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Best Sci-Fi Movies without Special Effects and with no CGI

The best science fiction movies that had little or no special effects, and no CGI. These movies feature compelling stories that are held together by characters and plot. These sci-fi movies are more story-driven than effects-driven.

1 - Planet of the Apes (1969) - Yes we had lots of make-up and costume here, but this fantastic movie had no cgi and no special effects. It was able to make us think without any dazzle.

2 - Escape from New York (1981) John Carpenter's film about the future has no real sfx, but lot's of atmosphere, suspense and unique characters.

3 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and (1978) Lots of drama, but no effects. People are cocooned and transformed into aliens.

4 - The Road Warrior (1981) aka Mad Max 2, entirely driven by unique characters in a post-apocalyptic world.

5 - The Last Man on Earth (1964) Another post-apocalyptic film, Vincent Price must survive in the aftermath of an epidemic that has turned most people into night creatures.

6 - The Terminator (1984) if you look closely, there were really no special effects in this film. Some make-up was used on the T unit, and a nifty lightning storm during time transfer, but that's it. Very light on sfx.

7 - The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Yes, technically there was a spaceship and a robot (a model and a costume), but other than that, the film is driven by story and dialogue.

8 - Donnie Darko (2001) A boy believes the world will end in 28 days. A rabbit costume and a storm are the only attempts at special effects here. The film is critically acclaimed for its story.

9 - Cube (1997) Primarily dialogue driven, this movie was light on sfx, heavy on atmosphere. A group of people find themselves in a maze of cubes, some rigged with traps, and they must cross the maze to get out.

10 - Primer (2004) a time machine is invented by four friends who argue over how to use it. No effects here.

11 - The Butterfly Effect (2004) a boy can travel through time and changes his future multiple times. Other than wavy lines on the screen ... no effects.

12 - Phase IV (1974) an army of intelligent ants tries to take over. No effects other than the clever use of photography.

13 - The Man from Earth (2007) A man claims to have roamed the Earth for 14,000 years. The entire movie is dialogue.

14 - The Box (2009) James Marsden stars in this story loosely based on an old Outer Limits episode about a box that will grant a million dollars, but kill someone you know.

15 - Gattaca (1997) gave us a view of a semi-dystopian future with no special effects.

Honoroable Mention:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) did feature a cool ship, but had very few special effects.

Dark Star (1974) John Carpenter's first film was compelling without cgi.

IT! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) was the original inspiration for Alien, but only needed a costume and a great set for the ship's interior.

These movies prove that you don't need special effects and/or CGI to create a good sci-fi movie. Let's hope future film-makers are inspired to focus more on stories, plot and characters... less on effects.

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