All the way back to the Saturday Matinee’s Creature Features, Monster Movies have been a mainstay of a hybrid genre of horror cinema. The threat or focus of a monster movie must be something inhuman. Human behavior can of course be “monstrous,” but a monster as we’re defining it here isn’t a human, unless that human has physically transformed somehow. It is also unnatural for the sake of this article which excludes earthly animals, here or extinct, like Dinosaurs and sharks. While each of those gave us incredible movies (Jaws and Jurassic Park franchises), neither are really “monsters” in this context.
Here are my Best Monster Movies of all time and for the sake of this argument, I am tagging the word “horror” on there as I feel this is a worthy hybrid sub-genre of horror. I will also only include one movie from any given franchise, recognizing the monster as a staple of the entire franchise.
- The Thing (1982) – JohnCarpnter’s film based on the 1938 novella by John Campbell, Jr, “Who Goes There,” is about a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter the eponymous “Thing”, a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that assimilates, then imitates, other organisms. The group is overcome by paranoia and conflict as they learn that they can no longer trust each other and that any of them could be the Thing. This has the theme I’ve mentioned before and that is that fear can turn any of us into monsters. The cinematography was incredible and some of the transformation scenes are still gripping to this day. The special effects were brilliant and for practical effects, were top notch for the day.
- The Wolfman (2010) – An incredible film about one of the original Universal Monsters, the werewolf. Benecio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins were perfect in this film. This film is the closest to the original screenplay written by Curt Siodmak. The 1941 film, which stared monster movie legend Lon Chaney, was unable to film some of the original story as the special effects lacked the technology to depict some of the things in the story. This is on my top movies list of all time.
- King Kong (1933) – This was a groundbreaking film for its time and has withstood the test of time as a true classic. There had been other “monster” films prior to Kong but none took the screen and audiences as this one did. King Kong is still to this day one of the most fascinating films made and the cinematography with the giant hand, and the giant head were brilliant in making you believe this monster was really a giant.
- Godzilla (1954) – A Japanese film, Japan’s authorities deal with the sudden appearance of a giant monster, whose attacks trigger fears of nuclear holocaust during post-war Japan. To a kid, this movie was scary but as I grew older and special effects technology improved, it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. That said, I can’t remove it from the top monsters movies list because Godzilla was dominating at the creature features back in the day.
- Frankenstein (1931) – One of my all time favorites and, perhaps my favorite of the Universal monster, it is an obsessed scientist (Dr. Victor Frankenstein) who digs up corpses with his assistant in order to assemble a body and reanimate it to life. The monster, Frankenstein’s Monster, was played by the great Boris Karloff. This movie is definitely a classic and a must watch for any horror fan.
- The Fly (1986) – The Fly tells of an eccentric scientist who, after one of his experiments goes wrong, slowly turns into a fly-hybrid creature. It was a remake of the 1958 film staring Vincent Price, but Jeff Goldblum in this was fantastic. The special effects and transformation was grotesque and shocking. Everyone should see it at least once.
- Alien (1979) – I’m including this one despite it being a little sci-fi because this monster was so freaking menacing. Written by Ridley Scott, this is one of the films that could have several of the sequels on this list. It follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo, who encounter the eponymous Alien, an aggressive and deadly extraterrestrial set loose on the ship. Sigourney Weaver as an action star? She kicked ass in this and the sequel, Aliens (1986).
- Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – A must have on this list, this creature is much like Kong, a sympathetic monster with a love for a human woman. An original Universal Monster, the cinematography in this film was amazing for its time, particularly the underwater scenes, which were beautiful. I remember the girl swimming on the surface with her white bathing suite on and the creature swimming below her facing up, reaching up and almost touching her! Was exciting to watch as a kid.
- Tremors (1990) – While this is more of a horror comedy, I have to include it in my top list because it was just a damn enjoyable movie; and I’m a huge Kevin Bacon fan. repairmen Val McKee (Bacon) and partner Earl Bassett try to skip the small desert town of Perfection, Nevada, tired of their dull lives. However, they happen upon a series of mysterious deaths and a concerned seismologist Rhonda studying unnatural readings below the ground. With the help of eccentric survivalist couple Burt and Heather Gummer, the group fights for survival against giant, prehistoric, worm-like monsters hungry for human flesh. This is one of those movies I can watch anytime it comes on.
- Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – A fantasy film where It’s 1944 and the Allies have invaded Nazi-held Europe. In Spain, a troop of soldiers are sent to a remote forest to flush out the rebels. They are led by Capitan Vidal, a murdering sadist, and with him are his new wife Carmen and her daughter from a previous marriage, 11-year-old Ofelia. Ofelia witnesses her stepfather’s sadistic brutality and is drawn into Pan’s Labyrinth, a magical world of mythical beings. There are several mythical creatures in this film but the Pale Man is one that is a must have among movie monsters and lands this film on the list.
Others to consider