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.

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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

    Read review

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

Read review

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The 100 best horror films

Horror cinema is a monster. Mistreated, misunderstood and subjected to vicious critical attacks, somehow it keeps lumbering forward, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. For some, horror films are little better than pornography, focused purely on evoking a reaction. For others, they're just a bit of fun. Here are the 100 best horror films, as chosen by those who write in, direct, star in and celebrate the genre.

See the 100 best horror films

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.

The 100 best horror films

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See the 100 best horror films

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