Director Guillermo del Toro inherited a generations-old legacy of timeless monster movies when he signed onto Pacific Rim, a sci-fi feature of colossal proportions that pits mechas against seaborne terrors. From Godzilla trashing Fifties Tokyo to the creature from Cloverfield stomping around New York in 2008, we’ve watched onscreen monsters of all shapes and sizes try their hand (or claw) at destroying humanity for almost a century. Pacific Rim’s baddies, then, have some pretty big shoes to fill. Here we take a look back at the greatest monster films in cinematic history.
20. Pacific Rim (2013)
After a century’s worth of monsters coming from outer space, Pacific Rim shifts the paradigm: stop looking at the sky, the monsters are coming from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean floor. Known as the Kaiju, these monsters intend to exterminate humanity. The only hope of defeating them? Massive man-made machine called “Jaegers” which are controlled by two pilots whose minds are connected by a neural bridge.
19. The Thing (1982)
It’s pretty tough to trust your friends when a parasitic, extraterrestrial life form has infiltrated your remote research station located in the Antarctic tundra. The Thing assimilates other organisms and mimics them, making it nearly impossible to tell whom it’s inhabiting. That is, until it manifests itself into horrifying and unimaginable creatures.
18. Gremlins (1984)
Intended as a Christmas gift, this cute Furby-esque creature named Mogwai is more devious than it appears. Water causes it to multiply into hundreds of rampaging creatures that, when fed after midnight, transform into grotesque little reptilian monsters that specialize in mayhem.
17. The Mummy (1932, 1999)
An iconic movie monster, The Mummy is a classic story of the mysteries of ancient Egypt. Imhotep, a high priest, has been buried alive for centuries, only to be awakened by a passage in the Book of the Dead. He isn’t the only one to look out for, as his mummified priests and a swarm of flesh-eating beetles have the tomb surrounded. You’re guaranteed to be wrapped up in this thriller, or your mummy back (badum-tsh).
16. Cloverfield (2008)
This “found-footage” blockbuster crushed the box office with over $170 million, much the same as how this destructive space creature devastates New York City in a matter of days. The concept behind the monster is likened to that of a spooked elephant on a rampage, only on a mammoth scale. After it severs the head of the Statue of Liberty, its message is clear: Run for your lives.
15. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Amidst an all-star cast of Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia and Steve Martin, the real show-stealer in this musical adaptation happens to be a massive, foul-mouthed extraterrestrial plant named Audrey II who feeds on human blood. Audrey II grows in size and power with everything (or everyone) it gulps down, rendering even the most formidable weed-whacker useless.
14. Tremors (1990)
Those tremors aren’t an earthquake you’re feeling. It’s actually an underground stampede of colossal carnivorous worm-creatures called Graboids making their way to the surface of the earth to devour you. It gets even better: the Graboids are in fact tongues of an even more colossal burrowing worm-creature deep beneath the soil.
13. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In this dark and fantastic tale, Guillermo del Toro delivers with plenty of mythical creatures to dazzle audiences. However, the one monster in this film that takes the cake is the Pale Man. He is an emaciated, fleshy cannibal (if you can call him a human) who sits motionless at the head of an extravagant feast that you dare not touch. Perhaps his most terrifying feature – his eye sockets are in the palms of his hands that he inserts his eyeballs into.
12. The Day of the Triffids (1962)
trif·fid |’trifid| (n.) – gigantic, man-eating plants bio-engineered by the USSR that were accidentally released into the wild to wreak havoc on the world. Oh, and they can walk on their roots and sting people with poisonous venom, too. When an unusual meteor shower blinds almost the entire earth’s population in one night, it’s doubtful that the remaining humans can outrun and exterminate these deadly weeds.
11. The Blob (1958)
Landing on Earth encased in a meteor, the Blob is harmless, mysterious goop. But it isn’t long before it engulfs every human in its path, growing increasingly daunting with every slimy inch. Two teens first witness the wrath of this gelatinous monster and try in vain to warn the town. Assuming the youngsters are crying wolf, the townspeople ignore their alarm and realize their blunder after it’s too late.
10. Swamp Thing (1982)
He appeared in comic books more than a decade before this feature-length adventure, but there’s something infinitely satisfying about watching Swamp Thing flip military boats like toys right before your eyes. It wouldn’t be a true Eighties monster movie without toxic waste, an attractive love interest and a whole host of other done-to-death clichés. Whatever. Swamp Thing rules.
9. Jaws (1975)
Ever since Steven Spielberg set a high-concept benchmark with Jaws in the summer of 1975, we’ve been afraid to get our toes wet. The giant man-eating shark, accompanied by its ubiquitous theme music, preyed on helpless beachgoers – and viewers’ psyches – with such ferocity it made this film a contender for the scariest movie of all time.
8. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Overt campiness aside, dweebs everywhere can sympathize with New Jersey nobody-turned-superhuman Melvin Ferd. Maybe that’s why a measly blip on the B-movie radar has remained a cult favorite for more than 30 years. Fortunately, our hero has his heart in the right place, which is why he’s the only monster on this list who aids humanity instead of destroying it.
7. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
In search of the link between land and sea animals, a group of scientists find living evidence in the depths of the Amazon in the form of a creepy, amphibious humanoid. One of the most horrifying scenes, in which the Creature stalks Julie Adams underwater, is responsible for landing the Creature on this list.
6. The Fly (1958)
What a premise. A scientist gets his atoms mixed up with a fly’s, and the result looks exactly as repulsive as you’d think. The only thing more grotesque than a man with an insect head is the tiny bug that screams a chillingly human “Help me!” Incorporating elements of science fiction, The Fly proves you can make a freaky flick with a tight budget and a little imagination.
5. Alien (1979)
Though perhaps more of a horror film than a monster movie, Ridley Scott’s scary-as-hell breakthrough deserves a place on this list if only for its chest-busting climax. Even without a space slug exploding through your sternum, the myriad creations of artist and creature designer H. R. Giger, especially the Alien itself, are enough to make anyone squirm.
4. The Wolf Man (1941)
Everything we picture when we think of werewolves comes from this film. While hours of on-set preparation were required for the transformation of man into hirsute beast, the visual impact is simply hair-raising. No silver bullets here, but the misunderstood creature does meet his end with a brutal bludgeoning, courtesy of a silver walking stick.
3. Frankenstein (1931)
“There is no denying that it is far and away the most effective thing of its kind,” reads a 1931 New York Times review of this monster masterpiece. Though it barely resembles Mary Shelley’s source material, Frankenstein perfected a balance of creepy and horrifying in the form of Boris Karloff’s humanoid menace. Those neck bolts and flat-head makeup gave us the heebie-jeebies, not to mention some great Halloween costumes. Plus, it’s arguably the first zombie movie.
2. King Kong (1933)
Fay Wray writhing helplessly in the clutches of a gigantic ape atop the Empire State Building is a Hollywood moment if there ever was one. The incredible stop-motion animation that brought Kong to life enthralled audiences and inspired a generation of city-smashing beasts that would, in their turn, lay waste to midtown Manhattan.
1. Godzilla (1954)
The movie that set the standard for creature features to come. More than a dozen sequels would follow, but none can match the 1954 classic in which a reptilian mutant the size of a skyscraper tears through urban Japan. Besides symbolically touching on the country’s all-too-recent relationship with nuclear devastation, Godzilla debuted what has since become the most iconic monster to grace the big screen.