Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week’s edition asks “Which is your favorite creature in a movie?”
As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team alongside a special guest. This week, we are joined by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of the Sundance Film Festival sensation The Kings of Summer and the upcoming monster movie Kong: Skull Island. Find out the best movie creatures of all time below!
Chris Stipp: The Alien Queen from Aliens
Of all the movie creatures I’ve grown up watching, and of the ones you see on this list, there is no equal to the one who speaks not a word but eviscerates with total impunity. It was really my mom’s fault for taking an 11-year-old boy to see Aliens in 1986 and not realizing sooner, first, what she had just done and, second, what kind of imprint it would put on such an impressionable boy. It still stands as a glorious mental scarring, to be sure.
What has made this movie creature so iconic was it was the best example of how sparingly you can use a malevolent force like the Alien Queen to help propel the story forward without ever showing the beast until absolutely necessary. The build-up of tension in explaining just how these Xenomorphs were reproducing in the numbers in which they were was nothing short of brilliant. The trailer for the film revealed peeks and hints of the penultimate face-off between Ripley and the Alien Queen, but who knew that the battle between human and alien lifeform would take on such iconic and symbolic proportions – one badass woman becomes the last one standing between complete annihilation or relative safety.
Mean, angry, imposing, intense, and murderous, this creature has everything needed to be one of the best there is in this class.
Jacob Hall: The Creature From the Black Lagoon
The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the title character from The Creature From the Black Lagoon who will henceforth be known simply as the Creature for the sake of getting this show on the road, is an outlier in the Universal monster canon. His first film opened over twenty years after Frankenstein, arriving in a decade where the horror genre had moved toward atomic fears and away from gothic castles. Unlike the Wolf Man and Dracula, there are no recognizable human qualities within the Creature – he is an animal through and through, a “gill-man” living in the Amazon jungle who eats and swims and has no stake in the world beyond the jungle. If expeditions didn’t keep arriving on his doorstep, he’d just go about his business, and everyone would be just fine.
And for some movie fans, this lack of humanity means that the Creature isn’t a “proper” Universal monster. He’s just a monster in a film made by Universal Studios. He doesn’t belong in the pantheon.
This argument can be made if you’ve only seen 1954’s The Creature From the Black Lagoon, which is excellent but lacks the tragedy that defines the likes of Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy and the rest of that crew. The Creature is just that: a creature. He’s powered by instinct alone. This argument can also be made if you’ve only seen 1955’s Revenge of the Creature, which isn’t very good. In these two movies, the Creature is simply a plot device, albeit, a plot device that looks absolutely incredible and has rightfully inspired Hollywood monster designs for decades.
It is 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us that earns the Creature its place in the Universal monster canon and propels him to the shortlist of best movie monsters of all time. Rather than simply follow yet another gill-man rampage, the third and final entry in the series does something completely different and totally wild. The film opens with yet another expedition-gone-wrong, but it goes wrong quickly and ends in disaster for the Creature – he is horribly burned and only saved when a doctor performs emergency surgery. With his gills destroyed, the Creature can now only breathe through its lungs. He can no longer survive in the water. The expedition takes him back to civilization, puts him in human clothes, and tries to train him to live in society. He’s despondent and chooses to spend his days staring at the ocean, longing for home. Eventually, the Creature is framed for murder and chooses to commit suicide by walking into the sea rather than live among humans.
And there’s the tragedy we’ve been missing. By choosing to escape civilization, by selecting to end his life on his own terms, the Creature makes a painful decision. A profoundly sad decision. A human decision. In death, the Creature becomes one of the greatest monsters of all time by rejecting humanity altogether.
Devindra Hardawar: Godzilla
Before Godzilla became a pop culture icon and a hero of Earth, he was a terrifying reflection of nuclear war. Gojira, as he was originally known, was born from hydrogen bomb testing off the coast of Japan. It’s no surprise that Ishiro Honda’s original film came almost a decade after America bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it’s explicitly tied to Japan’s national anxieties at the time. While I grew up with the campier Godzilla films, it took watching the original to truly understand him as a character. Godzilla isn’t just a random monster; he’s one of our own warmongering creation.
Angie Han: The MUTOS in Godzilla
I know the MUTOs* are technically the antagonists and that we’re supposed to be rooting for their destruction at the hands of Godzilla so that humanity can carry on and survive or whatever. But God help me, I spent most of this movie rooting for these crazy kids. Maybe it’s because they’re not actually out to destroy us — that part is incidental. What they actually want is far simpler and more relatable: they just want to find each other so they can settle down and start a family. There’s a moment mid-picture when they finally are together, and the male MUTO brings his beloved a nuclear warhead to eat as a snack. It’s a sweeter, more touching gesture than you’ll see between any two humans at any point in the movie. From these creatures’ perspective, Godzilla is basically an epic romance.
Unfortunately for them, and for me, it’s a Titanic-style romance that ends in tragedy. Godzilla, with some help from the humans, can destroy the MUTOs and their nest. The humans cheer and Godzilla returns to the ocean. I, meanwhile, am left devastated and furious, hoping that Godzilla 2 will bring back some of the MUTO offspring for a bit of bloody revenge.
(* Yes, I’m also aware that MUTOs can refer to any strange creature in the current Godzilla cinematic universe. But don’t be daft — you know damn well I’m talking about the winged creatures from the 2014 movie here.)