Creature features are one of the largest subgenres in all of horror. Because of how large an umbrella term the subgenre is, numerous horror movies fall within the framework of a creature feature. This includes movies that feature monsters, killer aliens, werewolves, hostile animals or plant life, or any other kind of generally pissed-off lifeform that poses a threat to the human characters of a film.
To put it more simply, pretty much every horror movie that doesn't fall within the basic horror movie subgenres (zombies, vampires, slashers, ghost stories) falls into the creature feature category instead.
Given how many movies can be classified as creature features, we thought we'd take a look at some of the absolute must-watch monster movies out there, as well as provide information about where they are currently streaming.
When talking about monster movies, it's impossible not to think of the quintessential creature feature of them all: the 1982 remake of The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter's The Thing.
An incredibly loose remake of the Howard Hawks original, The Thing takes the central premise of the story–an isolated team of scientists working at an Antarctica (the North Pole in the first movie) research station encounter a hostile alien creature–but adds in elements of mystery and body horror that sets Carpenter's version distinctly apart from the original. In his remake, Carpenter's alien is able to assimilate anything it touches, and is subsequently able to take its physical form as well.
Mixing horror, sci-fi, and a murder mystery, The Thing is a pretty much flawless remake, and one of the most universally popular cult films of all time. The frozen tundra setting and the necessity of staying inside brings a wonderful claustrophobic thriller aspect to the film, with the film's script, direction, the amazing soundtrack by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and the performances of the cast involved all making this an unforgettably well-done horror movie.
Plus, it's got one of the best endings to any horror movie, and also has Kurt Russell wearing a sombrero. If that doesn’t make you want to watch this iconic Carpenter film, we don't know what will.
Streaming on Peacock.
Realistically, kaiju movies should have a list of their own, given how large a place (poor attempt at a pun there) they inhabit within the creature feature subgenre. However, when talking about creature features, it's absolutely necessary to mention the monster that started it all: Gojira himself.
The first modern kaiju movie (not counting 1933's King Kong), 1954's Godzilla follows a group of Japanese researchers investigating a mysterious, large creature that has attacked several ships and coastal villages. What their investigation turns up is far worse than anything they could have imagined, uncovering a massive, dinosaur-like atomic monster that threatens to destroy all of Japan.
Unlike the other generic monster films of the 1950s', Godzilla was written to explore a specific issue plaguing Japan's citizens at the time: namely, fear of nuclear weapons and fallout, as personified by Godzilla. Released just a decade after the end of World War II, the film was purposefully designed to symbolize the post-nuclear anxiety many Japanese citizens shared following the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagaski.
The resulting film would prove to be a huge success, grossing an astronomically large sum at the box office, and with critics praising the film's unique, intelligent approach to the monster film.
The movie's popularity would soon pave the way for future kaiju movies (or giant monster movies) that followed. Like Godzilla, subsequent kaiju creatures take a more metaphorical approach in their monster’s design and what they symbolized, with characters like Mothra, for example, representing the balance of nature in the modern world.
Streaming on HBO Max.
Stephen King has a long history of producing monster-related novels and short stories that feature some kind of horrifying creature murdering and eating people.
While it's tempting to include King’s most famous and commercially successful monster movie (the 2017 adaptation It) as an entry on this list, ultimately we wanted to shed some light on a highly underrated King adaptation that frankly doesn't get the credit it rightfully deserves.
Directed by Frank Darabont (who also directed the award-winning King adaptations Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), The Mist follows a group of average people who gather at their local Maine grocery store to pick up supplies after a heavy storm knocks out their power. While there, a strange mist blows through town, inside of which menacing creatures (giant insects, dinosaur-like flying monsters, huge Lovecraftian kaiju, etc.) dwell, ready to devour anyone who ventures outside.
In essence, it's a plot that closely mirrors single-setting survivor-type stories like the zombie films of George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, for example).
The genius of this film, though, is its unique approach to its single-setting location, using the chaos and monsters outside the store and juxtaposing it with the fear and anxiety that slowly engulfs the survivors, who begin to become just as monstrous as the creatures.
It's an underrated gem among the adapted works of Stephen King, and what's more, has one of the most downbeat, depressing endings in all of film (that's probably not a major selling point for those who like happier endings, but you have to admire the guts of the movie to end the way it does).
Interestingly, the film was re-released in a black-and-white format, which was Darabont's “preferred version,” so if you're able to get your hands on that version, we'd highly recommend watching it.
Streaming on Netflix.
“Natural horror” is a category onto itself within the creature feature subgenre. Broadly speaking, these are movies that feature animals or plant life that pose some kind of threat to human life. Divided into two categories, these films either feature a large variety of animals in abundance targeting humans (The Birds, Piranha, Arachnophobia, Snakes on a Plane) or have one creature far larger than its usual size (Grizzly, Anaconda, Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea, Razorback).
When it comes to choosing the definitive best example of a natural horror movie that fits within the creature feature, you can hardly find a better film than Steven Spielberg‘s classic, Jaws.
Set on the coastal New England island town of Amity, Jaws tells the story of a colossal great white shark that begins preying on swimmers as the town prepares for its annual Fourth of July celebration. After several attacks ends in multiple swimmers' deaths, the sheriff of Amity Island (Roy Scheider) joins a bookish oceanographer (Roy Dreyfuss) and an expert fisherman (Robert Shaw) as they try to hunt the shark down for good.
The film that established Spielberg as a director and was also the movie credited with creating the modern summer blockbuster, Jaws remains one of the highlights of Spielberg's career, nearly 50 years after its release. It's the superb premise, script, and John Williams' now-famous score that won the praise when the film hit theaters in 1975, as did the performances of the three principal actors.
One of the most well-known natural horror films ever made, Jaws paved the way for numerous rip-off horror films that followed over the next decades (Piranha, Alligator, Grizzly), and still remains the basis for all natural horror movies today. Regardless, it remains nearly impossible to match the success or impact of Jaws, and it’s doubtful any future film ever will.
Streaming on Google TV.
Given how synonymous the word “monster” is with the creature feature, you can bet there are plenty of films featuring mad scientists responsible for creating some sort of genetically engineered monster who then runs amuck. It's a premise that dates back all the way to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and has been repeated with slightly different spins over and over again in film.
When discussing films that feature these kinds of experiments-gone-wrong creatures, we were very tempted to choose Universal's classic horror adaptation of Shelley's novel, with the role of the Monster played by the iconic Boris Karloff. For a more contemporary pick, though, we decided to go with David Cronenberg's most famous and (quite possibly) best film, The Fly.
A loose remake of the earlier 1958 film of the same name, The Fly follows a brilliant scientist, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), working on a teleportation device that he’s spent his entire life researching and constructing. When Brundle attempts to test out the device, the experiment goes horribly wrong, and he slowly begins to metamorphose into a grotesque human-fly hybrid.
Remakes of the 1950s' B-horror movies with a more modern take were a popular trend in the 1980s', producing such remakes as The Blob and The Thing. Similar to those films, The Fly manages to take what on the surface seems a stereotypical enough sci-fi horror plot and develops it further, paralleling Brundle's physical deterioration with his mental and emotional descent into a primal state of animal nature.
Cronenberg's signature body horror style made for a match made in heaven with the film's subject matter, and Goldblum himself manages to shine brightly as the tragic hero, Brundle, who goes from likable oddball in the beginning of the film to the utterly repulsive, insect-like Brundlefly by the movie’s conclusion.
Streaming on HBO Max.
There's something about the endlessly original It Follows that makes it such a powerful and disturbing piece of horror. Relying not on pre-establishing monster archetypes, it builds its story from the ground up, using its unique premise to explore the dangers of misplaced intimacy, as well as a loose parable about sexual diseases.
Set in Michigan, 19-year-old college student Jaime “Jay” Height (Maika Monroe) has sex with her boyfriend, who then informs her that a shapeshifting creature that only she can see will now ceaselessly pursue her until she has sex with another person.
Utilizing dream logic and an eerie sense of timelessness, It Follows feels like a nightmare you can't wake up from (fittingly, the director, David Robert Mitchell, claimed the inspiration behind the movie came from a recurring dream he had). Coupled with that is the retro quality the film possesses, relying on old-fashioned psychological horror and an amazing, synth-heavy score by the composer, Disasterpeace.
The movie may or may not be a direct meditation on sexual encounters or STDs–although given its subject matter and plot, it’s hard to deny any similarities. Regardless of the film’s message, it’s a wonderful concept brilliantly brought to the screen by Mitchell, who manages to capture the sinister foreboding atmosphere of a dream turned upside down.
Streaming on Netflix.
Moving onto criminally underrated creature features, let's talk for a minute about A24's utterly terrifying film, The Monster.
The plot of this movie is a very simple one. A mother (Zoe Kazan) and her estranged young daughter (Ella Ballentine) are driving through the woods on their way to the girl's father's house when they break down in the middle of nowhere at night. As they try to fix their car and get back to civilization, they find themselves being stalked and preyed on by a strange, flesh-eating creature hunting them.
Admittedly, it's a largely straightforward kind of story, feeling almost like a cross between Cujo and Alien (which the monster closely resembles). The genius of the film, though, is how often it psyches the audience out, having rescue seemingly come to help the girl and her daughter, only to be interrupted again and again by the arrival of the unrelenting creature.
A24 gets a lot of credit where credit is due for their more mainstream, well-known films like The Lighthouse, Eighth Grade, or Hereditary. However, it's important to remember just how many lesser-known films like this one the studio has produced, which essentially established A24 in the first place. It's a wonderfully underrated horror movie, and has one of the visually terrifying monsters in recent memory.
Streaming on Paramount+
Found footage films were a huge phenomenon in the 2000s’. Riffing off the success of the inexpensively made but still terrifying film, The Blair Witch Project–the movie that kicked off the entire found-footage movement–numerous films followed that similarly tried to frame traditionally-told horror stories from a new perspective.
Few were more impressive and involved such a clever use of the “found footage” approach quite as well as Matt Reeves‘ 2008 cult favorite, Cloverfield.
Framed as “pre-existing footage” found by the Department of Defense, the film follows six people whose lives are interrupted by the sudden arrival of several large alien monsters that unexpectedly begin attacking New York City. Over the film's hour and a half long runtime, the audience sees the mayhem and chaos that engulfs New York as the main characters try to escape the city before it's completely destroyed.
If you've ever wondered what the events of Godzilla would be like from the perspective of the people on the ground, Cloverfield literally allows you to see through those people's eyes, brilliantly showcasing the pandemonium and pure confusion behind the film's events. It was an incredibly original idea, and one that Reeves perfectly manages to adapt into his own version of a kaiju film.
A wonderful spin on the giant monster movie, Cloverfield was a huge critical and financial success, helping Reeves gain international exposure, as well as paving the way for two loosely connected sequels–the claustrophobic thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and its less-than-impressive successor, The Cloverfield Paradox.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online.
Ah, you were expecting only “serious” horror movie creature features on this list, weren't you?
Yes, it may be true that Pixar's fan-favorite Monsters, Inc. may not have the same tone or horrific elements as some of the other films on this list, but it can certainly fall within the creature feature category for a few obvious reasons.
Taking place in a world inhabited entirely by monsters, the movie follows two monsters–the gentle giant Sulley (John Goodman) and his partner/best friend, the high-strung Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal)–employed at an energy-producing factory that harvests power from scaring children. After Sulley accidentally brings a human child into their world, he and Mike try to do everything they can to return the child back to her world, believing children to be extremely dangerous if allowed loose.
There's a reason why Monsters, Inc. remains one of the most universally loved Pixar films the studio has ever released. Through its charming characters, witty dialogue, and unique premise, the film was the kind of movie audiences had never seen before or since, a family movie that was entertaining for adults and children alike. Like any great Pixar movie, it's funny, heartfelt, and incredibly entertaining, and is likely the most sentimental monster movie you’ll ever see.
Sure, Monsters, Inc. may not fit as neatly within the framework of a creature feature as some of the other movies on this list, but it still remains an essential movie for any audience member to enjoy, containing more than a few clever nods to numerous monster movies before it as well.
Streaming on Disney+.
The Shape of Water
Technically speaking, any number of horror master Guillermo del Toro‘s films could have earned a place on this list, given how frequently the director tackles subject matter depicting cinematic monsters or alien life (Pacific Rim, Hellboy, Mimic).
However, with how positive the reception was for his most recent film, The Shape of Water, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better del Toro movie that fits within the creature feature framework than this 2017 award-winning movie.
Set during the heat of the 1960s' Cold War, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaner at a high-security US government facility that houses a mysterious human-amphibian creature (reminiscent of Universal's Gill-man, played by del Toro's frequent collaborator Doug Jones). As Elisa spends more time with the creature, she eventually falls in love with it and begins plotting its escape, with her plan soon being threatened by a psychotic government agent (Michael Shannon) in charge of the creature's containment.
One of the most unique features of any historical del Toro film is the way he incorporates history and setting into his films’ background, using his movies to explore the issues and problems inherently found during specific time periods, and blending them with more magical or fantastical elements (Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone).
Through this postmodern approach to horror, del Toro manages to make one of the most original modern horror movies ever made, exploring narratives from different perspectives than any audiences had seen from prior, as seen with The Shape of Water.
For anyone who's ever seen a monster movie and wondered what the world looks like from the creature's point of view, this is the movie for you.
Streaming on Amazon's FreeVee (formerly IMDbTV).
As you can see by now, creature features offer an incredibly diverse, far-reaching category of horror that comes in numerous shapes and forms.
There are the giant Japanese monster films, or kaiju movies, inhabited by mammoth creatures like Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, or King Ghidorah. There are the Hollywood horror movies that defined the subgenre, as seen with iconic movie monsters like The Creature from The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, and King Kong.
And then, of course, there are the modern creature features that continue to reshape and redefine the traditional monster movies as we know them, either portraying them as more benevolent creatures (The Shape of Water) or comedic, family-friendly characters not so different from ourselves (Monsters, Inc.).
For other creature features we also highly suggest watching, we recommend the hilarious buddy comedy monster movie, Tremors, John Krasinski’s clever and incredibly unique directorial debut, A Quiet Place, the underrated South Korean horror movie, The Host, from the Academy Award-winning Bong Joon-ho, and Ridley Scott’s most famous film, the sci-fi horror classic, Alien.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).