The Ultimate SFX Watch List - Part 1
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
With every bunch of new students, we ultimately end up in a big conversation about our favourite movies and shows. Let's face it, we're all nerds, and we all love talking about our industry and the amazing people in it.
We're throwing out some old school classics, getting excited about new films with amazing creature effects. Someone mentions Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Lon Chaney... then we move onto Stan Winston and the iconic work on Jurassic Park (that still holds up nearly 30 years later we might add). Suggestions are flying, we're all excited...and then we spot the person sat quietly at the back with little to NO idea what we're on about.
There's no shame in admitting that you've not seen some of the classics that built our industry, and it can be quite daunting to walk into a room of practical effects geeks and admit that you haven't seen something everyone is raving about. We definitely don't want to exclude people from the fun! So panic no more! We've put together the ultimate watch list for people joining our course... and yes, that includes you, existing student still lagging behind!
In no particular order...
[Rik] By the gods this is a good film. There's so much great FX work going on here, it's utterly seminal in the study of our field. On top of that, it's an incredibly well-made suspenseful horror movie. Go watch it now.
[Rik] The thing I love about the ORIGINAL alien movie is the way it's shot. Considering this creature has become such a huge part of our popular culture you barely ever see it in this movie. Quick glimpses, bursts of fast action and some truly horrific... Let's call them dispatched of the crew. What works about this film is its believability; you believe in this world, in its characters and their motivations. Another essential watch.
[Jack] The very fact that there have been so many sequels, reboots, retellings and crossovers is testament to how important this film is to the FX industry, if you haven’t watched this yet, stop reading this and watch it now! You can come back to this in a couple of hours… you can thank us later.
[Rik ] Where to start. This is easily in my top 3 favourite films of all time. The perfect blend of incredible practical effects work by the legendary Winston Studios and ground-breaking visual effects. Oh and it's got flipping dinosaurs in it and you know what they say: "there are two types of people in this world; those that like dinosaurs and... Stupid people". [Kate] I've said it before, I'll say it again... the practical effects used in the Jurassic Park films are still some of the best examples of the kind of stuff we can achieve in our line of work. The T Rex alone is one of the most stunning creations to ever grace our screens. GG Stan Winston!
[Jack] For me, this movie is the PERFECT balance of Practical and Digital FX, in an age where almost anything can be digitally created or replaced (nice work DeepFake), the Dinos in this movie are still hard to discern as practical or digital. The sole job of an FX artist in either discipline is to make the unbelievable believable, and the best effects are those that you don’t even know are there!
[Rik] David Bowie in spandex with the MOST 80's wig ever, in the history of wigs... What more could you ask for? How about a master of puppetry at the top of his game with incredible amounts of creative freedom... Oh okay then. Jim Henson studios are winning at life with the work they did on this movie. Such a treat.
[Kate] Henson really knocked it out the park with this on. For me, it's on the same lines of Dark Crystal (more to follow on that in a bit) in the way that the characters aren't super realistic, but you just don't care about it. They're believable anyway! The minute the puppeteers get to work, those creatures come alive and you get lost in the world they're creating on screen! Check it out on IMDB!
Pan's Labyrinth (and anything by del Toro)
[Rik] GDT is MY beau. He is a beautiful, crazy, wonderful man with such a brilliant eye for creature effects. That's why he LOVES working with DDT studios in Barcelona. David and Montse (and the gang) do some of the best creature work. [Kate] Pan's Labyrinth is one of the films that got my interested in working in the industry to begin with. No one does film quite like del Toro! It's creepy and beautiful, and Doug Jones portrays those characters in a way that I don't think anyone else on earth could. Go watch it now! Check out Pan's Labyrinth on IMDB!
[Kate] I've gotta admit... I've only ever seen two episodes of Doctor Who before I gave up cause of the storyline. But the effects in it are iconic! Lucky for us, our visiting prof Neill Gorton runs Millennium FX where all the amazing characters and creatures are made! [Rik] Yeah the writing is mostly disappointing (I'm gonna get some Whovians after me for that comment) and yeah the budgets are low but when they get it right, ooooft it's some good telly. Watch the Doctors Wife or Blink for some of the best examples. Check it out on IMDB!
American Werewolf in London
[Rik] Rick Bakers' work on this movie is MINDBLOWING. The transformation scene alone smashed boundaries for what practical effects are capable of and some of those techniques are still in use. Check out Being Human for a lovely homage to it by our brilliant friends at Millenium FX.
[Kate] This film really changes the way we look at practical effects and how we use them on screen. Like Rik says, the transformation scene is a perfect example of what amazing work that can be made with a bit of ingenuity. Check it out on IMDB!
Star Wars Franchise
[Rik] The new movies make the prequels look good but there's a reason that this movie series is so widely lauded. Without Star Wars film and television as we know it would not exist.
[Kate] There's a reason Star Wars is so popular, and a reason why everyone silently judges the person who says they've never watched it. It kick started a genre that has shaped the film industry into what it is. Every sci-fi film since Star Wars has used it's techniques! It's a movie series that I don't think will ever end, they're gonna be churning them out for ever, so you might as well watch them.
[Jack] I’ll be honest, I was that person who never saw Star Wars, and let me tell you, there is no silent judgement, unless silent judgement has recently been redefined as ‘abhorrent critical condemnation’... It's only in the last 10 years that I watched all of the originals and prequels… by the way, if you can find the ‘anti-cheese edit’ of the prequels, that will make things a lot easier on the enjoyment scale. Check out A New Hope and Other films on IMDB!
[Kate] Indy for me is pure nostalgia. Kinda cheesy, action/adventure films were definitely hitting their peak with this franchise. As long as no one brings up Kingdom of the Crystal Skull... we're golden.
[Rik] I'd argue that there are only 2 Indy movies. Raiders and Last Crusade. I'll fight anyone that disagrees.
[Jack ] *Rolls up his sleeves* Temple is easily included in this… but I will join you if anyone suggests that there are any other Indy movies… Kahli Mah!!! Check out Raiders of the Lost Ark and other films on IMDB!
[Gwynn] This animated film has got to be a children's classic, although I've watched it several times, especially the opening sequence before the story actually begins! To know that the costumes were actually knitted on tiny knitting needles for Coraline's jumper, along with other amazing costume details, fills me with admiration as to the extent that designers and fabricators will go to capture brilliant effects.
[Kate] What an incredible stop motion animation film! Henry Selick has a real eye for this kinda of creepy aesthetic (another favourite of mine is James and the Giant Peach!), and the amount of detail that goes into the sets, costume and filmography really makes this film a must watch. Check it out on IMDB!
After writing up our list... we realised we've got ALOT more films on this list than we realised, so stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!