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The Greatest Summer Monster Movies Of All Time Ranked

Halloween is supposed to be the time when all the ghosts, ghouls, and monsters come out to play, so it may seem counterintuitive that the summer months are the perfect time for a good scare. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the horror films released during the summer aren't all slashers — some of the best summer horror films on record are creature features, with beasties of all shapes and sizes dead set on ruining your summer activities.

What follows are the greatest summer creature features, ranked by their Rotten Tomatoes scores. The list excludes films with fewer than 40 rated reviews (the criterion used by RT's own Top 100 lists), which unfortunately knocks off some exceptional early summer monster films like 1949's "Mighty Joe Young" and 1954's "Them!" The list also omits spirits in their myriad varieties (ghosts, demons, spirits more broadly, etc.), thus leaving out some excellent creature-adjacent films like 1997's "Princess Mononoke" and its demon boar, 2001's "Spirited Away" (it has a variety of great entities that are treated as spirits and based on kami, spirits in Japanese folklore), or 1984's fantastic "Ghostbusters," despite the excellence of the Sumerian god Gozer's supernatural Stay Puft Marshmallow Man manifestation. It also omits some exceptional humanoid and intelligent alien antagonists like the Prawns in "District 9." With those barriers in mind, here's the list of the top summer monster movies of all time.

Honorary Mention: Them! (1954)

In the 1950s, fear of the raw power of the nuclear bomb and its aftermath was everywhere. In the United States, this fear produced (among other things) a slew of films about radiation creating giant, radioactive insects, humans, and other enlarged monstrosities. The greatest of these movies in the United States was the 1954 classic featuring giant nuclear ants, "Them!," released in June of that year. The film sees the discovery of a nest of giant irradiated ants in New Mexico that becomes a bigger problem when it's discovered that young queen ants have moved on to establish colonies elsewhere. A series of protagonists, including Sgt. Ben Peterson and FBI Agent Robert Graham, have to find and destroy them before the unthinkable happens.

"Them!" is as influential as it is excellent (and you can see its lineage all over films like "Aliens"). For a 1950s monster movie, everything from the writing to the ant FX holds up surprisingly well, marking it off as one of the best genre films of the decade and an interesting, summery-feeling reflection of the mid-1950s American consciousness. While sitting at an exceptional 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's bumped down to honorary because its 30 reviews don't hit our baseline.

10. (tie) Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, RT: 86%)

Guillermo del Toro is nearly synonymous with monsters at this point in his career, and nowhere is this better showcased than in his stunning pair of "Hellboy" films based on the Mike Mignola graphic novels. They follow the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, an organization dedicated to fighting supernatural threats with a team of superpowered agents. Chief among them is Hellboy, a conjured half-demon with a stone Right Hand of Doom, brought to our plane to end the world and bring about the apocalypse. He was instead raised by BPRD founder Trevor Bruttenholm to fight the powers of evil. In del Toro's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," Hellboy has to stop Elven prince Nuada from waging war against humanity with an invincible army of golden, destructive automatons.

Premiering July 11, 2008, it's a wonderful action-fantasy film with a great story, strong performances, and incredible world-building, but most importantly for this list, it boasts a huge array of magical creatures. From the animated automatons to Elves to an elemental forest deity to the BPRD team itself and an absolutely stunning Angel of Death, nearly every frame of the film has something monstrous in it. Altogether, "Hellboy II" is a dedicated trip into the fantastical and one of the best summer monster movies of all time.

10. (tie) The Thing (1982, RT: 86%)

John Carpenter's "The Thing" takes place at an Antarctic research facility whose residents discover that a unique and deadly alien life-form has invaded the base ... and, terrifyingly, it could be any one of them. The alien absorbs, kills, and takes the form of its victims, and even a small proportion of it is enough to kill and replicate someone perfectly. What's worse is that not only are they isolated with this extraterrestrial Thing, but they have to guarantee it doesn't escape Antarctica: It would absolutely destroy and replicate all life on Earth. It's a terrifying film with terrifying implications.

"The Thing" premiered in late June 1982, and its reputation has grown over time from an ill-received gore extravaganza to a classic of sci-fi horror boasting one of the most conceptually frightening creatures ever put onscreen. Each cell of the Thing could be enough to attack and absorb any entity on the planet, and its shrewd and calculating ability to hide makes it a difficult entity to track, isolate, or kill. The practical special effects (by Rob Bottin) are well-regarded to this day in their ability to portray a creature that takes a wide variety of forms in the film's runtime, and the mystery of who's the Thing permeates the crew's increasing paranoia throughout the movie's duration. "The Thing" is a great work in the sci-fi horror canon and a stunning summer monster extravaganza.

10. (tie) Shin Godzilla (2016, RT: 86%)

1954's original "Godzilla" picture fully stands out from the parade of kaiju films that followed it in one key regard: It's first and foremost a horror film, devoid of the fun, campy vibes of the latter series of monster vs. monster action. "Shin Godzilla" premiered July 25, 2016, in Tokyo, and it was very much both a retelling of Godzilla's origin and also a thematic and scary return to form. The film sees a version of Godzilla emerge that is a mutated and mutating variant of an undersea creature, one that continues to evolve into ever more destructive and hard-to-kill versions. Between its massive size, destructive breath (and tail beam), and its penchant for quick and ever more deadly mutation, it's a nearly indestructible menace that threatens all life on Earth until it's frozen solid ... for now.

"Shin Godzilla" presents the popular kaiju once again as one of the most fearsome screen creatures of all time. This particular iteration, even more than the original in 1954 version, is a nonstop destruction machine. Its ability to change into increasingly deadly and resilient forms on an overwhelmingly fast timetable adds to its role as one of the most interesting and frightening monsters we've seen onscreen, and "Shin Godzilla" is certainly one of the best summer monster movies ever made.  

9. Jason and the Argonauts (1963, RT: 89%)

"Jason and the Argonauts" premiered in June 1963, boasting some of the best work of the stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen. The film follows Greek warrior Jason, who sets off to find the Golden Fleece, in the process encountering a number of legendary creatures pulled from Greek mythology. Some of the beasties involved include a hydra, skeleton warriors, and a massive animated bronze statue, Talos. Boasting gods, monsters, and epic adventures, it's an excellent film full of that magical feeling that so many other movies try to emulate.

In addition to premiering as a summer film, "Jason and the Argonauts" has a summer feel. Much of the film is spent either on the sea aboard the ship Argo or traversing various sandy beachheads (and sometimes fighting supernatural entities there). With serious sun and beach vibes and strong magical elements, it's a film that aesthetically fits in that summer movie vibe completely as well as a high fantasy epic with some of the best monsters ever put to screen thanks to Harryhausen's masterful work.

8. Return of the Living Dead (1985, RT: 91%)

"The Return of the Living Dead," a zombie horror-comedy written and directed by "Alien" scribe Dan O'Bannon, takes place in a world where the events of Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" are real. At a medical supply warehouse, an employee unwittingly releases a toxic gas that re-animates the dead and causes a new zombie crisis. It's a funny zombie comedy, sure, but the movie is most notable for its unexpected innovations to our cultural and cinematic conceptions of zombies. 

It's credited as the first film to show zombies eating brains (rather than just flesh), as well as the first to show zombies running, both serious innovations to zombie lore. It also shows zombies being able to speak and has undead that can't simply be killed by a blow to the head/brain, two more novel introductions that are notable in their own right. Most importantly for this list, the film debuted in August 1985, and its events begin July 3, a firmly summertime zombie feature. It's the perfect raunchy but innovative zombie movie to throw on, jam out to its exceptional punk-filled soundtrack, and appreciate its contributions to zombie lore. "Return of the Living Dead" is funny, charming, gory, and a great time.

7. (tie) The Fly (1986, RT: 92%)

The 1958 classic "The Fly" was remade in 1986 by the master of body horror himself, David Cronenberg, to be released on August 15 of that year. It follows the broad outline of the original, with scientist Seth Brundle, played by a perfectly cast Jeff Goldblum, engaging with reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) about his Telepod devices that allow instantaneous physical transportation between devices. He tries it on himself, but (surprise!) a fly finds its way into the chamber. That fateful act sets in motion a long, and increasingly disturbing set of mutations as Seth Brundle becomes ... Brundlefly.

The film boasts perhaps the greatest onscreen transformation of all time alongside a memorable final Brundlefly design. As Brundle mutates, we witness a host of different and shocking effects: the growth of massive fly-like hairs, acidic vomit, the ability to climb on the ceiling, all of which culminates in his emergence as a terrifying, inhuman hybrid. Goldblum gives a fantastic performance as his character's personality changes as the metamorphosis takes hold. Davis also adds excellent emotion to the film as she watches his transformation with a mixture of empathy and horror, and together they drive the emotional narrative behind a fantastic, horrifying tale of science gone awry.

7. (tie) Jurassic Park (1993, RT: 92%)

In 1975, Spielberg nailed the summer blockbuster with "Jaws," setting the tone for, to be honest, every summer blockbuster since. He found a way to do it again with 1993's "Jurassic Park," another summer monster epic with an incredible scale and level of creativity. The film centers around the construction of a mysterious island park full of genetically engineered dinosaurs/ The park's creator John Hammond brings in a series of experts to certify that the place is safe for human tourists. Fun fact: It is not.

The film premiered on June 11, 1993, and absolutely feels like a summer film. It sports a Central American island location full of sun and surrounded by ocean, and the movie absolutely captures the magic, majesty, and awe that so many wonderful summer films and experiences can have. It's a sunny summer extravaganza, just one that happens to be full of genetically engineered dinosaurs that can chomp you and everyone you love. It's a fantastic summer creature feature.

6. (tie) Arachnophobia (1990, RT: 93%)

Originally released July 18, 1990, "Arachnophobia" is one of the best black comedy horror films of all time and easily sits as one of the best summer monster movies ever. Entomologist James Atherton finds a species of spider with a venom that causes immediate death. They capture a specimen and transport it back for study, but it escapes and finds its way to the barn of the Jennings family in a small town outside San Francisco. The spider mates with a domestic house spider and nests, birthing a queen, with which it proceeds to mate and make a second nest in the basement of the Jennings home. This results in hundreds of spiders being born, extremely deadly descendants of the originally discovered species. What's worse is that the spiders behave with an evidently malicious and coordinated set of actions, actively killing potential threats to their existence and exhibiting beyond usual intelligence. 

"Arachnophobia" is an engaging and has a quite threatening premise: "What if there was a novel species of smart, ultra-deadly spiders that emerged in the U.S.?" What makes the film land so well is the charming yet scary spin it puts on that premise. Additionally, Jeff Daniels is perfect as the arachnophobic Dr. Jennings, adding a more complicated dynamic than you'd expect. Ultimately, it's a frightening but fun premise, making for one fantastic summer creature feature.

6. (tie) Sorry to Bother You (2018, RT: 93%)

Boots Riley's exceptional feature "Sorry to Bother You" saw wide release in July 2018, and the film follows Cassius Green, a hard-luck gent who gets a job as a telemarketer. He struggles to find success at the position until a co-worker teaches him to use his "white voice" ... a fateful decision that contributes to his rise to wealth and notoriety. This new change in fortune increases struggles with his principled girlfriend Detroit, and it eventually leads to the discovery of a monstrous plan by Worryfree, the company he ends up working for. The film becomes a stunningly intriguing tale about an evil corporation run amok, complete with unsettling corporate machinations, a heroic union effort, and monsters, to boot — it's the whole package wrapped in a fantasy-action thriller.

The crux of the corporation's evil plan is a plan to alter the genes of employees to make them more compliant. This is accomplished by an attempt to turn them from human workers into Equisapiens, genetically modified horse-human hybrids that are stronger, faster, and (the company hopes) docile and obedient creatures that they can universally exploit. It's a stunning pivot in the film and one that firmly shifts this anti-capitalist masterpiece into monster movie territory.

5. The Host (2006, RT: 93%)

Bong Joon-ho's exceptional 2006 film "The Host" premiered in South Korea on July 27 and follows Park Gang-du, the co-owner of a snack bar beside the Han River, as well as an irresponsible man and father. When a massive, misshapen monster emerges from the river, rampages into the nearby crowd, and takes his daughter, he and his family have to rise to the occasion and find her in the face of government ineptitude. The creature, Gwoemul, is the by-product of an American military pathologist ordering the dumping of 200 bottles of formaldehyde into the river, mutating the creature into a massive and hungry beast. It's a wonderfully directed creature feature with a stunning performance from Song Kang-ho as well as the rest of the family.

Altogether, "The Host" boasts an incredible monster design and insightful social critique of both the South Korean government and their relationship with the U.S. military presence, and its tone is a masterful combination of black comedy, horror, and science fiction. The film also achieves the rare feat of being a successful creature feature with a number of monster attacks (especially the first initial emergence) occurring in broad daylight and out in the open, a brazen violation of common monster movie rules. It's an incredible film, sitting comfortably towards the top of our list.

4. Train to Busan (2016, RT: 94%)

Since 1968's "The Night of the Living Dead," undead zombies have become a huge subgenre. While not all zombie movies are masterpieces, one recent masterpiece shows that there's still rhetorical life in the subgenre: 2016's "Train to Busan," which premiered in South Korea in July 2016. The film begins as a chemical leak ravages South Korea, creating a horde of zombies in its wake. Divorced fund manager Seo Seok-woo takes his daughter Su-an on a train to Busan to see the girl's mother, but an infected woman comes aboard and quickly turns the moving train into a packed zombie express.

The confined space of the train adds a shocking, claustrophobic element to the film, which is full of interesting and well-done performances by major cast members in a way that adds real stakes. The zombies, too, have unique attributes relative to your standard cinematic zombies. Beyond the now common fast-attacking corpses, these variants have unnatural body contortions that twist and snap their bodies as they run. The effect seems simple, but it adds another unique and shocking body horror element to the film, showing that there's new life in the undead yet.

3. The Fly (1958, RT: 95%)

Premiering July 16, this Kurt Neumann classic sees scientist Andre Delambre build a molecular transporter. After a succession of trials, he eventually makes the unfortunate decision to try the experimental technology on himself. When a fly makes its way into the experiment chamber (unbeknownst to the good doctor), the result is his gradual transformation into a human-fly hybrid, with a fly's head and arm replacing his own. The film's initial flashback tells the audience roughly where the story is going, but there are still major, shocking surprises to behold in this excellent classic, and we watch Delambre and his wife Helene struggle with his transformation and its consequences until the shocking finale. 

Despite the main character being a man with a fly's head, there's a lot of emotion in the film as his relationship between the now hybrid fly-man and wife is as upsetting as it is unsettling. The shocking final transformation to a memorable monster lets it shine even by today's standards, and while these days, it may be sometimes eclipsed by its equally masterful 1986 remake, it's still an early horror classic that lasts. "The Fly" is easily among the best monster movies of the 1950s and a fantastic summer creature feature, to boot.

2. Aliens (1986, RT: 97%)

James Cameron's classic "Aliens" had the unenviable position of following the 1979 Ridley Scott horror classic "Alien," but Cameron made an exceptional film in its own right with this action-horror follow-up. Debuting June 18, 1986, the film follows protagonist Ellen Ripley as she joins a band of Colonial Marines to investigate a Xenomorph attack on a distant human colony. Instead of the singular Xenomorph menace of the original, the crew finds a colony overrun by hordes of the menacing entities. What's worse is that they discover the fearsome and intelligent Xenomorph Queen, a larger and more formidable variant capable of producing Xenomorph eggs in extraordinary numbers. They have to stop the alien threat at all costs.

Despite following up a horror masterpiece, the sequel was successful to such an extent that fans continue to debate which film is better. It expands considerably on the Xenomorph mythos, introducing the Xenomorph Queen to the big screen for the first time. There are interesting Vietnam War parallels to the structure and themes of the film and its protagonists' colonial endeavors, making it essentially a war movie with the humans vs. Xenomorphs in space. Altogether, "Aliens" is a great addition to the franchise that honed the mythology created in the first one, and it's one of the greatest creature features of all time.

1. Jaws (1975, RT: 98%)

Stephen Spielberg's "Jaws" is perhaps the summer monster movie, to the point that a list without it would be met with the question, "Where's Jaws?" The film takes place in the beach town of Amity Island, whose Fourth of July celebrations are interrupted with a series of deadly shark attacks. Our heroes, including police chief Martin Brody, marine biologist Matt Hooper, and local shark fisherman Quint, have to band together to find and kill the deadly predator despite the lack of real support from the town's mayor. It's such a simple premise, but "Jaws" was a phenomenon: The film was a critical success and a commercial behemoth (netting around $470 million on a $12 million budget) and is widely considered to be the first summer blockbuster

"Jaws" is a watershed work of aquatic horror, a monster movie where the threat is a massive shark that just won't die. Released on June 20, the film was a summer success that makes all the joyous hallmarks of summer (like the usually beautiful beaches and waves) truly terrifying. The film also centers Fourth of July summer celebrations as pivotal to its story. It is and remains perhaps the quintessential summer monster movie, the most definitive summer blockbuster of all time, and the movie that forever embodies our fear of what lurks in the water.