For all of my inate sophistication (in my mind), I also enjoy the pure, simple things in life- chocolate, gasoline and matches. When it comes to movies, it is a truth universally known what the moment the words “giant” and “monster” are mentioned, ears are gonna prick up, and I am no exception. In honor of Guillermo del Toro’s (aka my brain husband) big return to the big screen “Pacific Rim” which features giant robots going head to fist with kaiju (literally meaning ‘strange beast’ in Japanese, but commonly applied to large beasties who like to run amuck), a movie that I am tentatively growing more and more enthusiastic about, here is my Top 10 Giant Movie Monsters.
Honorable mention: No giant monster list would be complete without the inclusion of two mighty monsters from the East and the West- Godzilla and King Kong. Both are perennial centerpieces of their respective cultures, they are international icons because of how well-known and loved they are, and it surprises me that religions haven’t been inspired by them… actually perhaps that’s for the best. When I was a little Bea, I saw both of their original movies and I was in awe- I had never seen anything like them and they still remain two of my favourite films ever. Godzilla and Kong rock, no doubt.
However, the reason why they are not on the list proper is because they would be far too obvious a choice, plus, I wanted to give other big beasties a good look-in too. Some of my choices will be predictable, others may not be, but nonetheless, they are here because they have made an impact on me and I would like to share my love of them with you. Just so you know, this process was NOT easy!
10) Biollante (Godzilla vs. Biollante, 1989)
Biollante is a strange foe to Godzilla- she was never made to be evil, she wasn’t created with the intention to dominate the human race at the behest of malicious aliens- she was created to help the Earth and it’s people. Spawned from the DNA materials of the King of the Monsters himself in order to produce and enhance lush vegetation in the arid region of Saradia as well as replenish the ecosystem of Japan, Biollante’s genesis isn’t your typical origin story. The kindly Doctor Shiragami was acting with every noble intention to help his fellow humans, but naturally, tragedy struck. An act of terrorism on the lab took the life of many scientists, the doctor’s beloved daughter, Erika, was among the fatalities. Grieved, Dr. Shiragami collected the DNA of his daughter and spliced with with a beautiful rosebush in order to preserve her memory and spiritual entity. Five years later, an earthquake threatened to destroy Erika’s floral avatar, which caused Shiragami to take an exceedingly risky measure to protect his daughter’s immortality by splicing a singe rose from the bush with Godzilla’s geonome. However, the apparently successful fusion of flower’s cells resulted in the slow but eventual growth and mutation of the rose, which eventually became sentient, and eventually proceeded to smash its way through the laboratory wall, making its way to Lake Ashino, where it rooted itself and took up residence. Through some unexplained means, Biollante ‘called’ to Godzilla, who was, for all intents and purposes, her father, and the King came… which resulted in Big G kicking Biollante’s rosey backside. Oh dear. Godzilla appeared to be the victor until Biollante sprouted other appendages roses don’t ordinarily have- a mouthful of teeth as well as what appeared to be a being made of flesh underneath all of the twirling vines and tendrils, each of them baying for vengeance. Shirigami wondered… could this be Erika?
Rather than just being another big, scary monster, Biollante’s whole story and make up reads more of a fairytale with a bittersweet ending- the spirit of a human being melded with a plant is an unusual concept, but for Biollante, it works. The first time she fought Godzilla, she was fighting defensively – Godzilla was the aggressor. Their next encounter, she fought as a means of retaliation because it had a human conciousness, despite her frightening outer appearance. When Erika is finally released from Biollante, the creature dissolves into spores and travel into space where they are never seen or heard from again. Biollante/Erika just wanted to be set free since she knew there really was no place for her on the planet… despite the fact Godzilla was happy to stay in Earth’s oceans.
9) The trolls (Troll Hunter, 2010)
It’s really rare we get ourselves some magnificent big beasties from far across the pond, and it’s rarer still that more obscure monsters (by Western standards anway) such as trolls are made terrifying… in a non-“Troll 2” kind of way. “Troll Hunter” remains one of my favourite creature features because in a world festooned with vampires, werewolves, demons, witches and ghosts, we don’t get many creatures from ancient folklore, and when I saw this movie, I was tremendously thankful that there are people out there who aren’t afraid to dig deeper. For the most part, the trolls, despite their ugliness also look quite human, despite having three heads and towering over a forest, and it this trait that makes you feel empathic toward them. Until they start devouring people like Marlon Brando in a McDonald’s resturant. One of the BEST things about this movie is not only does it follows the road less-travelled, but for all of it’s fantastic elements, thanks to the mockumentary nature of the movie, it feels real because the perfromances feel natural. See this movie, love these trolls, not the ones on the internet.
8) The Thing (The Thing, 1982)
Okay, so I’m reaching here because the Thing doesn’t exactly have a set form and it can assume any shape it desires, but in saying that, some of the Thing’s best transformations were the ones you just can’t decipher. Is it a plant? If that’s the case, how come it has a dog’s head poking out? Is it a man? Well sure, but then there are those nasty-looking lobster claws waving around. Despite the true horror of the creature being that it can hide WITHIN you (as the poster says, “Man is the warmest place to hide”) Rob Bottin and his team truly outdid themselves when it came to giving the Thing all of it’s gruesome wardrobe changes. Their hard work, creativity and commitment shows in every frame because it never fails to make the audience go “WHAT… THE… FUUUUUUUCK!”- it’s strange, it’s unseemly and in this case it’s shit scary. Here’s a little something to consider; given the Thing’s amazing survival instincts, it is a possible hypothesis that it assumes all of these forms intentionally to cause psychological trauma on it’s victims before moving in for the kill.
Author’s note: The above picture is the Blair-Monster, just in case you were wondering or couldn’t quite remember because you were dumb-founded by terror.
7) Q (Q The Winged Serpent, 1982)
Larry Cohen has never been accused of making quality movies but at the best of times, he can make superbly entertaining ones, which is why this cult classic monster of his makes the list. Q, or as he is properly known as, “Quetzalcoatl” is an ancient Aztec god-monster that wrecks havoc on modern day (if you can call 1982 modern) New York at the same time as Michael Moriarty’s beautifully dickish thief takes this opportunity to wreck some havoc of his own. Q is as cheesey as you’d expect him to look, but what I love is that Cohen took a figure of the creation myth (Quetzacoatl despite his monstorous form was the creator of the skies, was a wise legislator and a patron of fertility… … don’t ask) from actual human mythology and tried to incorporate it into the contemporary where society in general has accepted God as the creator. Don’t worry, this film doesn’t wax philosophical about faith and belief, I just found this to be an interesting point when I watched it. Despite the fact his film has ‘B-movie’ written all over it, it is worth a watch and Q is definitely something to be laughed at not through malice but good humour, which is something absolutely required when you sit down to watch this gem.
6) Rhedosaurus (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953)
Let’s face it, one simply does not watch “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” in hope of a compelling, tightly-wound thriller, they watch it to see the Rhedosarus (or Rheddy if that’s a mouthful) raise Hell and cheer as he rampages through cities, eating anything that gets in his way. Ray Harryhausen was well known for embuing his marvelous special effects creations with a sense of personality and pathos more than any of the human actors could display, and despite his size and ferociousness, Rheddy happens to display a sense of gravitas you don’t get a lot from in terms of movie monsters. He has no human voice and he has no tears, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling confusion, anger and pain at all of these people who are trying to kill him even though the human race was ultimately responsible for his being let loose. You find yourself completely sympathising with the big fella and that is what truly makes him an effective movie monster and when he is finally killed you can’t help but feel a little sad because you saw his vulnerabilities.
5) The Alien Queen (Aliens, 1986)
One half of one of the best bitchfights EVER. Despite being the biggest, most vicious and baddest extra-terrestrial bitch ever, she is also a mirror of Ellen Ripley- she is a mother-figure, she is clever and she knows when to throw down when the life of her progeny and herself are at stake. Of all the things that make me love her, it’s that particular notion of looking into the mirror darkly. Ripley herself can see this and that is why she finally faces her fears head-on because she can see herself in this creature, and she recognises that if she lets this version of herself live, that will mean humanity is doomed… yeah, that last bit kinda got away from me, didn’t it? You truly have to applaud Cameron for his ‘more is more’ philosphy when it came to expanding the ‘Alien’ lore while still remaining faithful to it’s predecessor. Were it not for Cameron’s creativity and ingenuity, we would not have had one of the greatest SF sequels ever and the Her Majesty may have never come into fruition.
4) Talos (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963)
Once again, another figure of actual mythology makes this list and once again, Ray Harryhausen smiles proudly from his homeship in the great beyond. This guy creeped me out as a kid. Emotionless, blank-faced, he was the Greek myth equivalent of the Terminator crossed with the Colossus of Rhodes who followed his mission through until his targets were disposed of or if he were destroyed. Every move he made was punctuated by the stiff, shearing sound of metal creaking and his booming footsteps were enough to make a shiver go down my spine. Despite his automaton nature, Talos is permitted the sense of character through his movements, a huge example (ha ha…) of this is when Talos meets an case of early decomission. Jason exploits the weak point of his ankle by removing a plug that holds in the melted ichor that is his lifeforce. As the fluid torrents out of him, his hands grip his own throat as he bellows in pain despite his face not expressing this. Once again Harryhausen never fails to give his monsters a little extra awesomeness by giving them a fatal flaw and the character is all the more memorable for it.
3) Kraken (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954)
Speaking of Harryhausen (AGAIN), no disrepect to the man, but the Kraken from 1981’s “Clash of the Titans” was NOT a kraken and that is that. The humungous cephalopod that finally makes it’s grand entrance in the final act of “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” that you see above is and it is my Number 3. We’re all afraid of different things, but I’m pretty sure we can agree that the sensation of being trapped in a submarine underwater with the creature’s massive, thick tentacles wrapping around the vessel eager for your sweet, screaming flesh is pretty frickin’ scary because it taps into the primal fear of claustrophobia with the classic “between a rock and a hard place” predicament. Sea monsters have always been prime material for creating perilous situations in stories, but the most scariest part is is that these types of giant squids and octopi still exist (and that’s not counting the ones that have long since been extinct). While they may not be as astronomically huuuuge as the Kraken is, you just need to look at those things and thank the Maker that you live on land.
2) Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park, 1993)
Sure, those dastardly velociraptors were arguably the scariest scaly show ponies in Spielberg’s blockbuster crowd-pleaser, but when it comes to sheer spectacle and wonder, the King (or in this case QUEEN) of the Dinosaurs takes that cake and swallows it whole. Who cannot remember the moment they heard those ominous footsteps coupled with the rippling water in the cups on the dash? Who cannot remember the feeling of overwhelming wonder when we saw the Rex stride out of it’s pen and the fact it ate a lawyer on the loo? While the movie is a jaw-dropping ride all round which in turn truly got me into the magic of cinema, the Rex was another milestone in Stan Winston’s achievements of bringing the fantastic (or extinct) to life. My favourite moment of the Rex is defintely the picture above, every time I witness that scene, my heart fills with divine light and a huge gleeful smile spreads across my face.
1) King Ghidorah (in all of his forms in all movies)
Short answer for this choice- a freakin’ three-headed dragon that breaths thermo-nuclear fire! Long answer? A freakin’ three-headed dragon who is the Blofeld to Godzilla’s James Bond. The Moriarty to Sherlock, the Voldermort to Harry Potter— uh, yeah, King Ghidorah is awesome. Ghidorah has the distinction of being the prime arch-nemesis to Godzilla because like the King, he has been through so many incarnations, every one of them better than the last. Originally created to be the enemy to Godzilla by malicious aliens born from genetic experimentation on three little Dorats, the most adorable bat crossed with a lizard critters you have ever seen, Ghidorah swiftly became the greatest foe Godzilla has ever faced (which is saying a lot) and still remains a huge fan favourite even today. Ghidorah has been a dragon, a cyborg, completely mechanised, a mysterious, unidentified monster (watch “Godzilla: Final Wars”, you’ll get what I mean) and always badass.
The element I love most about him is despite his villain status, he has always been a tool to be used, and I feel great sympathy for him because he has never truly been autonomous and that is the true tragedy of the character. I can’t deign to imagine there is anything worse than having no concept or expression of free will. For all of his power, he will always remain a servant rather than a master and that adds more emotional gravitas to him than you’d think. In saying that, Ghidorah ain’t weak, in fact, every time Godzilla has faced Ghidorah, he has required help from his monster allies, and that really says something about how hardcore Ghidorah truly is- if he can bring the King of the Monsters to his knees even as a puppet, just what does that tell you if Ghidorah ever breaks free of his shackles? Don’t mess with King Ghidorah, that’s what!
List written by Bea Harper