Are These the 50 Best Special Effects in Film of All-Time?

David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf and Keith Uhlich from Time Out New York have taken the time to list their choices for the 50 "most special effects of all time" from films dating from 1902-2009.

As effects have become a larger and larger part of today's films, to the point we are now debating whether a CG-rendered character is worthy of an Oscar nomination, it's interesting to look at the number of films on the list from each decade. Here's how each decade breaks down:

  • 1900-1909 - 1 film
  • 1920s - 2 films
  • 1930s - 4 films
  • 1940s - 2 films
  • 1950s - 5 films
  • 1960s - 4 films
  • 1970s - 8 films
  • 1980s - 14 films
  • 1990s - 7 films
  • 2000-2009 - 3 films

Looking over the list, there are a few films I haven't seen, but of the bunch I would consider for such a list, they have pretty much covered them all. The ranking would probably be the only dispute, but then again the effect newer films have had on the world of cinema as a whole has not yet been fully realized. In ten years we'll probably see if Avatar should rank higher on such a list, but there aren't many recent films I would say necessarily deserve inclusion. Can you think of any over the last two years that you may put on this list over any that are already included?

I would bet some of you will instantly say Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but after Gollum in Lord of the Rings and the Na'vi in Avatar, did Rise really bring that much more to the landscape? Right now we can't answer that question, but in ten years we will hopefully realize the full effect.

I have listed the top 10 directly below with a clip from each followed by the complete list of 50 films on the second page. To browse Time Out New York's six-page feature, with explanations for each decision click here.

10.) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

9.) Metropolis (1927)

8.) Blade Runner (1982)

7.) The Abyss (1989)

6.) Jaws (1975)

  • zlaja

    The Best in terms of influence and impression they left when they were released - this would be more adequate title

  • Cory

    Star Wars not being number one is a joke...

    • Brad Brevet


      • Darth Agnan

        Because no other film was such a leap ahead in terms of special effects.

        It should at least have been in the top 5. Definitely ahead of Alien or Jaws.

        • Brad Brevet

          But were the effects that much of a leap compared to 2001? What effects exactly are you referring to?

      • john

        The effects blew people's minds when it came out. It made a huge impact on people. A new motion-controlled camera (the Dysktraflex) was invented just for this movie, responsible for the film's groundbreaking space battle scenes, and all without a massive budget. And its two sequels pushed the envelope even more.

        It doesn't need to be number 1 (Voyage to the Moon is a nice choice), but absolutely in the top 10.

  • Jack

    The Day the Earth Stood Still should be on there

  • Badge

    I saw Star Wars in '77 when it first showed up and was high on anticipation, but at the end my friend and I said the same thing..."But those effects weren't as good as 2001" (which was made nearly a decade earlier).

  • Jeffery

    How the hell is Zelig that high? Seriously, compared to something like Benjamin Button or over films of that type? I know it was the 1980s but still...

    • Badge

      Zelig's position on the list is through the meticulous faking and manipulation of vintage images with modern ones using a combination of physical and optical techniques, everything from rotoscoping to throwing the film on the floor to scuff it up. Years later Zemeckis used CGI to do the same thing in Gump.

  • Evengan

    Honestly, the most revolutionary film of our time is Avatar, without a doubt (in terms of visual effects). 29 is a bit unfair, I believe. Better that "The Two Towers" at least. Also, why is Benjamin Button there? Sure, it had great effects, but it wasn't revolutionary at all.

  • Matt Burdette

    I'm not the biggest James Cameron fan, and I am very aware that "Avatar" was a sci-fi remake of "Dances With Wolves", but the fact that he spent a decade or more developing the technology to make the movie the way he wanted to, warrants more than a 29 spot. Whiskey...Tango...Foxtrot?

  • Brane

    What about Death becomes her, The Gremlins, Who framed Roger Rabbit...

    • Stiggy

      Obviously Anchors Aweigh predates WFRR by a big margin. Not to mention that Anchors Aweigh actually started the whole famous cartoon character cameo craze with Jerry Mouse.

      The only reason that WFRR is more famous was due to the huge number of famous cartoon characters that appeared (ironically Jerry Mouse didn't feature).

  • tom z

    Best, no. I agree with Zlaja, change the title. I'm always amazed at our lack of objectivity as a species. Take the nostalgia and the sense of obligation towards giving a nod to the past away, and how do a Trip to the Moon's effects really look? Godzilla? Come on.

    Happy to see Babe on the list. Not only do those effects still hold up, it's disappointing that talking animal movies since haven't seemed to feel a need to top or even match it in quality.

    If it's most influential, I'd keep many of these selections, but T2 and Avatar both belong in top 5, T2's morphing made films such as Jurassic Park possible.

  • MajorFilmFan

    For me, the two most revolutionary special effects films of all time are Avatar and LOTR: The Two Towers. If we did't have The Two Towers, then we wouldn't have Avatar. The work on Gollum in THe Two Towers made James Cameron realize that his vision of Avatar could now fully be realized.

  • TimothyJS

    I think you can go ahead an add anothe movie in the 2000-2009 category, I just saw this movie recently and I have a whole movie collection and I have seen a lot but the film I saw recently was called Speed Racer and even though to me it wasn't a really good film with a good plot and a story it had some really good special effects, it was fast moving and while the main character was driving you can just see the background change and kind of distort but there was also something very neon about it and it was really just fast paced and the some of the team that brought you The Matrix and V for Vendetta worked on this movie.

  • kalebson

    I am sorry but the head explosion in Scanners is sooooooooooo much better than its 18th place.

  • Rob

    Them! was very weak. Jaws past the first scene was almost laughable, the shark was so bad.
    I would add Star Trek (2009)- you have to be jaded not to appreciate the seamless effects. Ditto for the first (4th?) Star Wars. The original War of the Worlds was awesome also as was the original Clash of the Titans.
    Avatar was something else - it and 2001 were oddities and really don't have a place on this list. Most of the others seem right but I don't remember Vertigo enough to understand that one.

  • Alan

    One distinctively huge omission: Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

    • Stiggy

      Like I said before Anchors Aweigh obviously predates WFRR. In other words WFRR wouldn't have even existed if it weren't for Anchors Aweigh since AA started the whole famous cartoon character cameo in a live action film (Jerry Mouse). Ironically neither Tom or Jerry cameoed in WFRR.