Godzilla vs. Kong eat your heart out! Here are our rankings of the best and most ultimate monster movies, creature features and giant monster films…
With us seeing a new resurgence in giant monster movies (like Godzilla vs Kong for example), now is a good moment to look back at the best films from this hybrid disaster-action genre that have been terrorizing audiences in recent years. A giant monster lives to destroy, and we expect non-stop action, thrills and mayhem from any halfway decent monster flick. Films like Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla kicked off a revival of the genre in Hollywood in the 1990s.
Those productions were the first to use high-quality CGI effects to create some truly badass beasts. And while the early works such as the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion classics and the original Japanese Godzilla movies with guys in rubber suits are still charming, they didn’t knock anyone off their feet anymore once people got accustomed to the new digital behemoths. So let’s get ready for the ultimate carnage and chaos, here come the ten best modern giant monster movies!
10) Monster Hunter (2020)
Paul W.S. Anderson returned with another take on his favorite genre of video game adaptations. US Army captain Natalie and her squad get caught in a sand storm that transports them to another world inhabited by giant murderous monsters. While running for her life Natalie meets The Hunter, who agrees to help her find a way back to her home world. The plot is thin as toilet paper as usual in Anderson’s movies, but Monster Hunter stays completely true to its title. There are monsters of all sizes, they are everywhere, and they are always out for blood. And the humans fight back with the biggest badass swords to ever make it into a movie.
Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa both are in physical top form slashing their way through hordes of creepy beasts. And while there is an impressive variety of monsters, they all lack truly distinctive features. Their looks actually reminded me a bit of the randomly created content that is frequently found in video games. On top of that the movie never goes completely overboard as one may have hoped, with the fight sequences not being particularly impressive or original. Monster Hunter ticks all the boxes for a fun monster flick, but is not destined to leave a lasting impression with action movie fans.
9) Pacific Rim (2013)
With Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro plundered the repository of Japanese giant robot and monster films and molded them into his own take on the classics. Giant monsters (the Kaiju) enter the world through a large hole at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Humanity responds by building giant robots (the Jaegers) to fight them. After many years of battle, the remaining worn-out Jaegers are gathered for one last stand with the Kaiju to close the breach once and for all. Pacific Rim is as colorful as a monster movie can get, I think we haven’t seen as many neon lights since Blade Runner. The ferocious battles between the Jaegers and the Kaiju look great, and especially the fights on the open sea get an additional dramatic touch with giant waves and raging thunderstorms.
The problem is that for a movie with more than two hours runtime, the action sequences are not as frequent as one may have hoped. The movie wastes a lot of time with boring dialogues between uninteresting characters, and is also way too serious for its own good. The slick visuals and awesome action scenes make Pacific Rim ultimately worth watching, but the tedious sequences of personal drama make it a somewhat inconsistent affair.
8) Godzilla (1998)
Roland Emmerich’s take on the famous Japanese monster was the first US adaptation, and pays almost zero respect to its source material. It just wants to be silly and loud fun from the first to last minute instead. A lizard living on a nuclear test site in the Pacific Ocean mutates into a giant monster, and makes its way to New York City. Radiation scientist Nick Tatopoulos is tasked with figuring out how to stop the creature before it knocks down all skyscrapers in Manhattan. Godzilla puts a ton of mayhem on the screen, and few people are more qualified for this than Roland Emmerich. While Godzilla is an all-CGI monster, Emmerich uses plenty of old-school effects to create a film that still breathes the spirit of 1990s action blockbusters.
Cheesy humor is abundant, including running gags about seemingly unpronounceable Greek names, and the military missing every time whenever they fire a missile at Godzilla. The plot takes many weird turns, and occasionally is totally out there. Godzilla is able to disappear from everyone’s sight while walking around in Manhattan, but can be easily be lured out with a giant pile of fish. Despite some flaws, Godzilla is a lot more fun than the latest two US versions of the Godzilla franchise, 2014’s Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
7) Big-Ass Spider (2013)
Giant spiders started coming after humans in movies as early as the 1950s, but in recent years usually only made appearances in the contemporary avalanche of Z-grade monster flicks. Big-Ass Spider is a positive exception, and a worthy ambassador for the giant spider community on this list. A spider escapes from a secret government lab where it was accidentally exposed to a dose of alien growth hormones. Thanks to a human-only diet, it does not double, but quadruple in size every 24 hours. Only the brave exterminator Alex has the guts and wits to go after the monster that threatens to destroy all of downtown Los Angeles.
Big-Ass Spider sweeps up as many monster movie cliches as possible, and assembles them into an awesome action-comedy. It never takes itself serious for even a single minute, and has its good share of offensive humor. It also delivers fully on the action front. The spider chases cars, eats people’s faces and evades bigger and bigger weapons being fired at it as it grows. The finale is a nice King Kong/Alien crossover with the heroes going after the spider nest on top of a skyscraper. Big-Ass Spider is a great low-budget monster flick, and also one of the best comedic takes on the genre.
6) Deep Rising (1998)
The late 1990s had a couple of highlights in the creature feature genre with films like Lake Placid, Mimic and The Relic at the forefront. The biggest and baddest monster was to be found in Deep Rising, though. Giant sea monsters have been shamefully neglected in the last decades in movies, and Deep Rising sets this mistake right big time. A crew of pirates is on its way to rob a luxury cruise ship. When they arrive, they find the vessel half-destroyed and deserted. Before they realize what has happened, they’re trapped and need to face an ancient abomination from the deep sea.
The movie follows the familiar Aliens/Predator formula: a team of heavily armed combat veterans is on a mission that gets disrupted by a monster with a hunger for humans. The movie builds up momentum steadily, and culminates in an inferno of destruction as the 60-feet slime ball with deadly tentacles is tearing the ship and its intruders apart. Deep Rising is already worth a watch for its churlish characters and crude humor, something that is sorely missed in most action movies these days. The pirates are all likable anti-heroes, and especially Treat Williams shines as a charming wise-ass charter boat captain. Deep Rising delivers thrills, jokes and action by the minute, and has everything needed to be a good time for action movie fans.
5) Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Kong: Skull Island takes the middle part of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and blows it up into two hours of non-stop action in tropical jungles and mountains. A squad of soldiers escorts a team of scientists on a geological survey to an unmapped island. Upon landing, they find themselves surrounded by murderous giant creatures, among them the mighty Kong, and their new mission is to make it off the island alive. Set at the end of the Vietnam war, the historical backdrop is integrated well into the story with a group of war-weary soldiers returning to the jungle for one last stand.
Just as in previous King Kong movies, Kong is angry and violent, but ultimately a likable beast. While the humans are desperately trying to not get eaten by the multitude of giant critters, Kong easily smashes helicopters in melee combat, dismembers sea monsters, and rips out the jaws of giant lizards. Kong: Skull Island is a classic jungle adventure that also does not take itself overly serious. It’s the best movie from the new canonical Legendary Monsterverse by a wide margin compared to the two dreary Godzilla movies.
4) Reign of Fire (2002)
Dragons have been around in classic stories for hundreds of years, but Reign of Fire puts a clever spin on them. In our present time, dragons with a hunger for human flesh are awakened by accident, and bring the apocalypse to earth. Quinn leads a group of survivors dwelling in an English castle. A squad of American soldiers lands at the British shores, and Quinn joins them in their quest to find and kill the dragon queen. Reign of Fire’s idea of putting dragons into a post-apocalyptic world sounds like the perfect setup for a cheesy B-movie, but it turns out to be a killer action flick!
The film has a unique look with the world being a hellish place that is covered in ash and smoke. And the action just keeps coming in this film, as the modern dragon hunters defend themselves against the ferocious beasts with tanks and helicopters. Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey as unlikely allies carry the movie with their charisma. Especially McConaughey is in full dragonslayer mode as topless berserker with a giant battle axe. Reign of Fire is a one of its kind, and shows that there still can be surprises in a genre that was not really big on innovation in recent years.
3) Jurassic Park III (2001)
Jurassic Park 3 is the only movie from the franchise on this list. While no one debates the awesomeness of Steven Spielberg’s first two entries of the saga, they are not action movies at their core. The two recent Jurassic World films were thoroughly mediocre, on the other hand. Jurassic Park 3 is thus really the sweet spot of the series for action movie fans. Paleontologist Alan Grant gets persuaded to act as guide for a millionaire couple who want to fly over Isla Sorna, which is inhabited by dinosaurs. His warning to not set foot on the island goes unheard, and things go south extremely fast for everyone who joined the trip.
Jurassic Park 3 differentiates itself from the other entries to the franchise by having bigger and meaner dinosaurs. The film drops all unnecessary baggage such as a plot and interesting dialogues, and just becomes one of the best 100 Million Dollar B-movies you’ll ever see. And it is loaded to the ceiling with awesome monster action. Dinosaurs are tearing apart airplanes and each other, and the poor humans discover a new species with a hunger for them every ten minutes on their odyssey across the island. Jurassic Park 3 will always be overshadowed by the first two installments, but it is still a highly entertaining, light-hearted chase through a tropical island full of hungry predators.
2) King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson’s remake of the classic American monster movie is cinematic perfection on every level. A tale about the troubles and ambitions of a young movie maker is masterfully interwoven with jaw-dropping sequences of monster mayhem. Director Carl Denham organizes an expedition to an undiscovered tropical island to shoot his next movie. He charters a ship and sets sail for Skull Island with his crew. Upon arrival they are thrown into a deadly adventure, with a giant gorilla at the center of the action.
King Kong takes its time to get started, but the exploration of the tropical island escalates into a frantic chase through the jungle with an endless stream of giant terrifying animals coming after the helpless humans. Jackson created some sequences that belong into the all-time hall of fame of monster movies. One of them shows Kong engaged in a grotesque air ballet as he tumbles along lianas and fights three dinosaurs. Another sequence looks like it takes place at the gates of hell, when our protagonists end up in a filthy pit and get attacked by swarms of giant insects and worms. King Kong is a spectacular adventure with tons of action, and a masterpiece of modern blockbuster cinema for the ages.
1) Tremors (1990)
Our number one movie is a real old-school gem, and no blockbuster monster flick could ever rival the campy genius that Tremors is. Val and Earl are two handymen living and working in the desert village of Perfection. One day they’re suddenly attacked by a giant worm digging itself out of the sand, and soon after Perfection is under siege by a whole pack of subterranean critters. Tremors may not deliver destruction and mayhem on a scale as massive as other movies on this list, but it still kicks some serious ass and has plenty of other qualities besides goofy monster action.
Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward have an excellent chemistry as two roughnecks with a loose mouth and their heart at the right place, and every other character in Tremors is equally quirky and likable. The film also oozes the vibe of classic action flicks with its overconfident characters, great one-liners, and the perfect balance between comedy and spectacle. Running, jumping and climbing are the acrobatic virtues displayed in excess by our main protagonists as they try to stay off the ground by any means possible. The worms are bad-ass, but also kind of cute, and the critter attacks are staged nicely, with all sorts of stuff getting violently sucked into the ground. Tremors is as charming and funny as a movie can get, and is a timeless classic of the monster movie genre.