Monster movies have continuously evolved and devolved into massive spectacles over the years. We’re not counting zombies, ghosts, vampires, or demons, as each of those has their own lists on this blog. We’re not looking at real-life animals or insects killing people either, so Jaws and the like are out, as are people (although aliens slip through, as some of these monsters do need origin stories). These are the fictional monsters that terrorize us in our sleep.
Check out the top 20 movie monsters in these movies made before 2020.
20. Tie: Little Monsters (1989)/Monsters, Inc. (2001)
The first pair of monster movies on this list are child-friendly “horror” movies that put a lighthearted take on the idea of monsters hiding under our beds and in our closets.
19. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
A scrawny New Jersey nerd lands in toxic waste and mutates into a massive, hulking figure. Instead of terrorizing people, he becomes a superhero in a very weird movie that became a series and even a cartoon series.
18. Rampage (2018)
17. Monsters (2010)
After a NASA probe crashed in Mexico, tentacled monsters show up and people abandon the area. Unfortunately, An American photojournalist has to escort his boss’s daughter through the infected zone.
16. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Director Guillermo del Toro has an undeniable style that translated through all his monstrous movie creations. The monsters in this tale are simply the way a young girl deals with her strict military officer of a stepfather in 1944 Francoist Spain.
15. The Meg (2018)
An extinct giant shark is terrorizing people, so a team of fisherman led by expert diver and swimmer Jason Statham go after it. It’s nice to see Disney create such a massive monster just so we can see Statham dive. If only figure skaters were as lucky on film.
14. The Shape of Water (2018)
Paying homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, this critically acclaimed Guillermo del Toro film has a woman falling in love with an underwater mer creature. They absolutely have sex, and you can find out how.
13. The Descent (2006)
A group of women decide to explore some caves underground, where they find cave paintings and a group of subterranean humanoids called crawlers. They’re people who never left the cave and evolved over thousands of years in the darkness of the caves, much like the Morlocks of the future in The Time Machine.
12. Cloverfield Franchise (2008-?)
The first Cloverfield movie was okay enough to warrant a few sequels, but the franchise continues dropping down the “best of” lists every time it slaps its name and premise onto completely unrelated movies. 10 Cloverfield Lane ended up ok by twisting the twist into the obvious, but The Cloverfield Paradox was just awful.
11. The Blob (1958/1988)
A gelatinous blob simply engulfing everything it touches is an underrated alien concept. With the wide variety of life available on this planet, why should life across the univers be like ours? This movie’s about due for another reboot.
10. The Thing (1982/2011)
The only thing worse than being chased by a monster is being chased by one in Antarctica. John Carpenter is a master of horror and turns this John Campbell short story into a monster movie classic.
9. Gremlins (1984)
Although the sequel was infamously ruined by becoming all the wrong 1980s stereotypes of excess, the original Gremlins remains a classic Christmas monster movie that created a lot of great tropes like not getting Gizmo wet or feeding him after midnight. These things act like my cat.
8. Monsters vs Aliens (2009)
Giant monsters are on our side, thanks to Reese Witherspoon and a host of other B-movie monsters. This cartoon makes them all family friendly, including the missing link that gets freaky in The Shape of Water.
7. The Mist (2007)
A mysterious fog is causing monsters to appear out of thin air in this Stephen King horror film. Thankfully Thomas Jane is willing to save the day, right? Right?
6. Tremors Franchise (1990-2018)
The underrated Kevin Bacon created a cult classic with this movie about giant worm-like creatures terrorizing a small town in the Nevada desert. Now the town’s dozen or so residents have to find a way to stay alive and kill something that hunts based on the vibration of even walking.
5. King Kong (1933-Present)
Kong is the king of American Kaiju who became part of the American lexicon back in the 1930s. He was created by the same Japanese company that created Godzilla (Toho), and they have fought each other and other giant monsters before. This is the basis for Rampage, Pacific Rim, and other movies on this list.
4. Pacific Rim (2013)/Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)
Another del Toro monster film, this one inspired by the Kaiju of old days and bringing a modern interpretation where humans can now fight them with mech suits. Pacific Rim is responsible for the resurgence of giant monster movies leading into the 2020s.
3. The Host (2006)
Not to be confused with the unrelated 2013 American disaster, this South Korean monster movie (titled Gwoemul n its home country, which literally translates to monster)is widely regarded as one of the best to ever come out of the peninsula and a classic horror film. When a massive creature drags his daughter the sewers, Gang-du goes on a relentless search to save her.
2. Jurassic Park Franchise (1992-Present)
Long before it was Jurassic World, Steven Spielberg adapted Michael Crichton’s novel about reviving dinosaurs in modern time to the big screen. The mixture of dinosaurs and the modern world became an international sensation, both in the movie and outside, with the first film becoming (at the time) the highest-grossing movie ever. Once Titanic, Avatar, and Marvel movies started upping the ante, it was time for a new generation, including Chris Pratt.
1. Godzilla Franchise (1954-Presesnt)
Godzilla is the most iconic of the Kaiju worldwide, and he’s been dubbed King of the Monsters across movies, comics, television, and video games. Godzilla can sometimes take on an antihero role, and he’s become one of the most recognizable Japanese pop culture icons worldwide. He’ll be fighting Kong again for the title in 2020.