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The 17 Best Monster Movies
Few horror or fantasy movies are as memorable as those that introduce us to a never-before-seen creature. Or, in the case of classic monster archetypes, those that introduce us to age-old fabled creatures in a way we’ve never seen before. (Looking at you, angsty teen vampires of Twilight.)
Beyond the feats of special effects, and the grueling hours that some actors spend in makeup every day, monster movies are an adventure into the unknown. They present a unique opportunity to encounter movie characters in an all-new terrain. Given viewers’ natural instinct to search for common ground with characters, the movie monster can challenge us to seek out that which is universal in the most unlikely of personas. And, of course, it can challenge us to keep an eye out for that which separates the “good guys” from the bad ones. Whether you’re here for the visual effects, innovative storytelling, or just to get your adrenaline pumping, these are the best movie monsters of all time.
A Guillermo del Toro double-feature on this list should be anything but surprising. The man has created some of the most dreamy and nightmarish monsters in movie history. And nothing says del Toro like the first title to gain him the international acclaim he so deserves: Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in the post-Spanish Civil War era, this surreal offshoot of a fairytale feels like a twisted version of Alice in Wonderland.
Bong Joon-ho has entered the chat. Back with another commentary-riddled thriller, Bong Joon-ho says the creature at the heart of The Host was inspired by a deformed fish reported to be discovered in South Korea’s Han River.
Jeff Goldblum stars as a scientist who mistakenly turns himself into a fly-human hybrid in this classically David Cronenberg body horror film.
Ridley Scott’s acclaimed Alien is a groundbreaking moment in the monster movie genre. Kicking off what would become a key era in the 1980s for a special effects renaissance, the 1979 space exploration thriller introduced audiences to two discoveries beyond one’s wildest imagination: the titular alien, and the kickstart of Sigourney Weaver’s career.
The Evil Dead
In many ways, The Evil Dead is as quintessential of an American horror movie as it gets. A group of college kids venture into the woods for an isolated “vacation.” A tape that has demonic qualities when played … is played. But there’s a reason The Evil Dead has garnered the attention of aficionados like Stephen King and cult followings alike. It’s a classic, and its exploration of possession and lurking evil is an analysis that dives much deeper than its prosthetic special effects makeup.
Let the Right One In
Not to get film student on you, but skip 2010’s Americanized remake, Let Me In, and focus on the Swedish OG. Let the Right One In is one of the most sensitive, heartbreaking, and original vampire films you’ll see. It’s well worth brushing up on your Swedish for.
There are few horror-movie big bads as viscerally terrifying as The Babadook: A top-hatted man in quasi-clown makeup, inspired by the silent film era. But. Think for a second. You could actually make a case that the little kid is The Babadook’s true monster. Seriously, what’s scarier than a pre-pubescent boy screaming in the back of a moving car?
Why not start the month off with a little bit of old Tinseltown magic. Boris Karloff plays author Mary Shelley’s monster from her original 1818 novel. In a village in the Bavarian Alps, Dr. Henry Frankenstein tries to create another human life from devices of his own invention. Things go scarily wrong when the man who emerges from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory is … not exactly a man.
A true ’90s movie, this monster film has both Kevin Bacon and country music’s own Reba McIntire. It’s about a village called Perfection, Nevada, filled with people who get inexplicably swallowed up by the ground. The easiest explanation is an earthquake, but even a seismologist can’t explain what, exactly, is going on. Maybe start with the giant, worm-like monsters underground; they probably know the answer.
There have been nearly 30 Godzilla movies made in the franchise. You could start with the 1954 original title and work your way up to 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, featuring Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown, who’s pretty used to monsters trying to end the world.
Creature from The Black Lagoon
If you’re having an old-school monster movie party, this one might be another to add to the mix. A prehistoric monster lurks in the jungle, which means a group of scientists want to capture and study it. The spookiest thing? People who interfere with and take credit for what is not theirs.
The Shape of Water (2018)
The winner of Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a modern homage to monster movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon. The film stars Sally Hawkins as a woman who falls in love with a mysterious sea creature. And yes! The film explains how they have sex.
Based on a Stephen King novel, this 2007 film is about the small town of Bridgton, Maine, where monsters emerge from an unnatural mist after a thunderstorm. As a resident of Maine who is horrified of mysterious creatures, this one’s a little too close to home (literally). But if you want monsters, it’s got ’em.
Like Godzilla, you can span the decades with this one. You could have even seen this show on Broadway last year, if that’s how far you want to take things. From 1933 to 2005, the larger-than-life gorilla has charmed and terrified audiences for years.
The worst monsters are the real-life ones. Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece follows a group of heroes trying to capture a massive killer shark. The film revolutionized the monster genre and films as a whole. It also introduced the world to a new shark phobia.
In 1982, Kurt Russell starred in a film about a creature that shifts into the appearance of its victims. Russell’s character, a helicopter pilot, sets out on a mission to fight the terrifying creatures that threaten humanity.
Beware anyone with even an inkling of claustrophobia. The Descent follows a group of women who go spelunking and find some mysterious underground monsters lurking in the darkness and tight spaces. It’s a modern horror masterpiece that will leave you gasping for air, and space.
Hilary Weaver is a freelance writer based in New York who writes about politics, queer issues, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and every woman the Queen has ever made a dame.
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