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Movie Directors Share their Views on the Best Visual Effects of All Time (Featuring Mike Newell, James Watkins & More Amazing Directors...)


Visual effects can make or break a movie.

If done poorly you wind up with an ultimately unconvincing film in which the filmmaker has failed to bring the stage, its inhabitants and the action they’re involved in to life. But if done correctly or even masterfully you wind up with, well, the films mentioned in this list to be honest.

We have all been blown away at times by the visual effects delivered by movies that span a variety of genres from Sci-Fi to Fantasy to Action to Horror. And we all no doubt have our own opinions on the movies that feature the best visual effects of all time. But we wondered, what to do the guys that actually make the movies think? Movie directors are obviously a lot more qualified than you or I to judge the level of competency when it comes to visual effects in a film, unless you happen to be a member of the Academy of course.

So we reached out to some of the best directors who are making movies around the world right now and asked them the following question:

“In your opinion which film features the best visual effects of all time?”

The response we received from these directors was nothing short of amazing. Be prepared for an exclusive insight into the world of filmmaking. It’s time to find out which films the experts believe feature the very best visual effects of all time.  



1. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey nailed it before CGI was even invented

2001 A Space Odyssey
Mike Newell

Mike Newell is a BAFTA Award-winning British film director known for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Donnie Brasco (1997) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) amongst other notable titles.

“For me 2001, Stanley Kubrick, is unbeatably the best – mostly because the story and characters are so great. Even though it was made long before CGI was invented.”


2. Watching The Empire Strikes Back was an awe-inspiring, formative experience

James Watkins

James Watkins is a critically-acclaimed director and screenwriter best known for box office hit The Woman in Black (2012,) starring Daniel Radcliffe, and Eden Lake (2008).

“I like VFX to be invisible, not grandstanding 'look at me' shots breaking the laws of physics. The best VFX artists - and they are artists - serve story first.

One of my formative experiences remains the best: The Empire Strikes Back. Still using models, rather than full computer generation to realise their star wars, there is a chunky sense of reality that adds to the awe: the feeling of real light falling on real things.”


3. George Miller reigns supreme when it comes to authenticity with films such as Mad Max

2001 Space Odyssey
Ishai Setton

Ishai Setton is noted for his work in both TV (Glee) and film. His directorial debut The Big Bad Swim (2006) won awards at multiple film festivals. Setton has also worked with actors Jared Leto and Laura Prepon.

“When I’m asked what the best visual effects in a movie are, I immediately think of the first Jurassic Park. That film has incredible effects that remain totally effective more than 20 years later. It has a real, naturalistic quality and never feels overdone like so much CGI today.

I’m not sure if it qualifies or not, but I love the type of visual effects that George Miller employs in the new Mad Max or even in his film Babe: Pig in the City. Those movies must have a lot of visual effects going on, but you rarely feel it. Everything feels organic to the worlds he has created and everything is serving the characters and the story. I think he handles effects masterfully.

And then in current cinema, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just unbelievable. I watched that film with my mouth open, completely clueless with how they created any of that. That film really was an amazing achievement in visual effects.”


4. Irreversible and Children of Men push the limits in the modern era of CGI

2001 Space Odyssey
The Zellner Bros

The Zellner Bros (David & Nathan Zellner) have won a string of awards for their feature films including Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014), which starred Oscar-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi.

“In terms of all-time technical innovation probably 2001. Regarding the modern era of CGI, a couple of films come to mind - Irreversible and Children of Men. Both utilized cutting edge technology in progressive, unique and highly original ways, pushing the limits of CGI as a nuanced artistic tool rather than a lazy crutch employed by so much blockbuster fare.”


5. The Empire Strikes Back presented a seamless blend of every existing technique

2001 Space Odyssey
David Lowery

David Lowery is renowned for his films St. Nick (2009) and Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013), starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. He is working on the 2016 adaptation of The Yellow Birds which will star Benedict Cumberbatch.

“The first movie that comes to mind when I think of visual effects is still THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. It's such a beautiful, risky, seamless blend of every existing technique, from matte paintings to models to stop motion to a muppet that's as empathetic as anyone else in the cast. Knowing how cobbled together it all was makes it seem even more amazing that it works so well. Technically ILM topped themselves with RETURN OF THE JEDI and its feats of optically-printed derring-do, but EMPIRE still tops it in terms of grandeur and awe.”


6. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is an extraordinary feat of direction

2001 Space Odyssey
Susanna White

Susanna White won a BAFTA for her work on TV serial Bleak House. In the realm of film she is known for Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (2010) and the yet-to-be-released Our Kind of Traitor (2015).

“My award has to go to Gravity. For Alfonso Cuaron to take the actors on an imaginative journey through a world entirely created in post was an extraordinary feat of direction, and the world Framestore built was so real that sitting in the cinema you felt that you were living being in space in a way that most of us, in our lifetimes, will only ever dream of.”


7. Jurassic Park was just mind-blowing for kids in the 90’s

2001 Space Odyssey
Desiree Akhavan

The multi-talented Desiree Akhavan is an actress, writer, director and much more. Appropriate Behaviour (2014), her critically-acclaimed feature film debut was recently released on DVD and VOD.

“JURASSIC PARK. My choice is heavily cloaked in nostalgia. I saw this film in the cinema as a child - not only did it blow my mind, it also made me feel things: magic combo.”


8. The Original Star Wars Trilogy shows visual effects at its best; The Phantom Menace, visual effects at its worst

2001 Space Odyssey
Jack Skyyler

Jack Skyyler is a director and visual effects artist. He does the visual effects on behalf of other great directors as well as for his own features such as Skookum: The Hunt for Bigfoot (2014).

“If I were to pick out the best visual effects, I would say the original Star Wars trilogy. The reason I say that is they were the most cleverly planned out visual effects. Too often in a visual-effects film they write the whole story, commit to it, even shoot it, then discover they can't execute it. [...] Star Wars sat back and worked out a script to capitalize on light effects: light sabers, blasters, lightning bolts, etc... Because of smart thinking and writing they created something that looked far ahead of its time!

Now, since I complimented the original trilogy, I have to do what any good Star Wars fan should do, and insult the prequels. The Phantom Menace, I believe, is the worst implementation of visual effects in a major motion picture.[...] When visual effects are relied on so heavily that the actors can no longer connect with the scene, you're going to get crap even if technically there's nothing wrong with the visual effect.

Albeit Peter Jackson did not succumb to this. When he filmed Lord of the Rings he brought on Andy Serkis to play Gollum even though Gollum was an entirely digital creature. [...]This was way more work than just adding the fake Gollum in; but the performance wouldn't have been as good. Actually, Andy Serkis won many awards for the performance even though he wasn't in the video at all (and honestly, he deserved those awards and more!)

While we're on Peter Jackson, I should note another amazing thing he did was the use of artificial intelligence for the visual effects characters in the background of combat sequences. [...] The visual effects for those fight scenes, at their heart, were much like screen captures from a video game. This is again genius execution of a visual effect!”


9. VFX artists can achieve so much nowadays, their support is invaluable

2001 Space Odyssey
David Bruckner

David Bruckner is recognised for his work as a modern horror director, editor and writer. He is currently working on a 2016 sequel to the iconic Friday the 13th.

“I've always understood Jurassic Park as the single greatest leap forward. But I'm not an expert on VFX by any means and benefit greatly from the artists around me. I'm constantly blown away by what they're able to do these days. ”


10. The best visual effects according to current standards is Avatar but the landscape continues to grow

2001 Space Odyssey
Nicholas Geyney

Nicholas Gyeney is the man behind award-winning indie films The Penitent Man (2010) and Matt's Chance (2013), which are available on various digital platforms. Keep an eye out for his upcoming movie Beta Test (2015).

“Although the landscape continues to evolve with advances in technology taking us farther and farther, [by] current standards the best Visual Effects can be seen in the environments of Avatar.”


11. Citizen Kane had a profound influence on visual effects very early on

2001 Space Odyssey
Adam Bhala Lough

Adam Bhala Lough has received acclaim for his work as a director, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. He is known for Bomb the System (2002) and Weapons (2007).

“To me CITIZEN KANE is an amazing achievement in visual effects and the way to do visual effects right. Hundreds of visual effects were used in the film but you'd never know it. The effects were not meant to be showy but to achieve things that could not be achieved at the time with normal cinematography, i.e. lighting, crane shots, deep focus. Its influence on visual effects was profound and to think it was all done back in 1940 is astonishing.”


12. No film has ever come close to the original King Kong of 1933

2001 Space Odyssey
Mark L Lester

Mark L. Lester has worked with major Hollywood actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Ryan in his action movies. You may recognise his hits Firestarter (1984), Commando (1985) and cult hit, Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991).

“The best visual effects of all time would have to be the original King Kong. Completely believable, exciting, scary, entertaining and the effects interplay with the actors was perfect.

No film has really come close."


How insanely interesting is it to find out which movies filmmakers respect and are inspired by!? Every film fan needs to see this post so don’t forget to share it on Facebook and Twitter!