The Best Monster Movies Ever Made

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

alien xenomorph

There are a few primal concepts every human being can instantly relate to. Perhaps the most basic of all is “don’t get eaten.” That is why the monster movie is one of the most enduring and universal genres cinema has to offer. There are many great monster movies in the canon of film history, and these are our picks for the very best.

Frankenstein (1931)

In the 1930s, Universal established itself as the preeminent monster movie producer in Hollywood. Nearly a century later, they still carry that reputation thanks to movies like Frankenstein.

This film tops the Universal classics because of its surprising depth. Based on the novel by Mary Shelly, the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his piecemeal human being investigates the hubris of mankind. It also delivers a monster who never asked to be recreated, asking questions about the nature of the human soul.

On top of that, the film shines thanks to a terrifying, heartbreaking performance by Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. This tale may be old, but it holds up as not just an entertaining monster movie, but one of the most influential ever made.

Jaws (1975)

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Jaws 1975

Some movies are so scary that they change the world. Jaws is one of those movies. Often identified as the first modern blockbuster, this terrifying shark film made people so scared to go in the water that beaches shut down.

This monster movie is so frightening because of its restraint. For the first half of the movie, the audience does not know what the shark even looks like, making its vicious attacks and lurking POV shots all the more terrifying.

That restraint was not originally intended. The mechanical shark in Jaws was so finicky that director Steven Spielberg could not use it nearly as much as he wanted. His creative workaround kept the threat off-screenv, making it far more effective.

Decades of Spielberg classics can be attributed to that shark’s mechanical failure, as it turned what was on track to be a financial disaster into a monster movie that changed cinema forever.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Two decades after films like Frankenstein and Dracula, Universal released The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Set during an expedition in the Amazon, this monster adventure movie delivers one of the most iconic monster designs ever devised.

The film was released in 3D on the tail end of the fad that swept the early 1950s. It features a compelling monster that is made fascinating by its human characteristics, blending empathy and terror into one memorable moviegoing experience.

Creature has influenced many films. Most obviously, it inspired Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. For a fun double feature, pair the movie with Jaws or Jurassic Park to see how directly this monster movie influenced the work of Steven Spielberg decades later.

Alien (1979)

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In space, no one can hear you scream. In the theater, everyone can hear you, and it was quite a ruckus when Ridley Scott’s Alien burst into cinemas in 1979.

Some movie moments are so embedded in the culture that they feel like timeless facts of life. But in 1979, no one knew that a horrifying creature was about to burst out of a man’s chest on screen.

Alien delivers shocking moments and some of the most disturbing monster design work ever conceived in a film. The monster and its world are revolting, but Alien is at its most frightening when the monster is off screen.

The mystery of the creature, its nature, and its origins sparked intrigue, fear, and a prolific monster movie franchise that continues to expand today.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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What is cooler than a dinosaur? Absolutely nothing.

Jurassic Park is a monster movie that runs the gamut from awe-inspiring delight to the most primal fear a human being can experience. It satisfies human curiosity about what the creatures of prehistoric Earth were like, then makes you immediately glad you weren’t there to see it because prehistoric Earth had a lot of teeth.

Say what you will about Spielberg, but Jurassic Park is one of the most entertaining monster movies ever made. It is driven by a fast-moving script, wonderful characters, and the bold vision that identifies its monsters as innocent animals “doing their thing” in a time and place they were never meant to be in.

The dinosaurs are icing on the cake, and what delicious icing it is.

The Thing (1982)

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Director John Carpenter has made an indelible mark on horror films. Choosing his greatest film is a tough task, but there is a strong argument to be made for his monster movie The Thing.

This tense, claustrophobic thriller pits a research team in a remote, frozen land against a shapeshifting alien that slowly rips the crew apart in more ways than one. No one can be trusted with the doppelganger running around. If you make the mistake of being alone with the wrong person, the consequences are gory.

Though it is a remake of another classic, John Carpenter’s The Thing delivers a balance of awesome monster effects and nerve-shredding tension that makes it a monster movie for the ages.

King Kong (1933)

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King Kong may have debuted in 1933, but it still holds up today. It is a classic story and an even more classic monster that has been attempted many times since. Even still, nothing quite matches the scope and intrigue of the original.

The influence of King Kong is ubiquitous. Jurassic Park modeled its park gate after the epic gate in King Kong and even references the classic film in dialogue. 

This monster movie is one of cinema’s foundational dramas, with a monster and story that are forever embedded in the fabric of our culture.

Godzilla (1954)

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Kong may have “King” in his name, but everyone knows who really reigns. No monster can quite top the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla.

Originating from Japan, this atomic monster has swept the world in sequels, reboots, and remakes for more than half a century. The horror of Godzilla operates on two levels: the immediate threat of a giant lizard destroying the city, and the anxiety about the mysterious consequences of nuclear radiation.

The internet has plenty of content debating which Godzilla movie is the best (and worst), but we are taking it all the way back to the original.

Godzilla’s look and unmistakable roar are recognizable worldwide. This 1954 monster movie began one of cinema’s most powerful legacies, and it is still a thrilling watch all these years later. Godzilla tops our list because, when it comes to monster movies, no one can conquer the King.