Top Ten Classic Movie Monsters

I used to love watching monster movies as a kid. I still do- especially when the monsters are classical. Today’s actors will try to stay true to the “nature of the beast” instead of creating a new character. All ten of the following monsters are iconic; mention them, and everyone knows who and what you are talking about.

The Wolfman

The Wolfman

From time-lapse photography in 1941 to latex to CGI, people have transformed into werewolves on movie and television screens. Lon Chaney, Jr. played the original cursed soul, Larry Talbot. He cringed as he heard the words from the gypsy Maleva: “Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

There’s something uncomfortable about turning into a half-human, half-animal monster. Several movies have been made, but the original still stands for me as the scariest.


In 1931, audiences were terrified by the sight of a walking, talking corpse that preyed on living people and drank their blood. What’s worse, his victims became vampires themselves. The European actor Bela Lugosi brought Bram Stoker’s horrifying character to life. Although portrayed by multiple actors in dozens of movies, no one has been more identified with the character than the original. His accent and slow speech pattern became the iconic standard for the undead Count. I sleep with my windows closed and stay out of graveyards.


Godzilla 1954

In 1954, the Toyo Co. Ltd created a monster that has stood the test of time, armies, other monsters, and aliens. Part of the “nuclear monster” era, none has survived to become as well known as Godzilla. He has starred in over 28 films and has a Saturday morning cartoon as well. He’s not always friendly to people; he’s more or less concerned with his own preservation. Suppose that means saving us at the same time, oh, well.

I cringed in 1999 when American filmmakers tried to make a different version of him; I hated it. In 1999, a new film by Toho Co. was released. When he appeared on the screen, children wondered why older audience members, myself included, were cheering. He was back. He’s coming back again this year- he’s one tough lizard; I’ll cheer for him, but I wouldn’t want him in my backyard.

Phantom of the Opera

Pain, disfigurement, and torment can drive a person mad. It can also drive the person to revenge, turning him or her into a monster. This movie explores the deep recesses of madness and obsession like no other. We can sympathize with the man who was either born disfigured or burned in 1943, obsessed with a young, pretty opera singer, and will do anything to ensure her success. This character has been the subject of numerous films, including a rock opera with artist Paul Williams. The Broadway play has been a worldwide phenomenon; audiences never tire of this “monster.”

The Mummy

First appearing in a story in 1827, this creature predates Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel about the Walking Dead. The story featured a reanimated Egyptian mummy; the story is set in the year 2126. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his novel in 1897 about a mummy under the control of a reanimator. Hollywood added a love story to the mix, and the iconic monster was born. First played by Boris Karloff in 1932, the creature Imhotep will do anything to get his beloved back. Ain’t love grand?


The earliest film I can find featuring this beast is Die Nibelungen from 1924. Since then, moviemakers have given these creatures the ability to breathe fire, regenerate, hibernate for centuries, fly, deflect bullets, and more. It’s generally accepted that only a magical sword wielded by someone pure of heart can pierce the beast’s heart to kill it. Unless, of course, the beast emerges in modern times as it does in Reign of Fire, it takes a high-powered explosive to the heart (again) to kill the beast. They are as much folklore as they are fascinating.


These creatures have been the stuff of legends for hundreds of years. In 1932, Bela Lugosi hypnotized a young woman into doing his bidding in “The White Zombie.” At the time, a zombie was under the control of someone else, usually the person who turned him or her into one. That all changed for the nightmarish version known today, that of the living-flesh-eating monster portrayed in George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968. I first saw this film at the age of seven; I had nightmares for years. I still don’t like sleeping near windows. In this film, radiation from a satellite reanimated the dead. Since then, bacteria, dust/microbes from satellites or meteors, viruses, toxic chemicals, and more have caused the dead to wake up with a voracious appetite. They have become an iconic part of Halloween and American culture.

King Kong

Censors had to approve the violent scenes that terrified audiences in 1933. Since then, the giant ape has thrilled, fascinated, and scared audiences. Peter Jackon’s 2005 version is the most gorilla-like of all those who have come before. His violence terrifies audiences, but his affection and protectiveness of the damsel that leads to his death always bring tears. He’s genuine, unassuming, and unconditional. He’ll always be loved and feared.


British author Mary Shelly wrote a horror story during a weekend retreat with her poet husband, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. Of all the authors, her 1818 novel has survived for nearly 200 years, scaring anyone who reads it. The creature first appeared in a movie in 1910. Hollywood added electricity and lightning to the mix during the 1931 movie, and Boris Karloff brought the creature to life. The makeup and costume limited his movements to the extent that the creature’s walk and inability to talk have become standard. Dozens of movies have been made featuring Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s experiment, but the original is the best by far. Not all creatures are bad at heart; some are simply misunderstood.

The Alien

One of the best advertising lines for a film was born in 1979: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The crew of the spaceship Nostromo picked up something sinister on an exploratory trip to an asteroid. Instead of bringing it back in a box, it came back inside crew member John Hurt. Unfortunately, it incubated and made its debut in one of the most horrifying scenes in movies. The director kept a lot of information from the cast in order to elicit more genuine responses; it worked. It worked very well, as audiences were scared silly along with the ship’s crew. The alien has appeared in many movies, but the first appearance gave a lot of folks nightmares.

The economic prosperity of the era, coupled with technological innovations, led to a consumer culture that was heavily influenced by, and in turn, fueled the growth of the movie industry. Hollywood’s influence extended beyond entertainment, significantly impacting consumer trends and advertising, and played a key role in shaping the modern consumer society.

Even though we know the story and know what to expect, we are still fascinated to see our favorite classic monsters appear on the screen. I’ll let psychiatrists figure that one out. I’ll keep watching.

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