The Greatest Creature Feature Movies of All Time

Godzilla Minus One (2023) creature feature

Monsters predate cinema by centuries, but monster stories found their ultimate medium with the invention of the motion picture. Movies best capture the awesome sights, the inexplicable horror, the overwhelming majesty of monsters. For that reason, it’s no surprise that monsters have been mainstays of the movies since the silent era and continue to thrive today. Distinct from human killers or animals gone wild, monsters capture the bizarre and beautiful nature of the uncanny, making them the subject of everything from kid’s films to romance movies to, of course, horror flicks.  ki

Movie historians have come to label these types of monster movies as “creature features.” For further elaboration, check out these classics.

1. Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1954)
Image Credit: Toho.

Godzilla is the king of the monsters (and creature features), without question. Even the most ignorant of viewers, who know nothing about the horrific circumstances that gave rise to Japan’s fear of atomic power, still recognize 1954’s Godzilla as a towering achievement. Director Ishirō Honda and his co-writer Takeo Murata craft a bleak film about humanity rendered helpless by the powers that threaten them, manifested in the titular monster, designed by Eiji Tsuburaya. However, for those who know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Godzilla serves as the ultimate example of the monster as a metaphor, a striking image of the lingering effects of unspeakable destruction. 

2. King Kong (1933)

King Kong atop the Empire State Building
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Even after multiple remakes and sequels, the 1933 King Kong remains the eighth wonder of the world and the granddaddy of all creature features. That appellation would fit even if Kong stayed on his native Skull Island and battled prehistoric beasts, all rendered by Willis H. O’Brien and his assistant Buzz Gibson. But the story, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose, makes Kong a true wonder by taking him to New York City. There, among the familiar skyscrapers, Kong’s majesty comes to life, thanks to O’Brien’s ground-breaking crew. 

3. The Thing (1982)

The cast of The Thing look on as R. J. MacReady keeps a flamethrower nearby.
Image Credit: The Turman-Foster Company.

On one hand, no one knows what the monster of John Carpenter’s The Thing looks like. Viewers first meet the creature in the form of a simple dog, and last see it as either (or both?) last men standing Childs (Keith David) or McReady (Kurt Russell). And that’s what makes the Thing so terrifying.

Written by Bill Lancaster, Carpenter’s update of the Howard Hawkes produced The Thing from Another World (1951), itself based on the 1938 novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, works in part by twisting the human body into unrecognizable terrors. Special effects supervisor Rob Bottin approaches human anatomy like a kid with a box of Legos, reassembling familiar parts into breath-taking terrors.  

4. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park Movie (1993)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Director Steven Spielberg had long been a master at capturing awesome sights, as seen in films such as E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But he finds the ideal form for his wondrous creature feature with Jurassic Park, an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel. The screenplay by Crichton and David Koepp gives Spielberg ample space to capture people looking dumbstruck at the dinosaurs on the island, made by a combination of classical stop-motion and groundbreaking CGI. With a team that included legends such as Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, and Phil Tippett, Spielberg combined dinosaurs and humans in a way few moviemakers since have matched, even after thirty years. 

5. The Fly (1986)

The Fly
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The 1958 Kurt Neumann creature feature The Fly left viewers with a disturbing final shot, that of a man-fly hybrid pleading for help while stuck in a web. To match that haunting image for modern viewers, director David Cronenberg needed to pull out all of the stops for his 1986 remake.

The plot by Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue more or less follows the 1957 short story by George Langelaan that inspired both movies. However, Cronenberg focuses on the changes occurring in the body of mad scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum). Even before he takes his hideous final form as the Brundle-Fly, Brundle’s boiling skin and detaching body parts signal his transformation, making him both monster and victim. 

6. The Host (2006)

The Host (2006)
Image Credit: Showbox.

Korean director Bong Joon-ho has as little interest in genre conventions as he has in subtlety. He and co-writers Ha Joon-won and Baek Chul-hyun want a kaiju in The Host to represent American interference in Korean natural resources. But they do not let the limitations of a creature feature prevent them from satirizing news culture or exploring complicated family dynamics.

None of this should suggest that the monster, dubbed “Agent Yellow,” doesn’t matter — indeed, director Bong shoots the giant lizard with as much love and care as he captures stars Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona. However, The Host devotes as much attention to people as it does to the monster. 

7. Tremors (1990)

Tremors (1990)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Unlike many of the entries in the top half of this list, the giant worms in Tremors don’t represent nuclear weapons, capitalism, imperialism, or any other global evil. Instead, the Graboids exist just to chase around Val McKee (Kevin Bacon), Earl Bassett (Fred Ward), and the other denizens of the desert town of Perfection, Nevada.

And what a wonderful chase it is. Written by Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson and directed by Ron Underwood, Tremors gets the most out of its community of colorful characters, making them more than just worm food. But the film also understands the power of a great monster design, showing more and more of the creatures designed by effects house Amalgamated Dynamics until revealing them in all their stomach-churning glory at the end of the picture. 

8. Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986) Sigourney Weaver
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Xenomorph designed by Swiss artist H.R. Geiger first appeared in 1978’s Alien. However, director Ridley Scott followed a haunted house approach for that film, keeping the monster hidden for much of the movie. When blockbuster auteur James Cameron came on to direct the sequel Aliens, he did away with the subtle approach and showed off the aliens in all of their glory. As a result, Aliens outdoes its predecessor as the better creature feature movie, thanks to memorable sequences involving face-huggers in a lab, space marines trapped in an alien nest, and, of course, the Xenomorph Queen. 

9. Predator (1987)

Predator (1987)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

For the first half of Predator, director John McTiernan shoots the film like any other 80s action movie. A musclebound group of American G.I.s, led by Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Dillon (Carl Weathers) mow down a jungle full of enemy soldiers. But the smirks and one-liners that come with superior American firepower soon fall away when the soldiers become the prey for a greater threat. The script by Jim Thomas and John Thomas makes the most of the reversal, but the film hinges most on the creature designs by Stan Winston. Winston’s design, based on Cameron’s input, created a truly memorable monster, the sort of thing that could reduce a beefcake like Schwarzenegger to an evening snack. 

10. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Every filmmaker on this list has a soft spot for monsters, but few love them like Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. That love comes through the protagonist of Pan’s Labyrinth Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a little girl who uses fantasy to escape the horrors of Spanish fascism. That play of tones allows del Toro to make his monsters, including two notable creatures performed by American actor Doug Jones, at once alluring and threatening. No scene demonstrates this tension better than the Pale Man sequence, in which Ofelia sits to enjoy a luscious dinner in front of the vulnerable creature just to have him stalk her at the end. 

11. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker's Dracula Gary Oldman
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Dracula has been one of cinema’s favorite monsters, as the Count has appeared in over 170 films. But no movie captures the alluring beauty and danger of the character like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In addition to the seductive young man that Gary Oldman plays with limited make-up, Dracula appears as an older bloodsucker, a wolf, a bat, a cloud of smoke, and more. When combined with Coppola’s soaring, romantic approach, Dracula proves that a beautiful monster is still a monster. 

12. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Without question, the Universal monster movies of the 1930s were creature features. But they remain favorites for generations because they have more than scares on their mind. The best Universal Monster films have a romantic soul, no more so than Frankenstein’s Monster as portrayed by Boris Karloff in the James Whale-directed movies. In Bride of Frankenstein, written by William Hurlbut and based on the novel by Mary Shelley, Whale gives the Monster the love and community that he’s always wanted, in the form of the Bride (Elsa Lanchester). When the film builds to its famous climax, viewers will cry instead of shriek, their hearts breaking for the poor monster. 

13. Slither (2006)

Slither (2006)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

These days, people know director James Gunn as the superhero auteur behind the Guardians of the Galaxy films. However, Gunn got his start working for the low-brow studio Troma Entertainment, developing a tasteless streak that he carried into his debut creature feature, Slither. The story of brain-eating alien worms who take over a small town, Slither has more than a few ghastly images. However, Gunn matches it with genuine pathos, leading to the most heartbreaking and stomach-churning climax ever seen on the silver screen. 

14. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

The Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Image Credit: Paramount Productions.

Based on the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Island of Lost Souls features many notable beasties. Human/animal hybrids, such as the seductive Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke) and the Giver of the Law (Bela Lugosi), fill the movie. However, its real villain comes in the form of mad scientist Dr. Moreau, played with delicious amorality by Charles Laughton. Even if Moreau doesn’t look the part, his duplicitous cackle and manipulative ways make him the greatest threat on an island full of beasts. 

15. From Beyond (1986)

Barbara Crampton in From Beyond (1986)
Image Credit: Empire Pictures.

Most cinephiles name 1985’s Re-Animator as the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from director Stuart Gordon. However, when it comes to creature feature thrills, his follow-up From Beyond takes the top spot.

Teaming once again with Re-Animator stars Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton, Gordon portrays the grotesque results of experiments to reach another sphere of existence. That project involves several disgusting creatures, including a human transformed into a blob of melted human flesh and carnivorous fish writhing in the air. The creation of legendary effects artist artists John Carl Buechler and associate John Naulin, these monsters make From Beyond the gooey creature feature the masterpiece of Gordon’s career. 

16. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One (2023)
Image Credit: Toho Company,

After 37 films and almost fifty years, one would expect even the King of the Monsters to grow stale. But as the 38th entry Godzilla Minus One demonstrates, Godzilla still has a lot of life in his radioactive body.

Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, who also supervised the special effects with Kiyoko Shibuya, Godzilla Minus One looks back at the first days of Godzilla’s existence, right after World War II but before his debut in the 1954 film. Yamazaki presents a gargantuan version of the titular kaiju, one who chases down boats and levels a city with atomic breath. However, Yamazaki also pens a powerful, life-affirming story, one that promises that no monster can defeat a community coming together. 

17. The Blob (1988)

A scene from The Blob.
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Like most of the remakes of 1950s movies that populated the 1980s, director Chuck Russell’s update of The Blob features gross-out effects and mean-spirited kills. However, unlike The Fly or The Thing, it has no larger social commentary in mind, no desire to elevate sci-fi and horror to a respectable level. Instead, it embraces its goofy premise, which leads to more absurd kills. Every part of the screenplay, which Russell co-wrote with The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, goes for over-the-top characters, all of whom get subsumed by the titular pink goo creature. 

18. Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser, Doug Bradley
Image Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors.

In his short stories and novels, English author Clive Barker creates monsters who embody the extremes of human longing, beings who supersede normal morality and mainstream standards. Barker brings that same approach to his directorial debut Hellraiser, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart.

As the hedonist Frank Cotton (first portrayed by Sean Chapman and then by Andrew Robinson) and his lover Julia (Clare Higgens) seek victims for his new body, they encounter the Cenobites, led by the regal Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Later sequels would reduce Pinhead and the Cenobites into generic killers. But in Hellraiser, they still had the air of mystery that Barker intended. 

19. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

For all their high-minded themes about the brutality inside all humans, werewolf creature features work because it looks cool when people transform into wolves. And no movie has a better transformation scene than An American Werewolf in London, written and directed by John Landis.

Effects artist Rick Baker creates one of the most believable and impressive sequences, in which poor David (David Naughton) collapses to the floor and begins changing, his nose extending into a snout and his hands forming paws. Add in David’s decaying pal Jack (Griffin Dunne) and a pig-soldier nightmare, and An American Werewolf in London becomes a visual feast for any creature feature fan. 

20. Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away
Image Credit: Toho Co., Ltd.

As in every other film by famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the monsters of Spirited Away do not follow the simple binaries in most Western stories. The witch Yubaba (voiced by Suzanne Pleshette in the American dub) seems malevolent, and the spirit No-Face (Bob Bergen) swallows anyone who gives into its greed, but tragedy and heartache drive them more than cruelty. Even without the guidance of protagonist Sen (Daveigh Chase), viewers can learn to acknowledge the beauty and complexity of the creatures who populate the bathhouse just by looking at Miyazaki’s gorgeous designs. From the beguiling Radish Spirit (Jack Angel) to the glorious dragon form of Haku (Jason Marsden), Spirited Away understands the dignity of the unusual. 

21. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones in Hellboy II (2008)
Image Credit: Lionsgate Entertainment.

Guillermo del Toro loves superheroes almost as much as he loves monsters, so of course he combined the two for his creature feature adaptation of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. While the original Hellboy from 2004 has its share of cool beasties, including the title character played by Ron Perlman, the sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army takes more delight in its ghouls. As Hellboy tries to rescue humanity from a vengeful Elf (Luke Goss), he must accept that the world will never expect him. This tension leads to lyrical moments, such as the aftermath of Hellboy’s battle with a nature Elemental, in which he watches in sorrow the creature spill its lovely green lifeblood in its dying moments. 

22. Basket Case 2 (1990)

Annie Ross in Basket Case 2 (1990)
Image Credit: Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment.

No director combines high-minded philosophy and low-budget filmmaking like Frank Henenlotter, whose 1982 cult hit Basket Case introduced twin brothers Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial. Where the first film tells the story of Duane and Belial’s mission of vengeance against those who separated the conjoined twins, Basket Case 2 finds Belial getting a home of his own, among other grotesque mutants.

Working with a much larger budget, Henenlotter and his special effects team have room to design bizarre creatures, unlike any before seen in the cinema. Basket Case 2 can’t quite balance the tone of domestic sweetness and angry horror, but the fantastic visuals make up for any lack in the story. 

23. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The Robert Louis Stevenson tale of a good man with a dark side has long inspired psychological horror films and creature features through the ages. But no version manages to keep both the rich themes and the fun monster horror like the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from director Rouben Mamoulian, who co-wrote the script with Percy Heath.

As both the good doctor and the brutish Hyde, Fredric March puts in a mesmerizing performance, which won him a Best Actor Oscar. Even better are the movie’s special effects, which show Jekyll's transformation into Hyde in real-time, a bit of movie magic that beguiles viewers even today. 

24. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

The Cabin in the Woods Movie
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

Directed by Drew Goddard, who co-wrote the script with Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods could have been just a metatextual story about the nature of creature features. When its five teen protagonists settle into their genre roles (jock, brain, stoner, etc.), the movie becomes a referendum on why we tell and retell horror stories. And yet, The Cabin in the Woods builds to an ecstatic climax featuring every monster ever created — a giant snake, a merman, creepy kids and clowns, and even a unicorn. The carnage that ensues makes every monster lover giggle with delight. 

25. The Mummy (1999)

Arnold Vosloo and Patricia Velásquez in The Mummy (1999)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

On one hand, The Mummy director Stephen Sommers seems more interested in remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark than he is the 1933 Boris Karloff film. Stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz bring a sharp wit and screwball repartee to their adventure across the desert, which draws the attention of the resurrected ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo).

But make no mistake, Sommers infuses more than enough horror into his story, from the way that Imhotep incarnates by stealing body parts from victims to the hordes of scarabs he sends toward the heroes. These multiple forms taken by Imhotep make him one of the most formidable monsters on this list, a creature whose mere presence transforms any adventure into a tale of terror. 

26. Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins Movie (1984)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The script that Chris Columbus wrote for Gremlins tells a dark, cranky Christmas story about monsters tearing apart an all-American town.

Director Joe Dante keeps some of that misanthropy in his finished creature feature, but his love of Looney Tunes humor makes the mischief more comic than cruel. Dante achieves this tone with the help of the furry Mogwai and scaly Gremlin puppets designed by Chris Walas. Whether singing with glee at Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or hurling an old woman through a window, the Gremlins remain adorable and alarming creatures. 

27. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) Julie Adams, Ben Chapman
Image Credit: Universal-International.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon premiered in 1954, long after the heyday of the Universal Monsters. Despite that late start, the Gill Man carries the romantic soul of its predecessors. The impressive suit offered little room for facial articulation, but the design from Disney animator Milicent Patrick made up for the lack with a mask rich with character.

Even better is the breathtaking underwater photography from director Jack Arnold, in which the Gill Man (performed by Ricou Browning in the water) dances below the beautiful Kay (Julia Adams). Thanks to the work of these artists, the Gill Man garners as much sympathy as Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster, even without the expressive faces of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. 

28. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

By the standards of most of his cheap and quick movies, Roger Corman had an impressive puppet for the man-eating plant Audrey II in the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors. Thanks to his work co-founding the Muppets with Jim Henson, director Frank Oz could go even bigger for his 1985 remake, based on the Broadway musical adaptation from Howard Ashman. Muppet performer Lyle Conway helped design Audrey II and Oz employed a wide range of visual tricks to bring the character to life, bringing to screens a creature at once terrifying, hilarious, and funky. 

29. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Image Credit: Toho.

The success of Godzilla launched a bevy of imitator creature features, including the beautiful Mothra and the pterodactyl Rodan. These follow-ups often gave Godzilla the chance to battle one of two of his successors, but none could match the battle royale featured in Destroy All Monsters, from Godzilla director Ishirō Honda and his co-screenwriter Takeshi Kimura.

Special effects artist Sadamasa Arikawa fills the screen with thrilling fight scenes between Japan's greatest kaiju, including Godzilla, Anguirus, King Ghidorah, and more. Destroy All Monsters doesn’t reach the dramatic depths of 1954’s Godzilla, but it provides more fun than any other movie about people in rubber suits. 

30. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters Inc
Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Every night, the hulking blue beast called Sully (John Goodman) sneaks through a closet door into the bedroom of a small child and bears his gruesome teeth, relishing in their screams. But as the tagline for Monsters, Inc. makes clear, he and his partner Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) don’t scare kids for fun. They’re just doing their jobs.

Director Pete Docter and screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson imagine monsters as blue-collar laborers in a factory that uses screams as an energy source. Outside of an occasional spooky moment here and there, Monsters, Inc. worries more about cute Pixar adventures than it does terrifying viewers. That doesn’t make its monsters any less monstrous; it just makes them more relatable. 

31. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1954)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Image Credit: Universal Pictures

For decades now, studios have tried to replicate the shared universe success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Universal Studios nailed the approach a full seven years before Marvel Comics existed, let alone the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein devotes most of its attention to the titular duo. But it throws them in a proper mash that includes Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.), Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), and a Mad Scientist (Lenore Aubert). Instead of overcrowding the picture, this combination of tones and characters makes for a raucous celebration of everything spooky. 

32. It’s Alive (1974)

It's Alive (1974)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Every parent knows that, no matter how much one loves their child, babies still destroy homes and keep everyone up all night. Writer and director Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive takes that premise one step further, by introducing a mutant baby, who not only screams and cries but also kills people with fangs and claws. The legendary Rick Baker designed the terrifying tot, which looks like a doll with rubber vampire teeth shoved into its mouth. But the real horror comes from the conflict between parents Frank (John P. Ryan) and Lenore (Sharon Farrell), who have to destroy their child. 

33. Nightbreed (1990)

Nightbreed (1990)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Even when telling stories about creatures from the netherealm who tear the flesh of their victims, writer and director Clive Barker sees something beautiful and tragic in monsters, a quality missing from most humans.

That perspective finds its purest form in his 1988 novella Cabal, which he adapted for the screen as Nightbreed. Craig Scheffer stars as Boone, a man who learns about his true identity after discovering the underground city of Midian, where monsters live in peace. However, Boone’s transition to Midian gets complicated by the arrival of a masked killer (played by director David Cronenberg), who commits acts unthinkable to even the most deviant monster. 

34. The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Doug Jones
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Guillermo del Toro already gave viewers romantic creature features in Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, the latter of which featured a Gill Man portrayed by Doug Jones. However, he pushes those concepts to the extreme in the Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, which he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor.

In The Shape of Water, the mute custodian Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) meets an Amphibian Man (Jones, again) trapped in the facility where she works. The two begin a passionate love affair, despite the objections of cruel scientist Strickland (Michael Shannon) and others in Elisa’s life. As the many homages to classic cinema demonstrate, The Shape of Water celebrates not just del Toro’s love of monsters, but his love of monster movies. 

35. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Like Barker and del Toro, director Tim Burton has a soft spot for odd-ball outsiders. Most of his films feature such characters, including the sweeping romance Edward Scissorhands.

Borrowing from Frankenstein, the script by Caroline Thompson follows the titular artificial man (Johnny Depp), whose inventor (Vincent Price) died before he could finish fashioning proper hands, as he travels to the nearby suburbs. As with Beetlejuice, Burton casts Winona Ryder as the human girl who forms a bond with the monster. But the softer tones of Edward Scissorhands make the connection more sweet and rich than that crass comedy. 

36. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Image Credit: Trans World Entertainment.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space delivers exactly what the title promises, and nothing more. A group of alien clowns land their spaceship, shaped like a big top, in a nondescript town and begin killing everyone they see.

Director Stephen Chiodo makes no visual flourishes with his camera, and the script that he and his brother Charles Chiodo wrote has no compelling characters or interesting themes. However, Killer Klowns from Outer Space does have lots of intricate and nightmarish puppets, designed by Stephen and Charles with their brother Edward Chiodo. Because it puts the effects first, Killer Klowns from Outer Space plays like a delirious home movie from a group of insane and insanely talented kids. 

37. Ginger Snaps (2000)

ginger-snaps
Image Credit: Unapix Entertainment Productions.

The classical werewolf stories imagined lycanthropy as a social issue, an untamable beast that lurks inside even the most genteel citizen. Director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton keep that social quality for their creature feature Ginger Snaps, but they turn it toward female adolescence.

When Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) hits puberty, she undergoes a radical attitude shift, one that separates her from her younger sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins). That distance grows more severe when Brigette realizes that her sister hasn’t just become a woman, but that she’s transformed into a flesh-eating werewolf. The werewolf effects may not be the most impressive examples on this list, but few movies can outdo Ginger Snaps’s ability to make a monster out of real-world anxieties. 

38. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Beast From 20000 Fathoms (1953)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Godzilla may be the best creature feature about atomic energy, but it isn’t quite the first. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms debuted in theaters a year before the King of the Monsters stomped on Tokyo. Directed by special-effects veteran Eugène Lourié, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms adapts the Ray Bradbury story “The Fog Horn” to tell a straightforward tale about a giant dinosaur rising from the depths to threaten the U.S. coast.

The real pleasure of the film comes from the stop-motion creature effects by Ray Harryhausen. The beast doesn’t have quite the same tactile power offered by the man-in-the-suit approach in Godzilla, but it does look much cooler than many modern computer-generated beasts. 

39. Society (1989)

Society (1989)
Image Credit: Wild Street Pictures.

A lot of the movies on this list feature icky monsters and gross-out scenes. None of them even comes close to what director Brian Yuzna imagines during the climax of Society.

The script by Rick Fry and Woody Kieth works in a standard body snatchers mold, in which Beverly Hills kid Bill (Billy Warlock) fears that he doesn’t fit in with his rich family and their peers. Instead of trying to meet their standards, Billy does some investigating to discover that the upper crust are in fact gooey aliens who consume the lower classes by melting their flesh. Whatever the merits of Society’s satirical social commentary, nothing stays with viewers like the disgusting effects from the Japanese legend Screaming Mad George. 

40. Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Return of the Living Dead
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

All hail the Tar Man! Even when following the lead of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which reimagined zombies as flesh-eating ghouls, most zombie flicks throw a bit of gory make-up on its re-animated corpses and call it a day. For most of Return of the Living Dead, writer and director Dan O’Bannon, working off a story by Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo, follows this model. But he pulls out all the stops for a couple of great-looking zombies, including the Tar Man. An emaciated figure with bulging eyes protruding from a tar-covered skull, the Tar Man amazes as much as he terrifies when he shambles toward a group of punks and shouts with delight, “Brains!”

41. PG: Psycho Goreman (2020)

PG: Psycho Goreman (2020)
Image Credit: RLJE Films.

The two-letter opening in the title PG: Psycho Goreman evokes ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg’s sweet tale about the bond between a little boy and a lost alien. Writer/director/special effects artist Steven Kostanski includes a bond between a kid and an alien in Psycho Goreman. But that kid is psychotic little girl Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and vicious alien conquerer Psycho Goreman (portrayed by Matthew Ninaber and voiced by Steven Vlahos). Using a magical crystal that allows her to control PG, the malevolent Mimi orders him to cause trouble around town, which feels a bit inappropriate for a kid her age. Despite all of its big talk, PG: Psycho Goreman does indeed have a fun-living heart at its core, made all the more delightful by its outstanding creature effects. 

42. Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans (1981)
Image Credit: United Artists.

The Greek mythology epic Clash of the Titans was directed by Desmond Davis and written by Beverley Cross, but the film’s true author is visual effects artist Ray Harryhausen. The stop-motion animation that Harryhausen brings to the story of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) makes the movie sing. Each scene feels like an excuse for Perseus to encounter a new fantastic new creature, from Medusa to giant Scorpions to the mighty Kraken. None of the film’s human characters can match the majesty of Harryhausen’s designs, and no viewer minds at all. 

43. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Nosferatu (1922) Max Schreck
Image Credit: Film Arts Guild.

The German silent film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror may be an unauthorized adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula, but screenwriter Henrik Galeen follows the same basic beats of the source material. Directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu deals with real estate agent Thomas Hutter’s (Gustav von Wangenheim) interactions with the mysterious Count Orlok (Max Schreck). However, Murnau makes a notable change from Stoker’s vision of dapper old money by giving Orlok a long, rodent-like face and spindly claws. Thanks to this revision, the iconography of Nosferatu continues to influence generations of filmmakers. 

44. Bad Milo! (2013)

Bad Milo! (2013)
Image Credit: Magnet Releasing.

Most creature features use monsters as metaphors for large-scale issues, with the Wolf Man representing humanity’s base desires or Godzilla representing atomic power. For the horror comedy Bad Milo!, director Jacob Vaughan and his co-writer Benjamin Hayes use a monster to represent a dads-to-be’s (Ken Marino) anxiety over his future child. The stubby, wide-eyed beast might not look impressive, but Vaughan employs him well as both a menace and a sweet sign of the joys of fatherhood. 

45. The Howling (1981)

The Howling (1981)
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

For his creature feature adaptation of the Gary Brandner novel The Howling, director Joe Dante hired one of the best special effects artists in the business, Rick Baker, to design the movie’s werewolves. However, Baker left production to work on a rival wolfman movie, An American Werewolf in London. Dante lucked out with his emergency backup, an up-and-coming artist named Rob Bottin. Bottin’s effects in The Howling don’t quite match the work he’ll do later on John Carpenter’s The Thing. But, along with Dante’s humorous touch and a strong script from John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless, The Howling stands on its own as a great werewolf movie. 

46. Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead Movie
Image Credit: Libra Films.

David Lynch doesn't create horror from scary monsters with big teeth. Instead, he finds the uncanny in the mundane, creating chills from phone calls and ceiling fans. Lynch develops this approach in his first film Eraserhead, which stars Jack Nance as a man overcome by stress when he gets his girlfriend pregnant.

While Lynch creates an unsettling tone with Nance’s blank expression, the industrial sound design, and black and white photography, he also gets some help from some notable monsters. In addition to an odd girl who lives in a radiator, Eraserhead imagines the protagonist’s child as a wheezing, pulsating, fowl-like thing, who keeps him up at night. To this day, Lynch still won’t explain how he made the baby, making it a legendary monster in a film with few visual effects. 

47. Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)

Critters 2- The Main Course (1988)
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

As a low-budget work-for-hire creature feature, the Chiodo Brothers didn’t get to show off their skills in the four original Critters films. However, they did put their humor and ingenuity to work in the second and best entry of the franchise, Critters 2: The Main Course. Directed by Mick Garris and co-written by The Fugitive writer David Twohy, Critters 2 features more jokes than scares, which lets the Chiodo brothers indulge their madcap imagination. Viewers see that with the movie’s final beast, a gigantic ball formed when all the Critters come together and go rolling down main street to gobble everything in sight. 

48. Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

2008’s Cloverfield distinguishes itself from other kaiju flicks by taking a pedestrian perspective, focusing on everyday New Yorkers instead of the giant monster. Director Matt Reeves, working from a script by Drew Goddard, Reeves uses a found footage approach to keep the attention on Rob (Michael Stahl-David) as he and his friends try to cross New York City to find his girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman). But just because humans drive the story doesn’t mean that Reeves ignores the monster. In addition to some nasty parasites who attack the survivors in a tunnel, Cloverfield features an impressive kaiju, a praying mantis-type thing designed by Neville Page. 

49. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Return of the Jedi, Ewoks, Endor, C-3PO, Han Solo
Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

To this day, film fans talk about the Mos Eisley Cantina scene from the original Star Wars as a high point for cinematic creatures. But where that film had to make its aliens with whatever costumes they could find from other productions, George Lucas pulled out all of the stops for the final movie in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Joining in the climactic battle between the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire are a host of amazing creatures, including the Rancor, Jabba the Hut, and the Ewoks, brought to life by talents such as Phil Tippett and Joe Johnston. 

50. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where The Wild Things Are Paul Dano, Sonny Gerasimowicz
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Despite coming from the mind of inventive director Spike Jonze and featuring a script co-written by Pulitzer finalist Dave Eggers, the 2009 movie Where the Wild Things Are has not enjoyed a legacy as rich as the 1963 Maurice Sendak picture book it adapts. Whatever its shortcomings as a creature feature, Where the Wild Things Are still deserves credit for bringing to life Sendak’s beasties, imagined here as full-bodied puppets designed by the Jim Henson Company and some CGI animation. The monsters capture the whimsy of the source material, especially when paired with a gentle voice performance by the late, great James Gandolfini as lead Wild Thing Carol. 

Author: Joe George

Title: Pop Culture Writer

Expertise: Film, Television, Comic Books, Marvel, Star Trek, DC

Bio:

Joe George is a pop culture writer whose work has appeared at Den of Geek, The Progressive Magazine, Think Christian, Sojourners, Men's Health, and elsewhere. His book The Superpowers and the Glory: A Viewer's Guide to the Theology of Superhero Movies was published by Cascade Books in 2023. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critic's Association.