The monster movie genre never seems to get old. While you may think that every conceivable type of monster movie has been made, it is never long before Hollywood springs a new one on us or reboots one of the classics from the past, as they recently did (again) with Kong: Skull Island. Also, look at the success Netflix had with Stranger Things last year – updating the classic monster genre while at the same time playing on people’s nostalgia for the 1980s. And while many monster movies over the years have ended up being a giant cheese fest (we’re looking at you, Godzilla from 1998), when done right, monster movies can be great – scary, suspenseful, exciting, and even humorous. The best monster movies leave audiences wanting more. Here’s our list of the 10 best monster movies made to date.
10. The Mist (2007)
One of the better adaptations of a Stephen King work was 2007’s The Mist, directed by Frank Darabont (who today is best known for developing The Walking Dead for TV before being kicked off the team). Before focusing on the undead though, Darabont specialized in adapting Stephen King books for the big screen. He is the guy who directed much loved movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. And, in 2007, he directed a movie based on the 1980 King novella The Mist, starring Marcia Gay Hayden, Thomas Jane and Laurie Holden. It turned out to be a really good. The plot is about a strange mist that spreads across a small New England town following a thunderstorm, bringing with it a number of sinister creatures that attack the locals. It traps a group of local residents in a grocery store, a situation that eventually devolves into a Lord of the Flies scenario, where we see how fragile and violent humans can really be under extreme stress. This movie also has a great, and rather depressing, ending. Critics loved this film when it was released. To date, it is one of the best reviewed Stephen King movies.
9. The Thing (1982)
A remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks movie The Thing From Another World, this 1982 movie by director John Carpenter is arguably superior to the original and perhaps the best film Carpenter ever made. The movie is about a group of scientists at a remote Antarctic station who have to survive after a shape shifting alien monster crash lands near them and begins to assume their identity and kill them off in the process. Starring a never better Kurt Russell, this is a great science fiction monster film that is genuinely scary and tense. Yet when it was released, The Thing was dismissed as a cheap Alien knock off and viewed as nothing more than a B-movie. While The Thing found an audience on home video during the 1980s, it was forgotten again, other than a terrible remake in 2011. Now it rightfully holds a place as a cult classic among sci-fi nerds.
8. Jaws (1975)
The movie that is credited with being the first summer blockbuster, Jaws is one of the best movies featuring a real world monster that we all know – the Great White Shark. Part horror movie and part adventure film, Jaws tells the story of a menacing shark that is eating the tourists in the seaside town of Amity, and the three men who set out to find and kill the deadly fish. And while Jaws features first rate performances by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, the real star of the movie is the massive shark itself. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is a magnificent example of suspense, excitement, and a satisfying payoff at the end. It also involves great point-of-view filmmaking and was the first big hit of Spielberg’s career. Jaws became a cultural phenomenon when released in 1975 and it spawned three sequels. While the sequels never lived up to the original, Jaws continues to reverberate in popular culture.
7. Tremors (1990)
A surprise hit when it was released in 1990, Tremors is a great monster movie because it shrewdly combines comedy, action, and horror into one movie. Starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as a couple of handymen working in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, they soon discover giant worm-like monster creatures burrowing under the ground of a nearby town and threatening the community’s inhabitants. Joining forces with the locals, it is up to Kevin Bacon to save the day – the only catch being that he and the other people in the community cannot step on the ground or they risk being swallowed whole by the Graboids. Instead, they have to stay high up on roof tops and use pole vaults to jump from building to building, or rock to rock. Exciting, funny, and unpredictable, Tremors is a real treat. It consistently impresses with its unpredictability and offbeat humor. This movie inspired four direct-to-video sequels and a Tremors television series.
6. Gremlins (1984)
Billed as a black comedy, Gremlins is funny, at times scary, and actually quite gross in several scenes. And it is, for all intents and purposes, a monster movie. The Gremlins are a group of menacing (though small) monsters who terrify the inhabitants of the quaint, all-American town of Bedford Falls. The teenage heroes in the movie have to follow a set of pre-existing rules to stop the Gremlins and save their town. Set at Christmas time, the movie was directed by Joe Dante (Men in Black), and contains several sly references to the film It’s A Wonderful Life – right down to the name of the town. While not a movie about huge monsters, Gremlins still succeeds in capturing the fun and spirit of classic 1950s monster movies such as The Blob and I Was A Teenage Werewolf.
5. Cloverfield (2008)
Cloverfield is the type of movie that grows on audiences over time. The 2008 found-footage monster film produced by J.J. Abrams is the type of movie that people enjoy more and more as time goes by, and a film they frequently recommend to friends and family. The movie, which is presented as home camcorder footage ala The Blair Witch Project, follows six New Yorkers as they flee from a gigantic monster that attacks the city while they are having a farewell party for a friend. The film was well-reviewed by critics and grossed $170.8 million at the box office on a $25 million budget, making it a sizable financial hit. The found-footage technique works great in this movie and actually helps the low budget film succeed, as it enables the filmmakers to conceal much of what the monsters look like, and only reveal scary snap shots through shaky camera angles. Like other movies on this list, Cloverfield is also a lot of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a good deal of irony in the movie, as it pays homage to the previous monster movies that inspired it.
4. The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum got a lot of critical applause for his portrayal of scientist Seth Brundle in director David Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly. The movie is a combination of sci-fi and horror, as Goldblum’s character has his DNA accidently fused with that of a common housefly during a teleportation mishap. He then slowly disintegrates into a larger than life insect. The twist on this monster movie is that the main character morphs into the monster. The movie is about Goldblum’s transformation, in this case a human-sized fly. The special effects are gruesome and gross, but Goldblum’s grounded performance makes the far fetched situation seem strangely plausible, and he manages to make audiences care as his character gradually becomes less and less human. In the hands of a lesser director, this movie could have descended into farce, but Cronenberg makes sure that it all works incredibly well. He holds the movie together with his directorial talent.
3. Pacific Rim (2013)
A sci-fi monster film that pits humans in giant robot suits fighting off equally giant monsters — how could you possibly go wrong? Director Guillermo del Toro has made his name with monster movies such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, but took his game to the next level with the 2013 film Pacific Rim. It’s an unapologetic popcorn blockbuster about a group of humans who use “Jaegers” (gigantic humanoid mechs) to battle the Kaiju, colossal monsters which have emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Intentionally big, dumb, and fun, Pacific Rim nods and winks to the many Japanese monster movies that inspired it, and never ceases to be anything less than exciting. Great special effects and snappy dialogue help move this film along at a brisk pace and keep the audience glued to their seats throughout. One of the better modern monster movies.
2. King Kong (1933)
It wasn’t the first monster movie made by Hollywood, but 1933’s King Kong set a standard and expectation with audiences that directors today are still struggling to live up to. The first King Kong was an entirely original monster movie – one that played on people’s emotions as well as their fears. The giant ape in this movie is both fearsome and tender. He handles actress Fay Wray delicately even as he destroys downtown New York. While the special effects may seem dated now, they were a triumph back in 1933. Audiences had never seen special effects like the ones in this movie. This film set a new standard in stop-motion animation and helped bring King Kong to cinematic life. Nearly 100 years after its release, King Kong retains a grandeur about it despite the antiquated visuals. This was, and remains, a truly epic film. When King Kong climbs up the Empire State Building, swatting away fighter planes like flies, it is a classic moment for both monster movies and the entire cinema industry.
1. Godzilla (1954)
Probably the only monster who could out do King Kong is Godzilla. And here we go to the 1954 original. Full of ironic and deliberately cheesy special effects that include dinky cars and Japanese people screaming at the sky and running through the streets, Godzilla remains a parable for the end of World War II and for the then dawn of the nuclear age. In the movie, a nuclear dinosaur that resembles a skyscraper-sized T-Rex stomps all over downtown Tokyo, replaying the horrors of the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meant as a message movie, Godzilla is the ultimate monster movie in that the creature is a meant to be a manifestation of the monster within mankind, who let loose the nuclear weapons that devastated Japan at the end of World War II. The bad special effects and campy dialogue don’t matter much because this movie is really about the message it sends to audiences. While the effects may seem amateurish, the message is surprisingly sophisticated.