10 Overlooked Movies with Awesome Practical Effects

2010 (1984)

Directed by Peter Hyams

Starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban

 

Roy Scheider returns to our list to star in the criminally underrated sequel to the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is about a joint US/USSR mission to explore the mysterious aftermath of the events from the first movie.

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Slingshot around Jupiter.

This was a grand, big budget movie, beautifully shot by director Peter Hyams, a man who had a tremendous filmography full of sci-fi and action greats during the 70s and 80s, never getting the credit he was due. 2010 is a perfect example of his handiwork: never too showy, tightly edited, and full of great acting.

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A blast from the past

But let’s get to the main event: the spaceship effects. There are a ton of miniature effects in this movie, and they look glorious. The highlight sequence is when the crew must perform a risky, high-speed braking maneuver to place their space ship in orbit around Jupiter.

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Jupiter implodes.

Cutthroat Island (1995)

Directed By Renny Harlin

Starring Geena Davis, Mathew Modine, Frank Langella

 

The only time anyone brings this up is when they’re talking about Hollywood’s biggest box office bombs. Yes, Cutthroat Island was a stinker. It cost a lot of money and made very little, but no one ever talks about why it was so expensive. Simply put, this movie looks amazing.

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They blew up a city block for this shot.

While there is a little bit of CG in this movie, computer effects in 1995 still weren’t very convincing for realistic objects such as ships and buildings, so most of it is used for things like sweetening explosions — and even then it is used sparingly. In other words, what you see is what you get. The pirate ships are real, the massive sets are real, and the hair-raising stunts are real. Every bit of this movie’s budget is on screen, and it is gorgeous.

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Real ships firing real pyro.

The story is a bit cornball, but it was always meant to be a classic pirate tale in the style of classic Hollywood pirate movies, complete with peg legs, treasure maps, and ship-to-ship battles. And in that regard, this movie delivers. If you’re a fan of swash-buckling soundtracks, John Debney’s rousing music score is often cited by fans as one of the greatest music scores of all time.

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That is not a model. That is a full-size ship getting blow’d up.

Lifeforce (1985)

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Starring Steve Railsback, Patrick Stewart

 

I feel like Lifeforce is just now getting rediscovered as a “so bad it’s good” movie by cynical YouTube stars who are running out of 80s films to make fun of. You may have also seen it featured in the Cannon Pictures documentary Electric Boogaloo. This was Cannon’s most ambitious, biggest budget movie at the time.  You will instantly recognize the music score, as it gets reused in countless NFL commercials. And it is every bit as bonkers as you have heard.

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Vampires in spaaaace!

The story begins with a mission to investigate Haley’s Comet. A team of astronauts discover an alien space ship with human-like bodies on board, so of course they bring them back to earth, and all hell breaks loose — because they are actually space vampires! Trust me, it barely makes sense.

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Things get pretty nuts.

It takes a bit to get going, but once it does… oh boy. The apocalypse comes to London with a series of beautifully rendered optics and an amazing array of practical and miniature effects. The quality fluctuates from spectacular to so-so (this is Cannon, after all), but the greatest special effect of all comes in the form of French actress Mathilda May, who might just be the most beautiful woman to ever appear on screen. She also happens to spend almost the entire movie naked.

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She can have my Lifeforce any day.

The Junkman (1982)

Directed by HB Halicki

Starring HB Halicki, Hoyt Axton

 

The Junkman was HB Hallicki’s spiritual successor to Gone in 60 Seconds. Hallicki plays a fictional version of himself, a self-made movie star, planning his next hit movie, only to find hitmen out to get him.

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Many, many cars are destroyed.

While still an amateur production, filmed largely on Halicki’s property with his own vehicles, the presentation is much more professional this time around. The production values are much higher, the script is tighter, and the acting, while still not great, is much improved.

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Just taking a shortcut.

The stunts are also way bigger. The destruction is off the charts: well over one hundred cars were wrecked for the movie, a Guinness World Record that stood for twenty years (later beat by The Matrix Reloaded, and then Transformers 3). The yellow Corvette is meant as a nod to the yellow Mustang in the original movie.

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And it pretty much meets the same fate as Eleanor.

Sorcerer (1977)

Directed by William Friedkin

Starring Roy Scheider

 

Roy Scheider returns to complete the trifecta! Based on the novel The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer is about four desperate men on the run from the law in an unnamed South American country. They are flushed out by the local police and given a choice: deportation, or attempt a suicide mission to transport some highly volatile explosives. And it’s all set to a trippy soundtrack provided by Tangerine Dream.

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Not a set.

The title “Sorcerer” is never explained, and is largely blamed for the movie being a box office flop. Friedkin was just coming off The Exorcist, and people assumed a movie called Sorcerer would be a supernatural thriller. It was not, and the movie ended up largely lost to time, which is unfortunate, because this is one terrific thriller. It is a slow burn, but the tension gradually ratchets up to an awe-inspiring climax.

All of the stunts involving the trucks are simply breathtaking, and clearly extremely dangerous. The grand prize for craziest stunt in the movie is a sequence where the trucks must cross a decaying suspension bridge in the middle of a torrential downpour. It is insane.

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Still not a set.

Oh, “Sorcerer” is the name of one of the trucks, by the way.

Bonus Round! Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (Unfinished)

Directed by HB Halicki

Starring HB Halicki

 

In 1989, HB Halicki died while making Gone in 60 Seconds 2. Who knows how the movie would have turned out, but one thing was for sure: Halicki had some seriously ambitious ideas for the movie, and had amassed over 400 cars to destroy.

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Spider-Man’s cinematic debut?

Quite a bit of action had been filmed before Halicki’s death, and was later assembled and released on DVD as a bonus feature to the movie Deadline Auto Theft (a quasi-reworking of the original Gone in 60 Seconds, incorporating new footage filmed while making The Junkman).

The thirty minute movie is all action without much context, but it features two large, very destructive chases. One involves a double trailer semi-truck wreaking havoc on the streets, while the other involves an experimental stunt car called “The Slicer,” a wedge-shaped car that can throw other cars out of its way. It’s an interesting piece of movie history that is definitely worth tracking down if you are a car chase fan.

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Slicer!

Article by contributor WatershipDownSyndrome.

8 thoughts on “10 Overlooked Movies with Awesome Practical Effects

  1. I haven’t even heard of most of these!

    But I’m definitely adding Blue Thunder and Outland to my watch list. And i’m thinking of hosting a double feature of The Junkman and Deathproof. Stuntmen and car chases abound!

  2. I remember a lot of these movies very fondly, all though I haven’t watched most of them in over a decade. I feel a need to re-watch some of them to see how they hold up.

    I love the original Gone in 60 Seconds, the story is mostly an after thought as most of the film is made up of the main car chase. I also find the ending to be hilarious. I didn’t know a second one was ever planned. I’m also going to have to check out Junkman, that looks like fun.

    I’ve seen Blue thunder, Outland and the Final Countdown but it’s been so long. I’m going to have to find some copies and re-watch them. I remember watching Final Countdown with my father. But I’ve seen it enough times to remember the general plot line.

    I actually like 2010 way more than 2001 a Space Odyssey. I’ve always found 2001 to be too long and overall too dull to be really enjoyable. Great cinematography and music but with the exception of about 20 minutes there isn’t much too memorable about the original.

    Lifeforce is one of those films I remember watching with my parents when I was really young and being rather uncomfortable because of all the naked space vampires. Especially that Mathilda May, pretty sure she was my first prepubescent crush. Haven’t seen it in probably 20 years though, I think the gang should use it for a MNM, would probably make a great show.

    I also don’t think I ever saw Cuttthroat Island so I’m definitely going to find a copy of that one. I’m always up for a good Pirate flick.

    Great article “LaserTimeContributor” 🙂

  3. Fun article, I like the choices especially since I have not heard of a few, let alone would be able to appreciate the practical effects.

    1. Yes and no. Sometimes it is cheaper to build a model and blow it up. But there aren’t a lot of FX companies that specialize in that stuff. It’s also harder to get dynamic camera shots, etc. For instance, it would be virtually impossible to make something like The Avenger’s helicarrier as a practical effect.

  4. This is a great list. I remember when my older brother brought home life force from blockbuster and we were crazy excited. A movie based on a bad ass space shooter? Please and thank you. I think I was convinced that was the story of the konami game until the late 90’s.

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