The skyrocketing number of special effects shots in the Star Wars movies has become a shorthand for the way movies in general have become more SFX-heavy. But while the Star Wars films may have started the SFX arms race, they didn't win it. None of the three Star Wars prequels has as many special effects shots as 1996's Independence Day. Also, the visually stunning first Matrix movie only has as many SFX shots as The Empire Strikes Back. Click through to find out the most SFX-heavy movie of all time.
It's important to note, of course, that number of SFX shots is not the same as complexity of effects. It's also possible that different movie directors define the term "special effects shot" differently. But still, the raw number of special effects shots in a movie is often used as a proxy for how effects-heavy it is, and how fancy it looks. So here's a ranking of SFX shots per movie, starting with the original Star Wars:
Star Wars: 380 special effects shots, according to Harrison Ford: The Films. Other sources just say "around 300".
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: 400 special effects shots.
The Matrix: 414 special effects sequences.
End of Days, directed by Peter Hyams: 450 special effects shots.
Minority Report: 477 special effects shots.
Starship Troopers: Around 500 SFX shots.
The Frighteners, directed by Peter Jackson: 570 special effects shots, according to the book Stalking The Beast.
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back: 414 special effects shots (same book), or 605, according to Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas. The ballpark figure of 600 gets tossed around a lot, along with the meme that this movie had twice as many effects shots as the original Star Wars.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: 800 special effects shots, plus another 160 on the DVD.
The Matrix Revolutions: 804 special effects shots.
Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi: 900 special effects shots, according to this book.
Spider-Man 3: "over 900" special effects shots.
The Matrix Reloaded: over 1000 special effects shots.
Spy Kids II, directed by Robert Rodriguez: 1050 special effects shots.
Tron: 1100 special effects shots, according to director Steve Lisberger.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: 1500 SFX shots.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: 2000 special effects shots, according to George Lucas.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: 2000 special effects.
King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson: 3,000 special effects shots.