Our Top 20 FX Suits!
In a time where computer generated graphics rule Hollywood, we thought it would be nice to compile a list of our favorite special effects suits. To create a cohesive list like this, some rules needed to be laid out. The first is that the suit must be wearable and cover head to toe. Second is one suit per movie. We didn’t want a list of Star Wars characters. Are these the twenty best suits? Not for us to say… but they are our 20 favorites.
Super Mario Brothers (1993)
Okay, so we may catch some flak for having this on the list. Though the head sculpt and the animatronics in the face are impressive, the overall design of the creature left the average viewer wanting more. Not to mention the disappointed Mario traditionalists that wanted it to actually look like a Goomba from the game. All that aside, there was something about these that stuck with me. They were big dumb oafs, and watching a pack of these bump into each other and sway to music is just plain funny.
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)
Rick Baker’s love for gorillas and apes is widely known in the special makeup effects circles. Knowing this, it is easy to see all the attention and love that he and his staff gave to this suit. It can be argued that the Rick Baker ape suits in ‘Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey’ or ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes’ are much more realistic, but the Harry suit had that little extra touch of fantasy that allowed made it stand out. In the context of the movie, Harry was allowed to show a greater range of emotion which Rick Baker and the performer Kevin Peter Hall were able to exploit to create a memorable character.
At his core, Wak is a teenager. Though an alien, he has an annoying little sister, watches a ton of television, and had more angst than you can shake a latex eyeball on a stick at. Okay, so this is another goofy 80s movie, but it has Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and a trash can spaceship. Plus, Wak has suction cup fingers.
17. Pizza the Hut
Jabba could not be on the list due to his puppet-like nature, so we have the next best thing! In his brief appearance in Spaceballs, Pizza the Hut stole our hearts with his cheesy, melty charisma. This due to the commanding performance by the voice of Dom Deloise that made me believe a man could be made of pizza. Sadly, Pizza became trapped in his car and ate himself to death.
16. Golgothan Poop Monster
Vincent J. Guastini
Straight from the stinky pits of Hell comes the Golgothan! I don’t know about you, but I love a good poop joke. The suit itself is a nice fatty sculpt, but what makes this special is the four different formulas of poop the FX team concocted: light brown, dark brown, chunky, and creamy. Now that is some in depth poo poo planning. After filming, Kevin Smith said, “It didn’t stink as bad as real shit, but it didn’t lack pungency either.” He also says that the bar it was shot in was extremely hot and stuffy, and by the end of the scene, coated with the crap. Ahh… where would comedy be without poo?
15. Mr. Stay-Puft (aka the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man)
Ghost Busters (1984)
Called into existence by Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz character by thinking of “something that could never possibly hurt us”, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (hereafter known as SPMM) leapt from the mind of costume creator Bill Bryan and into the hearts of movie fans everywhere. Through a clever mix of miniatures, optical compositing, and the performance of Bill Bryan himself inside the latex, this simple rubber suit appeared on screen as a 100 plus foot monster made of mallow, bent on stomping the life out the Ghostbusters and anything else that might get in his way. While not the most creative suit (a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Michellin Man) visually, the SPMM is so iconic of this film that you can’t think of Ghostbusters without Mr. Stay-Puft. The impact of the SPMM on the film’s protagonists can be summed up with the snippet of dialogue below which immediately follows the introduction of the city-stomping marshmallow pitch-man:
Venkman: Ray has gone bye-bye, Egon… what’ve you got left?
Spengler: Sorry, Venkman, I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
14. Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck (1986)
Industrial Light & Magic
Sort of a strange member of the ILM family, Howard has reached cult status and shamelessly embodies the 80s. Though a Donald Duck rip-off, Howard showed the world that it was okay for a duck to wear pants. Not much else to say really… we just like the little guy.
Star Wars (1977)
Industrial Light & Magic
Unlike his rolling trash bin counterpart, C-3PO is a marvel to look at. The concept behind Threepio’s look was inspired by the mysterious robot in the 1927 film Metropolis. Praise is also due to the actor Anthony Daniels, who portrayed C-3PO, in voice and physical form, in all six films. The winning combination of Daniels’ talent and this beautiful suit actually had cast members fooled. Daniels said that he often was ignored by other actors when he was wearing the C-3PO costume during filming, seemingly that they actually forgot that he was a real person. Understandable.
12. R.O.U.S (Rodents Of Unusual Size)
The Princess Bride (1987)
The R.O.U.S’s from The Princess Bride are probably one of my favorite suited creations for the simple reason that for years I didn’t even realize there were little people in those giant rat suits. The performance and look of the R.O.U.S’s was so great to me as a kid, (and well into my 20’s, truth be told) that I really never even wondered how they pulled them off. I just totally bought into the fiction of the giant man-chomping rats wondering around the fire swamp just waiting for a taste of any passing black-clad stranger with a British accent. I recently found out that there were two different performers for the R.O.U.S’s, Anthony Georghiou and Danny Blackner, one of which was responsible for all the rat mannerisms such as the shuffling walk and sniffing around, while the other was able to run really fast on all fours which was handy for the fire swamp attack sequence. If I met the creator of the suits for these pieces of my childhood, he could ask me for anything and I would say, “As you wish.”
11. Ape Family
Rick Baker and crew at their finest. You can really see the love and attention of everyone involved in the creation of the suits for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”. Rick Baker personally oversaw the deign and character creation of all the lead apes in this film. Baker Took the time and effort to ensure each ape was distinguishable from the others and had their own personality. Truly some of the most realistic and beautifully made ape suits to ever grace the silver screen. An example of Baker’s passion for apes and gorillas can be seen at the Los Angles Zoo in front of gorilla paddock, a bronze bust of an gorilla, sculpted by Baker himself. Ape suits made by the larger effects shops have their hair hand punched, one hair at a time, and may take up to 6 months to complete. Baker is known as a stickler to detail and time is not an issue, only a quality product and you see that in these suits.
In Stan Winston’s directorial debut, be careful what you wish for… you may just incur the wrath of a demonic incarnation. Pretty clearly Alien inspired, the Pumkinhead suit achieves a similar sense of realism… just with less plot, and more gore. A demon conjured for the sake of revenge, Pumkinhead pulled no punches as he demolished one punk kid after another. Pumkinhead was designed and played by Tom Woodruff, the very talented creature master, who has played lead alien roles in Alien 3 and the AVP movies.
Underworld Evolution (2006)
This will probably be one of the most hotly disputed choices on the whole list, but that’s okay, I’m prepared to debate it. Of the hundreds of different werewolf suits that have been donned by hundreds of different actors, the suit designs for the lycans from the Underworld films are my favorite. Why? Because they most closely fit what I think a true werewolf should look like. Including, but not limited to, the following:
Lean muscular body like a wolf? Check.
Elongated snout with twitching ears? Check.
Back legs that bend like a real wolf’s? Check.
These suits were my favorite thing about the first film, and their redesign for the second film only made me like them more. Designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, of Independence Day, Stargate, Pitch Black and I, Robot fame, and of course, Godzilla infamy, these hulking monstrosities are a treat to behold. While not as hairy as I’d like to see (these are supposed to be human shaped wolves after all) they get major points from me just for those cool looking back legs. Special props to the performers who had to walk around in those stilted suits, I bet those guys had calves of steel after a couple weeks.
8. Swamp Thing
Return of the Swamp Thing (1989)
Swamp Thing has appeared in suit form in 2 feature films as well as a USA television series. The suit created for the 1989 ‘Return of the Swamp Thing’ was by far the crowning achievement. Compared to the rather drab and monotone 1982 movie incarnation the ‘Return’ Swamp Thing was amazingly detailed and painted to highlight the complexity of the suit’s sculpture. Often forgotten due to the rather lackluster movie, the Swamp Thing suit should not be over looked for it’s uniqueness and quality.
7. Sammael Monsters
It’s the little things on this suit that really do it for me. The overall design, by creature artist Wayne Barlow, is a classic, but it’s the execution by Mike Elizalde and his Spectral Motion crew that really sells it. The movement of the robotic eyes, the twitching in the animatronic head tentacles, the near-constant stream of saliva…stuff like that just totally makes this go from a guy in a suit to a living breathing demon creature. It also makes this suit a real joint effort as it takes three people running the remote controls in addition to the performer in the suit. Speaking of which, the guy in the suit goes by the name of Brian Steele. He’s 6’7 which really helps make Sammael seem imposing when stacked up against Ron Perlman, who’s no slouch in the physicality department. Steele also fills one of the Lycan suits in Underworld as well as portraying monsters in loads of other movies such as Doom and Blade: Trinity. Next time you get a chance, check out the little details of this suit too, and pay special attention to the asymmetry of it. Notice that there are two eyes on one side of the head and only one on the other. Notice the huge arm claw on only one arm. That’s a nice touch, and the kind of thing that’s rarely seen in creature suit design. I give it a big red stone thumbs-up.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Industrial Light & Magic
Whoooooooa what a Wookiee. Never have I found it so easy to suspend my disbelieve with a suited character as I have with Chewbacca. The loyal sidekick, protecter, and co-pilot to Han Solo, this Wookiee has graced the screen in 4 movies and 1 ill conceived Holiday Special. Under the design supervision of Stuart Freeborn and the performance of Peter Mayhew this collection of fur and rubber has taken on a personality of it own and has captured the imaginations of a several generations. Chewbacca, like Godzilla has been honored with an MTV Life Time Achievement Award, Chewbacca receiving his in 1997. As a side note, the family of Wookiees seen in the Star Wars Holiday Special were created by Tom Burman and consisted of wigs that were unraveled and wrapped around a body suit.
5. Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Jim Henson’s Creature Shop
The turtles movie was actually an independent film that was expected to flop, but these amazing suits breathed life into the characters and it ended up raking in a cool $135 million. The best thing about these suits is their mobility. Despite the half shell around their torsos, the actors and stuntmen could really move well in these while fighting Shredder and the Foot Clan. What is amazing about these, is that they are the main characters of the movie. Four, full coverage FX suits displayed in full lighting throughout the entire movie. Even now, they hold up. They still look awesome.
The king of all monsters, the king of all monster suits. This 90 story tall radioactive dinosaur has continued to survive as a guy in a rubber suit for over 50 years. From ping-pong ball eyes in the 1960’s to the elephantine legged incarnation in the last 15 years, Godzilla has evolved in step with the techniques of suit making. There were the dark days of 1998 where the cloud of poorly made CG nearly eclipsed the shining star that is Godzilla, but through such personal favorites as the 2001 release of ‘Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack’ the integrity of the rubber suit was insured. The recipient of an MTV Life Time Achievement Award in 1996, Godzilla continues to be a global icon for rubber suits. The fact that the suit wearer gets to crush HO scale model cities can’t hurt Godzilla’s reputation as one of the greatest rubber suit ever made. Oh no! There goes Tokyo, Go Go Godzilla.
3. Gill Man
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Bud Westmore (Rosemary Odell concept)
Largely regarded as the beginning of the full monster suit, the Gill Man will live in the murky depths of our hearts and minds forever. Despite being made in 1954, the thing still looks awesome. We are talking about a super low budget and uncharted territory here, people. Fun fact: There was a second actor brought in to play the underwater scenes because there was no room for scuba gear, so he had to hold his breath. And as a kid, watching him… so did I.
2. The Predator
Designed and created by Stan Winston and his team, the Predator is simply one of the baddest alien species to ever grace the silver screen. I don’t know if it’s the space-dreds, or the armor & weapons, or (most likely) that freaky mandibled face, but the Predator will always be one of my favorite suited creatures. Filling out the suit was 7 foot 2 inch actor Kevin Peter Hall, notable for also playing suited monsters in Prophecy, Harry & the Hendersons, as well as returning to the Predator role in the film’s sequel. This is one of those creations that when you first see it, you think it’s awesome, but the more you see it the better it looks. I mean, who can forget the first time you see the Predator without his helmet and get a load of that face? Credit for the face mandibles apparently has to go to action-film director James Cameron as an idea that he mentioned to monster creator Winston during a shared flight to Japan. I surmise that the creature itself, rather than the story is one of the reasons that there is such a huge amount of Predator spin-off material, including toys, video games, comics, novels and even a film pitting the Predator against the star of the Alien franchise (not Sigourney Weaver). By the way, the less said about the Predators from Aliens vs. Predator, the better.
Stan Winston (H.R. Giger concept)
Our number one spot was created in H.R. Giger’s twisted nightmares, and executed by the creature master that is Stan Winston. The thing that sets Alien apart from the rest of the pack is that at no point do I really feel like I am watching a guy in a suit. When you watch an Alien film, they ARE real. They ARE aliens.
If you liked this list, check out our Top 20 Comic Book Weapons as well!