Now, the word “monster” has a very loose meaning. There are plenty of monstrous human beings, and most slasher movies could be included here. This certainly regards a franchise like Friday the 13th, which started with a vengeful mother and ended up with an immortal hell-being. So, we’ll go ahead and stick to the more traditional sense of the word—inhuman and terrible.
People have always been fascinated by monsters, because they have the capacity to reflect the fears of our time. And yet, they are also a special effects show, making the horror digestible and fun. All while our flaws are laid bare, our psychology explored. Let’s reflect on ten of the best monster movies ever made—selected for their significance, skilled production, and variety.
10 Monsters, Inc.
Alright, so we’re beginning with something on the silly side. However, Monsters, Inc. actually tells a very reflective story about our childhood relationship with monsters. At such a young age, our imagination runs absolutely rampant. We soak everything in so naively, and ineffectively. We can believe anything, and we fail to withstand or correctly interpret the true horrors of the world. This movie is filled with a lot of playful monsters that probably helped a lot of kids get over that fear of their closet. The animation, cast, and comedy are flawless. The mythology is so organic, and the relationships are too endearing for words.
9 Hellboy (2004)
Guillermo Del Toro is currently the reigning champ, when it comes to monsters. One might prefer Pan’s Labyrinth here, especially given the monstrous humans. However, the Lovecraftian angle truly sets this apart. The lore of this story is truly unique, and the heroes are actually monsters themselves. Hellboy is here to doom us, and yet he chooses to oppose that fate in order to protect us.
Played by Ron Perlman, the Hellboy character is juvenile and playful. Being a monster is not a burden—it is his strength. He is even able to develop a relationship with Liz, a firestarter. She has a tragic past, caused by her unnatural abilities, but overcomes her trauma. Characters like Abe Sapien make these monsters more than their physical attributes.
8 The Wolf Man (1941)
Every werewolf movie we’ve ever had pretty much owes itself to this Universal Monster. It arrived in 1941, a full decade after the launch of Universal’s horror hits. But lightning struck twice. It’s clearly dated that the werewolf threat is accompanied by the appearance of mysterious Gypsies, who are presented as a strange and mystical people. However, the legend itself is fascinating. It is bolstered by the superb performances, and chilling visuals. The transformation may look silly now, but the atmospheric fog and woods remain completely effective. It’s a classic, with death and comeuppance for a protagonist who is actually invading on another man’s relationship. It’s an intriguing twist on Jekyll and Hyde, borrowing that theme for an even scarier concept.
7 King Kong (1933)
Although the concept was inspired by an actual explorer’s adventures, this story is about our fear of the unknown. And, ultimately, how we will treat anything we do not understand. Imagine an island where time refused to move on. A place hidden from your maps, full of gargantuan creatures. So, first we intrude on this secluded island, where the animals behave as nature intended.
Then, we steal its king and display him for a quick buck. The Captain’s attitude is severely outdated, even mocked in the 2005 release, and the same certainly goes for the locals. All of that aside, this movie holds up really well. It has great effects, ideas, and themes about human corruption and fear.
6 Clash of the Titans (1981)
This film actually ties into a genuine religion that once existed. Greeks truly believed in their Gods, who are just as petty and flawed as human beings. If you’re thinking of Greek mythology, chances are this film will come to mind first. Even if most would probably prefer Jason and the Argonauts. However, this particular foray into Greek mythology is far more of a monster extravaganza. As a result, special effects legend Ray Harryhausen is allowed to flaunt his incomparable artistry. This made for some of the most memorable monsters in movie history. So, even if the story and performances are somewhat lacking, there’s no ignoring the grandmaster of claymation.
5 The Thing
This selection is going to represent every alien monster ever put to film, which forces me to omit some fantastic creatures like the Xenomorph and Predator. While those were certainly important, The Thing taps into something too deep to ignore—paranoia. Aside from all of the impressive gore and shocking jump scares, it’s no coincidence that the monster can transform into anyone. Society altogether was extremely concerned with enemy infiltration in 1982. Out there, in the isolated cold, the idea that you could not even trust a close friend is more frightening than anything. It’s a far cry from the original film, where the alien is literally an angry vegetable.
4 The Fly (1986)
This selection is the definitive story within the body-horror genre. Cronenberg is absolutely demented, in the most wonderful way. This movie isn’t just another tale about misused science, which will come up later. It is about illness. The human body can undergo the most horrific transformations, disabilities, and irreversible wounds. These things often have a terrible effect on our minds, changing our personality, sometimes beyond repair. It can often be a slow, agonizing process—not just for the victim, but for their loved ones. The story encapsulates all of these fears and afflictions, driven by incredible direction and perfect casting. Jeff Goldblum was absolutely made for this role.
Representing all killer animal movies, this is one of the best horror films ever made. It’s filled with everyday family drama, and endearing characters, who must confront an unseen force. It’s probable that the protagonist left the city precisely to avoid the kind of violence that Amity’s shark has wrought, and now he must confront it. That, in addition to his fear of the sea. In any case, this is the most realistic and effective story about a killer animal.
And yet, it’s consistently noted that the shark is not behaving normally. It’s larger and stronger than it ought to be. It is an incredible force of nature, which humans have done their very best to remove themselves from. And that makes it a foreign threat, which is more terrifying to most people than anything else.
This is the origin of Kaiju films as we know them. However, it wasn’t until the immediate sequel that the genre began to focus on the monster mash elements. And we can just go ahead and ignore the American import of this film. It removed everything that made this film special, and the new protagonist couldn’t feel more shoehorned. The original movie had terrific performances, effects, and social commentary. The monster is a manifestation of nuclear technology, and given the country of origin, that couldn’t be more meaningful. And all of that substance aside, Gojira itself has an iconic design that has captured our imaginations for sixty years.
1 Frankenstein (1931)
One of the earliest pieces of literature in sci-fi horror, the original film adaptation is a classic. It is the ultimate case of science gone wrong. Technological progress has resulted in some of the best and worst things imaginable. That is because we are attempting to conquer the natural order of things—warp them to our liking. We have extended our age, cured illnesses, and found countless new ways to destroy ourselves. This story reflects the very base of human nature’s flaws. We are at once horribly destructive, and intensely compassionate. Our perpetual inspiration will always be used for good and negative forces alike. Note that the title is not about the monster, a victim; this is the tragic tale of a scientist with good intentions. And repulsive methods.