The Godzilla reboot hits theaters this Friday, and it comes with the notion that it features the undisputed King of Monsters. Now, if you have been anywhere near a screen in the past month, this idea might not seem so far-fetched — the giant lizard looks threatening, awesome and ready to do some serious damage. But does that really mean he is the King of Monsters? If you ask me, that title has to be synonymous with Greatest Movie Monster of All Time, and when we think of it in those terms, do we really think of Godzilla?
Either way, it seems time to settle this once and for all — let’s pit all the famous movie monsters against each other and see who comes out on top. To decide this, we need to take several things into account:
1) To be the King of Monsters, you have to pose a threat to both humans and other monsters alike. In other words, you have to hold a degree of ass-kicking potential.
2) You have to appear in some quality movies — there have been a lot of great monsters in theory, but you need execution to be the King.
3) The fear factor has to be real. Above all, if you want to be the King of Monsters, you have to be scary. A monster’s job it to strike fear into the hearts of men and women wherever they go, and the King has to especially excel at this. Now, as we will see, some monsters prefer a more in-your-face approach to the scares, while others inspire fear via the potential of what they might be. For example, Godzilla is great because his raw power can take down anything, but the Predator is great because it can drive people nuts without ever being seen. Both approaches work, but as we will see, one might make a better monster than the other.
Disclaimer before we start: We are ranking monsters here who are most famous for their roles in movies. That means that monsters like Cthulhu are not included, because despite having movies about it, the Cthulhu is more famous for its written fiction than for appearing in those films. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up:
The Edward Cullen Tier
Vampires (as seen in Dracula—1931,Fright Night—1985, Twilight—2008)
The source material for vampires is pretty great — the original I Am Legend novella is probably one of the scariest things you can read — but when we look at this through the lens of 2014, vampires are a joke. The golden age of Dracula and Buffy and Fright Night is long gone, and vampires today are more heartthrobs and hunks than terrifying bloodsuckers. People do not think these things are scary anymore, and when young girls would rather date you than run from you, it means that you have no shot at being the King of Monsters.
Werewolves (as seen in The Wolf Man—1941, An American Werewolf in London—1981, Underworld—2008)
Same deal as the vampires — Twilight has sunk the werewolf mythos to the depths of the monster hierarchy. Shows like Teen Wolf and even books like Harry Potter have also seriously diminished the werewolf fear factor. There is something to be said for the violent body transformations (Netflix’s Hemlock Grove has a brutal, if CGI-heavy, example), but again, the sad truth is that wolfmen and wolfwomen just are not as scary as they once were. Plus, when we have not had a good pure werewolf movie since American Werewolf in London back in the 1980s, it is tough to keep the terror alive.
The Missed Potential Tier
Gremlins (as seen in Gremlins—1984)
What bring the Gremlins out of the Edward Cullen Tier of Suck-age is twofold: 1) the original 80s flick is a near-classic, and whether you think it holds up or not, I can all but guarantee you know the infamous rule to not feed the little green guys after midnight. For something so rotted in a narrow niche, it scores some points for spreading its mythos. However, 30 years after its release, the point remains that the Gremlins are just not that frightening to modern audiences. A reboot might serve to revive these guys, but in order to start climbing the ranks of movie monsters, the fear needs to come back.
The Kraken (as seen in Clash of the Titans—1981, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise)
It might seem like a stretch, but I think the Kraken is important to include on this list if only for the sole reason that we need a good water monster (thought I was going to bring in Megashark or Giant Octopus? Wrong). The Kraken has long stood in movies as something that could have really been terrifying, but no one has ever really showed us a great Kraken yet. Piratestried to do it, but the beast only appeared for about five seconds before Captain Jack slo-mo-stabbed it and gave us the dumbest cliffhanger ever. Even Clash of the Titans bombed the Kraken. It based its whole ad campaign around this giant monster, and that monster proceeded to show up for about four minutes, do absolutely nothing and promptly die. If you are the size of the Empire State Building, you have to leave some destruction in your wake, end of story. The Kraken is a great monster, and has had some great visual representations as of late, but no one has really been able to go all-in on the sea beast yet.
Zombies (as seen in the Day of the Dead franchise, 28 Days Later franchise)
There have been so many iterations of the zombie in recent pop culture that it would serve us well to narrow things down to one take on the living dead, and if we want to take that approach, then we have to go with the zombies from 28 Days Later. The things that have always held zombies back are their lack of speed and their lack of smarts — they always take the beeline to reach their prey, and they always sort of shuffle along. 28 Days Later subverts this trope by giving the zombies human-like agility and hunter-like instincts. Finally, zombies are scary, but it is a little problematic that this comes with ignoring everything that zombies are supposed to be — that is, dumb and slow. Therefore, while they can be successful in the fear factor and in the quality of their movies (the fact that deciding the greatest zombie movie is itself a debate is a huge testament to the creature’s flexibility), the living dead are by and large too predictable to be the King of Monsters.
The Grizzled Monster Veterans Tier
Frankenstein (as seen in Frankenstein—1931,Bride of Frankenstein—1935)
There is something to be said about being the OG, and when it comes to monsters, every creature feature owes something to Frankenstein. Sure, nowadays he might not bring the scares like he used to, but back when he was being electrocuted in a dungeon-like laboratory and being brought back to life, the monster was very real to moviegoers. Frankenstein makes it this far on the sheer quality of his movies (even Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie was quality), as well as the massive legacy he drags behind him. Credit where it is due.
King Kong (as seen in King Kong—1933, 2005)
I think the case for King Kong was actually heavily improved by the Peter Jackson reboot back in 2005. The original flick was ground-breaking at its time — it scared audiences so much that critics reported full-on screaming and sobbing during the film — but modern audiences needed to experience the Ruler of Skull Island for themselves, and the updated epic brought all of the spectacle that the original provided in a way that could affect new viewers. Kong is a legend — he swats down planes, he terrorizes New York, he rips apart dinosaurs, and he brings that signature roar that has had cinemagoers cowering in their seats for more than 80 years. He can hold his own against other beasts (he even fought Godzilla back in the back in the 60s – believe it!), and he delivers the fear factor on all accounts. Truly, a great monster.
The Badass Motherfucker Tier
Predator (as seen in the Predator franchise)
First of all — single most terrifying name on this list. Predator. That is all you need to know; it is going to find you and it is going to do terrible things to you, period. The Predator matches up well against other monsters on this list because of its hunting capabilities. Something that lurks in the shadows is scarier than something in the open simply because of the whole what-the-hell-is-happening factor. Some may find it lame that the Predator relies on tricks and tools to kill its prey, but I think that adds a lot to its capability to scare. Check out this screenshot of Adrien Brody being targeted in 2010’s Predators. He is about to be absolutely wrecked, and I love that in a monster. It can advertise that it is going to kick your ass, and then it will — with authority. The only thing that holds the Predator back from being King is the overall quality of its films. A lot of monsters on here never rose above B-movie status, but the Predator franchise is more firmly entrenched in that rut than any other monster. Too bad for a series with such a terrifically frightening creature.
Godzilla (as seen in the Godzilla franchise)
Truth be told, Godzilla is a fantastic movie monster. It wreaks havoc on everything it touches, and nothing is bigger or more powerful in the world of creature features. Godzilla could take down any other monster on this list, absolutely. In terms of movie quality, it delivers in its sheer universality and continued reinvention (sure, some of these have not been successful, but the fact that we are sitting here in 2014 and are excited about another Godzilla flick is saying something). Godzilla is even scary — when the dust cleared in that first new teaser and you heard the revamped roar for the first time, you had chills, I know it. There is nothing that can stop the giant lizard, but why is it not number one? Well, the simple answer is: there is simply something better.
The King of Monsters
The Xenomorph (as seen in the Alien franchise)
What’s missing? It is the alien — it makes no appearance (in what is arguably the greatest trailer ever made), yet the viewer is still terrified of it. The Xenomorph is in your mind before you can even see it, and that is what makes the star of Alien the greatest movie monster in history — it is nothing short of terrifying. From the early chest-burster stage to the latent face-huggers to the towering, hunting, stalking adult Xenomorphs, this creature is an absolute menace. It has a mouth within a mouth, acid for blood and can attack you from inside your own body. This alien gives you nightmares, and no other monster on this list can say that. While it might lack sheer adaptabililty of Godzilla, the Xenomorph appears in Alien and Aliens – two of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time — and it brings a level of cunning and durability that not even the mighty Predator can handle. Whenever it appears onscreen, the audience is certain to be disturbed, fearful and utterly engrossed. Years after I first saw Alien, I still think about the paranoid horror that came with finding it onboard the Nostromo. Even after the Xenomorph retreats back into the shadows, its image remains burned in your head — a clear sign of the undisputed King of Monsters.