the meg international trailer

The Meg opens this Friday, and if you’re not even a little bit excited about it, I have to wonder what it is you’re doing with your life. It’s about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark and is directed by the guy who made While You Were Sleeping (1995). How is this not amazing to you?! The movie promises a fun time for fans of water sports and sharp teeth, and while the film and its source novel are heavily influenced by Jaws (1975), they belong to a sub-genre predating Steven Spielberg’s summer classic that we’ll call Giant Animal Attacks – or GAA! for short.

Technically speaking, that could include films as diverse as Godzilla (1954) or Tremors (1990), but in an effort to avoid the usual suspects, I’m going to narrow the field a bit with three simple qualifications if they’re going to be mentioned here. One, they need to be current, real-world animals changed only in size, meaning no fictional monsters or extinct beasts. All due respect to dinosaur classics from The Lost World (1925) to Jurassic Park (1993), but they’re out. (And no, this rule wouldn’t eliminate The Meg as megalodons are definitely 100% still swimming around today.) Two, they need to actually be “giant” in relation to their normal size. Slightly bigger than normal just isn’t good enough, and this leaves me with a few judgment calls to make including having to decide if a Great White shark off Martha’s Vineyard measuring a mere five feet beyond the species’ previously thought maximum length counts as giant. And three, they should be the aggressor. Sorry Mighty Joe Young (1949).

Keep reading for a brief history of this very specific sub-genre along with a highly opinionated look at the most entertaining giant animal attack movies!

A Brief History of Giant Animal Attacks Movies (Or, How I Found My Top 10)

Humanity’s early days saw us attacked, mauled, stomped, and eaten by big animals on a fairly regular basis, and our first attempt at translating that fear into a feature for the screen came in 1925 with Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World. Stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien brought dinosaurs to life for the film, and eight years later he delivered the first real creature feature classic with his work on King Kong (1933). The big sappy ape only became a man-killer when pressed into a corner, but O’Brien animated other beasties alongside the primate and a pop-culture masterpiece was born. Riffs on the giant gorilla followed with films like Son of Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young, and more direct remakes in 1975, 2005, and 2017 (Kong: Skull Island), but it was the 1950s that saw the genre come into its own with the arrival of normal animals grown to monstrous proportions and determined to feast on as many human morsels as possible.

Stop-motion was still in fashion, but practical and optical effects work were just as prevalent in films like the fantastic Them! (1954) and far less memorable The Giant Gila Monster (1959). A common theme through the decade found mankind’s own hubris being responsible for the monsters as fears of atomic power and the unchecked ambitions of science led to oversized horrors. While Japan paired that fear with their own recent history for Godzilla (1954), the U.S. saw radioactive testing and experiments to blame for the big ants of Them!, the giant locusts of Beginning of the End (1957), and the enormous spider at the heart of Tarantula (1955). “When man entered the Atomic Age,” says a character at the end of Them!, “he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.” He’s wrong, of course, because we can obviously predict giant animals will try to eat our faces.

Sometimes nature grows tired of waiting for mankind to trigger their own demise and gets things rolling without our input, and the resulting films are every bit the same mixed bag. From the lows of The Deadly Mantis (1957) to the highs of The Black Scorpion (1957), overgrown beasts were enjoying a human-flavored buffet on a regular basis. The 50s was an incredibly busy decade for films exploring the idea of animals – often viewed as inferior subjects to man – fighting back after growing in size, strength, and attitude. As busy as these years were, though, the decade that immediately followed is pretty much a dead zone for the sub-genre as fictional beasts found favor in the ’60s instead.

The animals were just taking a breather, though, as the 1970s saw them balloon in size and return with a vengeance. Man was still typically to blame for the carnage, but rather than mutating the beasts through radiation, we were authoring our own slaughter through our mistreatment of Mother Earth. Eco-horror was the new trend, and while wonderfully bleak thrillers like Frogs (1972) and Long Weekend (1978) saw normal-sized animals causing a ruckus their bigger cousins were also along for the ride. Night of the Lepus (1972) shows what happens when farmers try interfering with fornicating rabbits, and The Food of the Gods (1976) reveals the consequences of our belief that everything on Earth is here for our exploitation either as our food…or as food for our food. Empire of the Ants (1977) punishes Joan Collins for man’s blatant irresponsibility with toxic chemicals, while The Great Alligator (1979) berates Barbara Bach for westerners treating the jungle like their own playground.

Mankind was still on the hook into the ’80s as Alligator (1980) reveals what happens to the unloved pets who get flushed down the toilet, toxic waste gives tourists crabs in Island Claws (1980), and scientists playing god create big, hungry animals in Food of the Gods II: Gnaw (1989). Killer Crocodile (1989) doesn’t get a lot of love, but in addition to featuring a terrific title screen and plenty of gore, it also has a character paddleboarding atop the croc while stabbing it as someone else yells “Don’t lose your cool!” It’s pretty special.

The fun continued into the 90s with Alligator II: The Mutation (1991), Mosquito (1995), and the star-studded Anaconda (1997), but one of the highlights has to be the scene in King Cobra (1999) where a character literally drop-kicks the giant cobra in the head to save his lady. It’s the film’s only real highlight, but it’s one almost worth seeking it out for. Almost. CG effects were used in some of these to enhance or complement practical work, but this is the decade where technological advances ensured that CG would start to replace more traditional effects altogether.

It marked the beginning of the end for a lot of low-budget genre films as the charm and artistry of practical effects were dropped in favor of cheap CG, and if you’ve seen a Syfy Channel movie, you know what I’m referring to. The lower cost and overall increased affordability of filmmaking has seen the sub-genre explode with titles since 2000, but while far too many succumb to the pull of cheap CG, there have been some real gems that go the opposite route delivering a mix of effects styles alongside fun, engaging tales.

That said, looking over the films that meet my three criteria reveals something that runs constant across the years – the sub-genre isn’t home to any truly great movies. Fun ones sure, and terrifically entertaining titles too, but legitimately brilliant? Not if I’m leaving Jaws off the list.

And I am leaving Jaws off the list. So with that settled, here’s a quick rundown of 10 of the most entertaining giant animal attack movies. Curiously, while I prefer my “realistic” animal attack movies be serious – Backcountry (2014), Savage Harvest (1981) – I tend to lean goofier when it comes to bigger than life beasts.

Continue Reading for the 10 Best Giant Animal Attacks Movies >>

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