The 50 best monster movies

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

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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.

  1. 50-41
  2. 40-31
  3. 30-21
  4. 20-11
  5. 10-1
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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  1. 50-41
  2. 40-31
  3. 30-21
  4. 20-11
  5. 10-1

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Users say

11 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.

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...

James B
James B

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

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