When it comes to sci-fi and fantasy movies, I think pretty much everyone can agree that the genres wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it weren’t for their special effects. Whether you prefer the innovative outer space effects of the original Star Wars trilogy, the animatronic puppets that were all over the ’80s, or the insane stuff being done with CGI today, most would agree that none of it would be possible were it not for one man: Ray Harryhausen.
The special effects pioneer made a big splash with his particular brand of stop-motion animation — known as Dynamation — in 1949’s Mighty Joe Young and then throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s before he finished his career with 1981’s Clash of the Titans. Simply put, Harryhausen changed what people thought was possible in movies, and his work paved the way for the industry of today where essentially no special effect is impossible. He also made an entire generation of movie fans believe that monsters were real, and when you hear someone going on about “movie magic,” there’s a good chance they’re talking about him.
Harryhausen, who passed away four years ago this May 7, designed over 70 special effects (most of them strange creatures) throughout his incomparable career. And while they are all special, these 11 stand above the rest.
1. The Roc – The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Most people remember the Cyclops from the movie, but this giant bird was insanely realistic and absolutely terrifying. Its baby was no slouch, either.
2. The Squirrel – The Three Worlds Of Gulliver
Sure, a squirrel may not sound like a terrifying monster. But this is a giant squirrel (or rather, a normal squirrel attacking tiny people) that will have you convinced it’s an actual animal rather than a special effect.
3. The Crab – Mysterious Island
Another giant, hyperrealistic animal from the master.
4. The Allosaur – One Million Years B.C.
Harryhausen created a lot of great dinosaurs for various films throughout his career, but this fluid-moving carnivore is his greatest prehistoric achievement.
5. Talos – Jason & the Argonauts
This thing looks and moves exactly how I expect a giant statue come to life would. The way it switches its sword from right hand to left adds a subtle but crucial element of realism to the whole effect.
6. Pegasus – Clash of the Titans
The impressive flying horse in Harryhausen’s final picture showed how much he’d learned in his career. Blending real-life elements with pure fantasy was what the master did best, and this is one of the best examples of that skill in action.
7. The Hydra – Jason & the Argonauts
Seven independent heads and a swirling forked tail to boot, this was one complex animation.
8. Kali – The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Still one of the coolest fight scenes ever seen in a movie.
9. The Troglodyte – Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
The third and final Sinbad movie that Harryhausen worked on may not be as highly-regarded as the two prior installments, but it still gave us this highly-expressive cave-dweller.
10. Medusa – Clash of the Titans
Is it bad that we think the effects of this 1981 film hold up better than the CGI-laden 2010 remake? Medusa’s eerie movements and evil eyes are still one of the most haunting experiences ever created on film.
11. The Skeleton Warriors – Jason & the Argonauts
Arguably Harryhausen’s greatest achievement, not even Game of Thrones was able to pull off this effect quite as convincingly.
Be sure to check out more of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects during COMET’s upcoming Ray Harryhausen Movie Marathon. We’ll be showing ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,’ ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,’ ‘The Three Worlds of Gulliver,’ and of course, ‘Jason and the Argonauts,’ one right after the other. The special effects wizardry kicks off at 11am/10C on Sunday, May 7.