The 12 Best Movies for Practical Effects Lovers

Society (1989)
Image Credit: Wild Street Pictures.

When a film fan asks an online forum for the best practical effects film of all time, people are more than happy to make the case for their favorites. Of course, the horror movies of the 1980s get a lot of attention, but there are also science fiction and fantasy films that receive some deserved love.

1. The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Thing is a classic sci-fi horror movie for many reasons; its plot about an alien infiltrating an Antarctic research station, its iconic score, but maybe more than anything for its astounding practical effects. The effects by Rob Bottin transcend simple gore and use (fake) human and animal bodies to create some of the most incredible alien creature designs ever set to film.

2. The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

While The Thing sees amazing creatures created from human bodies, The Fly sees a human body deteriorate like nothing else. The movie follows a scientist who accidentally becomes fused with a fly after a teleporting test goes wrong and shows his slow descent into something almost entirely inhuman.

It’s maybe not the best film directed by David Cronenberg (that honor goes to Videodrome), but it offers the most exciting and goopiest practical effects in his filmography. It makes perfect sense that effects artist Chris Walas won the Oscar for best effects for the film.

3. Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

Of course, praise should be heaped upon the iconic Xenomorph creature costume in Alien, but what solidifies the movie’s place as among films with the greatest practical effects of all time are the chest-burster sequence and the late-in-the-film conversation with a disconnected android head, both created by Brian Johnson.

It’s a science fiction movie that uses its simple story of people stumbling upon a vicious creature to bring us some of the most memorable practical effects set-pieces in cinema history.

4. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

There are a lot of werewolf movies out there, but none of them have the same kind of jaw-dropping, all-practical, human-to-wolf transformation as An American Werewolf in London.

When the film’s protagonist first transforms after being bitten by a mysterious creature, the movie almost changes entirely from a narrative story into a showcase for Rick Baker’s effects.

5. Society (1989)

Society (1989)
Image Credit: Wild Street Pictures.

Like An American Werewolf in London, there’s a point in Society where the movie stops being about a teenager trying to find out why his ultra-wealthy family is so strange and becomes entirely about the effects. But what makes Society so delightful is that it then spends almost twenty minutes reveling in its joyously disgusting body horror climax courtesy of Screaming Mad George.

6. Braindead, AKA Dead Alive (1992)

Braindead, AKA Dead Alive (1992)
Image Credit: Trimark Pictures.

Speaking of movies that revel in their joyous disgust, Peter Jackson’s Braindead, aka Dead Alive, is known in horror circles as the movie in which effects artists Bob McCarron and Richard Taylor broke the record for the use of fake blood.

The film, which follows a mild-mannered man who becomes the final line of defense between his town and zombies, delivers a wildly over-the-top finale that’s the stuff of horror legend as we see our hero use a lawnmower as a weapon against the undead.

7. Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)
Image Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors.

The demon Cenobites called forth by using a mysterious puzzle box alone might land Hellraiser on this list. But the gore effects, courtesy of artist Bob Keen, make it a necessary addition to any conversation of the greatest practical effects in film. There are images from this movie that I’ll never get out of my head, and I love that.

8. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)
Image Credit: 20th Century-Fox.

Shifting away from things that are horrific to brighter science fiction, Star Wars deserves attention not only for its amazing miniature effects that brought dogfights in space to the screen but also for the amazing creature and droid designs that inhabit its world when characters are on the ground.

9. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Ray Harryhausen is rightly celebrated as one of the greatest stop-motion animators and special effects artists in film history, and perhaps the most exciting among his creations are those for Jason and the Argonauts. The movie tells the mythical story of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. Throughout that quest, Harryhausen uses stop-motion to bring to life a giant statue, life-sized battling skeletons, and a host of monsters.

10. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Blade Runner 2049 gets a lot of well-deserved attention for how great it looks, but its predecessor deserves just as much if not more, love for creating the world that 2049 expands.

Blade Runner follows a “blade runner” as he hunts down synthetic human “replicants” in a futuristic Los Angeles, and it’s more in the creation and exploration of that city than anywhere else that the practical effects of the film shine. The miniatures used to create the futuristic city are astounding and make you believe it’s a real place.

11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Before Star Wars brought action to the stars, 2001: A Space Odyssey made us believe in interplanetary travel. The film follows a pair of astronauts and their artificial intelligence supercomputer on a mission to Jupiter. It is famous for its sequences of space travel, both outside the ship and inside, where we see gravity function in ways it never would on Earth.

12. Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis (1927)
Image Credit: Parufamet.

The oldest movie on this list is a precursor to all the other films mentioned, especially the science fiction films that use miniatures to make the audience believe in a futuristic world. Metropolis tells the story of a worker uprising in a futuristic world and the robot created to infiltrate and undermine them, its themes haven’t become any less important, and its remarkable visuals haven’t aged a day.


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Written by Kyle Logan

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