The Best Movie Ever: Giant Monsters
Everyone loves a good monster, but a giant monster can be a real inconvenience, stomping around our cities and cockblocking all our romantic overtures to Naomi Watts and Fay Wray. But we love them anyway. This weekend, Godzilla returns to theaters with an American reboot that's actually good for a change, and it got us wondering… What's the Best Giant Monster Movie Ever?
We asked CraveOnline's film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo – to present their picks for the single best giant monster movie and we've listed every single giant monster movie we can think of at the bottom for you, our beloved readers, to vote on at the bottom of the page. Read our arguments and then choose for yourself which gargantuan monstrosity made for The Best Movie Ever.
I'd like to have a beer with Godzilla, but King Kong is family. He is the giant monster that won my heart and alone amongst his oversized brethren – many of which tickle me deeply, especially the Graboids in Tremors – he's the one I keep coming back to as a character who embodies my sense of adventure and isolation. He doesn't just stomp all over New York, he has something to say about who we are: we are all simultaneously monsters and victims.
Yes, the original King Kong is the best kind of monster movie, one in which the monster himself is the real hero. The film's fearful, xenophobic and exploitative protagonists miss that very important detail completely until it's too late, when they suddenly realize that not only was Kong was capable of love, but that they themselves tragically weren't. They were so wrapped up in their capitalist notion of manifest destiny, traveling to a world of exotic beauty and unsullied natural evolution only to conquer it and bring its inhabitants back in chains, that they missed the simple fact that Kong was… if not a person… then at least a creature with dignity that didn't deserve to be abused.
Critical re-evaluation of King Kong (thanks in part to a clever scene in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) now leads many audiences to believe that the film is a sharp metaphor for slavery, and while I'm not entirely confident that's what directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack had in mind, the shoe certainly fits. It's a primal story that feels as old as time itself, and it was only written and produced 80 years ago. True classics feel like they have always been with us, before we even experienced them. By that definition, King Kong is the truest of classics, and still the best giant monster movie ever made.
The answer to your question is Destroy All Monsters, the 10th Godzilla film (if you count the American re-cut of the 1954 original to be a separate film, which I do), released in 1968.
Giant monster films fulfill a deep, innate childhood desire. As little boys, we males love creatures, and we love witnessing destruction. It makes us feel powerful, but more importantly, it resembles the way we play. Giant monsters are – for me at least – a direct manifestation of what it's like to think like a child. Forget the heavy-handed nuclear war metaphors so often slapped all over Godzilla. He has endured not because of his political symbolism, but because of his delightful silliness. He is a 50-meter amphibian, played by a man in a sometimes-ratty-looking rubber suit, stomping around on a miniature set. There is a charm to the low-fi practical effects of Godzilla films of the '60s and '70s that will not ever be reproduced by modern CGI. These films are products of their time. And watching two men in monster outfits wrestling on the same set only increases the joy.
So imagine if it’s an eight-on-one all-monster battle royale. It doesn't get too much more perfect than that, does it? In Destroy All Monsters, evil aliens have taken control of Earth's amassed kaiju, including both Godzilla and his famed archenemy King Ghidorah the three-headed dragon. Also wreaking havoc are Anguirus, Minilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gorosaurus, Manda, and Kumonga. Baragon and Varan the Unbelievable make cameos. The sheer volume of monster mayhem carries Destroy All Monsters over the top, and seeing Godzilla stomp on King Ghidorah's neck over and over again brings a blissful, almost meditative pleasure that cannot be described. Add to the mayhem a plot by evil aliens, a monster control mind ray, and a team of stalwart humans determined to shut it down, and you have a kaiju film par excellence.
I have seen all the Godzilla films, and this one should be counted as the best one. The ones with Mechagodzilla run a close second.
I’d love to champion Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, a very clever and adorable spoof of giant monster movies, and an effective inversion of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise, but is it the Best Giant Monster Movie Ever? No, I’ve said my piece, and my number one pick needs some defending too. Most people will admit that Peter Jackson’s King Kong is great except it’s too long. I’m going to go one better. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is the Best Giant Monster Movie Ever, and it’s so good that I even watch the longer version. The reason it’s three hours long is because it’s awesome.
Now I think everyone agrees that Kong vs. the T-rex is awesome, and Kong in NY is awesome, maybe some debate on the brontosauri stampede. Did we have to spend so much time in 1930s New York? No, but the loving detail in 1930s New York is wonderful. Did we have to spend so much time on the boat? No, but it’s not taking away from any of the Kong stuff. I’ve heard people ask why they needed the scene where Kong is sliding across the frozen lake. It’s there because it’s the best damn scene in the movie. Why would you just want to watch a movie about a giant ape stampeding without those moments of innocence?
Jackson crafted Spielbergian action sequences that really made me think he was on his way to being one of our foremost blockbuster filmmakers. Maybe if I loved the world of Middle Earth as much as I loved the world of King Kong I could forgive The Hobbit movies, but I simply don’t. I love spending every moment in the world of 1930s New York and exploring Skull Island, so much that I even think the extra bog and jungle sequences are fun. Man, could you have imagined if Fay Wray had lived to say the film’s final line as planned?
The sewer-dwelling amphibian beast in The Host might not be the actual best giant monster – that would be Godzilla – but The Host is the best giant monster movie. Why? Because Bong Joon-ho is a miracle worker. Somehow the South Korean director juggled ADD parenting, the don’t-give-no-fucks mindset of corporate intrusion on national borders and government fears of their own people into a monster movie and still managed to make it ridiculously exciting, fun and funny.
Having said all that, The Host is pretty simple. A US doctor (Scott Wilson) orders a Korean doctor to dump a bunch of formaldehyde into the Han River. Soon a giant fish-reptile-combo goblin with legs emerges and snatches the daughter of a dimwitted, but loving father (Kang-ho Song) and takes her to its lair. The government quarantines everyone and allows the US government to intervene and test its chemical antibody.
There are a lot of big ideas in The Host – but Bong Joon-ho never lets them overtake the narrative. He spends equal time building each story genre: monster, parenting and government thriller. As such, it makes points without every getting preachy, it entertains without ever being mind numbing and it provides emotion without ever being saccharine.
It’s also the only monster movie that stops all the action and paranoia to make room for a scene where a doctor in a Hazmat suit slips, falls and try to play it off as cool. In big monster movies, it’s the little things that count.