By Kim Morgan
Special to MSN Movies
Read more: Best Scary Movies
What makes a movie monster? Is it an enormous scaly apparition with the power to sack Tokyo? Is it an off-the-charts intellectual who dangerously mingles blood lust with fine cuisine? Or is it those demons we dream about -- horrible, green women whose cackling laughs taunt you with lines such as, "I'll get you my pretty!"
Of course, it's all of the above and then some. And to everyone there is one "monster" more horrifying than the other. As such, choosing a list of the greatest movie monsters is a difficult, uh, gargantuan process. Alien vs. Predator? Mothra vs. Godzilla? Wolfman vs. Mummy? Liza vs. Oprah?
We're thinking of those baddies who've penetrated pop culture in all their unsightly glory. And with exception given to the great finned one, we're sticking to monsters -- those of the supernatural, uber-natural and unnatural form. No "real" people like, say Hannibal Lecter or Leatherface or Henry Lee Lucas (and they are "real" when standing next to fire-breathing lizards), but extraordinary, legendary beasts. We love them, we hate them and, yes, we love to hate them.
10. "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)
He may not be as scary and he may not have spawned as many sequels, but we're partial to the sexed-up webbed one. Gill-Man, as the scientists call him, is a fancy looking reptilian being who appears as a half-human, half-slimy, fish-headed lizard. In Jack Arnold's beautifully photographed film, he's quite the swimmer -- the underwater sequences are famous -- with a soft spot for the ladies (here, the comely Julie Adams) but deadly if you think of invading his home turf. Though he's supposed to be scary and sad, we think he's so fantastic looking that we wonder just what his problem is. Serious about getting the girl, he should have simply maintained his appearance and offered his services to that monster band KISS. He'd never have to fight for a woman again.
9. "Child's Play"
Laugh all you want, but Chucky from "Child's Play" -- as camp and silly as he's become -- is one great little movie monster. Why? Because the foul-mouthed redhead with a penchant for pushing baby-sitters out of windows took all that scares us about dolls and turned those fears into one nasty, fun franchise of varied quality. With lingering horror left from movies such as "Dolls," that dreadful clown in "Poltergeist," Anthony Hopkins' dummy in "Magic," or even better, that African devil doll stabbing Karen Black's ankles in "Trilogy of Terror," Chucky embodies every toy we looked twice at when tucking our little sister into bed at night. And he's one cool-looking brute with snarky demonic facial expressions and attitude improving from film to film. Chucky may not be scary anymore, but he's become so lovable we wouldn't mind having one. Well, ok, he does kill people. We'll stick with our talking Elmo.
We're breaking the rules just a little in that sharks are not mere fantasy. They are animals you can behold if you surf long enough or if you think dumping bloody meat out of your tiny fishing boat makes for a good time. But Bruce, the Great White of Steven Spielberg's classic, induced so many nightmares that there are still those who won't swim in the ocean because of him. "Jaws" is so compelling that seeing him isn't entirely necessary -- you can hear his "da-dum...da-dum" theme song and get the chills. Either that or the opening of "Airplane!" comes to mind.
7. "The Phantom of the Opera"
All you Andrew Lloyd Webber fans just stop. Please. We're not talking about some heartbroken dude with a face mask like Tom Cruise's in "Vanilla Sky," bellowing out pop opera tunes. We're talking a bona fide scary guy played by a bona fide cinematic genius -- Lon Chaney -- in the 1925 silent picture, "The Phantom of the Opera," that's so effective, so creepy, even those who'd never thought they'd stray from talkies are freaked out. And we admit he's something of a stretch given that he doesn't grow via radiated sewer water in the opera house to take over Paris and stomp every competing opera singer. Still, in Chaney's brilliant hands (he did his own beautifully ghastly makeup), he is a monster. A gloomy guy, but a monster nonetheless.
6. "Nightmare on Elm Street"
His face is all melted, burned skin. He's equipped with Lee Press-On Nails by way of Ginsu and he only shows up when you're sleeping. Oh, and he's a child molester. In case you've not seen the movies (is that possible?), then we're talking about that silver-tongued devil Freddy Krueger from the popular "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. Though he's become more of a quipster through time, he did begin as one twisted freak. We should all remember that next time we break out the Freddy doll for the kiddies -- a doll! Have we not forgotten what he did to deserve the torch?
More than 50 years have passed and those gargantuan ants from "Them!" (great title) still remain chilling. A little funny, sure, but watch the entire movie: those fearsome critters outdo much of the new CGI monsters of today. Hatched from the A-bomb (when will we ever learn?), ants the size of street sweepers, mutated from radiation, are fighting for survival and domination. What makes "Them!" so significant isn't just the superior quality of the monsters but how influential they were in insect movies to come. Our favorite homage is that misunderstood bit of brilliance, "Starship Troopers," in which insects aptly show what they could really do when huge -- tear you to bloody pieces!
4. "Jason and the Argonauts"
(1963) and "The Wizard of Oz"
Sometimes when things appear fake, they're even scarier -- like horrid visualizations from a dream. The jerky, rapacious, stop-motion animated skeletons from "Jason and the Argonauts" (crafted by legendary special effects creator Ray Harryhausen) are a perfect example of beings that, no matter how much time has passed, always appear wrong. And the Flying Monkeys? Or the "wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night, why-did-you-make-me-watch-that-old-movie" Flying Monkeys? Thanks to "The Wizard of Oz," thousands, maybe millions, of kids generations over hid behind the couch (well, this writer did) when those primates would flitter off, doing their bidding for that other unholy apparition, The Wicked Witch of the West. To quote Wayne and Garth, monkeys may not fly out my butt, but they will fly -- in nightmares anyway.
You're pretty much a serious bad ass if you're a 164-foot lizard who can decimate a major city in Japan and be a sympathetic symbol for the dangers of Cold War politics. Godzilla, first seen in the 1954 Japanese, Toho studio-made "Gojira" with 28 subsequent films made by Toho (we're not including the cruddy 1998 "Godzilla"), is one of cinema's most enduring monsters. Gray (though green in other films), scaly and amphibious, the big guy can not only regenerate but also fire a massive atomic beam from his mouth. He also has some outstanding monsters to fight -- the famed Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed Ghidorah among them. And we love that Godzilla popularized the idea of "versus" films, the first being the dream monster fight -- "King Kong vs. Godzilla."
2. "King Kong"
Just as "Dracula" was a precursor to the dashing killer genre of monster movies, "King Kong" was the granddaddy to all monsters writ large -- immensely large. The giant male gorilla who, like Garbo, really just wanted to be left alone (but with a girl) has become such a pop icon that even in his sillier moments, there's something sacred about the guy. A 50-foot ape who's taken from Skull Island and deposited in New York City as the "eighth wonder of the world," "Kong" heeds the warning: Don't mess with nature, especially ridiculously gigantic nature. The early stop-motion creature may garner laughs by today's standards, but he's still an amazingly potent creation, terrific looking (we love it when he fights the T. Rex) and evokes loads of sympathy. And there are some of us who were just as traumatized watching Kong bite it on The Empire State building as we were watching Bambi's mother get shot. Seriously.
The OG monster! Novelist/creator Mary Shelley crafted him as more of a disgusting mish-mash of body parts that could have been sewn together by Ed Gein but with a surprisingly vast intelligence and the ability to speak. Her vision (self-named "Adam") was attempted via Robert De Niro in the unfortunate Kenneth Branagh adaptation, a film that hoped to trump James Whale's "Frankenstein," starring Boris Karloff. Sorry Kenneth, no dice. The re-animated one -- with his bolted neck, moaning speech, black duds and stiff walk -- remains the greatest and most poignant in movie history. He later gained a bride and most memorably, a loving satire ("Young Frankenstein"). Have you ever thought of "Puttin' on the Ritz" the same? We heart the Monster.
What is your favorite movie monster? Let us know at email@example.com
Kim Morgan is a film writer for the LA Weekly, Fandango and Reel.com. She was a film critic for The Oregonian and has written about movies for various print and Web media. She served as DVD critic on Tech TV's "The Screen Savers" and has appeared as guest film critic on AMC's "The Movie Club with John Ridley" and on E! Entertainment. She writes for her blog Sunsetgun.com.