a doll or a fake dog of some sort, and now it's become even more obvious. At the very least, there are a couple of groups that would object to Ben Stiller power bombing a real dog.
The Effects in “Howard the Duck”
As an earlier attempt to bring comic book characters to the big screen, “Howard the Duck” just couldn't float. It was too raunchy, it was too weird, and the effects didn't look convincing enough to make people think that the film was really happening in front of them. Howard himself was, obviously, a costume of the era, but the magical special effects don't look all that good, either.
This is even stranger, since George Lucas, whose Star Wars movies gave special effects a much-needed boost, was in charge of the film. Well, they can't all be winners, can they George?
Lots of the Effects from “Escape From L.A.”
After the rousing success of “Escape From New York,” the same team gave it another shot on the other side of the country. The sequel is, unfortunately, famous for its bad CGI. It was a frequent complaint from both critics and regular audience members, with many pointing out that movies like “Jurassic Park” had not only come out years before this film, but the effects were worlds better.
Some people have even put forth the idea that “Escape From L.A.” has the worst special effects EVER – which isn't a good look for the film.
The Flying Scenes from “Superman”
Coming out in 1978, the original “Superman” movie, starring Christopher Reeve as the last son of Krypton, has a couple of missteps when it comes to the special effects. Most of the stuff you'll see is fine enough for its time, but the shots of him soaring above the buildings of Metropolis are clearly done with a green screen.
Sharp viewers might even be able to pick out the wires that are keeping Reeve in the air while he's supposed to be flying. They certainly aren't perfect, but showing a dude flying around on his own was still new stuff back then. This important movie gets a pass.
Everything from “Catwoman”
Not only is it one of the most notably-bad films that has ever been made, but “Catwoman” from 2004 also manages to lower the bar when it comes to special effects. At that time movies like the Lord of the Rings series, “The Matrix,” and the Star Wars prequels had all shown us what special effects are capable of, and this superhero flop refused to make use of those advances.
Thankfully, the movie is light on effects compared to a lot of other superhero films, which means it wasn't as bad as it could have been...but it was still pretty bad.
Jabba the Hutt from “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi”
A lot of the effects in the original Star Wars trilogy hold up, given that they came out upwards of forty years ago. One that doesn't really seem to work anymore – and one that new advancements can't touch – is that of Jabba the Hutt, the disgusting crime lord from “Return of the Jedi.” It was a huge puppet worked by multiple people, and it worked for the time.
However, it's a little too easy to tell it isn't the real thing nowadays. Of course, many fans find its look endearing, and it's a lot better than some of the other examples on this list.
The Ape from “King Kong”
It shouldn't come as a surprise that a movie about a huge ape that rampages through New York has special effects, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that sometimes those special effects just don't work sometimes. The very first version of the movie, from 1933, was doing everything it could to make it look like there was a huge ape.
The version from 2005 does a lot better, but that big ape still just doesn't look right. It might be able to toss cars like they're toys, but fur and animals are notoriously difficult to animate.
The Wolf Costume from “Teen Wolf”
As much magic as Michael J. Fox can weave, there's only so much he could do to pull off an outfit that's made of hair. While the wolf suit from “Teen Wolf” is practical – which helps it stand up to scrutiny a little longer – it still looks like a basketball-playing wolfman suit from 1985, which is exactly what it was. Still, it doesn't take too much away from the movie.
“Willing suspension of disbelief” is something to remember for a reason. It might not look perfect, but it gets the job done enough for what the movie needs.
Doctor Doom from “Fantastic Four”
People keep trying to make "Fantastic Four" movies, and they keep ending up pretty much the exact same way: middling too bad. The latest, from 2015, was the lowest-grossing of the films to date, and it received universally negative reviews. One of the issues was the visuals were dark and gloomy – whereas the comic series it was based on was colorful, upbeat, and energetic.
Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four's main enemy, is one of the low points of the film – visually, at least. In the comic, he has a metal mask, but in the movie, it looks more like silver face paint.
Blarp from “Lost in Space”
Remember this movie? Yeah, neither do we. A version of “Lost in Space” from 1998 was right when CGI was going through some of its worst growing pains, which is why we had to suffer through this little alien creature, affectionately called Blarp. Or Blip. Or Blawp. Sometimes it's hard to tell.
This creature was originally going to be a muppet, but the Jim Henson company decided to make it a computer graphics creature. As you can see, they had a ways to go before they were able to make it look like it belonged in the movie.
Godzilla from “Godzilla”
Godzilla is a pure film creation, and it's been stomping our shores since 1954 when the immense beast was an actor in a rubber suit surrounded by tiny buildings to smash. Must have been fun. While special effects have improved since then, that doesn't mean it looks perfect.
“Godzilla” from 1998 could surely do a lot worse, but the way the huge dragon-dinosaur (or whatever Godzilla actually is) fights into the surrounding landscape is a bit off. The movie tries not to dwell too much on it, though. Was that the right decision? That's for you to decide.
Hulk from “The Hulk”
The nice thing about special effects is you can create stuff that the audience has never seen before – totally unreal and unimaginable. The bad part is that if your movie depends on it to work and it doesn't, the movie will suffer mightily. Take the 2003 movie “The Hulk,” perhaps the earliest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though not really), tries so hard and still ends up missing the mark.
The big green punching machine is the centerpiece of the film, but the special effects weren't enough to make him endearing enough to the audience.
The Giant Ants from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
There were lots of great special effects in this movie, despite its general lack of quality. The giant ants that make up a big problem in the third act for the characters – good and bad – to deal with, however, don't really seem to have the same level of expertise that the rest of the film displays.
All of the characters flee from them, and one of them, a Soviet villain, is knocked into them as they swarm. They quickly cover him, seemingly devouring him as he screams in pain. It's not the worst, but it needed some more work.
Everything from “The Lawnmower Man”
When it comes to special effects flops, “The Lawnmower Man” from 1992 is one of the first to come up in the conversation. The name comes from a short story by Stephen King, but the similarities are so minor (one of the characters cuts the grass, that's about it) that King sued to have his name removed from the credits and for further damages.
The movie went hard into cyberspace, similar to the earlier “Tron,” but it looks like a bad video game. It doesn't help that the movie itself wasn't any good, either.
The Conductor from “Polar Express”
One of the biggest things about “Polar Express” was that it tried to make a fully-CGI film using regular people – it was trying to go beyond the toys and bugs of yesteryear and really make something that looked good. Did they succeed? Well...not really. They certainly got closer than a lot of others have.
The conductor, for instance, just didn't have the kind of believable look that a real person would have. The characters were stuck in the uncanny valley, and a lot of people couldn't bear to watch it a second time due to the unrealistic nature of the characters.
The Horrors from “The Mist”
As far as horror movies go, “The Mist” is able to stand on its own two feet. It has something to offer, but the monsters that start appearing just don't look the best. The designs are at least unique, but they still don't look all that great.
At its core, “The Mist” is a monster movie, which might explain why they went with a little bit of a rubbery look, but for a movie that came out in 2007, it wasn't up to snuff. The director always wanted to shoot it in black and white, which might explain why it looks this way.
The Brides from “Van Helsing”
What to do if your monster movie looks like it might be a flop? Simple – grab a couple of attractive young women and put them in revealing outfits. That's what the vampire movie “Van Helsing” did, and it managed to gross three hundred million dollars despite mostly negative reviews.
Okay, okay, the brides of Dracula do more than that – they are enemies that Van Helsing and Anna have to fight off – but their special effects and makeup just don't look great.
Chucky from “Child's Play”
We're going to give this famous series of slasher movies a bit of a pass since the first movie came out in 1988 and there wasn't a whole lot of technology available to do what they wanted back then. In addition, the creepy killer doll is SUPPOSED to look unnatural and plastic, which means it could have looked a lot worse.
At the end of the day, however, age hasn't been very kind to the first entry in this series. It's certainly still creepy, but it's a little too easy to laugh at the way Chucky looks nowadays.
Mr. Hyde from “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”
Featuring such characters as Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, and Tom Sawyer, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” was a poor movie that came from a fine idea. Also in the film was Jason Flemyng as Dr. Henry Jekyll. He's able to transform into his brutal alter-ego, Edward Hyde, and this version of the classic literary character just doesn't look good at all.
It was one of the many things that critics picked on while bashing the film, though the film was a moderate box-office success. Still, it remains a film that can't seem to get its feet under it, and the poor special effects aren't much of a boon.
Garfield from “Garfield”
The creators of the live-action “Garfield” movies from 2004 and 2006 knew that they had to let the famous orange cat be large and in charge during these films, so they made him bright and cartoony. It was okay.
There are a lot of other ways it could have worked out worse, such as using a real cat and animating the mouth, but it still tends to not fit into the surrounding action all that well. Everything else is real life, including the other animals. It was acceptable for its time, but it looks pretty bad nowadays.
David Bowie from “Labyrinth”
While he absolutely steals the show in skintight leggings and a billowing blouse, some of the things that Goblin king Jareth pulls off don't really look so good anymore. The film has a little more staying power than most despite coming out in 1986 thanks to the puppets that the Jim Henson company was able to supply.
It's easy enough for audiences to see the puppets. Think “ah, puppets. Classic.” However, they still don't look natural – especially with David Bowie prancing around. Of all things, he doesn't really fit into the rest of the movie, despite his outrageous and unforgettable performance.
Everything from “The Last Airbender”
Director M. Night Shyamalan has a couple of famous flops under his belt by now, but few of them will ever reach the horrendous levels of “The Last Airbender,” which is based on the Nickelodeon cartoon. The story was condensed down to almost nothing, the directing and acting were lackluster at best, and the special effects, oh, the special effects.
Animating rock, fire, water, and air flying all over the place is no easy task, and this movie simply wasn't up to the challenge. The fact that the movie was filmed in 3D using 2D cameras made everything look a lot worse at the same time.
Everything from “Tron: Legacy”
While not as noticeable as the movie that came before it, this long-awaited sequel had plenty of hiccups in its special effects. Building an entire computer world has been tried before, and “Tron: Legacy” got pretty close, but they couldn't bring it home. The glowing lines on the suits, and that make up the world of Tron stand out a little too much.
The fact that, as you can see in this image, everything else is so gosh-darned dark makes it a movie that might give you a headache while you're trying to watch it. At least the movie has some things going for it, like Olivia Wilde.
Scooby from “Scooby-Doo”
The producers of “Scooby-Doo,” released in 2002, kind of had a “Sophie's choice” to make. Either they use a real Great Dane dog for Scoob and make everything ten times more difficult, or they use a CGI dog and make it look unrealistic. They went with the latter. And, let's be real, they did their best, but Scooby-Doo is meant for traditional animation.
Everything else can't stand up to the pressure. The producers tried to lean into the obvious faults a CGI dog will have by making him deliberately cartoony, but it still looks a little too fake, even with all the other ghosts and such flying around.
The Space Shots from “Mission to Mars”
Critics and viewers alike trampled this film, which came out in the year 2000, pointing out that visual beauty will only get you so far. It just barely broke even at the box office, and there were more issues going on than just the special effects. In fact, for most of the movie, the effects are a high point, since a team of over four hundred technicians helped create the shots.
Some of the scenes, like the one you see here, really don't seem to mesh with the rest of the movie. Worse, even when well done, the effects dominated, leaving little room for good acting.
The Plane Crash from “Air Force One”
Getting to watch Harrison Ford fight off terrorists as the president of Air Force One is a treat, but the effects of the movie aren't the greatest. Even by 1997 standards, the CGI model of the eponymous plane crashing (spoilers) looks pretty rough. Even the people working on the film commented on how fake it looked, but they didn't have a whole lot of choice – crashing an actual plane was a bit beyond them.
In addition, the F-15 cockpit mock-up that appears at one point is incomplete – there should be more plan behind the pilot, but instead, you can only see the sky.
The City from “The Shape of Things to Come”
“Star Wars” first dropped in theaters in 1977, and it showed people that science-fiction wasn't just bad effects and dopey sets. And then “The Shape of Things to Come” stumbled along and undid all that hard work. The film was actually an attempt to capture the popularity of “Star Wars,” but it had none of the class and brilliance.
The effects looked more like they belonged in the fifties – this image is barely more than a model against a black sheet and a little bit of pyrotechnics. The robots are even worse – it's like an intentional parody.
The Enterprise from “Star Trek: The Final Frontier”
Star Trek was a cultural touchstone, elevating television and science-fiction, and bringing something unforgettable to the screen. However, the movies don't always pan out the way people are hoping. The effects in the movies are okay for their time, but all the way in 1989, when “The Final Frontier” came out, it still looks like the artists were using a little model on wires in front of a black background to get the space shots.
There are worse effects – there are probably worse effects in other Star Trek movies – but this one is a little hard to stomach anyway.
The Piranhas from “Piranhas II: The Spawning”
They were scary for their time, but since this horror movie about man-eating fish that could fly through the air came out in 1981, the effects have aged quite a bit. Still, they weren't terrible – and for good reason, since none other than James Cameron was first the special effects director, then the project director. It was his directorial debut.
Still, it's not a very good movie overall, with Cameron being barred from the editing room, the producer hiring an Italian crew that didn't speak English, and a lot of creative control being taken out of Cameron's hands.
The Aging Effects from “J. Edgar”
Leonardo DiCaprio spent between six and seven hours a day getting his makeup ready for the shots where he plays the old and wrinkled Hoover for this biopic. The movie used fake teeth, a bald cap, a device that reshaped a single nostril, lots of latex body pads, colored contacts, and layers upon layers of silicone applied to the actor's face.
The question is, how does it look? It doesn't look too bad taken from face value (heh), but on closer inspection, you can start to pick out the seams.
The Lightning from “Hocus Pocus”
In 1993, when “Hocus Pocus” came out, special effects were in a growing phase. Everybody had gotten used to the sights and sounds of Star Wars, and they were looking for more. While the movie remains a cult classic, “Hocus Pocus” didn't exactly wow viewers with CGI magic.
The comedic trio of witches accidentally resurrect a teenage boy, but viewers who see it for the first time now would think much of the spells they use, since the Marvel movies and lots of other films have, let's be real here, spoiled us when it comes to effects.
The Troll from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone”
The Harry Potter books and films are some of the most fondly-remembered pieces of pop culture from the last few decades, but even these entries suffered from a failure of special effects. Most of the time things were well done, using very minor CGI, or focusing on practical effects to give things a realistic, weighty quality.
The troll from the first movie is a big exception. The stills make it clear that this thing has been pasted into the shot, and even in motion it doesn't look all that natural. For the time it wasn't bad, but now it looks pretty cheesy.
The Monsters from “The People That Time Forgot”
Primitive warriors, prehistoric monsters, and the pinnacle of late-seventies hair make “The People That Time Forgot” a classic adventure film. Quite a lot happens, including a real, honest-to-goodness volcanic eruption that must be escaped, but the film's special effects were a little bit behind the times. The dinosaurs in particular looked pretty fake – this image is a good example.
Now, we're not saying they look bad (the little guy actually seems pretty cuddly to us), but they just don't seem all that realistic. It makes it difficult for the modern viewer to take the movie seriously.