5 Past-Century Movies That Delivered Amazing Effects When CGI Wasn’t Even a Thing

5 Past-Century Movies That Delivered Amazing Effects When CGI Wasn’t Even a Thing
Image credit: Warner Bros, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Stanley Kubrick Productions

Here’s how filmmakers of the past crafted visual wonders without computers.

When we think of stunning visuals in films today, our minds often turn to the latest CGI techniques. But filmmakers had been crafting visually impressive movies long before computer graphics were created.

Here are the best five movies that wowed audiences with their groundbreaking effects, despite the absence of modern digital technology.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

In the charming and offbeat Who Framed Roger Rabbit, animated character Roger Rabbit seeks the help of detective Eddie Valiant to unravel the mystery behind his wife Jessica Rabbit’s fidelity.

The movie's genius lies in its seamless blend of live actors and traditional animation. The process involved first filming the actors, and then meticulously drawing in animated characters frame by frame. No other film has quite replicated this charming blend of real and animated worlds with such flair and precision.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

How can a human transform into a werewolf on screen without CGI? Director John Landis and makeup expert Rick Baker (who won an Academy Award for his work) took months planning the transformation that would become the centerpiece of the film.

This iconic horror scene involved an intricate combination of prosthetics, robotics, and clever camera tricks.

Fun Fact: The werewolf’s roar in this film was used in the opening of Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes brings to life a dystopian future where apes rule and humans are subservient.

The film drew audiences into its captivating story with phenomenal makeup work, transforming actors into believable apes. This movie's makeup techniques were so revolutionary that they continue to inspire artists today.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey involved constructing a massive, 30-ton rotating set to simulate the effects of zero gravity. The set, which cost a whopping $750,000, rotated slowly to allow actors to appear as though they were floating in a spacecraft.

King Kong (1933)

Decades before CGI, King Kong climbed into cinemas and into history. The 1933 film employed a range of techniques, including stop-motion, miniature sets, and matte paintings.

King Kong himself was an 18-inch model covered in rabbit fur. Special effects legend Willis O’Brien painstakingly moved and photographed the model frame by frame, creating the illusion of a giant ape coming to life.