Top Ten Motion Capture Performances Ranked

With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, the culmination of Caesar’s trilogy, we here at Cinema 35 thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the most under-appreciated performances. Motion capture is the process of when an actor wears a MoCap suit that captures all of their movement and facial features and then digitally pastes a character over them. Some of the most famous enactments will be recounted on this list, while some under the radar ones will also be brought to the forefront. Please enjoy our list of  the top ten motion capture performances.

10. Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug) – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Though he may not have the most screen time as others on the list, Cumberbatch’s work as the greedy dragon, Smaug, must have been the most physically demanding and utmost dissimilar to ordinary human mechanics. Watching behind-the-scenes videos of Benedict crawling on the floor while snarling and growling proves his dedication. This may not be the peak of seriousness that the technology can achieve; but it sure was the most fun.

9. Ray Winstone (Beowulf) – Beowulf

Many cannot look past the absurd decision it was to make the film entirely computer animated while having the actors portray caricatures of themselves, but if there is one redeeming factor in the Zemeckis directed 2007 feature, it’s Ray Winstone’s interpretation of the title character. Beowulf is based off the poem of the same name, which coincidentally is the oldest known work in modern English. The graphics allowed the 50-year-old to look incredible, while his performance was intense and penetrating (it also gave us the infamous line, “I am Beowulf!”)

8. Zoë Saldana (Neytiri) – Avatar

There’s only one word to describe what Avatar was, and that’s phenomenon. If James Cameron’s epic is remembered by true cinephiles for one thing (other than losing best picture to his ex-wife’s The Hurt Locker) it would be Zoë Saldana’s ability to become one of the most realistic aliens to date. The movie lived and died by its ability to construct a realistic world, and that all starts with those who inhabit it. Other actors hopped in the MoCap suits and jumped around, but none did it with the care, passion, and level of force that Saldana had. The actress has turned into a Sci-Fi queen as she has starred in Avatar, 2 Guardians of the Galaxy’s, and 3 Star Trek’s.  

7. Andy Serkis (Kong) – King Kong

In case anyone wasn’t aware if there was one actor who was the pioneer in motion capture, there is one name that’s synonymous with the method: Andy Serkis. Serkis appears on this list a total of three times; with King Kong being the least notorious, though still a harrowing performance. Serkis was tasked with the job of making sure Kong comes off as menacing at times and sympathetic at others. The result was an iconic portrayal that landed King Kong as one of the monumental achievements in visual effects.

6. Alan Tudyk (K-2SO) – Rogue One

Rogue One was a risky film from beginning to end. Suspense, nostalgia, action, and heroism were formulated to make the successful Star Wars spin-off, but many forget that the film was undoubtedly the furthermost humorous. Comedic characters in Star Wars films don’t usually work as planned (Jar-Jar) but that theory was proved wrong with the introduction of K-2SO. Alan Tudyk is a criminally underappreciated actor whose comedic timing is just what this film needed.

5. Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan) – Watchmen

Watchmen is often talked about, though is still unfortunately underrated. The film (and ultimately it’s source graphic novel) is as original as any superhero film out there, with characters that bring a new meaning to the term “antihero.” Jackie Earle Haley is remarkable as Rorschach but that performance is hard to define as being solely comprised as motion capture; so for that title we’re going to pass the accolade off to Billy Crudup. Dr. Manhattan is the one of the strangest superheroes to date and Crudup’s performance of the otherworldly being is truly something to marvel.

4. Andy Serkis (Caesar) – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

While playing an animal, Serkis is able to give Caesar a level of expression that most actors aren’t able to give to their human characters. Serkis’ second simian portrayal on the list, Rise of the Planet of the Apes performance is shared with its arguably better sequel and presumably impeccable third film. Caesars facial expressions when the dramatic sequences occur are more traumatic then most film executions today. Many are suggesting Serkis should be nominated for an Oscar for his upcoming performance in War for the Planet of the Apes, and as unlikely as that is, you wouldn’t hear any complaints come from Cinema 35 if it occurs.

3. Jason Cope (Christopher Johnson) – District 9

Jason Cope doesn’t have many credits on his filmography, but he does have a defining one. District 9 came from left field with a freshman director, and instead of making an alien invasion menacing to humans it decided to make it inhumane to the visitors. Christopher Johnson becomes a fan favourite as one of the most compassionate creatures in the history of film, (“three years, I promise.”) The film was able to perform wonders with its $30 million budget, including nabbing an Oscar nomination for best visual effects. District 9 immediately became a Sci-Fi classic, and much of that was thanks to Cope’s ability to create a complex and divided personality.

2. Bill Nighy  (Davy Jones) – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Many dismiss the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films as being cash grabs, but what should absolutely not be dismissed is Bill Nighy as Davy Jones. Chilling and a wonder to gaze upon, Jones should always be remembered as one of the most notable villains in Disney’s century long cinematic history. Nighy’s aesthetics should be appreciated, but don’t let it take away from his performance that truly brought the character to life.

1. Andy Serkis (Gollum) – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The original, the revelation, and the solitary character everyone should think of when they hear the term motion capture, Gollum. Peter Jackson sat for years on Tolkein’s masterpiece because he believed the technology wasn’t yet able to perfectly capture the true manifestation of Gollum. Serkis reprised the role in all three Lord of the Rings and as well as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Not many characters in film are spoofed or as recognizable as the transformed hobbit (“My precious”) and with good reason. Serkis gave a matchless implementation that has stood the test of time, still being the actors most familiar role after 16 years. Gollum was one of the first full motion capture parts in film, and is correspondingly the apex of them.


Honorable Mentions: Sharlto Copley (Chappie) – Chappie;  Seth McFarlane (Ted) – TedToby Kebbel (Koba) – Dawn of the Planet of the ApesAlan Tudyk (Sonny) – I, Robot; James Spader (Ultron) – Avengers: Age of UltronAndy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens;  Lupita N’yongo (Maz Kantana) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s