Conversations about effects in movies get a lot of discussions, especially when it comes to special vs. practical. While one can argue in favor of one style over the other, when the visual components of a film are done right, they look far better than older films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, not to take away from some beautiful works of art from those decades. While I cannot go over every recent film in the last decade that looks best, I will choose unique pieces to me that I feel positively represent where we are today in visual effects in the modern era of film.
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#10: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
While each of the new entries in Star Wars has been beautiful, I have to choose the one that started the franchise back up again. The Force Awakens removes the atrocious CGI from the prequels and mixes both excellent computer-generated and practical effects. The film is full of life, and the screenshots prove it.
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#9: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Early on in this blog’s history, I tore into Blade Runner 2049, but hate it or love it, nobody can deny this beautifully crafted film. The color palette alone can get people aroused with its neon colors that get melded together with its browns and blacks.
Much of the effects are impossible to tell if it is CGI or practical. I was shocked as I saw a video on the film’s visual elements to see the behind the scenes reveal that people or objects were not what they had appeared. So, here is a challenge, go through some scenes and guess which is real or CG.
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#8: Dunkirk (2017)
Unpopular opinion: I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan movies, especially Dunkirk. What I can say for the Oscar-winning filmmaker is he knows how to craft films that make me awestruck by their use of practical effects.
Mixing CG, miniature models of vehicles, and using real vehicles, the ships and airplanes felt as authentic as possible. Nolan often hates using fully CG shots, so much of the film utilizes smart camera techniques and well-crafted models to bring audiences into World War 2.
The sound design enhances the excellent visuals along with superb cinematography to make for a realistic experience. Like Blade Runner, this is another example of an expert challenge to decipher what is real vs. fake.
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#7: Interstellar (2014)
I never got a chance this Nolan film due to my distaste for his work, but from what I have seen in behind the scenes videos and screenshots, this is something from another world. If you told me that the cast and crew went to space, I would believe it. To make that more unremarkable, in classic Nolan fashion, most of this is practical.
Five years after the movie, the world saw the first glimpse at a real black hole, which brought Interstellar back onto many people’s minds since the film accurately depicted this cosmic region.
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#6: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
I missed out on this year’s Alita: Battle Angel, but I wanted to see it purely for its beauty shown in the trailers. It took my eyes time to adjust when I saw the trailer the first time to realize what I was witnessing. This is a rare case where CG goes right to show it can rival physical props and costumes.
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#5: Doctor Strange (2016)
The trippiest experience in the MCU is watching Doctor Strange. The psychedelic visuals, along with the colors used, make this one of the best-looking superhero films ever made. Often times a realistic style gets the focus for an immersive movie; instead, the team here put CGI to the test by seamlessly bending reality around the characters.
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#4: Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland’s debut caught me late, as in just in the last two years, but I was blown away by not only the narrative but the cinematography and creation of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a seemingly real robot that is created to be more human than machine. She was partially CG while other parts were physical. This blend makes her feel alive in the world as this project devised by Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
On top of Ava, the film’s locations and design of Nathan’s home were incredible. Beautiful landscapes surround the house while the interior was a mix of futuristic and modern designs. After watching Ex Machina, I have decided I need a home precisely like Nathan’s.
Out of everything on this list, This entry is the most simplistic while being just as impressive.
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#3: War of the Planet of the Apes (2017)
I am choosing the third film in the latest Planet of the Apes trilogy for simplicity sake like Star Wars, but all three of these movies are stunning. The main attraction comes from the apes themselves. Performance capture and detail oriented CGI help create photorealistic animals that believably interacted with the world.
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#2: Annihilation (2018)
The final two entries are tied for favorite effects in any movie.
Alex Garland gets another entry on this list with Annihilation. The physical props that were brought to life using CG with the mutated alligator and bear were major talking points to give the film some buzz. These normal animals are intimidating enough, but the modifications made them into nightmarish monsters.
Besides the terrifying animals, the rest of the film glowed with color and made its darker colors as beautiful. The world looked tremendous and at times hard to tell which was computer-generated or made physically.
Sadly, Garland’s masterpiece failed at the box office, so if you missed out check it out and support one of the best looking movies of all time.
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#1: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I could argue between Annihilation and Mad Max: Fury Road for being the most beautiful films in the last decade and possibly of all time. Fury Road used mostly practical effects like modified vehicles and insane stunts to make the chaos realistic. The unique aesthetic of the world and its characters gave the film a personality that rarely gets seen on the big screen in summer blockbusters.
The CG used focused mostly on the color scheme. The sand turned to an orange-brown hybrid along with plenty of colors to give contrast, especially during the storm. New landscapes like mountains and vegetation popped up to add life to this lifeless world that worked with the post-apocalyptic theme.
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That does not scratch the surface of the movies that have been masterfully crafted into stunning pieces of art in the last 10 years. What are some of your favorites, and what do you think of my list?
Header image via Warner Bros. Pictures