The 1990s gave science fiction cinema one word: CGI. CGI, or Computer Graphic Imaging, changed everything in cinema. Enormous advances in this field made it possible for film-makers to create worlds unlike any we have ever seen on the big screen - and for much cheaper than before. 

The first inkling of the possibilities of this new technology was to be to be found in the liquid creature in Cameron's 1989 The Abyss. Because of the film's poor box office showing however, for most audience members their first glimpse of what was to come was the liquid metal man hunting down Arnie in the hugely popular Terminator 2 - Judgment Day

As usual George Lucas' ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) led the way in this new  special effects arena, as it had also led in other new technologies in the 1980s. (Another movie to use computer graphics by ILM was Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan). ILM did the effects for both the Cameron movies.

The best was however yet to come: Spielberg's 1993 Jurassic Park was perhaps the culmination of what the new technology was capable of. From there on it was only a question of time before Lucas decided that technology can finally visualize the worlds he wanted to present in the new Star Wars movies and the decade ended with his Phantom Menace: thus CGI went from making dinosaurs walk the earth again to full-blown civilizations teeming with extraterrestrial life within the space of a few years.

CGI was unfortunately also the scourge of cinema in the 1990s. Jurassic Park is a good example when compared to Spielberg's earlier Jaws. Whereas Jaws focused on the human elements and seldom actually showed the killer shark, it was a much better movie than Jurassic Park, in which the human characters served as mere additional props in the special effects extravaganza. The end result? Jaws is ultimately a better movie than Jurassic Park: we cared for the characters and what happened to them, making the movie much scarier than the packed dino lunches in Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World.

Despite overshadowing the actors in movies, the truth is that some CGI effects - especially when used for its own sake instead of merely advancing the story - were terrible! Bits from Spawn looked like something out of a cheap computer game and hardly realistic at all. Even Cameron's Titanic had some creaky CGI shots. Compare some CGI rendered shots in Titanic to the early 1970s Tora Tora Tora movie (about the Pearl Harbour Attack): there can be no substitute for clever model work it seems.

Hopefully in the future film-makers will be less enamored of their new plaything and focus on realistic special effects instead of effects pointing out attention to itself . . .


  1. 12 Monkeys

  2. The Matrix

  3. Starship Troopers

  4. Contact

  5. Strange Days 

  6. Dark City

  7. Terminator 2 - Judgment Day

  8. Star Trek - First Contact

  9. Total Recall

  10. Cube

(No re-releases such as Blade Runner - The Director's Cut or Star Wars - Special Edition were considered for this list.)


  1. Highlander 2 

  2. Memoirs of an Invisible Man

  3. RoboCop 3

  4. Highlander 3

  5. Batman Forever

  6. Lawnmover Man 2

  7. Batman & Robin

  8. Species 2

  9. Universal Soldier - The Return

  10. Wing Commander

And here's the decade's best according to some vistors:

  1. Independence Day (1996)

  2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992)

  3. The Matrix (1999)

  4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

  5. Starship Troopers (1997)

  6. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

  7. Armageddon (1998)

  8. Men In Black (1997)

  9. Time Cop (1994)

  10. Contact (1997)

(Bryan Bracke)

  1. Cube (High-tech Hellraiser meets Kafka)

  2. Alien 3 (Beautifully dreary and depressing Alien Saga nadir; aka the $55 million art film)

  3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Coolest robot villain ever)

  4. Contact (Believable, inoffensive, workmanlike SF film)

  5. The Matrix (Best glamourisation of violence ever made)

  6. Alien Resurrection (Pretty and funny French spin on the Alien Saga; aka the $80 million foreign film)

  7. The Ghost in the Shell (Cleanly-drawn and engaging sober anime flick)

  8. Total Recall (Colourful Schwarzennegerian shenanigans)

  9. The Lawnmower Man - Director's Cut (Likeable and blandly intriguing as one of the earlier VR films)

  10. Starship Troopers (Satirical massacre of the superior Heinlein novel)


  1. 12 Monkeys

  2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

  3. The Matrix

  4. Star Trek 6: The Undicovered Country

  5. Back to the Future 2



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