Best Movie Monsters

Whether you’re a fan of high-tech graphics or practical special effects, the best movie monsters make their films way more memorable—oftentimes launching entire franchises and rabid fan bases in the process.

These movie monsters are the best of the best, turning a normal actor into a fearsome and scene-dominating creature you almost can’t help but root for.

Godzilla

Godzilla (1952)

Director: Ishirô Honda
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Godzilla is a lizard-like creature that has gone down in history as one of the most widely-known monsters. However, Godzilla was originally meant to express the population’s fear during a time when Japan was still reeling from atomic bombs.

Godzilla’s lore states that he was woken from a long hibernation by the bombs from WWII. He then stomped his way into Japan, wreaking havoc wherever he went. This movie monster garnered such rapid international acclaim, the Godzilla franchise now boasts 36 movies—and counting.

 

Skeksis

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Director: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Starring: John Baddeley, Stephen Garlick
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Jen, a member of a race of beings called Mystics, sets out to find the dark crystal to balance the world. Problem is, it’s currently in the hands of an evil race called the Skeksis.

Jim Henson outdid himself with this design. Skeksis look like strange birds that resemble rotting corpses. Their beaks are full of teeth, and they crumble into dust upon death—a surefire way to terrify innocent little 80s kids who just couldn’t look away.

 

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man

Ghostbusters (1984)

Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

A group of men battles supernatural entities—without knowing much about their new job. Through some bumbling, they manage to release a giant paranormal being upon New York City from an alternative plane of existence. Hilariously, this movie monster looks exactly like an enormous marshmallow humanoid.

However, when Stay-Puft begins to destroy the city, the Ghostbusters learn it’s no laughing matter. Together, they must find a way to send it back from whence it came.

 

Ludo

Labyrinth (1986)

Director: Jim Henson
Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Another entry from Henson, Labyrinth follows a young girl’s journey in search of her baby brother through the mysterious world of the Goblin King.

All of the puppets in this movie are visually fascinating, but Ludo—the usually gentle orange giant—looks unlike anything else in the drab-colored world, and stands out as an interesting movie monster design.

 

Audrey II

Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)

Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Rick Moranis, Levi Stubbs
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

The monster in this musical is an alien lifeform resembling an enormous, toothy venus fly trap. What’s more, it talks.

The movie itself is somewhat campy, and the songs take away some of the horrors that the monster instills. Nevertheless, when it growls “Feed me all night long!”—while begging for human flesh—its monstrous nature is crystal clear.

 

Balrog

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Though this scene is mostly memorable for the line Gandalf cries when his party refuses to let him stay behind, the monster he’s facing off against is no joke. Leathery wings, giant horns, and a fiery whip make the balrog a fearsome foe. Even Gandalf, a powerful wizard, knows that the best course of action is to “fly, you fools!”

 

Davy Jones

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV

Though Davy Jones is mostly humanoid, the special effects team turned Bill Nighy’s head into a strange, tentacled mass while still managing to retain his facial expressions. He may not be as monstrous as the others on this list, but the intricate facial expressions and body language conveyed with the tentacles make him a formidable entry.

 

Fish Thing

The Host (2006)

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Hie-bong Byeon
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Nature decides to enact revenge against humans and their pollution by way of a strange, fish-like monster, which evolves from the chemicals humans previously dumped in the Han River.

This film understands that its monster is both well-crafted and humorous in design, and balances those elements very well. When charges down the boardwalk tossing adults like ragdolls, however, it’s hard not to find the fish thing terrifying.

 

Pale Man

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

2006 was a fantastic year for movie monsters, but no film did it better than Pan’s Labyrinth. The shadow world is full of unique creatures, twisted yet still recognizable. One of the best designs involved putting eyes in the palms of a humanoid, then smoothing out the top half of its head. The result was a gaunt creature that was beautiful in a grotesque way—much like the film itself.

 

Pennywise

It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Apple TV

The town of Derry, Maine, is a bizarre place with colorful characters, but none more so than Pennywise. It often takes the form of a clown, in order to entice delicious young children down to the sewer’s murky depths.

A brave group of misfits band together to survive Pennywise as children, then again as adults, hoping to put an end to its reign of terror once and for all.

While Bill Skarsgård delivers a spine-chilling performance as Pennywise in this reboot of the original 1990 mini-series, Tim Curry’s portrayal is just as horrifying.

 

via GIPHY

Great movie monsters can’t just look scary. In fact, many of them can look hilarious or downright campy in design. What makes a monster great isn’t its special effects or jumpscares, but rather thoughtful and unique design, intriguing backstories, and compelling plots to drive their actions.

For more movie recommendations, check out the best video game monsters, every movie in the Godzilla franchise, or the scariest horror films from every year this century.