The film industry lost a true visual effects legend yesterday when it was announced that Ray Harryhausen—the man responsible for the menagerie of monsters seen in films such as Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad—passed away at the age of 92 in his home in London, U.K. Influenced by and later aiding fellow animator Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young, Harryhausen quickly blazed his own trail, designing and animating magnificent creatures with his revolutionary technique dubbed "Dynamation." Even with the advancements made in computer-rendered graphics, nothing compares to the incomparable charm of stop motion, and these are the top five Ray Harryhausen films that demonstrate the quality of his unique craft.
5) The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
Before modern cinema had cowboys slapping leather with alien invaders, The Valley of Gwangi was years ahead of the game pitting cowpokes against something ten times greater than intergalactic conquerors: dinosaurs! Taking place in the Mexican desert, a struggling rodeo is desperate for a new and profitable attraction, searching the Forbidden Valley for a prehistoric terror guaranteed to reel in the masses—and their wallets. Truth be told, the flick is a glaring anachronism and comes off as being written by a five-year-old with an overactive imagination, but how often have you seen a movie where a dinosaur gets lassoed?
4) Mysterious Island (1961)
Based on the book The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, the film's producers—as they are wont to do when adapting novels for the big screen—took plenty of liberties during its production. They decided that if there was one thing the original story lacked, it was monstrously sized creatures; an issue that was more than rectified upon the movie's release in 1961. By today's lofty standards, Mysterious Island is a campy romp featuring giant crabs and bumblebees, but that's an opinion reserved for those who don't put themselves in the state of mind of audiences at the time. If one were to sit back and accept it for what it is, you'll find that it's an immensely enjoyable film.
3) The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Despite having one foot in the realm of science fiction, Ray Harryhausen's true claim to fame was his unique take on the creatures that occupied ancient mythology and fantasy. And the franchise that demonstrated his abounding creativity the best was the one featuring the epic hero Sinbad (the sailor, not the comedian). From the '50s into the late '70s, there were three movies based on the epic hero's fictional voyages, and the one that stands out as a sterling example of Harryhausen's attention to detail and overall complexity is The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It takes the thematic elements and excitement of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and ups the ante, making it an improvement over its predecessor as well as being an absolute thrill to watch.
2) Clash of the Titans (1981)
Forget you ever saw that piece of cinematic rubbish from 2010 that had the gall to call itself an update of Clash of the Titans! Especially when the 1981 original wasn't in desperate need of superficial CGI effects and Greek warriors sporting modern day crew cuts. The Empire Strikes Back had set the bar for visual effects only a year prior, rendering Clash of the Titans somewhat out of date. Yet it is in that respect where the film excels, since it was the last hurrah for Harryhausen's "Dynamation" technique in a cinematic capacity. His technical skill peaked around this time, and one can clearly see that he was giving it a proper sendoff.
1) Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Before Jason and the Argonauts, Harryhausen loaned his animation talents to features that were primarily of the science fiction genre, but upon crafting the mythological monstrosities and undead skeleton legions that became revered hallmarks of this film, the world now the saw firsthand the unbridled extent of Dynamation. There were numerous imitators before and after that halfheartedly attempted to replicate the brilliance of Harryhausen, but they never reached his level of expertise. This could easily be considered Harryhausen's breakthrough work.
Which Ray Harryhausen movie is your favorite?