The 20 Best Movie Monsters of All Time, Ranked
Note: Collider’s Halloween horror month continues this week with an all-out monster mash!
Monster movies are having a bit of a moment. Thanks in large part to Universal’s newly committed move to reboot its monster universe with Godzilla in 2014 and this year’s Kong: Skull Island and The Mummy, movie history’s biggest and baddest are back to strike fear in the hearts of a new generation.
But in the hearts of genre fans, “monsters on the brain” is pretty much a constant phenomenon – remember that time we pitted iconic monsters and Kaijus against each other in a high-stakes poll? And while for critics and higher brow viewers alike, withholding the monster artfully is the only way to go, I can’t help but want my creature feature goodness weird, gory and up close and personal.
We’ll be getting more of that this week with the arrival of Kong: Skull Island, and as the Godzilla train keeps trucking, we’re no doubt looking at a decade of new twists on the classic monsters. So, as we prepare to get scared all over again, it’s time to revisit some of cinema’s best creepy crawlies. From the classics to those more cutting edge, we’re raking the 20 best movie monsters daring filmmakers have given us over the decades. I’d like to apologize in advance about the nightmares.
[Quick note: monsters that bear too clear of a resemblance to real-life animals (i.e. Jaws) have been left off this list, so please spare me your shark wrath.]
20) The Aliens, 'Attack the Block'
When the (anti)heroes of Attack the Block are asked to describe the nameless aliens that beset their apartment complex, the closest we get to any sort of title is “gorilla-wolf-motherf*ckers”, which is as serviceable as any other for the strange and distinct extraterrestrial whatsits. Covered in spiky, pitch-black fur and sporting scads of bioluminescent fangs that make up for their lack of any visible eyes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more brilliantly composed low budget monster on this list.
19) Audrey II, 'Little Shop of Horrors'
Directed by Frank Oz and brought to life by the crew that animated The Muppets, Audrey II is just your average, every day human-eating monster plant with a penchant for musical numbers. Armed with ever-growing ivy arms and a grotesquely pink flapping tongue, Audrey II is the perfect foil to Rick Moranis’ shrinking violet Seymour, and a comically creepy man-eater determined to spawn nightmares that are as deeply strange as they are truly terrifying. Not sold? Just wait until Audrey’s got a unsuspecting customer from Mushnik’s Flower Shop deep inside her jaws.
18) The Blob, 'The Blob'
Making its on-screen debut back in 1958 with a charismatic lead in a 28-year-old Steve McQueen (playing a teenager, no less), The Blob is an alien life form that lives to suck – drawing people into its strange, purple-ish mass and gaining size along the way. But the edge here goes to The Blob’s 1988 iteration, which adds a disturbing acidic quality to the Blob’s squishy threats while still refusing to provide the dangerous substance with any kind of philosophical drive. It Blobs, therefore it is.
17) The Rancor, 'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi'
Chances are, you can count on one hand the number of times Star Wars gave you nightmares as a kid. Even better chances? One of those nightmares was about Jabba’s Rancor, a warty, hungry little nasty that happily awaited snacks in the form of anyone who displeased Jabba. Perhaps more genius for his innate sense of sympathy (the small detail of the trainer devastated by the loss of the creature is genius) than anything else, the Rancor also sports some stellar creature design: not quite mammalian, not quite reptilian, but most importantly: totally Star Wars.
16) Clover, 'Cloverfield'
If we’re being honest, the Cloverfield universe so far has largely been defined by the visual absence of a monster rather than its imposing presence, but it’s a testament to the filmmaking that such a small amount of screen-time can make such an indelible impact. Toxic, deadly, and ugly as hell, “Clover” is an awfully cute name for one ugly motherfucker. (And I can’t wait to see how he factors into God Particle.)
15) Otachi, 'Pacific Rim'
Narrowing the fantastic repertoire of Guillermo del Toro‘s Kaiju-packed Pacific Rim is a task I wish on no one. This was a close battle between Otachi and Leatherback, but when we’re talking about pure iconic imagery, Leatherback takes the monster movie cake. Slightly sharper than the other killers and boasting an uber memorable fight scene with Gypsy, Leatherback is a Kaiju with clear ties to other iconic monsters on this list (lookin’ at you, Godzilla and Kong) that still manages to be very much his own thing.
14) The Behemoth, 'The Mist'
Though it has much less screentime than other unspeakable beasts in Frank Darabont’s The Mist, The Behemoth (also fittingly known as “The Impossibly Tall Creature”) has the most impact of all of the film’s monsters combined. Slowly, silently skulking through the mist and dwarfing everything in sight, The Behemoth is chilling mostly in its complete obliviousness to any of the human suffering it has unwittingly caused at its feet.
13) Gwoemul, 'The Host'
Big. Amphibious. Mutant. The fearsome, deadly Gweomul is about as gross and dangerous a a sewer dweller is likely to get, and is the violent fuel for Joon-ho Bong’s The Host. Sporting some brilliant monster design and some terrifying, lumbering creature features, Gweomul runs on pure evolutionary instinct, and it seems natural selection isn’t on our side.
12) The Predator, 'Predator'
Like many of the scarier entries on the list, The Predator, opts to stay invisible for the majority of the film’s running time, letting director John McTiernan run out the clock before the big reveal. Killing for sport and collecting trophies of his unwitting human prey, Predator couldn’t be a more deadly monster foe, but when it comes time to unmask, the truest testament to his genius character design comes from Schwarzenegger himself: “You are one ugly motherfucker”.
11) Crawlers, 'The Descent'
Neil Marshall’s understated claustrophic fright fest is a thing of beauty thanks to its nuanced approach to loss and its complete devotion to fleshed out, believable characters. But it’s also a thing of beauty for its deeply terrifying Crawlers, humanoid cave-dwellers with milky white eyes and skin, overgrown claws and echolocation that heralds their arrival even before their freaky faces do. They’re perfect foes for our ill-fated spelunkers, and they’re sure to take up a specific place in your nightmares.
10) The Creature, 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'
Where werewolves, zombies and the rest of the creature feature set are terrifying because of their tenuous ties to humanity, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is terrifying because of his lack of one. A seemingly prehistoric inhuman creature that embodies every innate fear about deep, dark water. Sporting some of the most inspired creature design of any monster on this list thanks to Millicent Patrick, it’s hard not to wonder how a remake hasn’t made its way to screens yet. No matter, the classic is almost as engaging as it was on the day of its release.
9) The Pale Man, 'Pan's Labyrinth'
What makes Guillermo del Toro the king of the monsters? This guy. While Pan’s Labyrinth is stuffed with amazing creatures, flawless production design and brilliant performances, the real star of the film is on screen for about 3 minutes in total, a shriveled and deeply disturbing humanoid monster with a taste for children. He’s a clear allegory for the oppressive and uncaring governmental regime and specifically, the unfeeling Captain Vidal that turns Ofelia’s world upside down. A clever inversion of fairy tale tropes with a brilliant design, the Pale Man is a disturbing sight whether you’re watching the film for the first time or the fiftieth.
8) Werewolf, 'An American Werewolf in London'
Werewolves have a long and storied cinematic history, and while Lon Cheney Jr.’s Wolfman is a classic of cinema, it’s Rick Baker’s perfect practical transformations in An American Werewolf in London that really helped define the mystical creature’s on-screen traditions. The transformation: awe-inspiring, icky, but altogether a horror for the one that experiences it, helps to stick this very specific kind of lycanthrope in the mind. But the magic also lies in the fact that John Landis‘ film acknowledges and respects the pop culture existence of werewolves, crossing the film’s creatures over from the hallowed horror tradition to a world that feels eerily like our own.
7) Reapers, 'Blade II'
Guess who? While vampires have gripped the cultural imagination for decades, it’s del Toro that went pedal to the metal with his designs for the bloodsuckers. Taking the concept of a human parasite quite literally in Blade II, del Toro envisions a new breed of vampire with an unhingeable jaw, revealing a deeply disturbing ringworm like sucker within. The transformations themselves are notable enough, but to see them unfurl from an otherwise normal vampire visage, makes the Reapers pop culture’s most specific and affecting iteration of vamps.
6) Frankenstein's Monster, 'Frankenstein'
It’s hard to beat Frankenstein (or rather, Frankenstein’s monster, if we’re getting technical about it). Technically a zombie re-animated through technological prowess and man’s hubris, it’s a monster unfamiliar with the rules of the world and his own strength, as well as a monster beset with the plight of human connection. He’s tragic, iconic, deeply scary, and hard to beat. Remakes need not apply.
5) King Kong, 'King Kong'
You don’t earn the title “King of the Jungle” for nothing. Across more than eight decades and countless film iterations, King Kong remains one of the most bewitching and tragic of the movie monster set. And while Peter Jackson’s 2005 film has its strengths, the definitive King Kong is still the 1933 film (despite its unsavory racial overtones). The effects for all their iffy aging, are crafty and admirable even years on, making the original Kong a massive achievement no matter how old the movie magic is.
4) Godzilla, 'Godzilla'
3) Brundlefly, 'The Fly'
It’s only fair that the master of body horror hold a high place on this list – and there’s no better Cronenberg video nasty than the dripping, gloopy Brundlefly, a horrifying amalgam of man and fly that obscures the deep humanity of Seth (the ever-quirky Jeff Goldblum). The Brundlefly takes most of the film to arrive as the scientific experiment slowly engulfs Seth’s body, but while he hardly lasts long before being dispatched by his lover, it’s the metaphoric dread of becoming a monster yourself that propels The Fly to the front of the pack.
2) Xenomorph, 'Alien'
All hail the queen. The Xenomorph, the brainchild of the darkly minded genius H.R. Giger, is what alien nightmares are made of. Part machine, part natural aberrance, the Alien that besets Ripley moves with the kind of haunting assurance befitting of the creature’s power. With acid blood and rows of nested teeth, the Xenomorph is a stroke of pure monster genius that, when it comes to pop culture at least, is truly immortal. (See: Alien: Covenant.)
1) The Thing, 'The Thing'
In a way, The Thing has got this whole monster competition rigged. A shape-shifting alien with the ability to synthesize and morph into the DNA of any of its victims means that The Thing has the unique ability to become anyone’s worst nightmare at any moment, made even more harrowing by John Carpenter’s commitment to terrifyingly grotesque practical effects. Whether your favorite is the grotesque, transformed dog or the iconic spider-head, The Thing is a monster with the ability to transform into the most terrifying thing of all: one of us.