The monster movie genre never seems to get old. While you may think that every conceivable type of monster movie has been made, it is never long before Hollywood springs a new one on us or reboots one of the classics from the past, as they recently did the new recent King Kong and Godzilla films. Not to mention the success of the Netflix original series Stranger Things – updating the classic monster genre while at the same time playing on people’s nostalgia for the ’80s.
While many monster movies over the years have ended up being giant cheese-fests, when done right, they can be scary, suspenseful, exciting, and even humorous. Ultimately, keeping people entertained and waiting for more is the goal. With that in mind and in celebration of The Invisible Man’s theatrical release, here are 23 superb monster movies everyone should see at least once.
23. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Yeah, we’re starting things off with a comedy-horror musical. The show started as an off-Broadway theater production but was turned into a feature film by director Frank Oz in 1986. It also starred some big names of comedy, with Rick Moranis and Elle Greene starring, along with Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, John Candy, and Bill Murray, all making appearances of various importance.
The movie is about a failing flower shop in a rundown part of New York City, which is saved when Seymour (Moranis) decides to display his unique plant in the store window — a strange Venus Flytrap-like creature that is named Audrey II. Seymour soon learns that Audrey II needs human blood to survive, and makes a series of morally questionable decisions while he reaps the rewards (and attracts the romantic interest of his co-worker crush).
In the end, Audrey II grows out of control, eating people whole and threatening to take over the world when it reproduces into saplings. There are two endings — a happy one which was attached to the theatrical release and a doomsday one that was the director’s cut. Frankly, both are pretty great. Audrey II definitely earns a place on this list of great movie monsters.
22. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth is less of a horror movie than most movies on this list. It’s more of a dramatic fairy tale, coupled with a 40s Spanish political rebellion. Look, it’s a weird movie. We know that. But it’s also brilliantly directed and won numerous awards, including three Oscars.
The marquee monster in Pan’s Labyrinth is the Pale Man, the very character Ofelia meets while completing the second of her three tasks. This creepy looking thing is described as a “child eater,” and Ofelia foolishly awakens him by eating grapes in his lair. Although she escapes, two fairies that accompanied her end up as the Pale Man’s dinner, the Pale Man may only have a small part in the film, but the disturbing image of his eyeballs in the palms of his hands has haunted audiences for much longer.
21. Alien and Aliens (1979 and 1986)
Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien spawned an entire franchise, including three direct sequels, the Alien vs. Predator spin-offs, and a new prequel series. That’s not even mentioning the multiple comic books, video games, novels, and collectible items that also appear after the success of the first two Alien movies.
The first two movies are the best of the bunch, which is why they the ones highlighted in this list, but the Xenomorph is now a classic monster. For those of you arguing that it’s not a monster since it’s an alien, we say this: does it really matter? The combination of face-hugging, chest-bursting, an extra protruding mouth (with more sharp teeth), and acidic green blood created a terrifying creature that has haunted the nightmares of movie audiences for generations.
Between the deadly Xenomorph, and the badass Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) trying to stop it, Alien and Aliens are a worthy addition to our list of monster movies — even if only on a technicality.
20. The Blob (1958)
Although The Blob was remade in 1988, that version was a disaster both critically and financially. For this entry, we’re going back to the original 1958 version for a monster movie that was built for the drive-in. Seriously, it was part of a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space that was explicitly distributed by Paramount Pictures for drive-ins, which were a popular trending pastime for teenagers and young adults in the late 50s.
The movie itself marked the big screen of Steve McQueen (who would go on to bigger and better things) as the main character Steve Andrews, a teenager who sees a mysterious object crash land in rural Pennsylvania, which contains the all-consuming Blob. The strange creature attacks a diner and a theater, before finally being stopped by carbon dioxide fire extinguishers — The Blob hates the cold, it turns out.
It’s a silly B-movie, for sure, but the special effects and color film were quite good for the 50s. The Blob is now considered one of cinema’s most classic and iconic monsters.
19. Colossal (2016)
This is a monster movie with a twist. While the world panics over a terrifying creature wreaking havoc in South Korea, an alcoholic single woman from New England (Anne Hathaway) discovers that she is somehow controlling the monster’s every move. When her friend Oscar attempts to help, he manifests a giant robot in South Korea, creating a strange Pacific Rim vibe, but with human puppeteers.
It’s a weird tale of alcoholism, relationships, jealousy, and emotional manipulation. And monsters. Don’t forget about the monsters. It’s hard to peg Colossal into just one film genre since it’s part sci-fi, part romantic comedy, part black comedy, and part classic monster movie. Audiences loved it when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. We think you’ll like it too.
18. The Descent (2005)
The Descent came out of nowhere in 2005 to become one of the year’s best horror movies. The concept was simple enough — a bunch of friends get lost during a spelunking adventure and encounter strange, pale, humanoid creatures. While the monsters themselves are undoubtedly creepy and looking to tear apart human flesh while they eat their victims alive, there’s more to this movie than just scary creatures.
The combination of a clever script and excellent directing by Neil Marshall (who did both jobs) produces a movie filled with relatable characters, realistic dialogue, and a ton of intense moments that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats. It’s also worth pointing out that North American audiences actually saw a different ending than the rest of the world. The UK (and other places) received a much darker ending, one that is worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it yet.
17. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
When done right, comedy horror movies are downright incredible. Few films have blended the genres as perfectly as 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The undeniable nod to previous films like Evil Dead and Friday the 13th is right there in the name of the movie.
Since this is a list of monsters, let’s discuss the various monsters who show up in this movie. The Ancient Ones demand an annual sacrifice, so a mysterious team lures a bunch of attractive teens to a rigged cabin, with deadly monsters ready to pop out of every crack. There are zombies, werewolves, aliens, reanimated serial killers, evil clowns, creepy dolls, giant snakes, the Mummy, a Sasquatch, witches, vampires, a cyclops, a giant alligator, ghosts, the Kraken, and dozens of others. And of course, the Mer-Man.
Most of the damage is done by the Zombie Redneck Torture Family (aka the Buckners), but when a mass release of monsters is triggered, chaos reigns supreme. The Ancient Ones are represented by a giant hand, that presumably takes out the entire human race once the ritual fails. Talk about a twist ending!
16. The Mummy (1999)
It’s hard to pin down an exact favorite movie about everyone’s favorite Egyptian monster because there are dozens. So we’re lumping them all together into one. From the classic comedy Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy to the very strange Bubba Ho-Tep, to the five (five!) different movies called The Mummy between 1911 and now. Plus those Scorpion King spin-offs. It’s hard to keep track of them all.
There’s something alluring about a mummy. Typically, it’s an ancient member of Egyptian royalty, wrapped in clean bandages, and placed inside of a tomb (or pyramid) as a final resting place. And because scientists and treasure hunters can’t help themselves from disturbing said tombs, the mummy awakens and spreads their curse.
The most recent film attempt was 2017’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. It was the first installment of Universal Pictures’ new “Dark Universe” series, which is supposed to eventually include Frankenstein, Jekyll/Hyde, Wolf Man, Creature of the Black Lagoon, and many more. Sounds ambitious, so we’ll have to wait and see how this shared cinematic universe plays out.
15. Swamp Thing (1982)
The Swamp Thing was one of horror legend Wes Craven’s earliest movies — released two years before A Nightmare on Elm Street hit theaters and made everyone afraid to fall asleep. Although some have dismissed it for being a bit cheesy, Swamp Thing remains a classic monster movie.
The story, loosely based on the comic book series of the same name, involves a scientist who is tragically transformed into a gross, green, slimy monster while trying to escape an attack. The twist here is that the Swamp Thing is trying to help the good guys in this movie, rather than hunting them.
The film is a bit campy, but isn’t that precisely what you want from an 80s monster movie? It has action, betrayal, and a classic comic book battle for a secret formula. A sequel followed in 1989, but it tanked at the box office. A TV series featuring the Swamp Thing aired on USA Network from 1990 to 1993 and more closely followed Craven’s original dark tone.
14. Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954)
Here’s a classic monster movie that inspired multiple sequels and spin-offs, and was part of the early 50s 3D movie trend despite being shot entirely in black and white. Director Jack Arnold introduced audiences to the creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, and the now-iconic Gill-Man.
The monster itself is one of an ancient undiscovered species, deep in the Amazon jungle. Although Gill-Man ends up killing many of the humans trying to capture it for further study, this film does an excellent job of portraying the strange fishy man as the victim, forcing audiences to feel sympathy for the hideous creature. After all, he’s just defending himself and his home from hostile invaders.
Multiple sequels, spin-offs, and remakes have been made about the creature ever since. Notably, the 2017 Oscar-winning movie The Shape of Water is seen as a direct tribute to the Creature of the Black Lagoon, even if the two are not officially connected in any way.
13. The Evil Dead (1981)
Does The Evil Dead trilogy truly count as a monster movie? We internally debated the fact for a while, but ultimately decided that yes, Deadites and Kandarian Demons (not to be confused with outright zombies) count as monsters. While the larger evil spirit in Sam Raimi’s classic horror is usually shown as just some kind of unseen mystical spirit, the classic “cabin in the woods” movie features plenty of monsters — including the “bad twin” of hero Ash Williams.
Notable monsters from the movies include Ash’s sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, and his severed right hand (which he lops off with a chainsaw when it becomes infected with evil). Also, there’s a creepy old demon hiding in the cellar and, at one point, an army of tiny evil Ashes. Plus another witchy monster in the pit when Ash returns in Army of Darkness.
These films helped launch the careers of Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi, and are a beloved trio to horror fans everywhere. The monsters might not have been as giant as Godzilla or as deadly as the Cloverfield beast, but we say they still count.
12. The Mist (2007)
One of the better adaptations of a Stephen King work was 2007’s The Mist, directed by Frank Darabont (who today is best known for developing The Walking Dead for TV before being kicked off the team). Before focusing on the undead, though, Darabont specialized in adapting Stephen King’s books for the big screen. He is the guy who directed much-loved movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. In 2007, he directed a film based on the 1980 King novella The Mist, starring Marcia Gay Hayden, Thomas Jane, and Laurie Holden. It turned out to be good.
The plot is about a strange mist that spreads across a small New England town following a thunderstorm, bringing with it several sinister creatures that attack the locals. It traps a group of residents in a grocery store, a situation that eventually devolves into a Lord of the Flies scenario, where we see how fragile and violent humans can be under extreme stress. This movie also has a tremendous and rather depressing ending. Critics loved this film when it was released. To date, it is one of the best-reviewed Stephen King movies.
11. Tremors (1990)
Tremors was a surprise hit when it was released in 1990 because it shrewdly combines comedy, action, and horror into one movie. Starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as a couple of handymen working in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, they soon discover giant worm-like monster creatures burrowing under the ground of a nearby town and threatening the community’s inhabitants.
Joining forces with the locals, it is up to Kevin Bacon to save the day – the only catch being that he and the other people in the community cannot step on the ground, or they risk being swallowed whole by the Graboids. Instead, they have to stay high up on rooftops and use pole vaults to jump from building to building, or rock to rock. Exciting, funny, and unpredictable, Tremors is a real treat. It consistently impresses with its unpredictability and offbeat humor. This movie inspired four direct-to-video sequels and a Tremors television series, but most of them are entirely skippable.
10. Pacific Rim (2013)
A sci-fi monster film that pits humans in giant robot suits fighting off equally giant monsters — how could you possibly go wrong? Director Guillermo del Toro has made his name with movies such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth but took his game to the next level with film Pacific Rim. It’s an unapologetic popcorn blockbuster about a group of humans who use “Jaegers” (gigantic humanoid mechs) to battle the Kaiju, colossal monsters that have emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Intentionally big, dumb, and fun, Pacific Rim nods and winks to the many Japanese monster movies that inspired it, and never ceases to be anything less than exciting. Significant special effects and snappy dialogue help move this film along at a brisk pace and keep the audience glued to their seats throughout. One of the better modern monster movies. A 2018 sequel called Pacific Rim: Uprising followed, with new characters and new adventures.
9. Gremlins (1984)
Billed as a black comedy, Gremlins is funny, at times scary, and quite gross in several scenes. And it is, for all intents and purposes, a monster movie. The Gremlins are a group of menacing (though small) monsters who terrify the inhabitants of the quaint, all-American town of Bedford Falls. The teenage heroes in the movie have to follow a set of pre-existing rules to stop the Gremlins and save their village.
Set at Christmas time, the movie was directed by Joe Dante (Men in Black) and contains several sly references to the film It’s A Wonderful Life – right down to the name of the town. While not a movie about huge monsters, Gremlins still succeeds in capturing the fun and spirit of classic 1950s monster movies such as The Blob and I Was A Teenage Werewolf.
8. Cloverfield (2008)
Cloverfield is the type of movie that grows on audiences over time. The 2008 found-footage monster film produced by J.J. Abrams is the type of film that people enjoy more and more as time goes by, and a film they frequently recommend to friends and family. The movie, which is presented as home camcorder footage ala The Blair Witch Project, follows six New Yorkers as they flee from a gigantic monster that attacks the city while they are having a farewell party for a friend.
The film was well-reviewed by critics and grossed $170.8 million at the box office on a $25 million budget, making it a sizable financial hit. The found-footage technique works excellent in this movie. It helps the low budget film succeed, as it enables the filmmakers to conceal much of what the monsters look like, and only reveal scary snapshots through shaky camera angles. Like other movies on this list, Cloverfield is also a lot of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It spawned some sequels in what now called the Cloververse, the best of which is 10 Cloverfield Lane.
7. The Thing (1982)
A remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks movie The Thing From Another World, this 1982 horror movie by director John Carpenter is arguably superior to the original and perhaps the best film Carpenter ever made. The movie is about a group of scientists at a remote Antarctic science station who have to survive after a shape-shifting alien monster crash lands near them and begins to assume their identity and kill them off in the process.
Starring a never-better Kurt Russell, this is a great sci-fi monster film that is genuinely scary and tense. Yet when it was released, The Thing was dismissed as a cheap Alien knock off and viewed as nothing more than a B-movie. While The Thing found an audience on home video during the 1980s, it was forgotten again, other than a terrible remake in 2011. Now it rightfully holds a place as a cult classic among sci-fi nerds.
6. Jaws (1975)
The movie that is credited with being the first true summer blockbuster, Jaws is one of the best movies featuring a real-world monster that we all know – the Great White Shark. Part horror movie and part adventure film, Jaws tells the story of a menacing shark that is eating beachgoers in the seaside town of Amity, and the three men who set out to find and kill the deadly fish.
While Jaws features first-rate performances by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, the real star of the movie is the massive shark itself. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is a magnificent example of suspense, excitement, and a satisfying payoff at the end. It also involved great point-of-view filmmaking and was the first big hit of Spielberg’s career. Jaws became a cultural phenomenon when released in 1975, and it spawned three sequels. While the sequels never lived up to the original, Jaws continues to reverberate in popular culture.
5. The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum got a lot of critical applause for his portrayal of scientist Seth Brundle in director David Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly. The movie is a combination of sci-fi and horror, as Goldblum’s character has his DNA accidentally fused with that of a common housefly during a teleportation mishap. He then slowly disintegrates into a larger than life insect. The twist on this monster movie is that the main character morphs into the monster.
The movie is about Goldblum’s transformation, in this case, to a human-sized fly. The special effects are gruesome and gross, but Goldblum’s grounded performance makes the far fetched situation seem strangely plausible, and he manages to make audiences care as his character gradually becomes less and less human. In the hands of a lesser director, this movie could have descended into farce, but Cronenberg makes sure that it all works incredibly well. He holds the film together with his directorial talent.
4. The Wolf Man (1941)
Written by Curt Siodmak, The Wolf Man is about a man named Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) who returns to Wales after the death of his brother. Shortly after his arrival, Talbot is attacked by a wolf, which he ends up killing with his silver walking cane. Talbot soon learns that the wolf he killed was actually a werewolf and because he was bitten during the attack, he would soon become one as well.
The Wolf Man is, without a doubt, the most famous werewolf movie of all-time, but it wasn’t Universal’s first. In 1935, six years before the release of The Wolf Man, Stuart Walker’s Werewolf in London made its debut. The film wasn’t well-received, but some critics feel Henry Hull’s take was superior to that of Chaney Jr., but we respectfully disagree. Chaney’s preparation and dedication to the role is a significant reason why Hollywood still looks at his performance as the blueprint.
3. Frankenstein (1931)
Based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name, James Whale’s gothic monster movie Frankenstein (1931), starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, and Boris Karloff remains one of the most famous horror films ever made. The story is about a young scientist named Henry Frankenstein and his assistant Fritz, who dig up various corpses and piece them together in an attempt to create life.
Back in 1991, Whale’s iconic monster movie was recognized by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and as a result, was selected for preservation in the United National Film Registry. Frankenstein’s monster has now been featured in dozens of movies and television shows, ranging from family-friendly comedies to revamped horror tales.
2. King Kong (1933)
It wasn’t the first monster movie made by Hollywood, but 1933’s King Kong set a standard and expectation with audiences that directors today are still struggling to live up to. The first King Kong was an entirely original monster movie – one that played on people’s emotions as well as their fears. The giant ape in this movie is both fearsome and tender. He handles actress Fay Wray delicately even as he destroys downtown New York.
While the special effects may seem dated now, they were a triumph back in 1933. Audiences had never seen special effects like the ones in this movie. This film set a new standard in stop-motion animation and helped bring King Kong to cinematic life. Nearly 100 years after its release, King Kong retains a grandeur about it despite the antiquated visuals. This was, and remains, a truly epic film. When King Kong climbs up the Empire State Building, swatting away fighter planes like flies, it is a classic moment for both monster movies and the entire cinema industry.
1. Godzilla (1954)
Probably the only monster who could outdo King Kong is Godzilla. And here we go to the 1954 original. Full of ironic and deliberately cheesy special effects that include dinky cars and Japanese people screaming at the sky and running through the streets, Godzilla remains a parable for the end of World War II and the then dawn of the nuclear age.
In the movie, a nuclear dinosaur that resembles a skyscraper-sized T-Rex stomps all over downtown Tokyo, replaying the horrors of the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meant as a message movie, Godzilla is the ultimate monster movie in that the creature is meant to be a manifestation of the monster within mankind, who let loose the nuclear weapons that devastated Japan at the end of World War II.
The bad special effects and campy dialogue don’t matter much because this movie is really about the message it sends to audiences. While the effects may seem amateurish, the message is surprisingly sophisticated. Of course, many sequels, spin-offs, and remakes have been made throughout the years — in both English and Japanese — making Godzilla one of the biggest movie franchises ever.