The Best Movie Creatures Of All Time

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.)

Peter Sciretta: Gizmo in Gremlins

Most of the other entries on this list have looked toward big evil monsters, but for some reason, my top choices for favorite movie creature were cute alien creatures from 1980's movies. It comes down to E.T. from Steven Spielberg's classic adventure film or Gizmo from Gremlins. In fact, I own life-size replicas of both E.T. and Gizmo, and they sit on a shelf in my living room. In the end, I decided to go with Gizmo.

I can't tell you how many times I watched Gremlins as a child wishing Gizmo and Mogwai were real and  staying up late at night, trying to understand how the creature's body knows our arbitrary concept of midnight and time. How many other kids like me wished they could somehow find that shop in Chinatown and adopt a Mogwai of their own? As an adult, I appreciate Gremlins on a different level. I enjoy the old-school practical VFX techniques that were used to create the illusion of a real living alien creature.

Jack Giroux: T-Rex in Jurassic Park

I've heard that iconic Tyronassourus Rex roar countless times, whether on cable, DVD, or Blu-Ray. When I watch Jurassic Park, I still feel the intensity of the dinosaur's classic introduction. Each one of its movements build tension. I can go years without watching Steven Spielberg's movie and still vividly recall the shots involving this creation, brought to life by the late Stan Winston and his team. I relish every second this incredible effect is on screen. I break out a smile – and feel the terror and excitement the characters do – every time I see it.

David Chen: Gollum from Lord of the Rings

In the days before The Phantom Menace was released, I remember one of my friends remarking to me how incredible the concept of Jar Jar Binks was. "They have this character who's in the movie, but he's entirely in CG!" he said to me excitedly. His excitement actually rubbed off on me. But while Phantom Menace pioneered a lot of filmmaking techniques, Binks will be remembered more for being an annoying and offensive presence than for how he pushed the medium forward.

It wasn't until I saw the Gollum/Smeagol monolog in THE TWO TOWERS that I realized the cinematic potential for performance capture and digital creations. Not only is the character seamlessly integrated into the environment around him (an effect that mostly holds up to this day), but he's having a genuinely tortured conversation with himself in ways that are convincing and powerful. For the first time, a digital creature had made me feel.

In reality, it was Andy Serkis's incredible performance and the digital wizards at Weta that conjured this character to life. But all I could see was a once-decent, now-hideous man, brought low by an unhealthy obsession with The One Ring. The illusion was finally complete.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts: The Fish Monster from The Host

The two things that popped into my head first [when hearing this question] is the point in The Thing when they're doing the autopsy, and they've got the defibrillator, and it goes through his chest, and then the head comes up and goes up to the ceiling and how incredible those effects are.  They all still hold up. That's why I think it's such a fascinating story when you read about the remake where they tried to do practical effects, but it didn't look good. I haven't seen that stuff, but I'd be so curious to see what it looks like.

But honestly, my favorite like movie monster of late was the weird fish creature in The Host. I think the way that creature moves and the inelegance that it moves, part of it was an inspiration for the Skull Crawler in Kong: Skull Island in the way that it moves and just the general idea that this thing has a painful existence and it evolved wrong.

I think not enough people have seen that movie. I believe that it's a masterpiece.  And I believe that the creature is something that you look at and your initial response when you show it to someone is like, does that look cool? I don't know if that looks cool. Like, is that stupid looking? But it's so brilliant. I love the way it moves, the way that it like stumbles over itself. The fact that it does have this inelegance to it is what I just find so compelling. As soon as I saw it, I was like "this feels so fresh."  And it'd be so easy for someone not to get it.  And also I really like all of the design evolutions in Shin Godzilla.  I love how crazy all of them look.

The Thing Monster

Ethan Anderton: The Thing From The Thing (1982)

It might seem strange to pick a creature that is never seen in its natural form, but that's exactly what makes me love the organism from John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982. The fact that we don't know what the Thing actually looks like means it could be any person or living creature. To me, that's more terrifying than any other monster in the history of cinema. Plus, the practical effects used to bring the deformed transformations of the creature to life in that movie are unbelievably disgusting and unbelievable.

Furthermore, the fact that the Thing can shapeshift to take the form of any living thing makes it deadlier than a monster who just stalks and eats its prey. The Thing has the power to manipulate the very society that it's inhabiting. When the Thing arrives at U.S. Outpost North #31, it has to kill to actually take the place of another person. But to me, what's more deadly is how it can create doubt, turmoil, and danger by turning other potential hosts against each other. The tension in The Thing comes from each of the human outpost residents not trusting each other. That makes them weaker as a group, and thus easier for the Thing to infiltrate and destroy.

Right to the very end of John Carpenter's film, the audience isn't sure who can be trusted (though there might be a trick to that) as most of the post's crew has been killed, leaving two men to last night cold arctic night. Is one of them the Thing? Hell, there could be a creature like the Thing among us at this very moment, and we'd never know. And that's what makes the Thing my favorite creature on film.

Godzilla 2 Writers

What Is Your Favorite Movie Creature?

What do you think of our picks? What is your favorite movie creature of all time? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (about a paragraph or so) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title "Favorite Movie Creature." Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

And in case you missed any past editions of /Answers, here is a look back: