most influential visual effects movies

In honor of its 20th anniversary, the Visual Effects Society – a professional organization of artists, producers, technologists, and more who work in the entertainment industry – polled its nearly 3,400 members and determined a ranking of the most influential visual effects movies of all time. And since this is the internet, we’re legally bound to examine (and potentially argue with) a list like this after it’s published. So let’s take a look and see which films made the cut.

“The VES 70 represents films that have had a significant, lasting impact on the practice and appreciation of visual effects as an integral element of cinematic expression and storytelling,” VES board chair Mike Chambers explained. “We see this as an important opportunity for our members, leading visual effects practitioners worldwide, to pay homage to our heritage and help shape the future of the global visual effects community.”

Before we get into the list itself, I just want to point out a couple of quick things: James Cameron leads the pack of directors with six of his directorial efforts making an appearance (The Abyss, Aliens, Avatar, Terminator, Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic), and it’s worth noting that this is an updated list from a decade ago when they ranked the top 50 most influential movies; they added 20 more here, with the most recent additions being a pair of 2015 movies: Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road. (The oldest is Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, from 1902.)

Without further adieu, here’s their full list:

300 (2007)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

The Abyss (1989)

Alien (1979)

Aliens (1986)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Avatar (2009)

Babe (1995)

Back to the Future (1985)

Blade Runner (1982)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1958)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

District 9 (2009)

E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Ex Machina (2015)

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

The Fifth Element (1997)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Godzilla (1954)

Gravity (2013)

Inception (2010)

Independence Day (1996)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jaws (1975)

Jurassic Park (1993)

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (2005)

Life of Pi (2012)

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The Lost World (1925)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mary Poppins (1964)

The Mask (1994)

The Matrix (1999)

Metropolis (1927)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Sin City (2005)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Star Wars (1977)

Starship Troopers (1997)

Superman: The Movie (1978)

The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Terminator (1984)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The Thing (1982)

Titanic (1997)

Total Recall (1990)

Toy Story (1995)

Tron (1982)

Transformers (2007)

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What Dreams May Come (1998)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

There’s a difference between visual effects and special effects. Visual effects are achieved in post-production (often involving CGI), and special effects are mechanical or optical effects typically used during production to achieve a desired result in camera. As an outsider looking in on this list, I feel like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. has a better case as a special effects film than a visual effects movie, but that’s really the only gripe I have with these selections. The rest of them are all excellent examples of moving the technology forward or achieving something that had never been done before.

One last thing: the VES clearly isn’t a fan of superhero movies, since none of them save for Superman: The Movie made the list. I know some modern superhero films can be slip into becoming CGI bore-fests, but still: no love for The Avengers seems like a bit of a slap in the face, doesn’t it?

Cool Posts From Around the Web: