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.

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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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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