Both popular and academic criticism tend to decry sf cinema’s commitment to spectacle and special effects as intellectually stultifying and thus politically narcotizing. This article challenges the class politics of taste and the crude models of interpolation underpinning such claims, questioning the ease with which many critics separate matters of cognition from matters of affect. It examines in detail three sequences from the mainstream, small-to-medium budget sf movies Dredd (2012) and Looper (2012). The climactic set piece from Dredd demonstrates the contradictory but entangled array of unstable subject positions opened up by cinematic spectacle. A sequence from Looper, which includes the most complicated special effects shot in the movie, shows how effects work can affect the viewer while simultaneously elaborating narrative/ world-building information that demands a cognitive response. A second sequence from Looper works in a similar way, ingeniously prompting the viewer to draw on intertextual knowledge to comprehend a shot that conveys complex narrative information and that ultimately refuses the specific special effect it has led the viewer to anticipate.