When I decided to compile a list of my favorite monster movies, I had no idea how hard it would be. I mean, what is a monster movie? What defines a monster movie? Heck, what is a monster?
Do werewolves and vampires count? Or is it only about creature features? What about aliens? Animals? Halp!
In the end, I decided that a real monster movie contains monsters or creatures with no or nearly no human connection, so there’s no werewolves, no zombies, no vampires, and no transformation stuff à la “The Fly”. It’s all about monsters, animals, kaiju and aliens. Simple as that 😉
Oh, also, it’s not a list about what I think are the best monster movies, but rather about what are my all time favorites, especially in terms of re-watchability and nostalgia. There are movies like “Cujo” or “Gremlins” that may be better movies than some others on that list, but they don’t have the same re-watchibility as my Top 15, or I’m just not so emotionally connected to them.
The great thing is that you can probably watch ALL of these monster movies on a streaming service. Here’s a great resource for Horror Streaming Services.
Okay, without further ado, here are my Top 15 Best Monster Movies:
Director: Jack Arnold
Thanks to Austrian afternoon television in the late 80s, this was actually the very first monster movie I have ever seen. At the tender age of 6, I sat in front of the TV and marveled at John Agar trying to find a solution how to destroy a house-sized and super-creepy Tarantula that is creeping and crawling around the Arizona town of Desert Rock.
Although I have a very soft spot for giant spider trash like “The Giant Spider Invasion” or “Big Ass Spider”, there’s absolutely no denying that “Tarantula” is definitely the greatest and most entertaining monster-spider flick ever made, and also one of the best monster movies of the 1950s. It’s tense and eerie, there’s lots of powerful suspense and most of the (actually quite clever) effects still look super-cool. Tarantulawesomeness!
Also great: “Them!” (1954) – slightly similar 50s giant-insect flick, but with giant ants.
14. JEEPERS CREEPERS
Director: Victor Salva
Victor Salva… yeah, I know. This guy has an extremely negative reputation, and quite rightly so – but there’s no denying that he’s a really talented filmmaker who knows to pull off a good and original horror movie, just like he did in 2001 with the box office hit “Jeepers Creepers”, a fabulously developed modern fairytale about an ancient creature called “The Creeper” which feasts on human flesh every 23rd spring for exactly 23 days.
This “Creeper” is such a fascinating creature, it’s a shame that it didn’t influence more filmmakers to create movies in the same vein; and it’s an even bigger shame that “Jeepers Creepers” hasn’t become a long-running mega-franchise with countless sequels and prequels; only one sequel was produced… and the biggest shame is the fact that us fans have to wait for the long-announced threequel now for more than 13 years… *sigh* Well, we’ll always have the first two parts!
Also great: the above-mentioned “Jeepers Creepers 2” (2003) – very solid sequel, but radically/surprisingly/refreshingly different from the first part.
13. KING KONG
Directors: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
It doesn’t matter how many “King Kong” sequels, remakes, reboots and ripoffs will be made… NO-ONE will ever be able to create a better, more entertaining, more fascinating giant ape movie than “King Kong”, the one and only king of giant ape movies. No animatronics, no CGI and surely no Gorilla suits can ever mess with the colossal 1933 “Kong”. Even Peter Jackson tried and colossaly failed to recreate this uber-classic.
I first saw it at the age of 7 or 8 (thanks again, Austrian television!) and loved it ever since, and even though I was a huge Godzilla fan in my teenage years, I never got rid of my fascination with this incredible black-and-white epic. Outstanding stop-motion effects, a terrifying musical score and a pitch-perfection direction are just three of many, many reasons why this movie still works so fucking well. “King Kong” kicks prehistoric butt!
Also great: “Queen Kong” (1976) and “The Mighty Peking Man” (1977) – IMHO the two funniest and most entertaining giant ape flicks ever made, far more diverting than any of the American follow-ups.
Director: John McTiernan
Being an Austrian and not liking this movie? Impossible 😀 Once again thanks to my mum who allowed me to watch pretty much anything not suitable for children at a very young age, especially when it was a movie that she enjoyed (more about that later…), and thank goodness, she loved most of Arnie’s 80s/90s output *yay* just like “Predator”, next to “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 3” the absolute best thing John McTiernan has ever directed.
You want plot? Go away. “Predator” is all about a badass Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering quotable one liners en masse (“If it bleeds, we can kill it.” / “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” / “Get to the chopper!”), a fascinating trophy-hunting extraterrestrial creature that looks super-awesome and super-scary at the same time, countless tremendous special effects, as well as lot of suspense, lots of action and gore galore. 80s sci-fi/action-creature-feature-awesomeness at its best!
Also great: “Predator 2” (1990) – If you can accept the fact that there’s no Arnie in this sequel, you get rewarded with a stunningly executed, radically different sequel that is almost as awesome!
Director: Kazuki Ohmori
This might be a suprise to you, but of all the Godzilla films Japan has ever produced, doesn’t matter if dark, entertaining or goofy (believe me, I’ve seen them all countless times), “Godzilla vs. Biollante” has always been my favorite Godzi-flick. It’s a shame that it is so unknown and underrated nowadays. Back in the 90s, Austrian and especially German TV channels showed this quite often (usually once or twice a year), giving me the chance to re-watch it over and over and over.
It’s a dark and atmospheric movie, even darker than its similarly awesome predecessor “Godzilla 1985”, and it features the most fascinating creature in the whole Godzilla franchise: BIOLLANTE, a hybrid mutant monster-flower, genetically engineered from the genes of a Rose and cells from Godzilla. She looks fantastic in every scene, she’s way cooler than Godzi, and their final battle is so brutal, so fucking kick-ass, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. A Kaiju masterpiece, and IMO the second-best Kaiju movie ever made.
Also great: Its above-mentioned sinister predecessor “Godzilla 1985”, a tremendous reboot of the 1954 “Godzilla”, as well as its pretty excellent sequels “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” (1991) and “Godzilla vs. Mothra” (1992).
10. ATTACK THE BLOCK
(UK / France, 2011)
Director: Joe Cornish
‘Inner City vs. Outer Space’ – a premise so hilariously simple, yet so unbelievably masterfully executed by directorial debutant Joe Cornish, I’m still gobsmacked. “Attack the Block” had an impact on me, only comparable to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto-trilogy, actually in terms and tone quite similar to the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movies, but with an extra portion of extraterrestrial extravaganza, hilarious gangster slang, ace Grime music and… well, good ol’ Nick Frost!
The movie is so colorful, so tense, so funny AND so action-packed, there’s tons of outrageously amsuing dialogue (“What’s Ron’s weed room? – “It’s a room… filled with weed… that belongs to Ron.”), and omg, the creature design of the “Big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers” is just wow: ravenous hairy alien-apes, consisting of a super-cool blacker-than-black body and neon-turquoise disco-teeth. True party animals 😉 “Attack the Block” ROCKS!!!
Also great: “Critters” (1986) – an armada of furry, very foracious and fun-looking monsters from outer space terrorizing a… no, not a tower block, but a small farming town.
9. THE BLOB
Director: Chuck Russell
For the ones who don’t know Maynard & Craig’s legendary Blobfest-post (click here!): I TOTALLY adore this goo-filled monstrosity of an 80s movie. As a young boy I spent way too much time staring at the gruesome cover artwork in the horror section of my local rental store, before I finally got the chance to see it a few years later (Thanks Mum! Thanks German Television!) and completely fell in love with it.
I don’t care much for the 1958 original or its shoddy 1972 sequel “Beware! The Blob”. It’s the nasty, gory, tense, funny, entertaining and action-packed 1988 remake that I am in love with it (IMO one of the greatest horror remakes of all time – I’m serious!). I have no idea how often I’ve rewatched the brutal kitchen sink scene, or the hospital attack, or the sewer inferno. Hell, I have no idea how often I’ve rewatched the entire movie, but I can assure you, I will definitely rewatch the killer-glibber’s smalltown-rampage many, many times more!
Also great: “The Stuff” (1985) – In some kinda way the same kinda movie, but with, erm, killer ice cream that comes out of the earth. No joke!
(UK / USA, 1986)
Director: James Cameron
Making a sequel to a movie that revolutionized and basically reinvented the science-fiction genre is almost impossible… almost! Director James Cameron didn’t even try to redefine the sci-fi genre, he tried to create something entirely different, et voilà: his sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” became one of the most important and most impressive action/sci-fi films of all time, a movie that is really almost as amazing as its stunning predecessor.
While Scott’s “Alien” gave the audiences only one badass killer-creature, Cameron gave them armadas of these almost-invincible bastards, incl. a ‘Mother Alien’ that looks so nightmarishly astonishing, it’s insane. I grew up on the theatrical cut which is great, but since I first seen the 17-minutes-longer Director’s Cut in 2012, I have no more interest in re-watching it, because the longer version is so much better, so much more intense, and so much more emotional, I daresay it’s the absolute best Director’s Cut anyone has ever made. I mean it!
Also great: “Alien” (1979), the amazing first part of the “Alien” saga, as well as the underrated third part, “Alien 3” (1992), one of David Fincher’s darkest movies to date.
Director: Ron Underwood
Of all the countless modern wannabe-1950s-monster-flicks like “Eight Legged Freaks”, “Slither” etc., only one managed to capture that particular 50s feeling while at the same time, redefining and enhancing it: the mighty, mighty “Tremors”, an absolutely fantastic feel-good blast of a movie, better than any other worm/snake/etc.-themed movied ever made, and surely the best example of how good humor, suspense, action, believable characters, cool creatures and splendid practical effects can work together when everyone involved has a freaking great time and wants to make a fun movie.
The “Graboids” (no, they’re NOT called “Tremors”…) are slightly silly-looking, yet highly effective creatures full of ludicrous surprises, and they’re getting cooler and cooler with every single franchise entry, thanks to a hilarious lifecycle (Shriekers, Assblasters, Dirt Dragons…) that almost puts the Xenomorphs to shame. “Tremors” is absolutely Tremor-rific fun for everyone. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like it! 😉
Also great: Everything that has “Tremors” in its title, is fun to watch and highly recommended, the sequels “Tremors 2: Aftershocks” (1996) and “Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” (2001), the “Tremors” TV series (2003), the prequel “Tremors 4: The Legend Begins” (2004) and the 12-years-later sequel “Tremors 5: Bloodlines” (2015).
6. PACIFIC RIM
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
My feelings towards Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic output are very mixed (I don’t like “Crimson Peak” and I HATE “Hellboy”), but there’s absolutely no denying how much I adore “Pacific Rim”, IMO not just the greatest Kaiju-themed movie of all time, but also the only non-Asian / non-King-Kong giant-monster-movie that completely understood, captured and redefined everything that made all the Godzilla and Gameras etc. so fascinating. Fuck both American “Godzilla” remakes!
Granted, Del Toro focussed more on the Human aspects of the movie, but nevertheless, he also created the most fascinating, most frightening AND most dangerous mega-monsters I have ever seen, especially the gigantic “Knifehead” is the most gobsmacking-looking Toho-monster that Toho has never created. And when it comes to monster fighting: seeing a Jaeger thrashing a Kaiju monster in the middle of Hong Kong with a cargo ship is so fucking incredible, it has to be seen to be believed. Thank you, Guillermo. Thank you very much!
Also great: “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” (1974) and “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (1974), basically the two mothers of giant-robot-cinema. Forget about “Robot Jox”.
(UK / USA, 1979)
Director: Ridley Scott
British director Ridley Scott made ‘only’ 3 science fiction films in his 5-decades-career, but hey: at least two of them revolutionized the genre completely: “Blade Runner” (1982), and this one, “Alien”, one of the cleverest and most powerful sci-fi/horror mash-ups of all time, a stylish landmark-masterpiece about a nasty extraterrestrial creature with a truly fascinating lifecycle, a tough-ass Sigourney Weaver, her damn cool crew and Jonesy, the cutest kitty in movie history.
Together with Swiss genius/maniac H.R. Giger, Scott created a dark and sinister motherfucker of a movie, back then an outstandingly original and very welcome return to the classic 1950s danger-from-space tropes and the perfect antidote to all the fairytale-like “Star Wars”-kitsch, mainly due to Giger’s Alien a.k.a the ‘Xenomorph’, which, with all its incarnations (egg, facehugger, chestburster), became one of the most popular, most famous genre icons of all time.
Also great: “Aliens” (1986), James Cameron’s extremely amazing sequel, as well as the underrated third part, “Alien 3” (1992), one of David Fincher’s darkest movies to date.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Next to “Jurassic Park” and “Duel”, the absolute best and most suspenseful movie Steven Spielberg has ever made. It’s also the best animal-themed movie ever made and the best sea-creature-themed movie ever made. “Jaws”, a miracle of a movie that basically ‘invented’ the summer blockbuster as we know it… a movie that revolutionized movie marketing, the movie industry and movie making itself… a movie that kickstarted one of the greatest and most fascinating director careers in history.
It’s one of the most rewatchable movies of all time, and it never fails to entertain you, to shock you and to keep you on the edge of your seat. I’ve seen my fair share of shark/piranha/etc. flicks – none of them is nearly as great as “Jaws”, none of them features an actor/character more likable than Roy Scheider’s “Chief Brody” or Richard Dreyfuss’ “Matt Hooper, none of them features an actor/character as interesting as Robert Shaw’s “Quint”, none of them features a musical scores as intense as John Williams’ legendary duh-dum, and surely none of them features a scene as intense as the USS Indianapolis scene. “Jaws” is quite perfect!
Also great: “Jaws 2” (1978), a criminally underrated sequel and IMO the second-best shark-themed movie ever made, tense and atmospheric as hell.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Next to “Jaws” and “Duel”, the absolute best and most suspenseful movie Steven Spielberg has ever made. It’s also the best dinosaur-themed ever made, the best movie made in the 90s, and most certainly the greatest in-cinema-experiene of my life. I’ll never forget how packed the theater was, how excited everyone in the audience was, how indescribably amazing it was to see, erm, ‘real dinosaurs’ on the big screen, and how shocked people were when the T-Rex ate the toilet-lawyer, or when ‘Spitter’ spat tech-douchebag Dennis Nedry to death.
Like “Jaws” and actually most of Spielberg’s horror- or science-fiction-themed movies, it’s extremely rewatchable and never fails to give you one helluva time. Every single character is just wonderful, even the ones who are actually assholes. Every dinosaur scene is fan-freaking-tastic, especially the very first T-Rex scene (Waterglass!) and the stunning Velociraptor-Finale. The CGI is, just like in “Terminator 2”, still jaw-dropping and more realistic-looking than most of modern days’ computer effects. John Williams’ music, the cinematography, the direction… *sigh* They don’t make ’em like that anymore…
Also great: “Jurassic World” (2015), you either like it or you don’t like it – I very much like it and think it’s far better, far more entertaining than its predecessing sequels.
2. THE DESCENT
Director: Neil Marshall
“The Descent” is not just one of the greatest horror movies of all time, it’s also one of the very, very few ones that manages to frighten the shit out of me every single time I watch it. I’m not Claustrophobic, but whenever I follow those 6 British gals into the Boreham Caverns, I feel like I AM Claustrophobia. It’s simply insane what director Neil Marshall has created. For almost an hour, “The Descent” delivers so many shocks, fright/panic situations and edge-of-seat suspense sequences, you’re close to a heart attack every single minute. However, just when you think it can’t get worse, the ghastly “Crawlers” appear and all hell breaks loose.
I’m not sure what’s more terrifying about those subterranean creatures: the fact that they look like Johann Heinrich Füssli’s interpretation of Gollum, the fact that their goddamn shrieking can drive you crazy, or the fact they look so fucking humanoid. Whatever it is, I love/hate these blind, pale motherfuckers with a passion. Thank goodness for the invention of ‘girl power’ and the stunning badassness of those six chicks who mercilessly and relentlessly fight the Crawlers, and thank goodness for Neil Marshall who gave us such an unbelievably awesome horror-masterpiece!
Also great: “The Descent Part 2” (2009), an unnecessary, yet surprisingly great sequel, similarly suspenseful, packed to the brim with more ghastly Crawlers.
1. THE THING
Director: John Carpenter
Once again mad props to my mother: “The Thing” was one of the very first proper horror movies I was ever allowed to watch, along “Halloween”, “The Fog” and “Poltergeist”. At the tender age of 8 or 9 (we’re not fully sure), I probably shouldn’t have watched stuff like that, but my mother loved these movies so much, she innocently thought I’d love them too – and glad she did! No nightmares or traumata plagued me. Instead, an instant craving for more, more, more of that magical stuff they call Horror movies came along. The foundation stone for a lifelong horror fandom was laid.
Over the last 25 years since I first saw “The Thing”, my love for it grew and grew and grew… and is still growing because it’s such an unbelievable, such a flawless, such a perfect piece of art. One of the three greatest horror movies ever made (the other two are “Halloween” and “The Shining”), the greatest sci-fi horror movie ever made, and surely the greatest monster movie ever made. Did I forgot to mention that it’s also the greatest remake ever made? The original “The Thing from Another World” (1951) is a neat little flick, but Carpenter’s version is so much better, it almost makes you feel sorry for the original… almost! 😉
Granted, it’s not an average monster movie per se. It basically features all kinds of monster movie elements and trademarks, but not in an typical monster-movie-way, as “The Thing” doesn’t focus on one monster, but rather on a certain creature that can take the form of any living being and what this cretaure does to humans in order to survive. And omg, what it does is simply frightening: a husky gets transformed into a Lovecraftian tentacle-nightmare, a severed slime-oozing head becomes some kind of alien-spider, a man’s chest opens up to be a giant teethed mouth etc. Horrifying, traumatizing, brutal to watch, and SOOO, SOOO AWESOME!
The movie was a box office bomb back then because in 1982 people fell in love with the ugly motherfucker E.T. and weren’t interested in any kind of evil alien invasions. Thank goodness, over the years, the movie became more and more popular, and today it is hailed as one of the greatest horror/sci-fi movies of all time, just like John Carpenter is hailed as one of the greatest genre directors of all time.
Also great: yup, “The Thing from Another World” (1951) is good, but if you wanna see something that is almost as intense as “The Thing”, I highly recommend to watch “Ice” (1993), the 8th episode of the very first “The X-Files” season, a freaking fantastic homage that is just wow!