Creature features, films about animals we are familiar with that really exist, except they are put in scenarios that are terrifying to the average civilian. Or they become supersized. Basically monster movies, with an emphasis on real life animals. But you also can’t ignore the monster flicks that are more on the extraterrestrial side of things.
So, I’m going to compose a list of my favorite creature features that I enjoy watching from time to time. To qualify, they have to be featured prominently enough (as in it doesn’t just show up at the very end, it makes appearances here and there throughout the film), and be distinguished enough from humans (so no Invasion of the Body Snatchers, no H.P. Lovecraft stuff where the monster only shows up at the very end, and no zombie/vampire movies). Most importantly of all, there has to be some amount of emphasis on horror (so no Mars Attacks!).
Ordered by date, because I can’t be bothered to determine which ones I like more than the others, considering one can have different reasons for watching one of these at specific points in time. Plus I also want to point out the significant lapses of monster flicks in certain decades, especially between 2010-2020 (though the 1970s didn’t have many noteworthy monster flicks either, aside from the 2 obvious ones). And I’m not mentioning ones that are so-bad-they’re-good, because that’s highly subjective, and SyFy sucks.
And lastly, I’m not going to list Kaiju films. Except for a couple obvious ones, and Gorgo. You know, just because.
Films that some could argue should qualify, but I don’t list them as main contenders since, well, the horror aspect isn’t present enough. Either that, or they’re just not good enough entertainment-wise to me personally.
* King Kong (1933)
* The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
* Godzilla (1954)
* Them! (1954)
* The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
* 20 Million Miles From Earth (1957)
* Beginning of the End (1957), see description for Night of the Lepus, except this film is worse.
* The Black Scorpion (1957)
* Gorgo (1961)
* Squirm (1976)
* Food of the Gods (1976)
* Piranha (1978)
* Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
* Possession (1981)
* Galaxy of Terror (1981)
* Dragonslayer (1981)
* Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
* Forbidden World (1982)
* Of Unknown Origin (1983)
* The Company of Wolves (1984)
* House (1985)
* Night of the Creeps (1986)
* Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
* Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
* Gnaw: Food of the Gods part II (1989)
* Leviathan (1989)
* Deepstar Six (1989)
* Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
* Ernest Scared Stupid (1991), because fuck it, why not?
* Man’s Best Friend (1993)
* Carnosaur (1993)
* Carnosaur 2 (1995)
* Congo (1995)
* Jumanji (1995)
* Starship Troopers (1997)
* Anaconda (1997)
* Mimic (1997)
* The Faculty (1998)
* Evolution (2001)
* The Descent (2005)
* Call of Cthulhu (2005)
* Rogue (2007)
* Primeval (2007)
* Splinter (2008)
* Cloverfield (2008)
* Outlander (2008)
* Chaw (aka Chawz, or Chawu; 2009)
* The Bay (2012)
* The Grey (2012)
Top Favorite Creature Features
One of the earliest monster flicks I can remember watching, and I still enjoy it to this day. The highlight moment of creepiness is the sequence where you see the tarantula approaching the house in the distance (with the great accompanying music score).
The Giant Claw (1957)
Yes, I know it’s more goofy than scary, especially once you see this thing (which is why the poster doesn’t show its face). But I don’t care, I think this movie is awesome.
The Blob (1958)
One of the few films that kinda made me afraid to go to sleep. The whole concept of a slime substance that’s able to move through vents and cracks. If they were to do a remake of this (which last I heard Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Barry starring in it, and that it was meant to be more of a scientific Michael Crichton-like procedural thriller than a horror film, with a CG blob of course), I would expect them to capitalize on this fear and have the blob get someone while they’re sleeping in a bed. They didn’t do that in the 80s version, but one can hope (or fear). The poster ends up being more disturbing than the film, with images of the blob covering a few people, and a girl. The 80s remake would capitalize on that image though, so much so that it would be the main poster.
The Crawling Eye (1958)
Pretty much the same description as The Giant Claw. It has a neat concept, that wasn’t executed as well as it could’ve been. But it’s still a fun time.
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
Giant killer brains. What more do you need?
The Birds (1963)
It’s a Hitchcock classic. If you’re in the mood for schlock and shit, you could try out the terrible sequel where the film is boring until the hilarious goofy finale.
Night of the Lepus (1972)
Look, this movie may not be scary at all, but damnit, it tried to be! And that makes the film about giant killer bunnies even more hilarious. I don’t even know why it has the tagline it does.
Any film that made people terrified to swim at the beach for many years is a guaranteed contender. Also helps that it has one of the most iconic posters of all time. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then shame on you.
This one creeped me out as a kid. One of the first, if not the first, killer cockroaches movie.
The Pack (1977)
This one is more based in reality (like Jaws). About a bunch of dogs who were abandoned on an island, who are starving, and hungry, and attack anyone who lands on the island for vacationing.
You all should know this movie, along with a poster that’s also iconic.
When I was young, this film scared the shit out of me. Now that I’m older, well, I’m not sure if I should be laughing at the sleeping bag kill as hard as I do sometimes.
What I consider to be one of the two definitive creature features of the 80s that feature real life animals, except they’re oversized. This film is honestly more well-made than what you would expect from a monster flick. Pretty damn solid all-around.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Probably the first horror film to go for dark horror-comedy. And the first great werewolf film outside of The Wolf Man from 1941.
The Thing (1982)
This is probably the best extra terrestrial horror film ever made in my opinion. Some of the best monster gore effects ever done on a practical effect level. A strong contender against 1979’s Alien.
Cat People (1982)
Wasn’t sure if I should add this or not, mainly because I wasn’t sure if it should qualify. But fuck it, if the original 1942 film is considered horror, then this sure as shit qualifies. People who turn into panthers and kill other people.
The Deadly Spawn (1983)
The best low budget horror monster film ever made. Seriously, this is an indie film made on a backyard budget and it’s unbelievably well made for what it is.
No special thoughts on this.
The other definitive monster flick of the 80s with super sized monsters that actually exist. In this case, a giant killer pig. And trust me, in real life, these things are plenty vicious as-is. The film is a bit slow (and different) in the middle, going more for an artsy feel. I look at it as padding things out, but it’s still a worthwhile experience (and it may enhance the experience for some who are more into that whole artsy thing).
The Stuff (1985)
The other dark horror-comedy. It’s basically the blob, except with a satire on consumerism. And what do ya know, it actually does the “attack on the bed while you’re sleeping” routine I was hoping for. Not as horrifying as I would want, and it’s a bit rough around the edges (especially in the editing and continuity department), but it’s definitely good enough to be worth a watch.
While not as horror-based as the prequel, it’s still full of tense moments that can be described as horror. Especially that scene where they check the ceiling. One of the most tense moments in movie history, easily.
The Fly (1986)
Probably pushing the limits as to what I set for this list (particularly regarding the monster only showing up at the ending), but I’m making this an exception. That finale transformation is something else, surpassing the werewolf transformation in An American Werewolf in London.
Some call this a rip-off of Gremlins. I say bullshit. This may not have been made if not for Gremlins, but this is a different beast entirely. And I like this movie more then Gremlins, so there!
From Beyond (1986)
Also kinda pushing the limits, as it’s mostly composed of mutated people. But there are some actual monsters in this, plus the form these mutations become is something else. It claims to be an HP Lovercraft story, but I say it’s very loosely inspired by HP Lovecraft concepts. Still good in its own right.
Another one of those films that’s more action than horror. But I consider any film that has a creature that skins human bodies to be horror enough.
The Blob (1988)
Just like 1986’s The Fly, this is a remake done right. Unlike The Fly, if the special effects weren’t top notch, this film wouldn’t be that great. Thankfully, the special effects are amazing, therefore this film is awesome. Great gory disturbing stuff. Just wish it had less emphasis on tentacles when it grew to its larger size. And also, isn’t that poster awesome?
I thought this was too fast-paced. Scenes needed more time to get settled in. Regardless, it’s an interesting monster-curse-vengeance film that sets up some solid lore. It’s like a modern folklore horror tale come to life.
Critters 2 (1988)
Like most horror sequels from this time period, less horror and more action (and comedy). But the kills still offer some decent horror. It’s open for debate on whether this is better or worse than the first film.
The Fly 2 (1989)
While it’s not as good as the first film, and it has some plot holes regarding the fact that it’s a sequel, it’s still a fun time. In fact, the actual “fly” looks more like a fly than the first film did. On the other hand, the first film was supposed to be a human-fly hybrid, so that’s excusable. Plus I have to give props to both the film and the trailer for being exactly what viewers wanted it to be as far as sequels go. Though I don’t think there’s anything more horrifying in this movie than what happens to the dog. It made me fucking cry.
So some have claimed this is the last creature feature to feature a full-sized monster (without use of CG or a guy in a suit). Rubbish. There was also Ticks. But in any case, this was a great start to the 90s for monster flicks. The 90s would be a far cry from the 80s for creature features, but at least this decade still had them with practical effects.
This time the spiders aren’t super-sized. They are normal sized, but extra aggressive and extra deadly (one bite will kill you). That’s all this film needed to be, and it’s great. If you have arachnophobia, this film will get to you.
Split Second (1992)
Horror-action-comedy. It could’ve been better, but it’s still great fun as-is. Rutger Hauer going all-out hamming it up, others going along with him, and some horrifying moments of blood on the ceiling.
Alien 3 (1992)
This is considered the film that killed the franchise. Well, it did, but Resurrection buried it. This is a film I consider to be a terrible sequel, but a good Alien movie. See the Assembly Cut if you can, as that’s the best version. I also think that poster is awesome.
Jurassic Park (1993)
It’s better than Carnosuar. There really isn’t much competition for horror dinosaur films. We need one outside of the Jurassic Park franchise, outside of the Carnosaur franchise, and taken seriously, R rated, and very violent and bloody. I’m still angry that we haven’t gotten a good one of those yet (Carnosaur 1, 2 and Tammy and the T-Rex are the closest we get to good). Once again, an iconic poster.
This film doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Yeah it’s cheesy and stupid at times, but I’ll be damned if those special effects aren’t awesome. And how often can you say there’s an entertaining film about giant ticks?
The first half of this film, save for a couple cool mosquito moments, and that alien crash landing, sucks as bad as the acting. Boring as shit and uninteresting. But once they get in the RV to try to escape, the film is nonstop fun from there. And how often can you say there’s an entertaining film about giant mosquitoes? This is also the last decent poster you’re going to see featuring a monster movie.
The Edge (1997)
One of the more grounded in reality films. Trying to survive in the wilderness while being hunted by a man-eating bear.
Bug Buster (1998)
Probably the biggest hidden gem on this list. This is made like one of those Sci-Fi (or SyFy) films, has a slight feel of being a SyFy film. But it’s made with more honest to God effort. With absolutely fantastic special effects (at least for the first 4/5ths of the movie) that will make you wretch. Great gross-out bug movie.
Deep Rising (1998)
Surprisingly good fun action-horror, with mercenaries taking on sea creatures aboard a cruise ship. One of the few films where the monster is all CG that I actually enjoyed, a lot. Probably because just about everything else is used with practical effects. So there’s actual squibs and practical gore effects.
Lake Placid (1999)
The other good giant killer alligator/crocodile movie out there.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
The other good (giant) killer shark movie out there.
Pitch Black (2000)
Vin Diesel’s breakout role outside of The Fast and the Furious. Not a big fan of how much of a Gary Stu he is compared to pretty much all the other characters (in spite of the couple times he gets caught), and this film drops more fuck-bombs than necessary. But it’s also one of the last legitimately good theatrically released monster films ever made.
Wasn’t sure about this one, since it’s another case of people mutating into something else, and primarily staying in human form throughout the film. And the monster that shows up briefly at the end looks like shit (because it’s CG, and everything that is CG in this film is shit; thankfully CG is only used a couple times). But it was either this or some other film I don’t like as much, so I’ll go with this. Another film loosely inspired by an HP Lovecraft story.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
This film surprised the hell out of me. I wasn’t expecting it to be this damn good, even in spite of a plot hole or two near the end of the film. A great werewolf flick where soldiers actually fight back with modern weaponry. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly have a good supply of silver to keep these wolves down.
Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Only a little on the horror, as it’s more of an action film than anything else. Regardless, it’s a fun time. One of those films I’m amazed got greenlit for theatrical release. Dirt bike riding away from jumping spiders is awesome.
Last good American monster creature-feature horror film to get a theatrical release to this day. Surprisingly good mix of practical and CG effects.
A decent found footage film.
The other major hidden gem of a monster flick on this list. Seriously, this makes fantastic use of limiting out view of the monster just enough, while not doing it so much that we can’t see what’s attacking/threatening our protagonists. This deserves more recognition. The title and poster are very deceptive though, this is just a film about a monster terrorizing a vacationing family in some Nordic wilderness in a modern day setting.
Good Christmas horror flick with a family being terrorized by a satanic version of Santa, and all the monsters he brings along.
The Void (2017)
Last good recent monster flick I’ve seen. Made a strong effort to stick to practical effects, with emphasis on Lovecraftian aspects and tentacles.
Edit (10-27-2020): Swapped out Gremlin 2 for Trollhunter. Swapped out Of Unknown Origin with Slither.