From the moment that a Border Collie named Jean wandered onto a silent film studio in 1908 and became the world’s first four-legged movie star, Hollywood’s love affair with animals was set in motion. But with the advent of CGI, today’s beastly actors are more apt to pick up a machine gun and lead an assault than snuggle on their masters’ laps. Case in point: the nunchuck-wielding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As the fifth entry in the TMNT franchise blasts into theaters August 8, here are 12 of the most ass-kicking critters in recent cinema.
The idea behind this CGI-laden adventure about high-tech guinea pigs probably looked good on paper, but the film never caught fire enough to justify its $150 million budget. Although rumors of a sequel persist, there’s been no official word in over five years. If this mix of “Stuart Little” and “Mission: Impossible” proves one thing, it’s that not every pet needs to carry a bazooka.
11. Kitty Galore
This painfully obvious spoof of the James Bond series asks the dubious question: What if Blofeld’s cat was the true evil mastermind? The answer was hardly worth sitting through. Despite being armed with exploding kitty litter and laser-guided super weapons, not to mention a vocal assist from Bette Midler, this fiendish feline was more hairball than “Thunderball.”
10. Howard the Duck
Though short in stature and covered in feathers, this cigar-chomping Master of Quack-Fu managed to save the Earth from aliens in his debut feature. Unfortunately, the film itself crashed and burned at the box office. Relegated to a punch line for almost three decades, the success of Marvel’s quirky “Guardians of the Galaxy” bodes well for Howard’s return. Lucky duck, indeed!
9. Iorek Byrnison
By far the most memorable character in the disappointing 2007 fantasy “The Golden Compass,” this giant armoured polar bear was featured heavily in the film’s marketing campaign, and for good reason. Voiced by Ian McKellen, the fearsome Iorek helped earn the film an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Two planned sequels were placed on indefinite hold in 2008.
8. The Lizard
Introduced to comic book readers in 1963, The Lizard (a.k.a. Dr Curtis Connors) quickly became one of Peter Parker’s most popular adversaries. Played by Rhys Ifans in Sony Picture’s franchise reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the lab-coated reptile sat out the sequel, but is expected to return in the recently-announced “Sinister Six” spinoff film in 2016.
Voiced by Liam Neeson in three films thus far and created entirely in CGI, the leonine Lord of Narnia is as much a fierce warrior as he is a benevolent ruler. Crafted by author C.S. Lewis as a Messianic figure who sacrifices himself and rises again to defeat evil, it took the effects team over 10 hours to render a single frame of the digital character’s five million individual hairs.
6. Richard Parker
Don’t let his milquetoast name fool you. Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger at the center of Ang Lee’s literary adaptation “Life of Pi,” is 450 pounds of snarling fury. And yet, as brought to life by an Oscar-winning visual effects team, he’s also surprisingly soulful. It took a year to build the groundbreaking digital character, which may explain why the book was long thought unfilmable.
Technically a Wookiee, not an animal, this beloved “Star Wars” character was inspired by George Lucas’s Alaskan malamute dog, Indiana, which seems enough to warrant his inclusion. Sporting a costume made of yak hair and a growl that combines the sound of a walrus, lion, camel and bear, Chewie returns to the screen next year in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
4. The Grey
After defeating European kidnappers in “Taken,” Liam Neeson tested his mettle against an even more savage enemy: bloodthirsty gray wolves. Directed by action maestro Joe Carnahan, “The Grey” seamlessly blends live wolves, CGI and animatronics to create a threat that’s truly frightening. Unlike the cartoonish canines of the “Twilight” series, this pack goes for the jugular.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Created by independent comic book company Mirage Studios in 1984 as a sly parody of Marvel’s Daredevil, the Ninja Turtles quickly outgrew their satirical roots and became a merchandising juggernaut almost overnight. A syndicated TV cartoon spawned five feature films, the latest of which increases the action to PG13 levels for the first time in the series.
Thanks to an intelligent script, state-of-the-art motion capture technology and a powerful performance by Andy Serkis, the reluctant chimpanzee warlord Caesar captured audiences’ imaginations. Rallying his fellow primates like a simian Braveheart, the character overshadowed the human actors to such an extent that an all-ape future entry seems entirely possible.
1. Rocket Raccoon
When it was announced that “Guardians of the Galaxy” would feature a gun-toting Raccoon in the cast, even the most confident Disney executive had to wonder if fans groomed on “Iron Man” would take the film seriously or not. They needn’t have worried. Voiced by Bradley Cooper, the diminutive yet tough-as-nails Rocket emerged as one of this summer’s breakout stars.