It Came From Beneath! - The 20 Best Giant Animal Horror Movies

Thanks in part to a steady dose of weekend Sci Fi Channel marathons, horror movies featuring giant animals -- snakes, sharks, rats, insects, mollusks -- have gotten a bad name. For the most part, the reputation might be deserved, but there are a select few that are actually worth a watch -- and maybe even a listen. Note: this list sticks to large REAL animals; thus, no Godzilla villains or mythical creatures.

Full of hammy acting and ridiculous melodrama, It Came From Beneath the Sea makes the list for only two reasons: Ray. Harryhausen. The legendary stop-motion animation wiz provided the special effects in this early film that helped establish his name before he went on to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, One Million Years B.C., Mysterious Island, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. The imagery of "it" -- a giant squid -- clinging onto the Golden Gate Bridge and later using its tentacle to crush people on a San Francisco street have become iconic in the realm of mega-creature features.

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Ticks (1993)

Ticks
© Republic Pictures
With its story of juvenile delinquents on a camping retreat fending off softball-sized ticks bred from a marijuana farmer's secret growth serum, Ticks brings new meaning to the word "camp." How can you not love a movie with Alfonso "Carlton Banks" Ribeiro playing a Zubaz-clad "aggressive dysfunctional" inner-city kid? A young Seth Green stars, probably because he's the only person they could find capable of being intimidated by Ribeiro.
Bert I. Gordon has to make an appearance on this list, having cornered the market on cheesy giant animal/plant/mineral movies with entries like The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, Beginning of the End and Food of the Gods. Though made in the '70s, Empire is a remnant of the 1950s Cold War-era movies about giant beasts spawned by radioactivity. This time around, Cadillac-sized ants that, for some reason, scream like little girls sneak up on a group of land investors in the Florida swamplands. If you fast-forward past the soap opera antics of the first half hour, it's a fun film, from the hysterical overacting to the ridiculous psychic plot twist to the fact that Joan Collins is pretty much left to die at that end of the movie.
The first two Anaconda films provided solid popcorn entertainment value (No comment on the David Hasselhoff-led third.), but I give the nod to Anacondas for more snakes, more mayhem and less of Eric Stoltz being incapacitated for two hours. In this sequel, snakes in a Borneo jungle grow to an immense size because they feed on the Blood Orchid, when lengthens their lives. Of course, in real life, these elderly snakes would be toothless with thick glasses and MedicAlert bracelets, but such is the magic of Hollywood.

What happens when mosquitoes feed on alien carcasses? A crappy movie; that's what! Bad action movie dialogue, awful acting, a corny sense of humor and outdated stop-motion animation combine for a campy good time, thanks to a nice level of gore, some frantic action sequences and the hilarious appearance of the rubber mosquito puppets. Plus, you get to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) handle a chainsaw one more time. Director Gary Jones might just be the modern Bert I. Gordon, scoring three campy films on this list.

Mimic has the only sorta-kinda made-up creature on this list: a hybrid of a termite and a mantis that's bred to kill cockroaches that are spreading a child-killing disease throughout New York. Unfortunately, as happens so often in these movies, the fruits of science veer out of control, and the insects grow to six feet tall and begin feeding on humans. How? Pseudoscience! Director Guillermo Del Toro injects style into the formula, despite relying on the cliché of the poor black guy sacrificing himself to save the stars.
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Tarantula (1955)

A poster for Jack Arnold's 1955 science fiction film 'Tarantula'
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix/ Getty Images
A bit overshadowed by contemporary films like Them! and the Bert I. Gordon and Ray Harryhausen movies, Tarantula more than holds its own. The story concerns a scientist whose experimental growth formula unleashes a spider that grows to mammoth proportions. Unlike the stop-motion of It Came From Beneath the Sea and the large models of Them!, Tarantula uses images of a real-life spider projected to the size of a small mountain -- or a really big molehill. The effect is creepier than its contemporaries, with 3-D angles that have the spider coming right at the screen, moving forward instead of the horizontal movements favored by so many films of this ilk. Plus, it's so darn BIG.

Despite taking itself too seriously (It's from the guy who directed Wolf Creek, after all.) and featuring annoying characters who seem to want to get eaten, this Australian flick boasts possibly the most realistic fake crocodile ever filmed and has a classic climactic man-versus-beast battle.

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Razorback (1984)

Razorback DVD
© Warner Bros.
Another Aussie tale, this one with a giant boar. There's not enough pig action in this tale of an American searching for his missing wife in the Australian Outback, but stylish direction from Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction) and the dusty Outback setting give it a Mad Max-ish flair.
I might admit some bias towards spider movies, because those critters creep me out more than any snake or rat ever will. That said, Eight Legged Freaks is particularly effective because of excellent special effects that make a giant spider invasion seem like a real possibility. The humor in this self-conscious monster movie parody lightens the mood enough to prevent any nightmares, though. Whew.
The second Gary Jones film on the list, Death Swamp, also known as Crocodile 2: Death Roll -- whatever that means -- is an unrelated sequel to a low point in Tobe Hooper's career: the movie Crocodile. This film is corny (The heroine's treasured keepsake is a lighter engraved with the words "You light up my life.") but features solid acting and plenty of action, with bank robberies, explosions, shoot-outs, airplane and helicopter crashes and, of course, croc munching. In the film, rejects from Die Hard rob a bank, then hijack a plane on its way to Acapulco. However, bad weather causes it to crash into swamplands inhabited by a monster crocodile. Martin "Sweep the Leg" Kove's presence is icing on the cake.
Written with a deft comedic touch, Lake Placid delivers more on the humor end than on the horror end. The tale of a 30-foot Asian crocodile that somehow finds its way to a rural Maine lake features great comic turns by Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt and particularly Betty White as the foul-mouthed local widow who treats the crocodile as a pet.

In Gary Jones' magnum opus, an experiment to mix spider and alien DNA (Does it matter why?) results in a mutant spider being let loose in a government facility, killing everyone in its path. Spiders has "cult classic" written all over it, from the gooey special effects of gore guru Robert Kurtzman (From Dusk Till Dawn, Army of Darkness, Cabin Fever, Scream) to the cheesy spirit of '50s monster flicks to wonderfully awful lines like "That spider is a killing machine!" and "My name is John Murphy, of the United States government." As cheap as it is, though, it's remarkably large in spectacle, featuring a space shuttle, a helicopter, car crashes, bazookas, explosions and a rampaging 50-foot spider trampling people in downtown Los Angeles.

From the director of Spawn comes this direct-to-video creature feature about genetically engineered, amphibious snakehead fish (meaning they can walk on land) that escape from a shipwreck and begin terrorizing a Louisiana swamp. Fun, gory and thrilling with strong acting and direction, it's one of the few giant animal films airing on the Sci Fi Channel that actually delivers non-ironic thrills.

The urban legend of the parents who flush the kid's pet alligator down the toilet, only to have it grow to full size in the sewer, comes to life in this early '80s hit. In the film, the gator's enormous size is explained as the result of a pharmaceutical company's hormone experimentation on stray dogs, whose carcasses are dumped into the sewer and eaten by the alligator. Clever use of camera tricks and miniatures make for a fairly realistic animal attack experience, given the time period. You have to have a perverse admiration for a movie willing to show an alligator eat a child in a swimming pool.

The cream of the crop of 1950s radiation-spawned monster movies, Them! is unusually well-acted and intelligent for a movie about giant, man-eating ants. In fact, the rampaging insects are almost an afterthought to the detailed plot about Army scientists studying ant tendencies, strategizing and locating a couple of lost children. It's a bit like Law & Order: Special Insects Unit, even ending with a sobering moral about the repercussions of living in the Atomic Age.
Renowned director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) helmed this tale of an EPA worker conducting a study on the environmental impact of a paper mill in the Maine wilderness. It turns out that the factory is dumping pollutants into the river, poisoning the fish and causing anything that eats them to become deformed and super-sized. It's not such a big deal when they find poodle-sized tadpoles, but a gigantic mutant bear with a chip on its shoulder causes some problems. The somber, eco-conscious first two-thirds of the movie gives way to a wild and wooly final third featuring a guy in a bear suit running around on his hind legs, shot at elongated angles like a surreal, backwoods Godzilla.
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The Fly (1986)

The Fly DVD
© 20th Century Fox
Is this cheating? So be it. It's hard enough coming up with 20 giant animal movies worth watching without trying to filter through the specifics of whether or not this fits neatly into the category. I mean, Jeff Goldblum does turn into a giant fly by the end -- albeit only for the last five minutes. Plus, you get to see his acidic projectile vomit.
King Kong was the standard for giant animal movies for several decades -- and to some extent, it still is. The epic story of a giant ape who falls for a blond "beauty" -- and pays the price -- still manages to entertain today, albeit more in an adventure sort of way than in a horror sort of way.
Repeat after me: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum... Jaws' legendary stature reaches beyond its legendary theme music to every facet of the film: acting, direction, writing, action, scares -- it delivers on all levels. Every giant animal horror movie -- including Jaws' increasingly bad sequels -- strives to make just a percentage of the impact that this shark tale has had.