The 22 Biggest Special Effects Milestones

Forrest Gump

Today marks not only the 20th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis’ Best Picture winner Forrest Gump, but also a banner re-release, placing the blockbuster into IMAX screens for the first time. Forrest Gump was, it must be immediately recalled, the biggest hit of 1994. It was a Summer release, and played for months, earning over $300 million (and that’s in 1994 dollars!), beating out The Lion King and Speed. Only one other film was talked about more that year, and it was Pulp Fiction. I miss the days when noisy sci-fi and action blockbusters weren’t the highest earners.

Forrest Gump not only marked a high point in bold, Hollywood sentimentality, but it was also a watershed moment for film special effects. Forrest, played by Oscar winner Tom Hanks, famously visited several presidents throughout the course of the film, and this was achieved not with lookalikes or stand-ins, but by superimposing Forrest directly into film strips with the late Commanders in Chief, interacting with them, and giving them their own dialogue. These techniques earned Forrest Gump the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, beating True Lies and The Mask.

 Check Out: How To Use Special Effects RIGHT, Damn It!

When we think of visual effects these days, we tend to think fantasy; i.e. What filmmaker can create a fantasy environment, fantasy gadget, or fantasy character the best? And while creatures and environment have long been the purview of VFX technicians, it seems to be particularly fantastical in recent years. How strange, then, that something as relatively “straight” as Forrest Gump can blow The Mask out of the water. People may not recall this in 2014, but there was a time when then nation was dazzled – dazzled! – by JFK saying new things.

To commemorate Forrest Gump‘s amazing special effects, we here at CraveOnline have compiled the following list of 22 other essential feature films that presented the world with important watershed moments in visual achievement. These 22 are by no means the only important films in VFX history; there are far too many dazzling and important movies that broke new ground in film visuals. But these are most certainly the 22 best and the most essential – not to mention still the best looking – of effects-based feature films.  

Slideshow: The 22 Biggest VFX Milestones


Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly Trolling articles here on Crave, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.