Summer is a time of big-budget blockbusters, and as we learned in my previous blog, sequels. For many Arizonans, it’s a time to find that well air-conditioned space it could be Bookmans, or a museum as long as it’s not the house. That space for me is the movie theater. I try and see a movie or watch a few at home on my days off. One movie genre that brings me joy is monster movies. So, I came up with a few categories that an array of monster movies could fit into. I will define and discuss the categories below. Also, many of the films can fit into multiple categories. It’s all part of the fun of the game. Please play along in the comments below. I’m looking for movies I can watch on my day off.

Monster movies are usually a wonderful mash-up of tropes that build to a character study for humanity. The focus is on the monsters, but that focus allows us to look at ourselves. That which we choose to create and inevitably must destroy. In most cases, I sympathize with the monster or monsters of the film leading to a range of emotions and thought experiments.

Threatening Predator or Kaiju

Originating from Japanese monster movies, a kaiju is usually from the water and is about 50ft or taller. Most monster movies and fit into the threatening predator category. Classics like King Kong (1933), THEM! (1954), and all the Godzilla movies. Or 90s standouts like Arachnophobia (1990), Anaconda (1997), or Lake Placid (1999). Have you seen the 2015 crossover film Lake Placid vs. Anaconda?

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Yes, sharks are threatening predators, but they deserve their own category. There are so many shark movies out there from the classic Jaws to 2018’s The Meg. Some films in the genre are crowd pleasers. The Meg was just that, based on a novel by Steve Alten, which is a great plane read if you’re lucky enough to get out of the heat for a few days this summer. The Meg is hot scientists doing cool things, a villain (that’s not the monster) we love to hate, and the “we humans did this now we have to fix it” plot line. I highly recommend it!

But in trying to think of a different way to talk about monster movies, I started to think about the anti-heroines in some of these stories. For example, Susan McAllister in Deep Blue Sea. We got to question and disagree with her motives while watching a giant shark terrorize an underwater research facility.

Black Comedy

There is nothing like a bit of comic relief when you’re on the edge of your seat. A bonus is when it is crafted into witty satire. My favorite example is Neil Blomkamp’s 2009 mockumentary District 9. He looks at Apartheid in South Africa through the lens of “working class aliens” that were left behind by the rest of their kind. Inspired by films like The Fly (1986) and Robocop (1987), this black comedy used the monster movie genre to explore the complexities of the sociopolitical climate in South Africa. Another honorable mention is Slither (2006) a James Gunn deep cut, the Guardian of the Galaxy director pays homage to B-movies with Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks as the leads.

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They Came from Above, Below, or Another Dimension

The list is endless for these crossover sci-fi-monster-alien films. Some of my favorites include Predator, Independence Day, and Pacific Rim. They all take into account the strength of the collective. Whether it be a team in an unnamed South American country, the U.S. Military, or massive robots created to destroy monsters from a portal in the Pacific ocean.

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“We Made This. Sorry.” and Other Science Mishaps

Bong Joon-ho, The Host follows a family as they try and save their youngest member. He combines aspects of the kaiju movie with political commentary. I recently saw this movie on the big screen at the Loft, and it is quite possibly the most perfect monster movie I’ve seen. I was able to experience the quintessential monster movie range of emotion from delight to terror, to tears all in the span of a couple of hours. My other go-to for science mishaps is all the Jurassic Park Park/World movies because the dinosaurs always win. I was hoping to mention Jeff Goldblum in the context of The Fly (although his work is excellent as Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Jurassic Park movies) which also fits nicely into this category.

Sole Survivors

In so many monster movies, I find myself cheering for the monster. In some cases where the monster is unknown, I have to go with the protagonist or who all like to call the sole survivor. What’s left in the end for these characters? One of my favorite surprise-endings is in The Mist (2007). The film’s writer and director Frank Darabont’s adaptation diverge from the ambiguous end of Stephen King’s novella to a more concrete conclusion for the sole survivor. If you’re looking for a thrilling beach, read I suggest the original text.

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Our Lady of Survival Ripley, a.k.a Sigourney Weaver, should get her own category. Can you think of any other heroines in the monster movie genre that survive as she does throughout the franchise? Perhaps noted sole survivor Sarah Carter in the Descent. And there are others like Laurie Strode of the Halloween movies, Sarah Connor in Terminator franchise, and Alice from the Resident Evil films. Although they are all great franchises, they don’t fit neatly into the monster movie genre. Monster movies are often overlooked but there a quite a few gems floating around in the open water.