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VFX Films That Changed Film Forever

Tron (#6) Well, you never know what’s going to connect with readers — and when Film & Video innocently posted a press release from the Visual Effects Society naming the 50 “most influential” visual-effects films in cinema history, we had no idea second-guessing those choices would become a popular pastime, at least for a day or so. The dozens of comments underneath that story are interesting in part because some of them seem to throw an awfully wide net around the idea of a “visual effect.” The Wild Bunch and Memento may be very influential films, but they’re not often described inside the industry as “VFX films.” Then again, the exact nature of a “Visual Effects Film” as understood by the VES is a little unclear. As someone asks, if An American Werewolf in London (#49) can make the list, then why exactly isn’t John Carpenter’s The Thing on there? One key to understanding what the VES is up to here is noting the word choice. “Most influential” does not mean “most creative,” “most artistic,” or even that most unapologetically subjective of descriptors, “best.” It means that these are the films, for better or for worse, that are believed by VFX professionals (or at least the VES membership) to have had the greatest impact on the work of other VFX professionals. Someone complained that 300 isn’t on the list, and who knows — maybe the selection process was well underway before 300 was released? But you could also make the argument that, VFX-wise, 300 is sort of a cross between The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (#33) and Sin City (#43), and thus part of a feedback loop that’s already begun, rather than an instigator. Returning to the question of The Thing, it may be simply that American Werewolf ushered in a new sophistication in convincing gore and creature effects that resonated across the horror genre, while The Thing took those effects to a nightmarish apex that — partly because the film was savaged by critics and ignored by moviegoers when it was released in the summer of E.T. the Extraterrestrial (#20) — didn’t exert much influence on its own. Not being a visual-effects artist — and not even being alive when pioneers like Willis O’Brien (#7 and #46) and Eugen Shüfftan (#12) were figuring this stuff out for the first time — I don’t pretend to have a lot of insight into what makes one of these films more “influential” than another. But I do have some favorite VFX films (by my definition) that aren’t on the list: Bride of Frankenstein (1935), “Mothlight” (1963), Brainstorm (1983), Alice (1988), Dead Ringers (1988). What about you?

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