You may believe you know what a “monster movie” is. It might be a gigantic radioactive insect or an otherworldly beast hunting a bunch of campers stupid enough to wander into its area. After all, “monster” has a bad connotation, but it also exposes the underlying bias of people who use it. In the natural order, a “monster” is just something unusual, scary, and difficult to classify. We constantly dread the unknown.
Here is our list of the 5 best monster movies of all time
Ridley Scott’s homage to claustrophobia crams its blue-collar archetypes into quarters too small to support sanity, and too harsh to survive. Whether it’s Scott’s control as a director or the purity of horror as a cinematic genre, Alien can make Space—capital “S”—feel as claustrophobic as a coffin. After all, tension is a story, and violation is a fact: When the mining vessel Nostromo’s crew is woken from cryogenic hibernation to respond to a distress signal from a seemingly inert planetoid, they will find nothing but unearthly devastation.
From there, things go horribly wrong until the crew realizes what they’ve brought aboard and what their fellow crew members are made of—literally—and a hero emerges: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl, who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (courtesy of H. R. Giger, the master of the phallic grotesque) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking During Ripley’s journey through the ship’s steel organs, Aliens transforms into a psychosexual nightmare, a critique of the essentially masculine process of colonization and a symbolic treatise on assault trauma. If you shout loudly enough, nobody will listen.
John Carpenter’s 1982 reworking of the story as The Thing is one of cinema’s greatest acts of modernization. To add to the tension, Carpenter used revolutionary special effects to develop the mythos and powers of the eponymous monster, a technique that would be replicated six years later in the remake of The Blob. Carpenter’s camera glides across deserted halls, open door frames, and hooded individuals in the icy air.
Who is The Thing, and how did they become The Thing? Carpenter’s visual cues and Bill Lancaster’s writing appear to offer the viewer with most—but never all—of the knowledge, they need to be confident. Rob Bottin achieves the pinnacle of practical effects in The Thing, with the severed head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) growing legs to become a crab-like monster that tries to crawl away. The Thing has become a symbol of pure 1980s horror: Top-notch spectacular effects, a mind-blowing mystery, superb direction, and Kurt Russell/R.J. MacReady as the icing on top.
Jaws is one of Spielberg’s great popular successes, alongside Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished-looking than either, which really works in its favor. The script initially intended for additional sequences starring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the continuously failing animatronic prompted the filmmaker to cut down, emphasizing each appearance’s effect.
In one of the most scream-inducing scenes in film history, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) accidentally throws chum into the sea and sees the beast’s actual “jaws.” Similarly, Quint’s (Robert Shaw) death inspired a whole new sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Finally, interesting people make Jaws a wonderful film, but originality and flawless execution make it a frightening film.
Colin Clive reprises his role as the Doctor, horrified by the devastation his creation has caused. Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), an old colleague, entices Frankenstein back into more grim work by presenting his own horrific findings. A year after his near-immolation at the end of the first film, the monster grows up, initially bonding with an elderly hermit in the woods, before being found by the ambitious Pretorius, who teaches him to talk and turns him against his idealistic (but delusional) creator.
Boris Karloff’s tragic monster is infused with righteous fury, a profound desire for acceptance and anonymity, which he thinks he may find in the eponymous “Bride.” As Poe-Esque crypts where Pretorius sets up a business, the picture is a gothic classic of old-school, mildly campy spooks. A true “mad scientist,” Ernest Thesiger, dominates the stage. The Monster’s first encounter and greeting, amid the skulls of a mass grave, maybe the most famous horror scene of the 1930s.
Jurassic Park was a significant cinematic accomplishment in 1993. It, like Star Wars, showed exponential leaps in visual effects—both real and CGI. Most significant were the CGI advances. Jurassic Park arguably marks the first time in our contemporary AAA Hollywood mythology when an audience could just accept CGI-driven monsters as part of the narrative. Jurassic Park was the spectacle we’ve come to anticipate from a “blockbuster.” Since Jaws, that imprecise phrase has always referred to a kind of film that is intended to amaze us and make our jaws drop. After Jurassic Park, every effects-driven money-maker had to live up to those expectations.