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The Greatest Monster Movies of All-Time

Written by on May 25, 2017 

monster-movies

The monster movie represents one of the most enduring genres in cinema, a versatile formula for exploring the horrors of the unknown. Whatever it is that scares us, there’s always a monster to represent that fear as a metaphor in the flesh. Most monsters are misunderstood creatures, victims of a terrible fate seeking redemption and, in some cases, vengeance.

Alien: Covenant, now playing in theaters, returns director Ridley Scott to a beloved franchise, following the mixed and controversial reception to Prometheus. The plot follows the crew of a deep-space colony ship, which lands on what appears to be an undiscovered paradise. This new planet holds many secrets for its new inhabitants, including David (Michael Fassbender) the surviving robotic companion of the Prometheus crew. Sadly, the series isn’t always consistent in quality (Alien: Resurrection was a definite low) but movie fans will always welcome a return visit to this classic monster movie territory.

To celebrate, and with forthcoming monster movies The Mummy and Okja in mind, we’ve taken a look back at the most frightening creatures in the history of cinema. From snarling werewolves to man-eating sharks, misunderstood monstrosities to prehistoric beasts, please enjoy the greatest monster movies of all-time.

Alien (Ridley Scott)

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The simplicity of the set-up is key: a group of seven space truckers hauling mineral ore encounter a signal of unknown origin and land on an uninhabited planet to investigate. What follows ranks among the finest monster movies ever made because it creates such an all-encompassing world for its characters. The planet, LV-426, is a barren rock, devoid of life, save for a crashed ship, which carries hundreds of leathery eggs in its cargo hull. Don’t forget the contents of those eggs: the face-huggers and their inevitable full-grown alien spawn, dangerously adaptable beasts who bleed acid. The entire mythology of what later became a massive film series exists in director Ridley Scott’s Alien, a world so vast and fully realized that it understandably demanded serialization.

An American Werewolf in London (John Landis)

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As two lovable idiots backpack across northern England, they’re warned to stay off the moors. “Beware the moon,” the locals cryptically advise. Instead of heeding this warning, writer-director John Landis’ hapless protagonists step off the road and into the moors, goofily unaware of the violence awaiting them. The comedic elements of An American Werewolf in London are essential. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne’s wise-cracking backpackers joke their way across the English countryside, oblivious of the full moon overhead. This warm comedic tone, like a magician’s sleight of hand, lends the audience a false sense of security from the impending danger, which Landis delivers with hair-trigger timing and ruthless impact. Cleverly effective jump scares follow visually arresting dream sequences. Dead friends rise from the grave to advocate for suicide and before long, our hero becomes the very monster that he once feared.

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)

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A sea of meteorites descend upon a rough London neighborhood, meteorites containing vicious ape-like alien creatures. This commotion interrupts a group of delinquent youths mugging a young woman. A make-shift family unit forms as these mismatched Brits fight for survival against an alien invasion. At one point, an old woman bemoans the deterioration of her neighborhood and the delinquent youths running the block: “Excuse my French, but they’re fucking monsters!” While the metaphor might lack subtlety, the monsters are certainly top notch. Rendered by writer-director Joe Cornish like super-charged acrobatic killing machines, their air of menace stems from the simplicity of their design: an eyeless gorilla-wolf creature with rows of hideous bioluminescent fangs. To achieve this effect, Cornish simply employed a man in a gorilla suit, employing a minimal use of computer-enhancement to darken the fur pitch-black. As the majority of this list proves, complex photo-real CGI isn’t always the answer when creating a memorable cinematic monster.

Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)

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The most tender and oddly contemporary creature on this list may be Frankenstein’s Monster in James Whale’s classic, Bride of Frankenstein. After rising from the flames of the iconic burned windmill, the Monster returns home to find that his creators seek to build him a mate. He’s a pathetic creature, confused and lashing out at the world that utterly rejects him. As the mad scientist schemes in the castle, the Monster stumbles into the home of a blind man and strikes an unlikely friendship. They eat and drink together, but the relationship is inevitably doomed. Filled with rage, the Monster returns to meet his Bride, desperate for companionship, only to face rejection from her, as well. The ensuing fiery tragedy sadly confirms there is no place for such a mournful, pitiable creature in this world.

Dracula (Tod Browning)

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Bela Lugosi’s unforgettable portrayal of Count Dracula began on a Broadway stage. When the film was in-production, Universal didn’t want him for the role, but Lugosi campaigned hard and landed the job. His oft-imitated turn as Bram Stoker’s titular Count, a broadly silent film-esque performance, brings a creepy demonic sensuality to the character. Lugosi’s vampire openly lusts after the same women he wants to bite, his fearsome and penetrating gaze locked on the object of his obsession. In fact, Tod Browning’s film also originated a frequently-imitated formula for lesser adaptations of the Stoker story: defenseless women get neck-bitten by the Count in his castle while their chivalrous boyfriends lounge at the pub, debating the existence of vampires.

The Fly (David Cronenberg)

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The Fly is a perfect match between director and material, creating the ultimate body-horror film. Treating the film’s sci-fi subject matter with utter seriousness, director David Cronenberg grounds the twisted story in a textured emotional reality, which lends the darker developments such an immense, tangible impact. Like so many Cronenberg films, the monster comes from within, transforming Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) into a hideous mutant, hungry to adapt to his new being. Brundle’s twisted science experiment shatters the test tubes and destroys his life as a human. His life as a fly, however, seems to thrive. Soon, he’s hanging from the ceiling and vomiting on his food, his humanity slowly slipping away. It’s one thing to create a monster, but to transform yourself into one would be a terrible fate for any mad scientist. Comparatively speaking, Dr. Frankenstein had it pretty easy compared to poor old Brundle-Fly.

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