What are the best CG fight scenes ever made? It’s an odd category. Nothing Jackie Chan ever did approached a fully CG fight scene, for instance. Many films go hog-wild and end up a mess—take the “Transformers” movies or the last “Hobbit” movie, for instance. Despite the temptation for overkill, CG demands restraint on the parts of filmmakers—but these scenes can still become works of art.
Something like “The Dark Knight” trilogy is off-limits for a list like this, since those fights were done overwhelmingly with live action and stunt choreography.
As with all fight scenes, we’ll also have to draw the divide between a fight and a battle. For instance, the ending of “The Avengers” falls into the category of battle, so it’s not going to count below.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” gets an undeserved bad rap. It may have been a bit darker and, as an origin story made just 10 years after Sam Raimi’s take, some of it felt rehashed. Yet it felt less shy and more witty than Raimi’s version. Once the film got going, it felt like a superb take on the Spider-Man mythos. Originally, Sony wanted their relaunch to be a modestly budgeted, low-risk love story with only fleeting action elements. But with Marvel’s success making the “Iron Man” movies, Sony ramped up the budget and the demands. One of the best results of this was Spider-Man’s slyly funny fight with The Lizard in Peter Parker’s own school, complete with a surprising number of sight gags and the best Stan Lee cameo yet made in a Marvel movie.
Don’t watch the above scene if you haven’t seen the movie yet, since this is the only fight here that really comes at the end of its film. Is it weird this fight scene evokes “West Side Story” so strongly? Not at all. Andy Serkis has become the go-to actor for motion capture performances, and he delivers as Caesar. Yet it was Koba actor Toby Kebbel who stole the show as an ape who wished to imprison the humans. The clip is cut up because, in the film, the fight is edited together with other, more human-oriented action. Nonetheless, the fight has a place on this list for throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
Wait! What’s a video game doing here? What is this witchery?!? Well, since cutscenes and adverts made for games are done in their own form of CG, this counts as a CG fight scene. And no developer has utilized this form of advertising quite so well as CD Projekt Red has. Their intro cinematics are second to none, and they usually depict a singular conflict within a gritty fantasy world. “The Witcher 3” trailer “A Night to Remember” is also worth a look.
“Spider-Man 2” holds up remarkably well given that it was released in 2004. The feature here is the stellar editing, which revisits human elements now and again to ground the whopping amount of CG that surrounds them. We see reaction shots from Doctor Octopus actor Alfred Molina, and from various passengers on the train. Even if “Captain America” raised the bar on live-action fight scenes, “Spider-Man 2” still sets the gold standard for CG superhero fights 12 years later.
“The Last Remnant” is a beautifully lost moment in gaming history, and Emma’s showdown with The Conqueror did rare things for a CG cutscene. There was real meaning and weight to its movements. There was even nuance in the footwork—you won’t find that kind of detail anywhere else on this list, even in films that spent millions more on their fight sequences than this. This was also an emotional moment in a unique game, a brave charge in the face of overwhelming odds. Skip to 1:21 if you want to get past the awkward RPG acting and straight into the fight.
We give credit to Andy Serkis for his phenomenal motion-capture work in “Lord of the Rings” and the new “Planet of the Apes” series, but his best performance may’ve been the one that required no speaking at all—as a lonely, wounded King Kong himself in Peter Jackson’s over-the-top yet surprisingly bittersweet 2005 take on the legend.
As became readily apparent in “The Hobbit” trilogy, when Jackson leaves the live-action realm, he increasingly favors Rube Goldberg-machine mechanics in his CG fight scenes. The fight between King Kong and three ‘V-Rexes’ was an incredible balance of that Rube Goldberg logic and true cinematic tension, so long as you can suspend your disbelief regarding Ann Darrow’s (Naomi Watts) complete lack of whiplash after the scene.
When Michael Bay directed “Transformers,” visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic boasted that there were more moving parts on-screen in the CG fight scenes than the human eye could pick up. Congratulations, I guess? When you’re watching a movie, you don’t want to be taken into the territory of a carsick epileptic’s nightmare. You want to understand what’s happening.
When Guillermo Del Toro directed “Pacific Rim,” he made his giant robots easy to follow: two arms, two legs, and a head. Having that foundation, that easy-to-follow visual anchor, allowed Del Toro to go wild with his creatures—each an analogue for another real-world beastie like a crab, or rhinoceros, or a bird. It also allowed Del Toro to focus on the beauty of the world in which his robots and creatures fought: a towering landscape of rain-soaked neon cities and brilliant sunsets. Without having to spend all that eye-time figuring out what our protagonists are doing, Del Toro paints a truly engaging world around them.