- Monster movies of the 1950s helped establish the popularity of the sci-fi genre and many still hold up today.
- Films like “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “Godzilla,” and “Them!” were influential in shaping the monster movie genre.
- These movies introduced iconic monsters like the Rhedosaurus and Godzilla and paved the way for future successful franchises.
The 1950s were a great era for monster movies, with many helping establish the popularity of the sci-fi genre that continues to this day. Since then, science fiction stories in both TV and film have blossomed, launching successful franchises such as Doctor Who and Star Trek. While 1950s films differ greatly compared to what appears on the silver screen now, many still hold up to this day.
Monster movies, in particular, were incredibly popular in the 1950s. With the sci-fi movie genre truly coming into its own during this time, the 1950s saw an incredible list of movies that featured some kind of monster as its main antagonist. At a time when creatures or giant robots are created entirely with CGI, it’s worth looking back at the origin of monster movies to see which films still hold up.
Every Official Universal Classic Monsters Movie, Ranked
From Dracula to Frankenstein to the Invisible Man, Universal’s iconic monster movies are massively influential on horror. Here’s how they rank.
15 The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Introduced The Rhedosaurus In 1953
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was initially released in 1953 and is one of the earliest atomic monster films in cinematic history, inspiring a new generation of monster movies, including Godzilla. This film’s main villain is the Rhedosaurus, a fictional dinosaur, who is awoken from a frozen hibernation by an atomic bomb. The Rhedosaurus’ destruction along the East Coast of North America caused chaos and pain for many, with the general population fighting back against it with electrical barriers and bazookas.
The creature finally meets a grizzly end in one incredible scene that sees Colonel Stone (Lee Van Cleef) and Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) ride a rollercoaster to meet its eye level. Shooting an isotope into its neck, its radiation poisoning kills the creature but also sets the amusement park they find themselves in ablaze. Despite the damage the Rhedosaurus caused, the film’s protagonists may have been even more destructive than it.
14 Godzilla, King Of Monsters
Introduced Godzilla In 1954
Godzilla is easily one of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history. Godzilla is considered the King of all Monsters, quite literally, as seen in the title of the first movie it appeared in, Godzilla, King of Monsters in 1954. The reptile’s attack on Japan is well remembered in cinema, so much so that it appeared in a total of 38 films. Despite Godzilla’s destruction by the Oxygen Destroyer in Godzilla, King of Monsters, the creature was so popular that it was brought back, and has become one of the most recognizable monsters in sci-fi.
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Introduced Giant Ants In 1954
1954’s Them! introduced a platoon of gigantic irradiated ants to the world of sci-fi, with two Queens escaping their nest and causing chaos in the storm drain system of LA. Unlike other movie monsters, these creatures are only ever referred to as “the Queen” or “ants,“ rather than having a defined name. Although it’s not completely obvious where these bugs came from, they appear to be of alien origin and unable to communicate with humans, leaving behind several dead bodies in their wake as they move throughout the city.
12 Creature From The Black Lagoon
Introduced Gill-Man In 1954
Creature from the Black Lagoon is such an iconic monster movie that, to this day, the title is often used as a phrase referring to an unusual and odd creature. Released in 1954, it’s also one of the earlier instances of 3D cinema, the first being in 1922 with The Cinema of Love. The film’s main antagonist is referred to as the “Gill-man,” a strange combined blur of man and fish, and after 80 minutes of brutal murders, is shot multiple times before disappearing back into the depths of the lagoon, in a rather ambiguous ending.
11 The War Of The Worlds
Introduced Martians In 1953
Based on the H. G. Wells novel of the same name, The War of the Worlds is one of the most iconic sci-fi stories of all time. In 1953, the first The War of the Worlds film adaptation was released by director Byron Haskin, with a slight story change, so that Martians were seen invading 1953 California, rather than the original location of Victorian England. While more intricate details about the aliens are left ambiguous, interestingly, there are quite a few differences in their descriptions compared to the original book.
In the novel, the Martians are described as being round, grey-brown in color, with beak-shaped mouths that consistently drool saliva. However, the creatures audiences saw on the silver screen had a slightly more humanistic shape, with long, probing fingers and a red, blue, and green section resembling a face. Despite The War of the Worlds having been adapted many times over the years, the first 1953 version sticks out in the sci-fi genre.
10 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
Introduced The Pod People In 1956
1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an adaptation of the Jack Finney novel The Body Snatchers. Following an extraterrestrial invasion, alien plant spores cause the growth of seed pods across the world, which causes the general public to believe they have been replaced by imposters. These duplicates are referred to as “pod people,” a term that was then later used to refer to plant-like alien creatures in broadcast media. Unlike a lot of monster movies, Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ monsters look identical to humans, a comment on how humanity can be just as destructive to itself.
9 Forbidden Planet
Introduced The Krell And Monster Id In 1956
1956’s Forbidden Planet saw a first for the sci-fi genre, following a story that was set on a planet that orbits a star other than Earth’s sun. While this film has an obvious monster in the Krell, a technologically advanced race that had been lost to time, their intellect enhancer can also be considered so. The machine allowed the expansion of the subconscious and caused a desire for unlimited power, which resulted in the deaths of several people.
Proving just how complex and dangerous the Krell could be, it’s revealed that the species’ bitter end was caused by their machine. Despite the Krell’s extinction, it manages to create the “monster id,” made from the thoughts of Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). Although it’s made from psychic energy, it’s the only present monster in the film that has a physical form, replicating Morbius’ appearance to intimidate him.
8 The Thing From Another World
Introduced The Thing In 1951
Based on the novel Who Goes There? by Don A. Stuart (a pseudonym for John W. Campbell), the 1951 film The Thing from Another World introduced The Thing (James Arness) to cinemas. This was the first instance of the novel being adapted, with the second being The Thing in 1982. There was another The Thing film in 2011 but instead served as a prequel, despite using the same title.
In the 1951 version, the Thing resembled that of the description of Frankenstein’s Monster. Identified as being a plant-based alien that feeds on animal blood, The Thing was responsible for multiple deaths, including dogs as well as humans. The Thing caused such a fear-mongering atmosphere that despite its destruction, Scotty (Robert Cornthwaite) still made sure to warn the public to “watch the skies.”
7 The Neathanderal Man
Introduced Professor Groves As A Prehistoric Man In 1953
1953’s The Neanderthal Man saw an interesting take on the monster movie premise, with Professor Groves (Robert Shayne) turning into a prehistoric version of himself. He can achieve this by injecting himself with an experimental serum he’d used to convert domesticated cats into sabretooth tigers, but the effects aren’t permanent. Through his transformation, Groves murders multiple people, but his priorities seem to be aligned with making the serum work correctly, rather than being concerned with the deaths he’s caused. Ironically, he ends up being mauled by a sabretooth tiger and reverts into his Groves form before dying.
6 Bride Of The Monster
Introduced Lobo In 1955
As a result of experiments with atomic energy and nuclear power came Lobo (Tor Johnson), the monstrous villain in Bride of the Monster. Unlike a lot of monster movies, Lobo has a side to him that is more gentle and understanding. However, his large size and intimidating qualities come from his struggles to control himself, caused by the experiments forced upon him.
Throughout the film, Lobo can be seen attempting to fight back against Dr. Vornoff’s (Bela Lugosi) deranged ways. Even when Vornoff is brought onto the operating table towards the end of the film, becoming the subject of his own experiment, Lobo prioritizes escaping the laboratory’s fire with Janet (Loretta King) over getting his revenge. Not only did Bride of the Monster comment on biological intervention in science, but it also showed just how complex a movie’s villain can be.
5 The Blob
Introduced The Blob In 1958
The Blob follows the story of the world in chaos after the arrival of an amoeboid alien in a small town, which, over time, grows and develops, enveloping the population into itself as it goes. As more and more people are absorbed by the Blob, Steve (Andrews) and Jane (Aneta Corseaut) attempt to escape its wrath, while trying to protect as many others as they can. Compared to other monster movies, The Blob had an interesting way of tackling its villain.
Rather than the typical guns or fire, the Blob is defeated by freezing it, but the film has an ambiguous ending, implying that the creature could awaken again one day. The answer to this was finally addressed 15 years later in the sequel, Beware! The Blob, although it did eventually meet the same demise. While the creature didn’t have any dialogue, that didn’t stop it from causing horror and panic across rural America.
4 The Tarantula
Introduced The Tarantula In 1955
Jack Arnold’s hit 1955 film Tarantula sparked a lot of fear over the spider species, following a failed experiment designed to feed the rapidly growing human population. Rather than being an alien or supernatural creature, the film’s main villain is simply an animal that has been injected with a nutrient, which causes it to grow larger and larger with no signs of stopping, and destroy the surrounding area in the process. Tarantula was praised for its use of special effects, which were considerably advanced for the time, and also sent audiences to the edge of their seats.
3 It Came From Beneath The Sea
Introduced The Giant Octopus Creature In 1955
It Came from Beneath the Sea sees a giant, radioactive octopus take over San Fransisco Bay and beyond, resulting in several horrific deaths and the partial destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The film uses both large props and stop-motion animation to replicate the cephalopod creature, the latter being a relatively uncommon concept in cinema during this time. While its main villain is plenty interesting, it’s the humans that make this film so intriguing, as they try and discover just how the octopus grew to its size and how they can stop it.
2 The Curse of Frankenstein
Introduced Frankenstein’s Monster In 1957
Inspired by the very original sci-fi story, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein helped establish the genre of gothic cinema. Unlike the source material, Frankenstein’s Monster (Christopher Lee) is significantly more violent and hellbent on revenge, giving the film a chilling and eerie atmosphere throughout. While there are plenty of differences between the film and the book, this version was a fascinating retelling of Shelley’s iconic story and injected a complex and developed monster into the fears of many.
1 This Island Earth
Introduced The Zagons And The Metalunans In 1955
This Island Earth introduced not one, but two alien species: the Zagons and the Metalunans. While the Metalunans looked similar to humans, they had larger, extended foreheads, whereas the Zagons looked more like a stereotypical alien, resembling a bug-like creature on a human body. Following a group of scientists that find themselves caught up between the two warring armies, struggling to escape their enslavement by Exeter (Jeff Morrow), who have been enlisting humans to help convert lead into uranium, This Island Earth tells a brilliant story of conflict and is an iconic monster movie.