The roaring, venomous monster is something movie-goers both loved and feared through the years. Our love is evident through box office hits, sequels and prequels and, of course, remakes. The questions, however, of the true nature of the movie monster is up for debate. Is the term ‘monster’ only suitable for villains? Or, is a more flexible label within the realm of science fiction? The movie monster has even, frequently, ventured into the realm of comedy. The most contentious question, perhaps, is; to which genre does the creature feature belong?
While producers and writers have the freedom to create, adapt or depict whatever monster they want, limited only by imagination and a special effects budget, it’s the audience who decide whether they love, hate or love to hate the beastly invention. Are we a generation of traditionalists, who favour the familiar King Kong trope? Or are we happy to have our perceptions of the monster challenged? Do we see monster films to be scared? Or to be amused? Regardless of the answers, the amount grossed by each film – or sometimes franchise – shows us quite clearly what works best in the monster movie realm. Factors like budget, advertising, and starring actors all have something to do with a movie’s success of course, but the figures don’t lie (although movie critics might say otherwise…). Generally, the amount a film makes is, at least on the face of it, a good way to determine its popularity and level of enjoyment.
Before we can go on to tell you more about Hollywood’s most popular monsters, we have to first ask – what is a monster? To clarify, we have to decide how the monster is used in a film. It’s a safe bet to say that, in general, monsters are used in films to sustain some sort of fear in the supporting cast. The monster acts as the main focus of a creature feature – it’s what causes conflict and progression. This un-human being comes in and disturbs the peace. It plays on our fear of the unknown, something that could cause mayhem in what we perceive to be our ordinary world. Monsters can be extraterrestrials, genetic mutations, creatures from the deep… They come in varying forms, and are varyingly appreciated by the thrill-seeking audience.
Which monsters were the most successful silver screen hits, spinning out the largest number of sequels to the greatest box office profit? Which monsters do we love best – and why? Through careful calculations thanks to Box Office Mojo, we’ve got the answers.
5. Godzilla ($150 million)
Godzilla, originally a Japanese film made in 1954, became a global phenomenon almost instantly. Two years after the film’s release in Japan, the United States released an edited edition which channeled a string of remakes and sequels. These series of films brought together two of the biggest monsters the world knows – King Kong and Godzilla – which is rumored to be remade in the coming years. With all this excitement and wonder of the enormous monster, it stands to reason that it would land on our list.
The nuclear radiated monster was never so successful as in 2005, when the adaptation of the Japanese monster grossed $136 million at the box office. This creature feature is anticipated to make more soon, with the latest remake due to be released in May. The 2014 edition is, in fact, said to be ‘an epic retelling’. The love of the monster is evident and has spread a mysterious appreciation. Needless to say, Godzilla is, like the alien before it, a classic, mayhem causing monster and falls as number four on our list.
4. Gremlins ($194 million)
Oddly enough, the Gremlin films have become known as that odd mix of family film and horror-comedy. The original film has a distinct black comedy twist and looks at the Gremlins as more evil monsters than comedic creatures. Directed by Joe Dante and written by Chris Columbus, these monsters may be small in size but huge in profit. The films first film came to a huge $153 million, and had something of a cult following, but the 1990 sequel came in at a comparatively disappointing $41 million total lifetime gross.
What’s interesting to note about these adorable monsters is that, unlike Godzilla and Alien, they don’t have one moral code. This is not a film about humans versus the monsters, it’s rather a film about morality and has a divide among the evil gremlins and Gizmo, seen as the good gremlin. The two films have become classics because of their interesting take on the monster phenomenon and, of course, the black comedy that unsettles but humors us. As well as the impressive, now quaint animatronics.
3. King Kong ($275 million)
With the classic final line – “it was beauty that killed the beast” – the audience is left with a sense of the same extreme confusion the monster is feeling. King Kong is credited as being one of the biggest and well known movie monsters of all time yet the film asks, is he a monster? With Peter Jackson’s hugely popular 2005 remake, the film explores this even more fervently than other editions, focusing on the odd pairing between Kong and Ann Dawson, an actress who was originally sacrificed to him. The conundrum of what it means to be a monster is one of the main reasons why the film works.
Kong has been subject to 3 large-scale remakes or spin-offs – the most successful being the 2005 version, which alone grossed $218 million – bringing the franchise total gross to over $275 million. The 1933 original was seen as a ground-breaking stop motion picture with scenes that will always remain in our minds – the most famous being when Kong climbs the Empire State Building. Although King Kong is fun, adventurous and, at times, harrowing, it is also a film that seriously looks at what it means to be a monster. The final words remain and reverberate in our confused minds.
2. Aliens ($388 million)
The Alien franchise, from Alien in 1979 to Aliens Vs. Predator – Requiem in 2007, is one of the most successful creature feature franchises of all time. The original ‘Alien’, directed by Ridley Scott, is without question a fixture of the horror genre and has become an established classic among horror fanatics. The 1979 film introduced us to the infamous spaghetti scene, in which Ian Holm’s character had an alien gruesomely burst out of his chest. As well as this, we were shown the evolution of these aliens. The egg is laid by the Queen and the egg, once hatched, latches onto a human’s face, thereby becoming known as the Facehugger. After some time, the Facehuggers die and human continues with life as if normal. Until, however, the monsters bursts out of the humans chest, ergo the Chestburster. The alien then grows and becomes a fully functioning – and evil we might add – alien or, as this film is marketed, monster. The woman who continuously survives and fights these sinister beings is Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.
The original film attracted the attention of James Cameron who directed the sequel and David Fincher who was to direct the third. Although Fincher’s movie did not do as well financially, the first and second exploded in the box office. These films helped the franchise become what it is today, while the highest grossing movie of the franchise so far was the first sequel, ‘Aliens’, which grossed $85 million in 1986.
1. Jurassic Park ($812 million)
What’s scarier than a monster which shows no mercy? Much like Alien and Godzilla, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are nothing but determined – determined to chomp away at the humans around them. Jurassic Park, based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, was taken on and directed by Steven Spielberg. What made these creatures so terrifying – besides from the many frightening scenes – was the use of CGI that made us fear a dinosaur was so common to Earth that we might see one on our street.
There’s no question about the dinosaurs moralities – they are animals, they are monsters, they act on what they know. The film expanded into a trilogy and a fourth is in the works. To date, the films have made a huge $812 million plus, making the reanimated dinosaurs the highest-grossing monsters on our list. Although not the biggest monsters in size, Jurassic Park’s fear factor comes from the idea of being trapped on an island with terrifying, carnivorous creatures from another time.
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