Movie criticism is a complicated art. A lot of hard work goes into even the worst films, and sometimes you can really tell. There are absolute garbage fires of movies that are still able to impress their audiences with dazzling special effects that are way ahead of their time. Stunt people and camera operators are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for films that barely make their budgets back, and there's something amazing about that.
While these movies might not be the cream of the crop, their amazing special effects have managed to make them relevant long past their expiration date. Marvel at these B-movie visuals because they are surprisingly out of this world.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise never really topped its epic first installment, and it's been in a bit of a downward spiral ever since. The cracks began to show in the second film, Dead Man's Chest, which introduced Davy Jones as the primary antagonist. While the movie itself is kind of a stinker, Davy Jones is wildly impressive looking. A mostly CG character with green skin and a beard made of writhing tentacles, the gruesome effects still hold up more than 10 years later.
That's largely thanks to visual effects supervisor John Knoll, who had previously won Oscars for his work on The Phantom Menace and Curse of the Black Pearl. Knoll basically pioneered the art of motion capture to create Jones, who was played by the talented British actor, Bill Nighy.
Spider-Man 3 was the film that ended Tobey Maguire's run as our favorite arachnid/human hybrid, and for good reason. The movie itself was widely panned at the time, and is still somewhat remembered as the film that ruined Spider-Man until Tom Holland and Marvel resurrected the struggling franchise. However, the sequence depicting the Sandman's birth still stands out as a powerful moment, because of both the visual effects and the emotional impact of the scene.
The character design was a monumental task, and even Sam Raimi himself wasn't sure how they would bring this amorphous blob of sand onto the big screen. The film's sand effects supervisor, Doug Bloom, breaks down the challenges they faced:
We figured that the more they could duplicate the physics of sand, the better off they'd be, since story and storyboards and animatics were still being worked on. We wanted to prepare to emulate any possible behavior. We wanted the sand to look as realistic as possible and then later art direct and break away from reality of physics.
While the critical reception to The Phantom Menace was extremely negative upon its release, the film enjoys a vocal cult of defenders to this day. And while the story itself is divisive, the special effects were unquestionably great for their time. The podracing sequence, in particular, gets a lot of praise, and that's because of the massive amounts of work put in by the special effects team.
The sequence blends CGI, footage of real actors, and elaborate miniatures in a smooth and mostly seamless way, largely thanks to the work of John Knoll. He specifically requested to be the effects superviser on the sequence due to his excitement about the possibilities. He based the podrace on some of the best race sequences of all time, and as part of pre-production created a mashed-up animatic using stills from movies like Ben-Hur and Grand Prix.
The Alien franchise has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and few films in the series are as low as Alien: Resurrection. The film did introduce the Newborn, though - a xenomorph/human hybrid that is truly disturbing in appearance.
The creature was designed by Alec Gillis, a special effects wizard who worked on many of the Alien films. Gillis got his start in the industry at the age of 19 after meeting a then-25-year-old James Cameron. After seeing Cameron's short film Xenogenesis, the two worked to find a project they could work on together.