The 50 best monster movies

We list our favourite cinematic stalkers, growlers, slashers and biters

Our biggest challenge in constructing this list was deciding exactly what constituted a ‘monster’. We resolved early on to rule out zombies, which are basically just vitally challenged people, and vampires, largely because that genre’s good for a whole separate feature on its own, and we wanted to make room for all the killer rabbits, killer plants, killer fish and killer dessert foods this list demanded. Friendly, sentient aliens like ET and Chewbacca were also left out, and we’ll call anyone who disagrees with that a racist.

50

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Director: William F Claxton

That rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide, it’ll do you up a treat
‘Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way, and we desperately need your help!’ Yes, narrowly beating out ‘Frogs’ and ‘Grizzly’ to take the coveted No 50 spot is this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bunnysploitation classic. You may assume there’s nothing particularly terrifying about rabbits, but that’s exactly what Janet Leigh and Mr Burns’s fetish icon Rory Calhoun thought until those twitchy-nosed, floppy-eared hell-fiends started taking over their town, leaving destruction in their...holy shit, that’s Bones McCoy with a handlebar moustache! – Tom Huddleston

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49

Nightbreed (1992)

Director: Clive Barker

Superfreak!
After his success with the inimitable ‘Hellraiser’ (see No 19), it was inevitable that erstwhile novelist Clive Barker would secure a deal to direct again. Unfortunately, Barker’s experiences on ‘Nightbreed’ – intended, in the words of its author, to be ‘the “Star Wars” of monster movies’ – was a far less happy one. Recut and dumped on a disinterested public, ‘Nightbreed’ remains a shadow of Barker’s original vision. Or so he claims: with the Director’s Cut still locked in the vaults, there’s no way to tell if there’s more to the film than a lot of pissed-off mutants hanging about in a cave. Given Barker’s subsequent work as a writer – including ‘Coldheart Canyon’, surely one of the most awful books ever written – it could be unwatchable. But we’re still keen to find out. – Tom Huddleston

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48

Legend (1985)

Director: Ridley Scott

Up jumped the devil…
...or did he? It’s emblematic of the confusion that runs through Ridley Scott’s fairytale misfire that we’re never truly sure if Tim Curry’s camp, petulant archfiend is yer actual Devil, a minor Dark Lord or just some horny git in a cape. Whatever his persuasion, he’s utterly captivating, and quite the best thing about a film that otherwise betrays little understanding of the fantasy genre. While the visuals are especially sumptuous, the blithering script is no more than a clutch of clichés and even an actor with the innate vivacity and overarching wit of Curry has his work cut out with lines like 'Oh, Mother Night! Fold your dark arms about me. Protect me in your black embrace.' – Adam Lee Davies

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47

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Director: Steve Sekely

Danger: heavy plant crossing
As anyone who watched TV this Christmas knows only too well, the definitive version of John Wyndham’s template-setting apocalyptic masterpiece has yet to emerge. The reasons for this are manifold, but one stands out: there’s just no way to make plants scary. Just ask M Night Shyamalan. This British effort makes a decent fist of it, particularly in the eerie early scenes in which the entire global population is blinded by a convincingly psychedelic meteoric light show. But once the real villains show up, things fall to pieces: okay, they’re eight feet tall, homicidal and blessed with a multiplicity of variegated blood-red suckers. But they’re still, you know, plants. – Tom Huddleston

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46

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Director: Don Chaffey

Just eat the kid already
A late missive from the Disney animation studio’s all-too-brief ‘we get high and we don’t care who knows it’ period (see also ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Robin Hood’), ‘Pete’s Dragon’ remained the gold standard for live action/cartoon hybrids until ‘Roger Rabbit’ stole the crown a decade later. Taking a rigidly Baudrillardian approach to the tale of a sprightly, imaginative lad and his giant lizard buddy, the film toys with existentialist, postmodern ideas of self-constructed reality. Man. – Tom Huddleston

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45

Dragonslayer (1981)

Director: Matthew Robbins

Not to be confused with ‘Dragonheart’, ‘Dragonlance’ or ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’
Before Peter Jackson gave Sword and Sorcery (for it is they) an irresistibly sexy sheen, this 1981 effort took a proudly cod-medieval stomp through damsel/dragon territory, becoming the lodestone of dark-tinged family fantasy. In a world, the trailer might have intoned, where the dung hovel is the standard unit of social housing, a boy on the brink of manhood is all that stands between a great fire-breathing beast and a rather fey cadre of aristocrats bent on offering up their virgins to the monster. Not an ideal arrangement, but one that worked well enough until Sir Ralph Richardson’s permanently flummoxed wizard turns have-a-go pensioner and sets up a nice revenge saga for his young apprentice. Richardson steals the film despite his early immolation, but the Industrial Light & Magic special effects come a close second and, nearly thirty years on, have an ethereal charm that CGI-drenched descendants like Beowulf can't match. Disney's graphic mash-up sequel, 'Pete’s Dragon Slayer', was pulled after test screenings left young audiences in states of extreme distress. – Paul Fairclough

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44

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Director: Jim O’Connolly

The movie that time forgot
Seemingly inspired by the kind of logic-free games enjoyed by eight-year-old boys, this rarely seen gem pits cowboys against dinosaurs in a stark New Mexico. It was based on an unrealised project of King Kong creator Willis O'Brien, and the great man's protege Ray Harryhausen lent eerie life to a host of prehistoric gobblers as a two-bit Wild West show discovers a herd of tiny prehistoric horses in a remote desert valley. Unfortunately for the dollar-eyed cowpokes, the little equine wonders are the prey of the 'Gwangi', a ravenous Allosaurus intent on bringing Jurassic mayhem to the Old West. – Paul Fairclough

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43

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Directors: Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman

Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
Remember when low-budget horror movies were more interested in wit and invention than flat-out gore? When Toxie ruled, his straight-to-video adventures capturing the hearts, minds and guts of a nation of splat-crazy horror heads? Well, those days are long gone, but their sweet memory remains: a time when a carload of drunk disco-jocks could reverse over a kid’s head for kicks, when an extra could poorly conceal his supposedly ripped-off arm under his camo jacket without anyone batting an eyelid, when a grotesque, musclebound nuclear-wastoid could have rough sex with a bubble-permed blonde and audiences just went with it. Halcyon days. – Tom Huddleston

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42

Willow (1988)

Director: Ron Howard

Because two heads are better than one
Doesn’t the two-headed monster in ‘Willow’ resemble a pair of generic 'Spitting Image' puppets balanced on the end of two camouflage sleeping bags? For a kids’ film (c’mon nerds, it is!) it’s a pretty scary beastie to plonk just prior to the final good (dwarf) versus evil (old woman) showdown, especially when it chooses to wolf down some of the extras between fiery breaths. It’s kind of a shame that a mild flesh wound – okay, a sword through the brain – causes its head to explode (a nagging physiological shortfall if ever there was one) but any monster that allows you to use the term ‘straddled by a stop-motion Kilmer’ in your write-up has got to be worth its SFX-money-shot salt. – David Jenkins

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41

Swamp Thing (1982)

Director: Wes Craven

It’s not easy bein’ green
You know that green pulp you get when you leave spinach boiling for too long? Well, that appears to have been the inspiration behind embittered bogman Swamp Thing, originally created for the pages of DC comics to suggest that when we discuss the environment, we must consider hideous mutated avenging vegetable men as well as majestic redwoods and fresh bunches of azaleas. Out to save the quagmire of effluent pond weed he calls home from evil government agents, Swampie made his way into two films: 1982’s beloved original directed by Wes Craven, and 1989’s inevitable ‘The Return of the Swamp Thing’ featuring Heather Locklear, the cinematic equivalent of the expression ‘nuff said’. – David Jenkins

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40

The Monster Squad (1987)

Director: Fred Dekker

Kids resurrect the darnedest things
Essentially another version of box-office behemoth ‘Ghostbusters’ except with apple-cheeked little leaguers replacing Lower East Side slobs, Fred ‘Night of the Creeps’ Dekker’s much-loved kiddie caper allows a panoply of stock, classic-era ghouls free reign of a Delaware suburb. The make-up work looks like something you might see at a fancy dress party on an Essex housing project, and thus doesn’t really stand up to some of the more inventive creations on this list. Yet it’s such a fond paean to the potent imaginary worlds of impressionable, errant children that that we’re throwing it in there anyway. – David Jenkins

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39

The Howling (1981)

Director: Joe Dante

1981’s other werewolf movie
Following a decade-long apprenticeship with Roger Corman and New World Pictures which bore ample fruit in the shape of ‘Piranha’ (see No 22), Joe Dante knuckled down and got serious with this heartfelt tribute to werewolves he had known and loved. Which, it transpired, was precisely what the public didn’t want, as proven by the massive global success of ‘An American Werewolf in London’, in which John Landis indulged in all the subversive slapstick splatter which Dante had so conscientiously avoided in his own movie, but which would later come to define his career. ‘The Howling’ is, however, notable for having one of the most magnificently seedy and unsettling openings in cinema; shame it can’t quite maintain that level of tension. – Tom Huddleston

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38

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Director: Victor Salva

Good fun until someone loses an eye
Another movie which, like ‘The Howling’ (see above), actually gets less scary once the monster shows up. The opening 30 minutes of this surprise old-school sleeper hit are something truly special: first a thunderous, ‘Duel’-inspired truck chase, followed by one of the all-time great ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ sequences, as our plucky teen heroes descend a grimy, gore-spattered pipe which leads directly into the beast’s lair. Very little in Noughties horror comes close to the authentically clammy, claustrophobic dread of this sequence – but sadly, director Victor Salva can’t quite apply the same atmosphere to the remainder of the film, and once the winged fiend shows up things trundle towards an enjoyably bleak but hardly breathtaking finale. – Tom Huddleston

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37

Little Shop of Horrors (1985)

Director: Frank Oz

Does this look ‘inanimate’ to you, punk?
This film version of the stage adaptation of the low-budget Roger Corman original should have been a complete trainwreck, but ex-Muppet man Frank Oz somehow delivered one of the greatest intergalactic carnivorous plant musicals of the '80s. Lovelorn Big Apple florist Rick Moranis breeds a nondescript houseplant into a ravenous monster with a taste for human blood and doo-wop music before realising that it is in fact a ‘mean, green muthah from outer space’ with plans to colonise Earth. Funnier than Abel Ferrara’s ‘Body Snatchers’ and with catchier showtunes than M Night Shyalaman’s ‘The Happening’, ‘Little Shop...’ is still the Big Boss Daddy of violent vegetation vehicles. – Adam Lee Davies

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36

The Blob (1958)

Director: Irvin S Yeaworth

It creeps, it crawls, it slithers up the walls…
One may fondly remember it as a cheesy, fusty proto-teen romp featuring a young Steve McQueen, but ‘The Blob’ did nothing less than lay the groundrules for every mega-budget disaster movie that came after: gloopy alien force whose survival rests on annihilating humanity (‘The Thing’, ‘War of the Worlds’); disbelieving authorities (‘Jaws’, ‘Volcano’); stultifying deus ex machina (‘Knowing’, ‘Mars Attacks!’); impossibly jaunty theme song (erm…). The actual Blob itself is about as scary as a clear plastic bag full of mixed-fruit jam, but this cracking little film nonetheless oozes thrills and drips with charm. – Adam Lee Davies

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35

Lake Placid (1999)

Director: Steve Miner

What a croc!
Let us, for a moment, pause to examine the career of Steve Miner. Having brought cheap thrills to the masses with ‘Friday 13th’ Parts 2 and 3, and much-loved skeletons-in-the-closet charmer ‘House’, he decides to try his hand at a little social comedy with notorious race-relations misfire ‘Soul Man’. Miner spends the rest of the '80s wandering in the wilderness of ‘The Wonder Years’, before bouncing back with daft timeslip romp ‘Warlock’. More fruitful years follow, until Miner, again, makes a major misstep: the US remake of French comedy hit ‘Mon Père ce héros’, in which Gérard Depardieu lumbers threateningly after his nubile daughter through a series of lurid tropical locations. Once again, teen TV beckons: this time its ‘Dawson’s Creek’, at least until deliverance arrives in the form of the severely underrated franchise instalment ‘Halloween: H20’, the success of which leads directly to this superbly cast, solidly entertaining giant-croc tale. Why am I telling you all this? Because ‘Lake Placid’ is nothing if not the work of a reliable, hardworking journeyman: occasionally inspired, occasionally flat, always fun, never dull. The work, in fact, of a man equally at home in Camp Crystal Lake or Dawson’s Creek. God bless you, Steve Miner, and all the other unsung Hollywood heroes. We even forgive you for ‘Soul Man’. – Tom Huddleston

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34

The Wolf Man (1941)

Director: George Waggner

Shut up and comb your face
The humble werewolf has received an enviable number of screen outings in modern times, from Jack Nicholson prancing around as a hirsute sex pervert (insert gag here) in 1994’s ‘Wolf’, through murderous menstrual tension in the underrated ‘Ginger Snaps’ (2000) and wishy-washy teenwolf traumas in ‘Twilight: New Moon’ (2009) to Joe Johnston’s brand new megabudget remake, ‘The Wolfman’, but it’s this rock-solid olde-worlde charmer we’ve chosen for this list. As usual with these classic horror films, the tragic curse comes into play when the hapless Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) gets scratched while fending off an attacking wolf, then as the full moon rises, a revolting transformation takes hold and as quick as you can say ‘those slacks are going to need a new crotch’ he’s hot on the trail of human blood. – David Jenkins

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33

Pitch Black (2000)

Director: David Twohy

Hello darkness, my old friend
A peerless example of a filmmaker turning limitations into advantages, Twohy keeps the angular bat-like inhabitants of the desert planet of Hades very much in the dark for his small but perfectly formed sci-fi thriller. Vin Diesel’s noble savage Richard B Riddick and an agreeably clichéd band of crash survivors have to contend with the bone-white desert wastes by day, but it’s at night when the fun really begins, as the darkness literally comes alive with shapeless fury. Of course, it would be easy to contend that Diesel and Co are the real monsters of the piece and that the bat-things were the ones under attack from alien invaders… But where’s the fun in that? – Adam Lee Davies

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32

The Mummy (1932)

Director: Karl Freund

Out of the past
Brendan Fraser may have been co-opted as a kid-friendly Indiana Jones-a-like to star in Stephen Sommers’s mediocre modern ‘Mummy’ franchise, but Karl Freund’s 1932 original (of which the aforementioned was a fairly close remake) remains the definitive stab at bringing that iconic, muslin-swathed zombie killer to the big screen. It sees Boris Karloff as the ancient Egyptian priest who springs back to life when a British expedition team interrupts his slumber, and it marked yet another quality entry in Universal’s worldbeating canon of classic horror yarns. As you can see from the trailer below, the delicately visceral make-up work was extremely disturbing, and the film itself spawned a number of sequels, namely ‘The Mummy’s Hand’, ‘The Mummy’s Curse’, ‘The Mummy’s Tomb’, 'The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb'... you get the picture. – David Jenkins

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31

Basket Case (1982)

Director: Frank Henenlotter

Say hello to my little friend
Once a byword for inventive cinematic sleaze, the name of Frank Henenlotter has been all but forgotten by modern horror enthusiasts. ‘Basket Case’ was his early '80s calling card, the tale of a browbeaten, morally ambiguous twentysomething and his homicidal, basket-bound vestigial twin as they undertake a mission of vengeance against the doctors who separated them against their will. To modern audiences, this darkly comic tale of monstrous brotherly love is most fascinating as a depiction of New York in its hideous heyday, a shattered urban hellscape populated almost exclusively by hookers, thieves, junkies and murderers, lit by flickering neon and the flash of ambulance sirens. – Tom Huddleston

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Continue to numbers 30-21
30

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Director: Erle C Kenton

Manimal!
In an ideal world we’d be listing Richard Stanley’s take on HG Wells’s ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ here - as anyone who’s read Stanley and Michael Herr’s original script can attest, it would’ve been amazing. But that movie was handed to John Frankenheimer, and became one of the shoddiest monster movies ever made. So instead we turn to the best surviving adaptation, this retitled Charles Laughton vehicle, in which ropey makeup effects and a hokey romantic subplot are more than made up for by Kenton’s genuinely eerie directorial style and Laughton’s magnificently seedy, sweaty and grotesque central performance. – Tom Huddleston

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29

Cloverfield (2008)

Director: Matt Reeves

World’s largest metaphor eats NYC
‘Gossip Girl’ meets ‘Godzilla’ by way of ‘Blair Witch’ shaky-cam in one of the most original expressions of post-9/11 angst since the city of Taft, Michigan, banned a twentieth-anniversary screening of ‘Ishtar’ for being ‘pro-Taliban’. The long set-up, following the party preparations of a bunch of well-heeled NY twentysomethings, is in itself a brave stylistic choice. Hence, when the horror finally hits, there's a real sense of sudden, jarring peril even if you wouldn't give most of the characters space in your heavily armed rescue chopper. With nothing in the way of explanation (no pipe-smoking astro-boffins here), and mercifully few sightings of what turns out to be a slightly duff monster, New York becomes in effect a huge haunted house in which a confused populace takes on the role of Screaming Babysitter. The result is a film as paranoid, morally equivocal and randomly violent as the decade which gave it birth. – Paul Fairclough

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28

Hellboy (2004)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Well red
Comic fans have long been used to seeing the wit and intelligence of their favourite stories surgically excised by zoot-suited Hollywood bean counters, so Del Toro's faithful vivification of Hellboy was something of a landmark in judging its audience to be some way above high-functioning cretins. With creator Mike Mignola onboard and Ron Perlman at his best since his 'Penitenze Agite!' days in ‘The Name of The Rose’, the movie tapped a rich vein of outsider humour and was so teeming with ideas that it could throw away on a prologue a story that Spielberg would have made into a three-picture franchise. Best of all, for a brief, glorious moment, it seemed that Niles Crane had been transformed into a mind-mangling aquatic superhero. Abe Sapien's disdain for dry sherry and his watery inability to attend the Seattle Philharmonic's opening nights put paid to that beautiful illusion, but in blending humanity and monstrous action, ‘Hellboy’ and its even more monster-stuffed sequel have raised the stakes when it comes to bringing inky imaginings to the big screen. – Paul Fairclough

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27

Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Dead and loving it
Evoking a mixture of HP Lovecraft’s 1922 serial, ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’, and Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, director Stuart Gordon whisks us to the campus of Massachusetts’s Miskatonic Medical School to tell of a mad, mad scientist (Jeffrey Combs) who believes he has bridged the gap between life and death with the help of some lime green goo. Alongside the ‘Evil Dead’ films, it’s one of the few horror-comedies that actually delivers a laugh with every scare (see the entire Troma output for examples of how not to do it), and even though it doesn’t contain a monster per se, the reanimated severed head of a stuffed-shirt neurosurgeon is an example of low-budget prosthetics work at its ketchup-soaked finest. Also worth noting is the sly reappropriation of Bernard Herrmann's seminal 'Psycho' score which, it being 1985 an' all, has been augmented with some echo drum beats. – David Jenkins

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26

The Stuff (1985)

Director: Larry Cohen

Enough is never enough
Though his career as a writer-director remained in fitful if failing health for another decade, ‘The Stuff’ is generally regarded as Larry Cohen’s last and perhaps greatest subversive statement. Turning his laser-sharp satirical eye on the American tradition of boundless consumerism, Cohen presents a world in which a mysterious sentient dessert substance known only as ‘the stuff’ has conquered the hearts, minds and stomachs of an increasingly couch-bound populace. Once more featuring the great Michael Moriarty in the lead role of shambling huckster corporate spy Mo Rutherford (see also Number 10, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’), the film skewers its intended target with a slew of brilliantly constructed, hilariously off-kilter mock ads. – Tom Huddleston

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25

The Mist (2007)

Director: Frank Darabont

It’s a real pea-souper
In this benighted decade of torture porn and unnecessary remakes, one American director dared to buck the trend with a defiantly old-school slice of politically motivated monster schlock, and created the most unfairly overlooked horror movie of the Noughties. Eschewing the ponderous classicism of his previous Stephen King horror adaptation ‘The Green Mile’, Darabont hooked in the production team from TV’s ‘The Shield’ in an effort to make ‘The Mist’ a more confrontational shakycam affair, albeit crammed with Cormanesque tentacular touches. It’s a rip-roaring success, fusing to-the-minute anti-social commentary with fabulously icky critter effects and fountains of gore. The shocking, infamously bleak ending divides opinion, but it sure as hell sticks in the memory. – Tom Huddleston

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24

Tremors (1990)

Director: Ron Underwood

I got worms!
Kevin Bacon managed to cast off the man-meat pin-up shackles he’d become bound in to as a result of films like ‘Footloose’, ‘She’s Having a Baby’ and bike-courier no-no ‘Quicksilver’ as the charming Southern huckster who manages to take on a giant, flesh-eating sand worm and win. Generally considered the gold-standard of B-movie revivals, ‘Tremors’ takes place in the dustbowl nowhere town of Perfection, Nevada, where the tiny populace gradually fall prey to a pair of hulking worms that are slithering around under foot. What’s so radical about the film is how unabashedly unradical it is, combining rock-solid action set-pieces (the pole-vaulting across the desert scene is a taut classic), whipsmart dialogue and a monster that really is as revolting and terrifying as they come. Plus, it contains MOR country songstress Reba McEntire’s rootin'est, tootin'est screen performance to date as an utterly charming white-power survivalist. – David Jenkins

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23

Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Ai caramba! El Diablo!
Now the dust has finally settled, can we agree on the fact that Guillermo del Toro’s baroque historical fantasia (‘Alice In Wonderland’ meets ‘Land and Freedom’, as one wag put it) is not the masterpiece everyone said it was. In fact, it feels like the perfect film to be sitting mid-table in a list like this, an impressive but overreaching political allegory whose underused trump card is some of most ornate monster model work in modern cinema. Starring Doug Jones - who’s fast joining the ranks of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Nicolas Cage in the pantheon of classic screen demons - as the faun who offers inquisitive young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) three tasks in order for her to be reunited with her absent father, the film never manages to find a happy medium between fantasy and reality, though it does show the breathtaking results of sticking some googly eyes onto the palms of your hands (see above). – David Jenkins

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22

Piranha (1978)

Director: Joe Dante

One school you don’t want to get into
The jewel of the post-‘Jaws’ nature-on-the-loose boom, ‘Piranha’ was also one of the last and greatest movies from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in its ’70s heyday. The irony is that the film responsible for ‘Piranha’s very existence, Spielberg’s world-masticating box-office behemoth, would also be the film that unwittingly wiped out everything New World stood for: once the B-movie had become the new A-movie, there’d be less and less room for the kind of madcap invention and subversive undertow that Joe Dante and writer John Sayles packed into this giddy, grisly little fish story. – Tom Huddleston

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21

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Director: Jack Arnold

Weird and gilly
What is it with ancient, primeval beasts attacking hot chicks in bikinis? Sure, sex has been a primal urge since the dawn of time, but you’d think studs like King Kong, Jaws and the fish-faced hero of this frenetic ’50s frightener might not have to resort to terror tactics to lure in the opposite sex. But then again, when you’re the bastard son of man and lungfish (as the labcoat-wearing boffins solemnly inform us), perhaps you’re born with a built-in inferiority complex. Cheer up, Blackie (or should that be Goonie?). No one remembers so-called ‘stars’ like Richard Carlson and Julie Adams, while your multi-fronded mug has become the defining image of ’50s horror. Float on, chum, and let the ladies swim to you... – Tom Huddleston

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20

The Host (2006)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Putting his Korea on the line
If ever there was a bracing cautionary tale explaining the hazards of pouring tainted formaldehyde down the kitchen sink (we’ve all done it!), then Bong Joon-Ho’s superlative ‘The Host’ is it. Standing toe-to-toe with Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ in terms of both its masterly introduction of the beast and its savage attack on regional government bureaucracy, Bong pulls the canny trick of pumping old-school genre tension into an intricate (and in the end, harrowing) human drama. – David Jenkins

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19

Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Finally nailed it!
Adapting one of his own short stories and utilising a budget of just £1 million, Clive Barker created one of the most absorbing and otherworldly horror movies in recent memory. Balanced somewhere between quipping slasher icons like Freddy Krueger and the horror-from-beyond ickiness of HP Lovecraft, but with an S&M aesthetic all their own, the Cenobites remain some of horror cinema’s most memorable and unnerving creations. Barker would try the same trick again with his bigger-budget follow-up ‘Nightbreed’ (see No 49), with diminishing returns. – Tom Huddleston

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18

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Director: Pete Docter

Get that thing back where it came from or so help me...
Purists may question the presence of this relentlessly upbeat and cuddly Pixar classic on a list of lurking lurchers from beyond. To them we can only say this: if a film has the word ‘Monster’ in the title, it pretty much by definition deserves a place on this list (Aileen Wournos biopics notwithstanding). Plus, ‘Monsters Inc’ is just comic genius, running the gamut from daft, Zucker-esque wordplay (‘Business Shriek’ magazine, Harryhausen’s restaurant) to some of the most sophisticated quickfire visual comedy Pixar ever produced. Not to mention some wild creature design, wonderfully sympathetic characterisation (‘why don’t they call me The Adorable Snowman?’) and arguably the current gold standard in madcap climactic chase sequences. Pure joy. – Tom Huddleston

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17

Predator (1987)

Director: John McTiernan

Burnin’ and a lootin’ tonight
The Predator is a no-brainer for lists of coolest movie monsters, but have you ever stopped to consider that far from the meat-and-potatoes jungle-bound blast-em-up that many are happy to accept this film as being there is maybe a more subtle subtext about US military imperialism (members of a cut-off unit in dense jungle get picked off by an unseen enemy) and racial anxiety (a quaint suggestion that dreadlocks are both cool and alien). That said, the fact that Arnie goes up against the beast with an ethnically diverse crew of sweaty grunts probably does for that theory. And if anyone can find proof that the aforementioned dreadlocks are actually Na'vi-style love tentacles, then you can pretty much forget the idea completely. Good film, though. – David Jenkins

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16

Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante

It’s not such a wonderful life
The ‘80s were a boom-time for unchecked malice and bonecrushing violence masquerading as children’s entertainment, but nothing came close to the full-tilt mayhem of Dante’s extravagantly chaotic sideswipe at consumerism, conformity and conspicuously observed small-town values. The Gremlins themselves are way past crazy - as if the Alien had cross-bred with a toilet brush - and exhibit all the manners of a revved-up pit bull while decimating the Xmas jubilations of idyllic backwater hamlet Kingston Falls. All manner of high-minded allegories can be drawn from the carnage wrought by these punky little furbags, but all that matters on this list is that they’re fast, loose and out of control. – Adam Lee Davies

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15

La Bête (1975)

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Sexy beast
Rarely does the monster movie tackle the sexual impulses of its beast with such garish candour as in Borowczyk’s censor-baiting fable that dared to stare down that perennial societal no-no – bestiality – with cheekily sympathetic eyes. From its opening shot of two horses having sex in which the wagging, steaming genitalia are filmed in extreme close-up, there’s the suspicion you’ve stumbled onto something genuinely seedy and illicit. By its 30-minute finale where a comely maiden fantasises about being chased around a woodland glade and raped by a hairy beast with an obscenely large (and very spurty) phallus, you’ll either be nervously trying to ring the Daily Mail newsdesk or chortling along with the crass absurdity of it all. – David Jenkins

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14

Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

The theme park that costs an arm and a leg
You can irradiate ‘em, re-animate ‘em or drag ‘em kicking and screaming from the darkest corners of the id, but you’re never going to outdo Mother Nature’s first and best tilt at the monster mash. Dinosaurs were so utterly rock-hard that it took nothing less than complete global cataclysm to put paid to their 160 million year reign of terror. Hubristic at best, then, for an elderly Scottish flim-flam man (Dickie Attenborough) to revivify the most ferocious species imaginable: including the T Rex and the Velociraptor – and parade them through an ill-maintained Costa Rican petting zoo. Spielberg has never been one to skimp on the ketchup, and there’s a goodly amount of goo, guts and gore flying around a film that’s as red in tooth and claw as anything on this list. – Adam Lee Davies

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13

Society (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna

Consider yourself one of the family
Released at the tail end of the body-horror cycle, Brian Yuzna’s film had to go some way to out-gross the stomach-churning chills of ‘The Brood’, ‘Re-Animator’ and ‘The Fly’. Billy Warlock – third banana on TV nork-fest ‘Baywatch’ – finds himself literally knee deep in family entanglements when he discovers that his blue-blood parents and all their preening yahoo friends are in fact not just a pack of wheedling, self-obsessed poshos, but a sub-species of mutant, body-melding cannibals given to orgiastic bacchanalia, eating the poor and a ghastly practice known has ‘shunting’ that looks only slightly more inviting than grinding one’s genitalia into overcranked farm machinery. The finale, in which Billy is inducted into ‘society’, pays off a beautifully constructed film with a scene of truly repulsive excess that is hard to get through without blanching like an anaemic milquetoast. – Adam Lee Davies

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12

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Two faces have I
Marking himself out as a key innovator with his spry putting-on-a-show yarn ‘Applause’ and the lively Gary Cooper gangster thriller, ‘City Streets’, Rouben Mamoulian proved that he wasn’t just a theatre director in moviemaker’s jodhpurs by producing one of the most scandalous and tense early monster movies. Aside from the jaw-dropping panoply of in-camera effects (the cross-fade transformation scenes are extraordinarily convincing considering the time they were shot), the film is notable for its towering performance from Fredric March and its fearlessness in presenting Jekyll’s vile alter ego as one of the screen’s most shockingly violent sexual predators. – David Jenkins

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11

Q: The Winged Serpent (1981)

Director: Larry Cohen

Gods and monsters
The legend of ‘loopy’ Larry Cohen is little heard round the movie-critic watering holes nowadays, but that doesn’t make his career any less remarkable. The Jewish TV drone who became a blaxploitation legend. The gritty Sam Fuller enthusiast who turned to Cormanesque splat. The inventor of killer babies (‘It’s Alive!’), killer dessert food (‘The Stuff’) and, yes, killer alien Jesus (‘God Told Me To’), Cohen is arguably American exploitation cinema’s number one unsung hero, and ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ might be his finest hour. Intending, with his tale of a resurrected Aztec god stalking the citizens of NYC, to create an old-fashioned monster movie like the ones he’d seen as a boy, Cohen just couldn’t let go of his pet themes – male insecurity, racial tension, religious short-sightedness and social inequality – long enough. So what emerged was a curious, fascinating hybrid: part ‘King Kong’, part ‘Shaft’ and part ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, as Cohen’s infamous penchant for beautifully sketched dysfunctional pairings reaches fruition in Michael Moriarty and Candy Clark’s fractious but loving central couple. All this plus some wild piano scat, a dollop of human sacrifice and New York City in all its grimy New Wave glory. – Tom Huddleston

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10
1/10

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director: John Landis

There’s a bad moon rising
It would be interesting to see polling data showing exactly how many fortysomething Brits recall John Landis’s hysterical gore-spattered masterpiece as that all-important pubescent rite of passage: their first 18. Well, a couple of years ago the good folks at the BBFC went and ruined all that: in reclassifying the film to 15, they’ve made all our childhoods seem that little bit less dangerous. Which is no reflection on the film itself: horror-comedy is overfamiliar nowadays, but this only makes Landis’s achievement more impressive. Not just gory but actually frightening, not just funny but seriously clever, ‘American Werewolf…’ has its flaws, but these are outweighed by the film’s many, mighty strengths: the soundtrack is astounding, the characterisation and performances (Jenny Agutter! Brian Glover! Rik Mayall!) marvellous and the one-liners endlessly quotable (‘a naked American man stole my balloons!’). Just don’t go off on the moooooooors! – Tom Huddleston

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9
2/10

Godzilla (1954)

Director: Ishiro Honda

‘I am Godzilla. You are Japan!’
Whether it be as a sweaty Japanese man in a rubber suit, the especially foul-tempered yet oddly submissive hero of the late '70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon or the digitised goliath of Roland Emmerich’s disposable 1998 reboot, Godzilla is a fearsome proposition. Sometimes vengeful, often heroic, occasionally topical and always browned off, this atomically enlarged mega-newt could comfortably take on all the monsters on this list without even breaking a sweat (do lizards sweat?). Despite a huge and somewhat spurious list of enemies that includes Mothra (giant peacenik moth), King Ghidora (three headed dragon) and Mechagodzilla (huge, angry rustbucket), it is man for whom the King of the Monsters reserves his most bitterly held ire. Get over it, dude! – Adam Lee Davies

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8
3/10

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

A farewell to arms
It would be wrong to discuss one ‘Evil Dead’ film without the other, especially as personal taste and a negligible increase in budget appear to be the only factors that divide the two movies. Both tell the comic book tale of schlubbish wage slave Ash (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) and his blood-splashed battle with a tranche of accidentally awoken Kandarian demons who want nothing more than to swallow his soul. Both, too, offer some of the most inventive, revoltingly tactile and lovingly crafted gore effects you’re likely to see on film. The ‘monster’ in both is a howling spirit that takes on many forms. In the first film, it memorably brings a tree to life and proceeds to rape a teenage girl. In the second, it takes possession of Ash’s severed hand (which he gleefully amputates with a chainsaw) and proceeds to try and strangle him. In addition to this, the first ‘Evil Dead’ film also contains one of the most spectacular (and elongated) death scenes in modem film, as we witness an actor covered in flaps of latex reduced to a pool of bubbling Plasticine pus. – David Jenkins

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7
4/10

Frankenstein (1931)

Director: James Whale

Stitched ’im up like a kipper
Arguably the single defining image in the history of Hollywood horror, Boris Karloff’s Monster, with his sutured skin, neck-bolts and childlike expression, remains the poster child for ‘sympathetic’ monsters. Okay, so he kills a kid, but we’ll let him off because he’s all lumpy and cute, and doesn’t really, you know, get it. So while ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ is arguably the better film (it’s funnier, sweeter and has Elsa Lanchester’s hair in it), James Whale’s original take on Mary Shelley’s lumbering pseudo-scientific behemoth remains the gold standard for loveable monsters, and a masterful evocation of what it’s like to exist in a world that only wants to batter you down (a feeling Whale, a gay man in ’30s America, knew only too well). Just take care to avoid Ken Branagh’s soupy, luvvie-stuffed remake. – Tom Huddleston

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6
5/10

King Kong (1933)

Directors: Merion C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack

Sexually frustrated ape inadvertently invents base-jumping
Anyone who has never shed a tear as this love-struck great ape uncomprehendingly swats at his tormentors from the top of the Empire State Building is as stone-hearted as Skull Island itself. Special effects pioneer Willis O'Brien made Kong one of the few cinematic monsters to occupy the emotional as well as the narrative heart of their own movie and his towering achievement is still the benchmark for anyone who would make a myth from a ropey old monster yarn. The 1976 remake was a dull rehash that paired 'Love Boat'-style soap with an inexplicably green monkey, and while Peter Jackson came close to capturing the wonder of the original, the 1933 vintage remains a dark fairytale unmatched by modern pretenders. – Paul Fairclough

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5
6/10

The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter

Baby, it’s cold outside
John Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawks's tense ’50s sci-fi thriller ‘The Thing From Another World’ is enough to make you forget Keanu Reeves in ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ or Nic Cage in ‘The Wicker Man’, proving that ploughing old furrows can throw up treasure as well as dried-out old cowpats. Kurt Russell as the impossibly maverick Antarctic helicopter-cowboy MacReady is one of the most ludicrously entertaining horror-movie creations, at once wholly implausible and entirely engaging. Fighting infestation by a shape-shifting alien parasite from the cold comfort of their Arctic research station, MacReady’s already cabin-feverish scientist chums are whittled away in a series of increasingly sickening/wondrous set pieces until some horrifying choices become necessary. The kennel scene is the one everybody remembers, but the intelligent, open(ish) ending is one of the greats of any creature feature. – Paul Fairclough

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4
7/10

Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

The phallus with malice
It says something for Hollywood’s faith in the survival of the human race that they allowed us a 4-0 run of victories against perhaps the most malicious bunch of graphite-domed killing machines ever to have graced the outer reaches of the galaxy. Modelled on the design concepts of (possibly troubled) Swiss painter and sculptor HR Giger, the fact that the Alien itself was assembled from a vast arsenal of pulleys, levers and even the cooling tubes from a Rolls Royce doesn’t make it feel any less repellent and real.

Seeing the film again, it’s remarkable that ‘Top Gear’-man's idea of the ultimate Hollywood director, Ridley Scott, was able to craft such an impeccably modulated and eloquent space opera in which structured exposition and intricately drawn characters help to embed the nightmare of the situation far deeper than any crummy gore effects or slap-dash set pieces ever could. Yet, beyond that majestically sculpted creature which takes down its human prey slowly but oh-so-surely, we must not forget to offer a hearty salute to the late, great Dan O’Bannon, a giant among modern sci-fi screen writers and a rare mortal who was able to post out his imagination into the furthest reaches of the galaxy and have it return with credible, jubilant and freakin’ scary tales of a future fantastic. – David Jenkins

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3
8/10

Cat People (1942)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Girls just wanna have fur
An object lesson in how horror movies have always tackled subject matter which straight drama was afraid to touch, albeit in strictly allegorical terms, ‘Cat People’ is not, as it has largely been regarded, simply a bloke’s-eye view of the suspect female ‘other’. That element is present, to be sure, but this is a much more sympathetic and heartfelt picture than such a description suggests. True, it’s the story of a woman who turns into a ferocious beast when she becomes sexually aroused. But again, this description only tells one side of the story, and ‘Cat People’ is a film dedicated to exploring every angle on its subject: the male and the female, the victim and the murderer, the monster and the human being.

Taken, for example, as a metaphor for childhood abuse and its destructive psychological legacy, the film becomes a study of a corrupted woman’s terror of her own emotional potential, and her seething sexual and violent impulses: in a way, the gender-reversed mirror of Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’, but with a far less romantic, more oppressive and doom-laden atmosphere. Taken more simply, as the tale of a woman so constricted by social propriety that she becomes a monster, it’s no less rigorous and challenging. Either way, ‘Cat People’ is, as Jacques Tourneur no doubt intended it, the ultimate Freudian stew, offering a different meaning to every viewer, but delighting all equally. – Tom Huddleston

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2
9/10

Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg

You’re gonna need a bigger quote
Spielberg’s enduring shark-tale tour de force addresses many of the key factors that make monsters, well, monsters. First there’s the fear of the unknown: a dreadful and primordial force that lurks in the deep reaches of our imaginings, an unnamable horror from the abyss from which we sprang but can never truly hope to escape. Then there’s the fear we experience when we encounter a force that is beyond our ability to control. And ultimately of course there’s intense and profound shit-yer-pants terror that comes with being faced with an unstoppable fury that can’t be reasoned with, bargained or bought.

All of which would count for nought if not placed into the hands of such a master technician and gifted storyteller as Spielberg, and despite its arduous shoot (Spielberg broke down with nervous exhaustion mere hours after the film wrapped) the Magic Beard managed to fashion an effortless and streamlined example of pure cinema, and created one of its most durable and elemental horrors. – Adam Lee Davies

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1
10/10

The Fly (1987)

Director: David Cronenberg

The dream is over, and the insect is awake
If the sign of a truly great monster movie is that it provokes broader emotions than mere horror, then ‘The Fly’ is a masterpiece. Our feelings for the tragic Brundlefly run so much deeper than mere disgust or even pity: we admire his scientific genius and his goofy, loquacious charm, sympathise with his romantic uncertainty and tendency for adolescent jealousy, recoil at the grotesque transformation of his body and mind, and finally weep for his hubristic but inevitable destruction.It seems ironic that we’ve chosen ‘The Fly’ to top this list because it is, after all, the most painfully human of all monster movies. The fact that Cronenberg spends the bloodless first half patiently setting up his characters pays phenomenal dividends when the slime starts flowing: we care for these people in a deep, entirely genuine way. It’s a romantic pairing of which Preston Sturges would’ve been proud: flawed, funny, fucked-up and beautifully performed by the then-an-item double act of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

Cronenberg’s other great strength is the way he introduces his themes: subtly at first, but with increasing force and ferocity. ‘The Fly’ is a catch-all metaphor: is it about ageing, cancer, Aids, or simply destructive transformation and dark self-discovery? One thing’s for certain: like most of Cronenberg’s films from the period, it’s about flesh: how it defines us and defeats us, how it conspires against the self, the mind, in an ongoing battle for bodily dominance that we are ultimately doomed to lose. These themes are woven beautifully into the narrative, voiced calmly in the early scenes as Brundle and his computer ‘learn about the flesh’ and reaching fever pitch as Brundle finds himself powerless against the increasingly urgent demands of his corrupted and rebellious body. That, ultimately, is the film’s primary lesson: life is a losing game. The flesh will get you in the end. – Tom Huddleston

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Comments

13 comments
James B
James B

You left out my all time favorite monster film, and the best werewolf film of all time.  Curse of the Werewolf with Oliver Reed.

wayne
wayne

No Godzilla or kingkong that's blasphemy.

James B
James B

@wayne he listed king kong at number six didn't he?  and Godzilla was in there too.

taher
taher

recently monster house titans monsters inc simplyy there are not that many onsters films some of them are evn HORROR sientific like the chainsaw mascre monster film that is even its HORROR! LIKE IT WAS 34% DOUBLE SCARY

charles
charles

Does anyone remember a film called Belair the sea monster made in 1953, the theme is very good. Realeased by atomic testing the monster comes down the north sea attacking shipping and the climax is when it hits the woolich ferry london. I have the story, we need a remake of the film!

Anon.
Anon.

This is from a TV show, but - The Daleks from Doctor Who

Tarantulavenom
Tarantulavenom

Pumpkinhead belongs on the list,and as far as Pete's Dragon goes you just threw all your crediability out the door for picking that piece of garbage.

Dom Brewer
Dom Brewer

Quality of film hardly stopped you guys in several cases -"Pumpkinhead" may not be cinematic gold, but Stan Winston's monster is simply one of the best, and is sorely missing from an otherwise pretty good list. I'd have been tempted to stick in The Descent, Clash of the Titans, Starship Troopers and The Relic as well over Pete's Dragon and Monsters Inc...

Danny J
Danny J

@Dom Brewer no. clash of titans nono. The relic yes, the descent... YES