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Top Ten Uses of Special Effects for Great Storytelling

Okay, lets get real for moment – everyone knows the movies with the best special effects. We can argue all day about which was more important, why, where, when, how, etc. Most people would admit that Star Wars, Avatar, Titanic, and Lord of the Rings have the best special effects on an epic scale, but is bigger always better?

I’ve put together a list that I think is the films that use special effects for the purpose of great storytelling. That doesn’t mean this won’t include the bigger movies, but great visuals don’t always mean a great movie. The Fountain comes to mind…

10. Terminator 2

T2 is the best action movie ever made. It has set pieces that wow me every time I revisit the movie. The special effects are flashy, but are wrapped into such an incredible story that I can go back and watch over and over. I love Avatar, but can’t see the same type of longevity for it.

9. Minority Report

A minor master piece of sorts. It had very little hype for such a good movie and I actually didn’t even see it until it came to video -but holy shit is it fucking awesome. The scenes where Tom Cruise is escaping up the building while being pursued by the cops is my personal favorite.

8.  Brazil

This is the first movie where special effects really come into play in a secondary role to the story. Brazil follows a bureaucrat as he deals with an oppressive society. The visuals are still phenomenal and prove that action doesn’t really have to be everything in a special effects film.

7. Forrest Gump

I loved Forrest Gump when I first saw it but have grown less fond of it over the years. Its world view is morally bizarre. Having the wild female get AIDS and the do-what-your-told Gump be a millionaire? This is weird to me. Nonetheless, its use of effects as a way to inject Gump into our history was masterful if not a bit corny at times.

6. Citizen Kane

Say what you want about the movie, it has some of the most innovative uses of special effects for the sake of storytelling. Roger Ebert mentioned on Kane’s commentary tracks that it likely had just as many special effects shots as Star Wars, just employed for different reasons.

5. Star Wars Series

Not much to say really. The clip I choose wasn’t really special effects heavy but one of my favorite scenes in a movie, ever. I use to rewind it over and over again when I was little. It was scenes like this that fucked up my life.

4. Blade Runner

I bet a lot of people are going to flame the shit out of me, telling me that this is actually a style-over-substance example. But, I really think the story is the focal point. That is obviously not totally true, the story has a lot of problems but is fucking awesome.

3. 2001 Space Odyssey

I’ve grown more and more to think this might be the best movie ever produced.  Few other movies have produced special effects to describe the awe-spiring universe.

2. Lord of the Rings

I was going to put another one of Peter Jackson’s films on here, Dead Alive, as kind of a joke – but came to my senses. LOTR is one of the rare cases where epic special effects meet a epically well told story.

1. Pan’s Labyrinth

A heart breaking movie that happens to have some of the best monster effects ever made. The visual difficulty of making the movie could have easily overshadowed the emotional impact of the story, but Del Toro proved with this movie that he is far more than just an visual effects filmmaker.

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