If you’ve felt rumblings in the ground and ripples in your water glasses in the last few days, that’s because monsters are on the way. Or more accurately, they’re on an island in the Pacific, the setting for “Kong: Skull Island,” Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ thoroughly enjoyable reboot of the giant ape franchise. The film doesn’t just include the massive monkey made famous in the 1933 original, but also pits him and the human cast against a menagerie of inventive giant beasts that make up the rest of the population of the titular archipelago, as well as setting it up as part of an ongoing WB/Legendary monster universe that will eventually pit Kong against Godzilla.
As such, we’ve had creatures on the brain all week. And so with Kong swinging into theaters tomorrow, we thought it was time to look at the history of the movies’ greatest beasts, so below you’ll find our list of the 50 Best Movie Monsters of all time.
Some ground rules: rather than litter the list with similar creatures, we decided to stick to one major vampire, one Frankenstein, etc. etc. We also ruled out any monsters that are purely human — Hannibal Lecter or Michael Myers, for instance. There had to be some kind of supernatural aspect going on to qualify. Also, as he is unfortunately a real person and not fictional, Steve Bannon was disqualified from this list.
Let us know your favorites, and who should have made the cut, in the comments.
50. Monsters – “Monsters” (2010)
Where better to start than with, well, “Monsters”? Specifically, the semi-Lovecraftian alien tentacle beasts that give their name to Gareth Edwards’ ingenious, oddly lyrical low-budget debut. For much of the film, when we see the creatures, they’re just briefly glimpsed or already dead, seeing only the destruction left in their wake, but during the film’s surprisingly beautiful climax, which sees the monsters, uh, getting it on, they prove to be genuinely awe-inspiring, and genuinely alien.
49. Giant Ants – “Them!” (1954)
For creatures that are seen as relatively benevolent as far as insects go (they even starred in a Pixar movie), ants have been put to resolutely creepy purposes on film, from Luis Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” to Saul Bass’s terminally underrated “Phase IV.” But with monsters, bigger is almost always better, and so this slot goes to the giant hymenoptera in ’50s sci-fi classic “Them!” Gordon Douglas’ B-movie fave, where nuclear-weapons testing has blown ants up to the size of tanks, remains effective today, and the iconic visual effects still impress 60 years on.
48. Radu Molasar – “The Keep” (1983)
Michael Mann’s sole foray into horror so far is an exceptionally batshit and highly divisive film, a mystic fantasy about Nazis unleashing a supernatural force in Romania, shot with the style of a 1980s power-ballad video. Some hate it, but we kind of love it for all its idiosyncracies and missteps, and that goes for the monster at its center, a not-entirely-convincing sort-of Terminator-like golem with glowing red eyes who nevertheless carries a real power to him somehow.
47. The Crawlers – “The Descent” (2005)
Part of the terror of Neil Marshall’s exceptionally uncomfortable horror is a primal one — the idea of being stranded underground in the dark with no idea of how, and fading hope if you will be able, to escape. But most of it comes from the blind, feral cave goblins — sorry, “crawlers,” though we like cave goblins more — that menace the stranded woman that Marshall’s film centers on. Nearly human, but also quite far from it, they’re truly frightening, all the more so because we mostly only get quick glimpses of them.
46. Quetzacoatl – “Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982)
Few since the monster movie’s 1950s heyday have pulled off the B-movie that’s ever-so-slightly smarter, funner and better-crafted than it needs to be the way that Larry Cohen did, and his finest hour might have been “Q,” which sees two cops (David Carradine and Richard Roundtree) investigating a series of ritualistic murders which may be connected to a paranoid blackmailer (Michael Moriarty), but are definitely connected to the dragon-like Aztec god living in the Chrysler building. It’s about four movies that crashed into each other, and the minimal budget shows, but it’s a ton of fun and Quetzalcoatl is a great creature.
45. Jason Voorhees – “Friday The 13th Part 2” (1981) and series
You might be a bit shocked to find Jason so low down on this list, but while he’s undoubtedly a horror icon, with his machete and hockey mask, Jason Voorhees (who, let’s not forget, was only the killer from the second movie onward) is not all that great of a movie monster. Compared even to some of his slasher competition, he’s kind of a lumbering doofus without much wit to him. Still, he’s had plenty of bloody fun over the years, and his iconic value is more than enough to land him here.
44. Candyman – “Candyman” (1992)
Born in a movie much better and more interesting than the lousy sequels might suggest, Candyman is a slasher villain with a rich, horrifying backstory and two pretty good gimmicks — he has a hook for a hand, and is partly made of bees. But it’s Tony Todd’s performance, his imposing presence and basso profundo voice that leave you totally unable, however much fun you might make of it, to say the title five times in front of mirror after you watch it.
43. The Merman & Friends – “The Cabin In The Woods” (2012)
An ingenious love letter to the horror genre, Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin In The Woods” contains such a smorgasbord of creatures, from vampires and mummies to an Angry Molesting Tree, that it could have made up the entirety of this list. But if we had to pick just one, it’s the Merman, which Bradley Whitford’s character famously laments that he never gets to see, only for it to be the one that finishes him off (grossly blowing blood out of its blowhole). But consider him representative of the whole team.
42. Pyramid Head – “Silent Hill” (2006)
It’s rare to see a truly new movie monster, and to be fair, Pyramid Head isn’t quite a new one — for one, he debuted in the video game of the same name before Christophe Gans’ film adaptation; and two, he’s to some extent a familiar horror slasher villain anyway. But damned if he isn’t as striking and nightmarish a monster as has appeared in recent years, with his triangular face, gruesomely stacked arms, giant sword, and ability to rip the skin clean off somebody’s body.
41. Tooth Fairies & The Angel Of Death – “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)
Even more so than its predecessor (which probably peaked with the excellent Sammael), Guillermo Del Toro’s “Hellboy II” is a bonanza for fans of creature design — the Troll Market sequence alone is stuffed with great ones. In the end, we made it a tie for our faves: between the initially cutesy, imminently terrifying piranha-like Tooth Fairies; and the gigantic, birdlike Angel Of Death, which builds on Del Toro’s love for putting eyes where they shouldn’t be and horrifies even in his brief appearance.