Are monster movies making a comeback? With the latest reboot of Godzilla hitting theaters, and the box office success of Pacific Rim and Clash of the Titans remakes, it seems Hollywood is not only enamored with superheroes who protect cities but with the monsters who want to destroy them. Creature features have been popular since the cult horror films of the ’30s, to the Japanese monster or “kaiju” movies of the ’50s and the campy onslaught of the ’80s. Some have achieved classic status while hundreds of others are laughably bad. In honor of monsters stomping across the big screen again, here are some our favorite freaks.
Godzilla (1954, 1998, 2014)
A product of the nuclear age, Godzilla has wreaked havoc for over six decades, with countless spinoff cartoons, films and toys, but has retained his appetite for destruction. Though the special effects have evolved – from a Japanese man in a rubber suit to animatronic baby lizards in Roland Emmerich’s disposable 1998 reboot – the only thing we fear in this latest rebirth of the kaiju craze is another Led Zeppelin cover by Puff Daddy.
In the same way that Godzilla played upon the fears of post-Hiroshima Japan, Cloverfield is truly a creature of post-9/11 anxiety. Having deciding that America needed a metropolis-stomping monster of its own, J.J Abrams teamed up with director Matt Reeves to concoct this found-footage tale of terror. While the jerky cinematography can be straining after an hour, the monster was sufficiently terrifying and the film made us weary of the subway for quite some time.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Don’t write off this epic blockbuster as a Transformers lookalike, Pacific Rim manages to serve up a double-dose of giant monsters and equally giant robots to wage battle against them. The influence of Godzilla is apparent throughout the film and director Guillermo del Toro even dedicated the film to the late Ishiro Honda, who directed the original Godzilla. If stylized mayhem is your cup of tea, you’ll want seconds with this special-effects masterpiece.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Cabin in the Woods is like a bloody, tongue-in-cheek love letter to every horror movie trope there is, from one of the most beloved nerd auteurs. Joss Whedon flips the script and still manages to scare the crap out of audiences. With cameos galore, a whole fun house of diabolical creatures and twists upon twists, it became a cult classic upon release. Let’s just say we’ll think twice about heading to that cabin upstate.
The Host (2006)
One of the most original movie monsters of the early aughts hails from South Korea, from the talented director, Bong Joon-ho. After tainting the Han River with dangerous chemicals, a mysterious creature emerges and attacks the citizens of Seoul. After the creature takes a little girl hostage, it forces her family to take matters into their own hands and take on the monster themselves. One part family drama and one part CGI monster masterpiece, The Host carved out a special place in the hearts of monster-movie lovers everywhere. Some might also recognize the film’s heroine Doona Bae from the recent film, Cloud Atlas.
King Kong (1933)
As the forefather of the monster-movie genre, the original King Kong created the blueprint that many other thrillers – be it aliens or dinosaurs – would follow. The not-so-gentle giant created by special effects pioneer Willis H. O’Brien was a monster with heart – even when he was scaling the Empire State Building. Not many films feature a misunderstood monster, but King Kong was an ape of a different color. Peter Jackson’s 2005 version did the original justice, but the 1993 classic is a must-see primer for any creature feature fan.
A monster movie is only as great as the scare factor of its monsters. A slow reveal is essential, but after you’re faced with the beast, it must be compelling enough to terrify us all the way through. Compared to the torture-porn of today’s horror, Alien can be considered high art. This space-set operatic tale embedded a nightmare we’re still trying to shake off. With Alien, Ridley Scott proved he could create a blockbuster and one of cinema’s most butt-kicking heroines in the form of Ripley – immortalized by Sigourney Weaver.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter is no Hitchcock, but he certainly knows how to titillate and gross out his audiences simultaneously. Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawks’ tense ’50s sci-fi thriller The Thing from Another World may lack the subtlety of the original, but it manages to capture the isolation and paranoia that takes over the skeleton crew of an Arctic research station. For monster enthusiasts, there’s plenty to geek out over with these shape-shifting alien parasites. Inside of tying up the film with an obvious good-guys-win or everyone-dies conclusion, Carpenter opts for an intelligent ending that’s open for interpretation.
The Mist (2007)
The beauty in this post-apocalyptic tale is the slow, steady build of unavoidable terror. It is this type of film where folks are holed up in a grocery store, mall, or (insert consumerist symbol here) and turn 0n each other while facing a greater foe, that makes us imagine backup plans when the world goes to pot. Based on the Stephen King novella, the film boasts an impressive billing for a horror film that includes Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Andre Braugher. Director Frank Darabont shifts the focus to the human protagonists rather than the CGI monsters and was even responsible for uncredited rewrite on the Godzilla 2014 script, which is telling if you’ve seen both films.
When it comes to taking down giant sand worms, look no further than the dynamic duo of Kevin Bacon and country star Reba McEntire who makes paranoid survivalists seem utterly charming. While the film marked McEntire’s acting debut, it was rare for a film star such as Bacon to star in a seemingly B-movie horror flick. But the sharp performances, cheeky dialogue and truly terrifying monsters made the film more than just a midnight movie romp… and it led to four more films!
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Release the Kraken! This epic fantasy tale of Greek mythology is a childhood favorite for many and set the bar for innovative special effects before the dawn of CGI. It featured brave heroes, beautiful heroines, stop-motion artistry and Hollywood heavyweights like Laurence Olivier who brought some gravitas to the film – making a piece of cinematic history whose remakes garnered a new generation of fans.
A lot of questionable films passed for children’s entertainment in the ’80s and Gremlins was definitely one of them. Sure, you had your adorable fluffy creatures begging for toy spin-offs, but whatever you do, don’t get them wet! While the film had all the trappings of a B-movie, it was also a commentary on all our favorite movie myths – monsters, the holidays, and folklore. Those creatures may have kept us up at night during slumber parties, but they’re delightfully campy to watch as an adult.
Aliens, terrorists, and fiscal policy – none of these stand a chance against The Arnold. Sure, the Predator closely resembles John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, but at the time it would inspire fear looking back at you on the video store shelf. As one of the many blast-’em-up blockbuster films of the ’80s, it’s got the advantages of a great monster, an exotic location, and slick action sequences.
The found-footage setup lends itself perfectly to monster movies because of the chaotic feeling it creates with camerawork. In the same vein as Blair Witch Project, Trollhunter features plenty of blurry night-vision footage as a group of filmmakers stumble around the snowy Norwegian countryside looking for trolls. The CGI trolls are impressive and there’s plenty of hilarious hijinks to be had when you’re out hunting for such creatures.
The sub-genre of indie monster movies is a small one, but British director Gareth Edwards proves you can still terrify audiences on a shoestring budget and rely on a human-driven drama rather than special effects to scare. The special effects artist-turned-director was one of the main reasons we were excited for the latest Godzilla effort. With his directorial debut, Monsters, Edwards knows a thing or two about building up a reveal in this futuristic tale of galactic beings trapped between borders who may or may not be real antagonists this scenario.
Pitch Black (2000)
Vin Diesel is no Laurence Olivier, but the role of Riddick was tailor-made for him. After a plane carrying a dangerous convict crash-lands on an alien planet, the last thing the crew has to worry about is their dangerous cargo. While one could argue the humans are the real villains of the piece, Diesel created the ultimate anti-hero in Riddick that launched a franchise. After night descends, that’s when the real fun begins.
The Descent (2005)
Forget sawing your arm off in 127 Hours, the real danger of being trapped in a cave system is the band of flesh-eating humanoids that lurk below. The name of the this film should really be Claustrophobia, because that’s all you’ll feel for the first hour as a team of female spelunkers descends into its doom. A true creature feature can only succeed if it spends as much time on the set-up as it does on the payoff.
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Before he was the Mac guy and Mr. Drew Barrymore, Justin Long was just the unsuspecting prey to a flesh-flaying creature in Anytown, U.S.A. While most monster movies are about the big reveal, this one actually gets less scary when the mystery monster finally shows up. Long’s cocky skepticism eventually bites him in the ass (and perhaps everywhere else) but damn if that song won’t ever leave your head and send chills down your spine thereafter.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Shark movies should be considered their own genre altogether. If Jaws is on one side of the spectrum and Sharknado is on the other, Deep Blue Sea would land somewhere right in the middle. The premise is almost laughable. Most medical studies and drugs have their side effects, but super-smart, genetically engineered Mako sharks is usually not one of them. The idea of the monsters seeking revenge is great and the escape scenes in the film are not without merit – plus there are some comedic moments that keep it from taking itself too seriously
Throughout the mid-to-late ’90s, you couldn’t pass a video store aisle (remember those?) without an endless amount of monstrous horror movie titles jumping out at you. Amidst the leprechauns, anacondas, and Ernest Scared Stupids was Guillermo del Toro’s insect thriller Mimic. As the director’s ambitious English-language debut, it had all the elements of a great monster flick: a scientific experiment gone awry, a noir setting, and a clever creature. While it can veer into B-movie territory at times, del Toro’s daft directing keeps you on your toes even ’til the end.