Scariest Movie Monsters of All Time, Ranked
A lot of work goes into making a truly scary movie monster. Art design, backstory and special effects all need to work in tandem to make terrifying movie magic. When it all comes together, a new kind of classic movie monster is born and lives forever on film, delivering scares for generations to come.
But what are the scariest movie monsters to ever stalk, slash and hack away on the big screen? From sci-fi films and fantasy flicks to Stephen King horror movies and more, these monsters scared the heck out of us as kids.
They still do, too.
Criteria: "Monster" is a term used loosely here. An alien can certainly be a monster, as can vengeful spirits (and the objects they possess) as well as certain animals. The main disqualifier: being a human being. The main qualifier: being scary.
First appearance: The NeverEnding Story
Why it's scary: "The NeverEnding Story" is a weird, wonderful and sometimes unsettling children's movie. The fantasy takes place in Fantasia, which is being absorbed by the Nothing, a power that deprives people of their hopes and dreams.
"It is like a despair, destroying this world. I have been trying to help it," explains Gmork, a giant wolf creature sent to kill Arteyu. "People who have no hope are easy to control. Whoever has the control has the power."
Gmork is one creepy movie monster that scared us as kids and still gives us the willies.
29. Bruce the Shark
First appearance: Jaws
Why it's scary: The reason why the shark from "Jaws" is so scary is because it's rooted in reality. In 1916, a great white shark terrorized the coast of New Jersey, killing four people over the course of two weeks. Coastal towns were terrified, with one mayor even offering a bounty to anyone who could provide proof that they killed one of the ocean's greatest predators.
The shark in "Jaws" was even more menacing, especially before you saw the big rubber monster which continually broke down. Ironically, that's what made the movie so good. The continual malfunctions caused Stephen Spielberg to use shots of the shark sparingly.
While you're unlikely to be devoured by a shark, the thought of having a leg — or worse — chomped off by one of these deep-sea monsters is truly terrifying.
While the shark didn't have a name in the film, on set, Spielberg called him Bruce.
28. The Puppets
First appearance: Puppet Master
Why they're scary: They might be half the size of Chucky, but these demonic puppets (not to be confused with demonic toys) are terrifying in their own right.
There's Blade, with knives for hands. Pinhead, strong enough to break bones. Tunneller, who has a drill for a head. And Leech Woman, who can regurgitate blood-sucking leeches. There's also Jester, but he just sort of makes faces.
There are more puppets. In fact, there are a dozen "Puppet Master" films — and each one is pretty scary for its own reasons.
First appearance: Gremlins
Why he's scary: Gizmo is a cute and cuddly little bugger, but get him wet and he'll spawn a series of ill-natured Mogwai. And, after a post-midnight feeding, those Mogwai will turn into scaly, fang-toothed Gremlins. One of whom was Stripe, a particularly evil Gremlin with a white mohawk and a penchant for chainsaws.
People forget just how dang murderous the Gremlins really are (part of that is due to "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," which the director made into a horror-comedy farce because he hated sequels). Stripe is downright sadistic, first shooting a fellow Gremlin for cheating at cards and later shooting Billy with a crossbow, hurling saw blades at his face, and trying to chew him in half with a chainsaw.
If you saw this as a kid, you still wanted some Gremlin pals, but you did not want a Stripe.
26. The Blue Aliens
First appearance: They Live
Why they're scary: Imagine if everything you thought you knew was a lie. You don't actually want to buy Wonder Bread, or buy that new car, or even have another kid.
You're being programmed to, via subliminal messaging by a ruling race of hideous blue aliens that walk among us. And you can only see them — and their messages — by wearing a special pair of sunglasses.
The idea that we're being controlled by something we cannot see is an existentially terrifying thought. Throw in skinless, bug-eyed aliens, and you have a special kind of nightmare.
First appearance: Christine
Why it's scary: It's a beautiful, cherry red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury with chrome for days and an engine that won't quit. You love it, and it loves you — and it loves you a lot. So much, in fact, that it will asphyxiate, run down and run over anyone who crosses you. Or anyone else that might take your attention away from it.
It's difficult to imagine a car being a scary movie monster, but Stephen King's "Christine" as directed by horror film mastermind John Carpenter hits the mark. Christine is a possessed car that you just can't total. Break its windows, and it grows new ones. Puncture its tires, and they'll re-inflate and be ready to run you down before you can pocket your pocket comb switchblade.
But hey, at least you won't have to worry about repair bills.
First appearance: Child's Play
Why he's scary: Moments before dying, serial killer Charles Lee Ray casts a hoodoo spell, transferring his soul into that of a Good Guy doll. Chucky is an iconic horror movie monster, and he's especially terrifying in the original "Child's Play," which is more psychological horror than straight-up campy slasher.
While Chucky has evolved (or devolved) into a more humorous movie monster, the idea of a supernaturally strong knee-high doll wielding a butcher knife is quite horrifying.
And he's had some killer one-liners.
First appearance: Night of the Living Dead
Why it's scary: George Romero created an entirely new movie creature with "Night of the Living Dead." While zombies had existed in film before this — namely in 1932's "White Zombie," where they were created by voodoo — "Night of the Living Dead" was the first movie where corpses came to life, shambled around, and feasted on living flesh.
These zombies rise for an unknown reason, spreading their disease via a bite, which slowly kills the victim like poison before turning them into the living dead.
We might be suffering from zombie overexposure today, but the thought of seeing your friends and loved ones come back to life and trying to turn your small intestines into a spaghetti lunch is horrific.
22. The Werewolf
First appearance: An American Werewolf in London
Why it's scary: Werewolves are classic movie monsters and, in reality, quite scary. If you're stricken by lycanthropy, when the moon turns full, you undergo a painful transformation into wolf-form. And if you happen to be near one of these werewolves, you're torn limb from limb.
But up until "An American Werewolf in London," Hollywood hadn't really shown what it looked like for a man to transform into a giant, man-eating wolf. The movie itself might be a dark comedy, but the werewolf transformation was blood-curdling for the time. The practical effects still hold up.
Also a special shout-out to "The Howling," which also had a very disturbing werewolf transformation scene.
21. Kayako Saeki
First appearance: The Grudge
Why it's scary: When someone dies in a state of unimaginable pain and hate, they haunt their death site, murdering any who enter. That's the legend that forms the basis of the "Ju-On" horror franchise.
Kayako Saeki is the wraith in "The Grudge," a vengeful spirit who can appear anywhere, follow you home, or use the voice of a loved one. That Saeki has no rules makes her terrifying.
She can't be hurt, can't be stopped, and is entirely unpredictable.
20. The Entity
First appearance: It Follows
Why it's scary: The idea behind the entity from "It Follows" is brilliant — a shapeshifting demon that follows you wherever you go, never stopping until it breaks you in half. The fact that it can take the form of anything, from an old woman in a hospital gown to someone you love, presents a paranoid reality where any person on the street could be this otherworldly being.
It becomes attached through sex, which is also the only way to latch it onto someone else. Not only do the victims have to keep moving, but they also have to weigh giving this curse to an unsuspecting partner.
"It Follows" has no true form, but its manifestation as the Tall Man is one of the scariest scenes in the movie.
19. Jason Voorhees
First appearance: Friday the 13th
Why he's scary: A big guy in overalls with a machete and a hockey mask. It's one of the simplest and most iconic movie monster designs in the world.
Jason is a tragic figure. Relentlessly bullied because he had hydrocephalus, which caused head swelling and mental disabilities, he's left to drown in the water of Crystal Lake because those horny counselors were too busy getting it on instead of watching the water.
Jason Vorhees was first seen at the end of 1980's "Friday the 13th," where the main villain was Jason's mother. And it isn't until the third installment that Jason dons his hockey mask. Silent, nearly unstoppable, and fuming with rage, Jason's only goal is to murder everyone in sight. Especially teenagers. He has killed 195 people on and off-screen.
Just pretend "Jason X" doesn't exist.
18. The Revenants
First appearance: The Fog
Why they're scary: The whole premise behind John Carpenter's "The Fog" is delightfully scary. A strange, glowing fog washes over a coastal town, causing power outages and weird electrical malfunctions. As the fog envelopes a house, windows and doors are bashed in, revealing silhouetted men with burning red eyes wearing tattered clothing.
They're the undead, the leprosy-afflicted crew of a ship deliberately drowned over 200 years ago, doomed to the bottom of the sea because they were trying to establish a leper colony nearby.
You can't kill them, or even run from them, because they manifest within the fog itself.
17. The Babadook
First appearance: The Babadook
Why it's scary: "If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook."
Once you learn of the Babadook's existence, he's here to stay — and he arrives in the form of a pop-up book. The Babadook is a tall figure clad in a black overcoat, black top hat and long, clawed fingers. This monster lurks in the darkness, can move things with its mind, shapeshift and psychologically torment its victims.
"The Babadook" was one of the most heralded horror movies of 2014, thanks in part to the terrifying creature design of the monster itself. That creepy, pasty white face is something you don't want to see coming from the shadows.
16. The Overlook Hotel
First appearance: The Shining
Why it's scary: Can an entire hotel be a movie monster? When you're the Overlook Hotel, you can be anything.
Based on Stephen King's novel, "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation is a legendarily frightful film set in the Overlook Hotel. The Overlook isn't just any old hotel in the Rocky Mountains. It's a malevolent force populated by spirits that can turn a man insane.
A ghostly pair of twins, a creepy bartender, a man in a bear suit, a grotesque old woman and elevators brimming with blood. All can be found at the Overlook Hotel. You've always been the caretaker.
15. Freddy Krueger
First appearance: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Why he's scary: After he was let free on a technicality, the parents of Springwood, Ohio, burned Freddy Krueger to death in a power plant for murdering children. But Krueger became something even more terrifying, transforming into a nightmare spirit that can get inside your mind while you sleep and kill you in all kinds of horrifying ways.
This is a monster that haunts the dream world. Try to stay awake and you'll go insane before eventually nodding off. Try to kill him in your dreams, and you'll likely end up sliced and diced by those finger knives.
First appearance: Hellraiser
Why it's scary: Pinhead is a sadomasochistic servant of hell and the leader of the Cenobites. Clad in leather and with dozens of nails in his skull, Pinhead is an intelligent monster who can be summoned via a puzzle box. What's in the box? Pleasure and a whole lot of pain. Pinhead and his Cenobites are happy to take their summoner away to hell and torture them throughout eternity.
Pinhead was once a British soldier during World War I, but saw so much suffering he became disillusioned with humanity, traveling the world for more and more extreme methods of gratification.
Eventually he became a high priest of hell. With no limits on the pain he's willing to inflict, Pinhead is a terrifying monster. He does, however, have a code. Opening the box isn't a guaranteed ticket to the plane of pleasure and pain. But it's probably going to happen.
First appearance: Candyman
Why he's scary: As the modern and much scarier, version of Bloody Mary, Candyman is a vengeful spirit ghoul who can be summoned by saying his name five times in a mirror.
When he was a man known as Daniel Robitaille, Candyman was lynched for loving a white woman, dying after being tied up, smothered with honey and given to thousands of killer bees. As Candyman, he needs people to say his name so he may live on and protect his name.
Armed with a hook and one helluva haunting voice, Candyman is a classic urban legend movie monster.
12. The Blob
First appearance: The Blob
Why it's scary: The original Blob appeared in 1958's "The Blob," but the scariest iteration of the classic movie monster appeared in the 1988 remake. No longer a prop made of balloons and red silicon, the new Blob took the form of a slime that digested people whole — and it was translucent, so you could see its victims' flesh melt from their bones.
Ever-expanding, always hungry, this alien amoeba has the same principles as any Fortune 500 company: keep growing, no matter what. In this case, it's literally eating people to accumulate mass.
The 1988 movie was a box-office flop, but the film has gained a cult following since its release, almost entirely thanks to spectacular special effects created for the Blob itself — and the gruesome death scenes.
11. The Cenobites
First appearance: Hellraiser
Why they're scary: While Pinhead might be the leader of the Cenobites, the monsters that really gave us goosebumps were his trailing gang of leather-bound sadists. Chatterer was the Cenobite that was the most nightmarish of them all and became a fan favorite. The only thing Chatterer does is chitter and clack its teeth, but he steals the scene whenever he appears.
Also terrifying is Butterball, an obese, maggot-looking thing, and Open Throat, a female Cenobite with an open wound in the middle of her neck.
These things make Pinhead look like a kinky porcupine.
10. Michael Myers
First appearance: Halloween
Why he's scary: He never speaks, and the only indication that he even understands something other than wanton murder is a slight tilt of his head.
The blueprint for all sorts of killer movie monsters, Michael Meyers has a simple getup: a mechanic's jumpsuit, a large kitchen knife, and a William Shatner mask painted white.
Myers' origin story differs on the movie. In the first movie, he's a child in a clown costume who decides to murder his sister, and later escapes from a mental asylum. Later movies establish that he's part of some kind of satanic cult.
Other movies retcon this. All anyone really knows is that Myers is just pure evil that can't be reasoned with. And he's not quite human.
9. Samara Morgan
First appearance: The Ring
Why it's scary: You come across an old VHS tape and pop it in. What you see is some strange art-house flick with disturbing pictures. And then the phone rings. A voice on the other end whispers, "seven days." When those seven days come to an end, you're dead.
Samara Morgan (or Sadako Yamamura in the original Japanese film) is the child movie monster causing this supernatural curse, and she can travel through the television.
The great thing about Samara is that she isn't some innocent little girl who needs to be saved from a curse. She's just straight-up evil.
First appearance: Pumpkinhead
Why it's scary: Have you seen Pumpkinhead? This vengeful demon has one of the scariest monster designs of the past several decades.
As for the lore — after a car hits and mortally wounds a young boy, his father swears revenge, bringing his dying boy to an old witch. The witch has him dig up a corpse and bring it back to her, where she uses the blood of the father and the son to resurrect the corpse as Pumpkinhead, which sets off to murder the teenagers who accidentally hit the child. When the father wants the killing spree to stop, he realizes there's no way to stop the demon — unless he kills himself.
So yeah, don't summon Pumpkinhead.
7. Count Orlok
First appearance: Nosferatu
Why it's scary: Before Dracula became an iconic-but-watered-down, Hollywood monster, there was Count Orlok. Orlok doesn't wear a red-lined cloak, have slicked back hair or "vant to suck your blood." He's an awful-looking, rat-toothed monster with a misshapen head, pointy ears and long, clawed fingers.
Orlok is a haunting figure, and despite the film being 100 years old, is still the scariest version of Dracula. The monster's influence can be seen in several vampire movies, like "The Lost Boys," 1985's "Fright Night" and 2004's "Van Helsing."
First appearance: The Exorcist
Why he's scary: Pazuzu is the demon who possesses Regan MacNeil in William Friedkin's 1971 classic, "The Exorcist." So, yes, what we mostly know of Pazuzu is portrayed by Linda Blair. The monster pulling the strings is an ancient mythological being, and we only get the briefest of glimpses of him.
Demonic possession is an otherworldly situation that people are still fearful of — and exorcisms are gaining in popularity even in the modern day. Pazuzu's possession of MacNeil is the ultimate and unforgettable portrayal of this science-defying "phenomenon" (and we use that term in the loosest way).
Spitting up pea soup and telling a priest what his dead mother is up to in the nether realm? That's some classic, scary stuff.
5. The Pale Man
First appearance: Pan's Labyrinth
Why it's scary: The Pale Man from Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" is the stuff of nightmares. Tall and gangly with sagging skin and eyeballs in his palms, the Pale Man is only in one unforgettable scene, but it's arguably the most memorable one of the film.
This greedy monster guards a banquet feast while people starve, awakening from his slumber after Ofelia eats two grapes. The creature design on this thing is incredible, and the eyes in its palms are nightmarish.
According to del Toro, "The Pale Man represents all institutional evil feeding on the helpless."
First appearance: The Fly
Why it's scary: David Cronenberg's "The Fly" is a body horror film that's even more grotesque than it is scary.
Jeff Goldblum plays an eccentric scientist named Seth Brundle who is fiddling with transportation technology. During an experiment, he is transported between two teleportation pods — and so is a common housefly. His genetic makeup irrecoverably altered, Brundle slowly takes on the characteristics of the insect.
After discovering he has superhuman strength and stamina, he thinks the teleportation has "purified" him and imbued him with new abilities. But then he begins to deteriorate. Pieces of his body fall off, he vomits on his food to soften it up before eating. He crawls on the walls and ceiling, growing madder and madder, until he begs for death.
Brundlefly is an absolutely horrific and tragic movie monster. If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to see it as a kid like we were, those images will stick with you.
3. The Xenomorph
First appearance: Alien
Why it's scary: There are three stages to Ridley Scott's alien movie monster. First, it's a face hugger that springs from an egg and latches itself onto your face, depositing alien spores. Then it bursts out of your chest, scuttling away into whatever dark hole it can find so it can grow into a seven-foot-tall bipedal monster with acid blood.
The Xenomorph design was based on a surrealist art piece called "Necronom IV" by H.R. Giger. The monster itself has a subtextual, phallic and sexual element to it, with the scriptwriters intending to make viewers as uncomfortable as possible.
Unlike aliens in most sci-fi movies, the Xenomorph doesn't have any real civilization or technology. They only exist to hunt and protect their queen, like insects.
First appearance: It
Why it's scary: Whether it's from the 1986 made-for-TV movie or the sleeker 2017 remake, Stephen King's Pennywise the Clown is an almost perfect horror movie monster.
First, it's a clown — and even if John Wayne Gacy had never been born, we eventually would have come to the collective realization that clowns are friggin' creepy. Secondly, it eats children. Thirdly, it lurks in the sewers.
Pennywise can shift shapes, induce hallucinations and read minds, learning a person's deepest fears and using them to induce terror. Fear makes children taste better, so the more it can scare someone, the better the dinner — and since Pennywise comes around once every 27 years, it's going to want a fine feast indeed.
Pennywise isn't the creature's true form, though. The monster is an ancient alien that resembles a spider. Unfortunately, its real form is far less scary than the clown it's famous for.
1. The Thing
First appearance: The Thing
Why it's scary: The Thing is an impossible monster. Not only is it able to copy and take the form of seemingly any living organism, but it can turn itself into unearthly terrors. Like a head that grows spider legs, or a body that opens up into a hand-chomping maw.
There's no real rhyme or reason to the Thing. A Norwegian excavation team unearthed the monster from its slumber deep below the arctic, and the creature — presumably an alien species — just decimates the Norwegian base. When it arrives at the American research base, it does the same, taking over crew members and causing manic paranoia.
There's no other creature like the Thing. It is hands-down the scariest movie monster of all time.