19 of the Best Movies With the Worst ‘Uncanny Valley’ Effects

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Screenshot: Alita: Battle Angel/20th Century Studios

A movie doesn’t have to be a special effects extravaganza to be worth watching, but it seems like we’re increasingly uninterested in going to the theater to see one if they’re not. And if we’re going to pay good money, we want to those special effects to look special. The move away from practical effects over the past few decades has opened up previously unimagined vistas of the imagination, and also opened the door for some deeply ugly and unconvincing computer-generated imagery—moments that don’t expand our imaginations so much as leave us scratching our heads (or laughing at the screen).

From digital doubles that move like video game characters to CGI overkill that puts people, places, and objects in situations that are only possible inside a computer, bad effects can mess with our sense of disbelief, whacking us in the head with a reminder that what we’re watching isn’t real. And then there’s the problem of the “uncanny valley,” when attempts to recreate living beings get close, but not quite close enough—to real, creating an effect that can be unintentionally (or intentionally) disturbing. Consider the new Clifford the Big Red Dog movie, which reminds us that the uncanny valley effect still applies even when what we’re seeing isn’t meant to be realistic.

(Though this Clifford looks significantly less disturbing than the unrelated 1994 Martin Short movie.)

Bad effects aren’t always a deal killer. Movies can still be good despite a clunky moment or two; decades later, crappy CGI can even be endearing! The 19 movies on this list are all good-to-great—despite some dodgy special effects that take you right out of the action.

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