Somewhere between horror and science fiction, often with a splattering of action, adventure, mystery and humor, comes the beloved Creature Feature. It’s a staple genre, feverishly loved by subsection of the movie-going public seeking unnerving, horrific or silly entertainment, not bound by imagination or practicality.
Monster movies can range from the campy and dumb, to the serious and tense, where our beastly aggressor is the highlight of a film causing mischief and mayhem, chaos and death and destruction. These are films also often best enjoyed in a large crowd and on the big screen. They’re not necessarily always the things of nightmares, but often a part of childlike wonder.
They’ve grown across the decades, from claymation to puppets, and now CGI and motion-capture; they are things coming from the ground, coming from space, and some born from human misdeeds. We watch with curiosity and joy, embracing the absurdity at times and at others, allowing a dramatic film to try and ground us in a new reality. Ultimately, it’s just plain fun to watch movie monsters wreak havoc.
For these purposes, though, we’re not talking about those things that are, or have been real. That is, we’re going to omit sharks or dinosaurs (sorry Jaws and Jurassic Park), though absolutely are those things a ton of fun to watch. Those creatures are real. Thus, we look that those crafted from creative minds, those monsters that are inventive amalgamations of those predators and prehistoric beasts that give us pause and instill awe. Here are the top 14 most extraordinary movie monsters of all time.
14. Pinhead, Hellraiser
Across nine Hellraiser films, spurred by Clive Barker’s impressive directorial debut in 1987, the cenobites are the stuff of nightmares. Pinhead, the aptly named leader, is the most notable of the group, with, well, pins all over his head. He’s also got a mutilated body, and dabbles in sadomasochism, so it’s pretty safe to say he’s irredeemable all around. However, all these grotesque demons are staggeringly unnerving and creepy, part of the reason they’ve been brought back time and time again on the big screen.
13. Clover, Cloverfield
It takes a little while to see the full monster in J.J. Abrams’ 2008 found-footage thriller Cloverfield, but when we do, it really does not disappoint. New York City is being ravaged by something on New Year’s Eve, and a band of twenty-something year olds are documenting the chaos throughout. The creature, dubbed Clover by the production crew, is humbly meant to be an American version of Godzilla, and while it doesn’t have its iconic status, Cloverfield is still a tense and impressive monster-disaster film.
12. The Kraken, Clash of the Titans
The energetic and absurd remake of Clash of the Titans was exactly what it needed to be: filled with monsters. After fighting giant scorpions, a super human beast and Medusa, Perseus sets off on Pegasus to challenge that biggest creature of all: the Kraken. In the original, the Kraken, and everything in fact, were clay-made, and while that was an iconic film, this latest version shows the Kraken as its best. Emerging from the water, the massive beast with giant tentacles and rows of teeth gets a worthy, triumphant reveal (with the help of Liam Neeson, of course).
11. Pale Man, Pan’s Labyrinth
Even for those who haven’t yet seen the brilliant Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic film Pan’s Labyrinth, there is still likely one image burned in their head. It’s that of the Pale Man, an elastically-skinned creature who desires young flesh and most notably, has eyeballs in his palms. Although this inventive figure isn’t the biggest part of the film, it is certainly unforgettable nonetheless, especially when he raises his sinewy fingers in front of his face and stares down a potential victim. Eerie, to say the least.
10. Graboid, Tremors
This great creature feature of the year 1990, starring Kevin Bacon, Tremors introduced to us some fantastical, giant worms. The film was perfectly blended, with parts of it being campy, and other parts being just plain cheesy; and while Bacon got to be this awesome cavalier hero, it was these sand worms that brilliantly stole the whole show. They would even go on to get a few more movies of their own, but the idea of having giant creatures roaming around underneath your foot is always spine-chilling.
9. Dren, Splice
One of the most fascinating, unnerving, and truly unforgettable (for better or worse for some) science fiction films of the 21st century, is undoubtedly Splice. It follows two cool scientists (the exotic Sarah Polley and equally exotic Adrien Brody) who break the rules and create offspring from their own DNA spliced with animals. They raise the girl (called Dren), but she matures quickly, and weird things start to happen. Dren is humanoid: she features a wide forehead, arched back, bizarre legs, wings, and even a tail. And then things get really, really uncomfortable bizarre.
8. Bioraptor, Pitch Black
Pitch Black has become known as a film that would spin off into vehicles for Vin Diesel, and so it’s often easy to forget that this was a worthy, small-time horror film, and Diesel wasn’t exactly the headliner (and it was a solid role for him). Stranded on a planet that is undergoing an eclipse, the survivors of a plane crash learn that with the darkness come hordes of winged, tenacious, meat-eaters. This is a case where a movie successfully teases the viewer, giving glimpses here and there of the creatures, often in quick cuts and in a flurry of activity. Once fully revealed, the monsters were simple and creepy, incredibly deadly and really, completely unstoppable.
Because Godzilla was a product of nuclear tests, and thus not a natural creature, he is included on this list; however, he is basically a giant lizard, so not particularly extraordinary. He’s just awesome. The legendary Japanese creation has seen many different forms on the screen, from the iconic rubber suit to the putrid American representation from Roland Emmerich. Godzilla is probably the most popular on this list, and one with an actual personality, and many would agree that the most recent film iteration finally did the scaly beast proper justice.
6. Mutant, Sector 7
Certainly not among the greatest of monster movies, or most well known, this 2011 South Korean thriller boasts a terrific creature when it finally appears. On an oil rig in the Pacific, a scientist has done some seedy things in trying to create an oil substitute. Of course, this specimen that looks to produce fuel, breaks free and sets on those poor souls left on the rig. What is finally revealed is something super creepy: it’s a mutant monster, more beast-like than sea-based, but apparently fast and vicious. It can also submerge in the ocean and be lit on fire, and that’s all fine.
5. The Thing
John Carpenter earns a spot on the list with his hand at creating a terrifying alien. Now, sure, the creature in The Thing is after all, a shape-shifter, so it’s hard to exactly pinpoint what it is. However, there are more than enough moments in this iconic sci-fi film where the alien reveals itself as unforgettably horrible. The tentacled, slimy creature abounds with teeth and claws without any seem semblance of a head – until of course, it takes a human one for its own. While throughout “the Thing” is disturbing, perhaps the indelible image from the 1982 film is when it transforms, while still possessing the face of one its prey.
4. Sea Monster, Deep Rising
Campy horror meets action and adventure in the exceptionally-satisfying movie, Deep Rising. An ocean liner loses power and is attacked by something, as a group of mercenaries and a sarcastic captain descend on the ship. Blood and guts are everywhere, setting the perfect mood as people get picked off one by one by the creature’s deadly tentacles. It’s only these appendages, which each have mouths at the end for eating, that we see throughout the film. That is, until a terrific finale, where our hero goes face-to-face with the incredibly unforgettable monster.
3. Mutant, The Host
There are two things in particular that The Host does great, that creature features often avoid, or don’t do well at all. Firstly, this film from South Korea is a tense family drama with heavy political overtones – in other words, it’s not just about a monster. Secondly, we bear witness to the amphibious creature early on and throughout the film. And it’s not just on some rainy, night. No, the swift, slimy creature abducts a little girl on a sunny afternoon while running through a park, sending people running and screaming. Now that’s how to start a movie.
In all its forms, from acid-dripping adult to chest-bursting baby, and even the nimble face-huggers, the vision of extraterrestrials in Ridley Scott’s epic (and explored later by James Cameron) are horrifying and unforgettable. They are enhanced of course, by a great story and a tense atmosphere; Alien is perhaps the best creature feature around, while Aliens is a fantastic, blow-out sequel. The creatures have made it back to the screen several times, and while these stories may not be half the film that its predecessors are, but they still remain iconic and scary (and probably always will).
It’s hard to beat the Predator, both in terms of monster iconography and well, literally beating it dead. One of the most famous villains in movie history isn’t even human. Predator, with his dreadlocks, nasty mug and killer suit, has endured on the big screen since its debut over 25 years ago, this human-like alien hunter that is deadly with and without its enhanced armor. Like others on this list, what makes a monster so extraordinary is its ability to elicit sympathy, and Predator is certainly a figure that you’re not entirely rooting against.
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