Monster movies are my jam. Give me the slimy, the toothy, the disgusting. Give me the beasts that go bump in the night, the primordial fear that humans are no longer on top of the food chain.
A monster movie is one where the plot involves characters fighting and/or surviving against supernatural creatures that don't exist in the real world: nightmarish brutes of folklore, aliens from outer space, ancient giants who have been long dormant, etc.
Classic monster movies are classics for good reason. Here are the best ones that hold up and are still worth watching today.
What's our criteria for "classic monster movie"? In most realms, classic status isn't granted until at least 20 to 25 years after the fact. So, any movie that released before 2000 would qualify here!
20. Lake Placid (1999)
Directed by Steve Miner
Starring Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt
Action, Comedy, Horror (1h 22m)
Lake Placid—the first one in the sprawling franchise, at least—helped to repopularize the monster movie genre in the early 2000s. For that reason alone, it deserves recognition on our list.
Taking place in a fictional community somewhere in Maine, a group of professional pest hunters, game officers, and wayward scientists have to hunt down and kill a gigantic crocodile.
So it's a little bit like Jaws, except with more scales and bony plates. As long as you go into it understanding that it's a B-movie horror that leans into its tropes, you'll have a good time.
19. The Mummy (1999)
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah
Action, Adventure, Fantasy (2h 4m)
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, The Mummy just makes the cutoff point as a classic monster movie. Indeed, given how fun and memorable this adventure is, we don't hesitate to call it a classic.
The story takes place in Egypt as Rick O'Connell (played by the charming Brendan Fraser) attempts to survive the curse of Imhotep, a supernatural being with powers beyond human imagination.
Also starring Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy led to a few sequels and spinoffs, but the original remains best.
18. Tremors (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter
Comedy, Horror (1h 36m)
Directed by Ron Underwood, Tremors is the perfect mix of comedy and horror in a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Val McKee (played by Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (played by Fred Ward) want to lead more exciting lives, so they plan on leaving the Nevada desert. Luckily for these two friends, excitement is coming to them—in the form of giant, man-eating worms!
A classic monster flick and cult-favorite B-movie, Tremors is still a fantastically fun movie to enjoy today.
17. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning
Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 19m)
The first genuine classic on our list is still one of the best monster movies of all time: 1954's Creature From the Black Lagoon.
This black-and-white film centers on a small team of explorers who venture into the Amazon to look for the remains of a mythical creature. To their surprise, they find out that the creature is very much alive—and it's actively seeking them out.
And, of course, things go from bad to worse when that eponymous creature kidnaps a female scientist.
16. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart
Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 38m)
Though there have been many adaptations of this classic story, the one directed by Rouben Mamoulian is our pick as the best.
When a scientist (played by Fredric March) creates a potion and tries it on himself, he's terrified by the results: it unleashes his inner demons and turns him into a beast driven by every lecherous and violent impulse.
Made before the Motion Picture Production Code began to be enforced in 1934, Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shocked audiences of the time with its controversial subject matter.
15. The Blob (1958)
Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. and Russell S. Doughten Jr.
Starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe
Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 26m)
When a gooey, alien substance lands on Earth from a meteor, it begins its slow spread through a small Pennsylvania town. As it eats, it grows—and as it grows, it eats even more. When will it stop?
Often viewed as a social allegory on the encroaching spread of Communism in post-WW2 America, The Blob is perhaps more accurately remembered as just a fun monster movie. And let's not forget that this was Steve McQueen's first feature film role!
14. The Evil Dead (1981)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
Horror (1h 25m)
Back in 1981, director Sam Raimi delivered groundbreaking work in the form of The Evil Dead, a film that spawned countless copycats.
When a group of friends are staying in an abandoned cabin, they discover a book with an ancient curse written inside. Foolishly, they decide to read it out loud, which summons a horde of demonic ghouls.
Made on a shoestring budget of a meager $375,000, this supernatural monster horror was so disturbingly scary at the time that it ended up being banned in several countries.
13. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Directed by John Landis
Starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Joe Belcher
Comedy, Horror (1h 37m)
Directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is the best film in his impressively varied filmography.
The story follows two American tourists who are visiting the UK on holiday. While trekking through the countryside, they cross paths with a frightening creature. However, they're unaware of the supernatural nature of their encounter until it's too late...
An American Werewolf in London isn't just one of the best horror movies of the 1980s, but one of the greatest werewolf movies of all time.
12. The Wolf Man (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Claude Rains, Warren William, Lon Chaney Jr.
Horror, Mystery, Romance (1h 10m)
Few monster movies are actually able to convey poignantly resonant messages, but The Wolf Man does it with aplomb.
Larry Talbot (played by Lon Chaney Jr.) has just returned home to bury his late brother. When he saves the woman he loves from a wolf attack, he ends up bitten on the chest. We all know what happens next...
Viewed as an allegory for male virility and the oncoming change of puberty, The Wolf Man appears more introspective than that and becomes a contemplative monster movie—with a lot of good scares, too.
11. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
Horror, Thriller (1h 36m)
Directed by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead is an industry-defining classic. Though it wasn't the first zombie movie ever, it was so influential that all modern zombie films can be traced back to it.
When a young woman (played by Judith O'Dea) and her brother go to visit their mother's grave, they make a frightening discovery: the dead have come alive and they're hungry for human flesh.
They aren't the only ones caught unawares, either. Soon enough, a small community ends up caught in a farmhouse, trying to remain alive despite wave after wave of bloodthirsty monsters.
Romero even managed to layer in racial commentary in this superlative monster movie, making it a classic that still holds up today.
10. Cat People (1942)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith
Fantasy, Horror, Thriller (1h 13m)
Don't let the unassuming title of this one fool you. Cat People sounds harmless and even cute, but the film itself is pretty frightening.
Irena Dubrovna (played by Simone Simon) believes that her ancestors are in fact a mystical species of cat people, who transmogrify into black panthers when they become aroused. Unfortunately for her and those around her, she's not wrong!
Directed by Jacques Tourneur, Cat People was one of the first major supernatural horror films to seamlessly blend with the monster genre.
9. Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 7m)
Jurassic Park has morphed into one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, but long before Jurassic World came about, it was widely recognized as a landmark monster movie.
When a pair of scientists are invited to visit a remote island and witness a monumental step forward in genetic engineering, they're initially excited by the idea of ancient dinosaurs come to life—but they also see the potential for disaster.
The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park look so real that they alone would earn this film a spot on this list, but there's also the suspense, terror, and fantastic storytelling of Steven Spielberg on display.
8. Nosferatu (1922)
Directed by F. W. Murnau
Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder
Fantasy, Horror (1h 34m)
Directed by F. W. Murnau, Nosferatu is one of the most enduring movies from the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s.
Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck) is a vampire, who not only preys on a real estate agent's wife (played by Greta Schröder) but also brings his particular form of malice to the fictional town of Wisborg.
In short, it's kind of a rip-off of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel that was published in 1897, but it's still fantastic in its own unique way!
Few films have remained as historically significant as Nosferatu. The lighting, angles, set pieces, and performances ensure that this is a monster movie unlike any other you've seen.
7. Frankenstein (1931)
Directed by James Whale
Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 10m)
Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein is one of the greatest horror stories ever written, and the 1931 film adaptation was no disappointment.
High up in the Bavarian Alps, the mad scientist Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive) creates his maddest creation yet: life, reanimated.
Of course, once that sort of thing is out of the bottle, it isn't easy to put it back in again. The result is Frankenstein's monster (played by Boris Karloff), which grows increasingly more hostile.
With gorgeous set designs and stunning cinematography, director James Whale crafted a masterpiece that impacted popular culture in numerous ways, like giving us the mad scientist archetype!
6. The Fly (1986)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 36m)
To this day, David Cronenberg's greatest film is The Fly. A remake that improved upon the original to endless degrees, the monster in this classic film isn't just gross but deeply frightening.
After a well-meaning scientist (played by Jeff Goldblum) attempts to create teleportation, he stumbles upon a new kind of technology. Unfortunately, it's going to be the last discovery he makes... as a human.
The Fly deserves recognition for two main things: first, for pioneering and shaping the body horror subgenre, and second, for its gruesome special effects that are as nauseating today as they were back then.
5. Godzilla (1954)
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Starring Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 36m)
Godzilla is nothing short of iconic as the kaiju movie that opened up the world's eyes to Japanese monster flicks.
When the Japanese cargo ship Eiko-maru is destroyed at sea, a second ship is dispatched to determine what happened. However, when that ship also meets the same grisly end, it's clear that something is behind the destruction. Something... big.
Directed by Ishirō Honda, Godzilla paved the way for countless imitators but still reigns supreme as the best of the kaiju genre.
4. King Kong (1933)
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Adventure, Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 40m)
Few of the movies on this list would have even been made if it weren't for the enduring success of 1933's King Kong.
When wildlife filmmaker Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong) sets sail for Skull Island to direct his next feature, he has no idea what lies in wait for him. If he did, he probably never would have left!
Best known for being a beauty-and-the-beast story, King Kong is really more of a tragedy than anything else. And while Peter Jackson's 2005 version was certainly commendable, it doesn't hold a candle to the original epic monster movie.
3. Alien (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 57m)
Even now, Alien remains a cut above the rest when it comes to sci-fi horror films. Others have tried to do "terrifying aliens in space," but none have yet dethroned Alien and its Xenomorph.
Directed by Ridley Scott, the narrative follows a spaceship called the Nostromo on its way home after a long mission. However, there's a snag in their plan when a distress signal comes from a nearby planet.
They must investigate. But what horrors will they uncover if they do?
Starring Sigourney Weaver in the role that launched her to stardom, Alien is unlike any other sci-fi monster movie because it's intentionally slow, precise, and even artful. The Xenomorph has aged a bit, but it's still more terrifying than most modern space monsters.
2. The Thing (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi (1h 49m)
If you're looking for a movie that's absolutely drenched in paranoia but you haven't yet seen The Thing, then this needs to be your next watch.
Directed by John Carpenter, The Thing centers on a group of twelve American researchers as they come to the realization that a horrible alien creature has infected their base in Antarctica.
It will take all of their cunning and trust to defeat it because this alien organism can shapeshift into other lifeforms, including humans.
The Thing is such a gripping watch with special effects that were long praised as ahead of their time. The suspense is almost unbearable, making it one of the most intense monster movies ever.
1. Jaws (1975)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Adventure, Mystery, Thriller (2h 4m)
Steven Spielberg has already appeared on this list with Jurassic Park, but he has another monster movie that's even better than that one. In fact, it's so good that it nabs first place on our list.
And is it really a surprise? Jaws is simply a perfect monster movie.
When Martin Brody (played by Roy Schneider), the police chief on Amity Island, discovers that there's a killer shark on the loose in the waters of his beach, he has no choice but to hunt it down. He enlists the help of two other men and sets out to kill the monstrously large Great White.
Also starring Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws was so frightening at release that it made an entire generation of moviegoers afraid to swim in the ocean. This is as classic as classics get.