For as long as people have told stories, they've told terrifying tales of creatures lurking in corners and beings beyond belief hiding in the dark. It was probably inevitable then that these beasts would find their way to the silver screen, and the best monster movies have delighted and frightened film fans for nearly a century now. Indeed, some of the first films ever made – like Der Golem and early adaptations of Frankenstein – were monster movies. Since those early black-and-white pictures, these creature features have evolved into big-budget blockbusters that compel thousands of horror hounds to flock to cinemas every year.
Like the monsters they star, though, this is a genre with a lot of variety – spanning some of the best horror movies to the best thrillers – and it can be hard to know which films are worth your time. Luckily, if you're looking for help choosing where to start with the most monstrous of movies, you're in the right place. We've gone back through the cinematic archives to bring you a comprehensive and carefully curated list of the 10 best monster movies which showcase what the genre has to offer.
10. The Mist
Director: Frank Darabont
Based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont, The Mist is best remembered for its harrowing final act – one of the best movie endings of all-time. Still as shocking as the film's gut-punch of a closer is, what really makes The Mist such a triumph is Darabont's commitment to simplicity. There are no grand plots, no schemes to take over the world, just a slow uptick in tension as a group of strangers trapped in a supermarket by tentacled monstrosities we can barely see battle to stay alive.
9. Troll Hunter
Director: André Øvredal
The Blair Witch's funnier cousin, Troll Hunter, tells the story of a group of students who discover, to their horror, that the man-eating trolls of Norwegian folklore are real. While the film is essentially a dark satire with fantastical elements, director André Øvredal's canny use of the mockumentary format and the clever camerawork of Hallvard Bræin keeps Troll Hunter on the scarier side of the horror comedy coin. As is appropriate for a monster movie, though, the real stars of the show are the trolls. Designed by Øvredal and concept artist Nikolai Lockertsen, these oddly charming but grotesque giants look like nothing you've seen before, as though they've wandered out of a Brother Grimm fairy tale.
8. The Little Shop of Horrors
Director: Frank Oz
A groovy and gruesome musical, The Little Shop of Horrors proves that monster movies don't have to be glum to be great. Adapted from the stage show of the same name by Frank Oz, who injects the same unquantifiable spark he brought to The Muppets, Little Shop's lively charm and unforgettable tunes ('Dentist!' is a bop) are capable of charming even the most cynical of cinephiles. A lot of that, of course, comes down to the general lovableness of our lead Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), a man so adorable you almost forget he's a murderer who feeds his victim to an alien plant planning world domination.
Director: Ron Underwood
Blending horror and comedy together can be exceptionally difficult, and for every Shaun of the Dead, we get about ten Lesbian Vampire Killers. Still, the genre has its greats and Tremors, which sees a town battling giant prehistoric worms – known as Graboids – that have developed a taste for human flesh, ranks amongst the best. Deliciously self-aware and featuring a cast of colorful characters, Tremors serves as a love letter to the creature features of the '50s. While it's definitely funnier than it is frightening (arguably one of the best horror comedies of its era), that doesn't mean it's not thrilling, with director Ron Underwood doing a great job at ratcheting up the chills by giving us a 'worm's eye view' of the Graboid's unfortunate victims before finally revealing the beasts in all their slimy glory.
6. The Blob
Director: Chuck Russell
While The Blob remake lacks the camp charm of its '50s predecessor, it more than makes up for it with dark humor, some astounding practical effects, and a body count so high it would put George RR Martin to shame. That may sound like faint praise, but director Chuck Russell does a superb job at maintaining an atmosphere of terror by constantly killing off his main characters in some of the most agonizing ways possible. The script, which Russell and Frank Darabont co-wrote, is also incredibly subversive, taking full advantage of the familiarity film fans would have with the original Blob to wrong-foot audiences throughout.
5. The Fly
Director: David Cronenberg
It would be weird to describe a movie as sticky unless it was made by David Cronenberg, in which case it becomes entirely appropriate. Of all Cronenberg's films, though, few are stickier than The Fly, a modern retelling of the Vincent Price classic. Jeff Goldblum stars as the titular fly, although in the beginning, he's Seth Brundle, a retiring scientist working on teleportation. One night, while in a drunken stupor, Seth successfully teleports himself and merges his DNA with that of a fly. What follows is one of the most painful transformations in cinematic history, and we, the viewers – like the world's weirdest voyeurs – are treated to a first-hand view of Brundle losing his humanity as the fly DNA warps his flesh. Beautifully grotesque and heart-wrenchingly tragic, The Fly is arguably Cronenberg and Goldbum's greatest film.
Director: Steven Spielberg
The film that made Steven Spielberg a household name, Jaws, is a terrifying thriller about a man-eating shark that terrorizes a coastal town just as the summer holiday season is about to begin. While not as gory as the other films on this list, Jaws is no less shocking thanks to Bill Butler's innovative underwater camera work and Verna Fields' clever editing. It was their work that allowed Spielberg to tease the shark's presence and build tension until the film's explosive climax, when the hungry beast finally emerges for its close-up.
3. King Kong
Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Poor King Kong. He beat Godzilla to the big screen by more than two decades, but he so often plays second banana to his scaly rival. Well, he might not be the King of the Monsters, but his film did break new ground technically as directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack worked to bring Kong to life more than twelve years before the first computer was invented. As a result, King Kong is forced to pull off more tricks than a stage magician – including the use of stunning stop-motion, beautiful matte paintings, and marvellous miniature work – all in the effort of making us believe that a giant ape walks amongst us.
2. The Thing
Director: John Carpenter
A grisly and paranoid retelling of John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story 'Who Goes There?' The Thing is one of the tensest and most entertaining monster movies ever made – not to mention one of the best '80s movies outright. Directed by John Carpenter, the film follows a group of scientists in an Antarctic base who have to battle a shape-shifting alien that's infiltrated their ranks. Despite its kitschy premise, Carpenter managed to craft a real monster masterpiece with The Thing with help from Dean Cundey's chilling cinematography, a superb cast led by the inimitable Kurt Russell, and gruesome practical effects courtesy of special effects wiz Rob Bottin. The real secret to The Thing's success, though, is the oppressive atmosphere created by the heartbeat-like pounding of Ennio Morricone's beautifully brutal score.
Director: Ishirō Honda
Listen, we love Kong as much as the next film fan, but there can only be one King of the Monsters, and it's Godzilla. While you could have put almost any of the great lizard's films on this list (except the Roland Emmerich one, for obvious reasons), we've decided to choose the one that started it all and gave us the kaiju genre, Godzilla '54.
An incredible piece of filmmaking that balances some truly impressive technical achievements – most notably pushing the boundaries of 'suitmation' to new extremes – with a surprisingly deep parable about the dangers of nuclear weapons, Godzilla has gone on to become an icon of pop culture. A large part of the film's enduring legacy is the elegance of Godzilla's design, which manages to walk the fine line between terrifying and charming at the same time.