They haunt nightmares, go bump in the night and always unnerve us with their sheer dissimilarity to what we consider normal, monster movies have held a unique place within the cinematic landscape, and not just within the horror, as the genre has proved to be surprisingly versatile as it can reach into the realm of fantasy, drama, action/adventure and even children’s films.
Even with the tone of horror shifting continuously, the monster movie seems to pop up in every generation of filmmakers and still endures to this day, they can be used as physical metaphors for societal problems, epitomize humane fears that we all share and on the simplest note, they just scare us because they are different, because we would never see anything like it other than a classic creature feature.
However, such a list needs ground rules, and they range from technical to sheer guesswork in deciding what does and does not qualify as a monster. First of all, I’m going to make the controversial decision to rule out Zombies (primarily so I have to think more creatively rather than filling half of the list with zombie films), so that sadly excludes Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead and other seminal horror classics.
Also I am excluding any demonic possessions or spiritual embodiments so that also rules out ‘The Exorcist’, then there is the biggest ground rule of all, I mean monster in a literal sense, so though you could describe Norman Bates, Jack Torrance and Hannibal Lector as monsters, they will also be left out.
This could of course be opening a can of worms, as few fans are as devoted as horror fans and everyone has their indisputable favourite. But regardless, I thought I would have a go at compiling a list of the greatest monster movies of all time.
25. The Blob
Though it may be easy to dismiss The Blob as a campy and dated monster movie from the fifties, one can trace the origins of most big budget disaster films and creature features back to this teen populated misadventure.
An alien being lands on earth and begins systematically wiping out humanity as it baffles the authorities and our band of heroes struggle to survive against the creeping terror. Though it sounds strange, there is something ever so slightly unnerving about the way that the titular blob pulsates and slowly moves through the human world.
24. The Mummy
One of the most iconic monster movies ever made may have dated slightly in terms of its acting and effects, but remains eerily spooky in its style and tone. As an ancient Egyptian priest is awoken by British explorers, it wreaks havoc within the modern world.
The Mummy was another essential staple of the Universal Horror Franchise and spawned a number of sequels such as the Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Curse, The Mummy’s Tomb, and so on. Its astonishing make up was genuinely revolting in its texture and primeval nature, creating a real sense of a creature that is well and truly out of its time.
With the huge amount of found footage movies dominating the horror and disaster genre right now, it is easy to forget that Cloverfield was quite a unique take on the genre when it first came out.
A way to catalyse the rise of the information age and viral videos as it captured an epic disaster from the ground level, acting as a slow build through the monsters destruction rather than revealing the actual creature itself on most occasions. At the same time though, it creates a sense of sudden and shaking danger, one that places a viewer on the edge of their seat.
22. The Mist
In an age where the torture porn style was the main focus of horror, it was fairly refreshing to see a genuinely well-crafted monster movie with tense staging, unique designs and a small amount of political motivation.
As well as this, The Mist includes empathetic characters that resonate with the viewer, you watch their struggle with extra attentiveness and start to search for any resolutions along with them. As director Frank Darabount said ‘It is less about the monsters outside and more about the monsters inside’.
21. The Wolf Man
The werewolf has received numerous re-imaginings and reinventions (watch out for one of them later on in this list) and however successful they are, it is impossible to deny the importance and brilliance of the original 1941 interpretation.
There is an undeniable charm to the movie as it utilises so many classic horror elements to generate its mood and atmosphere, emphasising the tragedy and irony of the man-turned-beast situation more than the actual transformation itself.
It is ironic that Kevin Bacon actually regarded this as a career low while it was still in production, as it would be one of the pictures that allowed him to move away from the position of teen heartthrob and into different roles.
Tremors is considered to be one of the best B-movies ever made as it acts as a loving reversion to the smaller creature features of the 1950s. It also combines the solid action set pieces with some truly revolting monsters and smart dialogue to back it up, Tremors is wonderfully unique as it is so much better than a concept about giant worms living underground ever deserved to be.
19. Monsters Inc.
No one said this list had to comprise of monster movies that terrified you, though it is ironic that I would describe Monsters Inc. in that way because it is all about the fear that is induced within us, strictly out of fear of what may be in the closet.
Monsters Inc. may be fairly early days for Pixar, but it is remarkable how quickly they established themselves as animation geniuses with such a comical and emotional film. A combination of some fantastic wordplay, visual gags and some immensely likable (and a few fearful) characters make it a unique and endearing monster movie.
18. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
The defining image of 1950s horror is the sight of the blurry creature slowly emerging from the depths of the water to attack its unsuspecting victims.
An ancient and primeval beast within the modern world was nothing new even at the time, but there’s a sense of suspense that is built up in a slow release that successfully makes what is (though a remarkably crafted) rather goofy looking creature. But there is an undoubted dread to the ancient way it moves, the way the creature is shot and how it waits in hiding before dispatching its victims.