I've been impressed by some of the topics brought up for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers, so I decided to throw the Dork Dimension into the mix. The concept behind the League is that my fellow Leaguers and I write a post about a certain dork-related topic given to us by Brian of CoolandCollected.com. My first assignment asks, "What are your top ten favorite movies?" The top ten list might not be my all-time favorite movies, but can be restricted to a specific genre. Since I'm a big kaiju fan, I thought I would do my top ten favorite giant monster flicks... but to spice things up a little, I'll not include any Godzilla or King Kong movies. If I did, they would inevitably dominate the list. But certainly the giant monster market isn't a Kongzilla monopoly, and there are plenty of other cool giant movie monsters out there. Let's take a look!
10. Monster X Strikes Back: Attack at the G8 Summit
Guilala is one of the most obscure, yet most distinctive, kaiju in classic Japanese cinema, and he returns to the big screen in Monster X Strikes Back: Attack at the G8 Summit. The plot revolves around a heavy-handed satire of global politics, as eight world leaders (each with his or her own stereotypically cliched idiosyncracies) meet at a G8 Summit to try to stop Guilala's invasion. I'm not sure if I would call the satire particularly elegant as the filmmakers just smash it over the audience's collective head like a sledgehammer, but it's great to see Guilala in action in all his man-in-suit glory.
The Syfy Channel has had bafflingly good success with its B-movie fare, which usually involves people getting eaten by giant sharks, giant snakes, giant octopi, or giant whatever. After the classic Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, somebody had the brilliant idea to combine the two monsters into one. Thus, Sharktopus was born. Don't expect much in terms of quality here; as with most other monster movies, there's barely a plot and the cheesy acting doesn't help. But a few really great takeaway shots of Sharktopus munching on hapless beach goers make this movie a must-see for any B-movie fan.
8. 20 Million Miles To Earth
In 20 Million Miles To Earth, we meet Ymir, a little Venusian hatchling that grows to epic proportions to attack modern-day Rome. Ymir is a fantastic example of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation genius, as he created a visually striking monster with personality and depth. And if I remember the plot correctly, this movie is also an example of a theme that comes up frequently in early monster movies: extreme paranoia of that which is different. Ymir is prosecuted and provoked endlessly for little more than finding himself born on an alien planet. Did they even try to communicate with him? Captain Picard would not approve. Still, it's a great monster movie that ends with the monster climbing a distinctive landmark (this time, the Colosseum in Rome), and the stop-motion animation is endlessly fun.
7. Dragon Wars
At #7 we have Dragon Wars, a great Korean flick from 2007. As with many monster movies, the plot is awful and the acting is even worse, even though The Office's Craig Robinson makes an appearance. But with dragons and demons attacking Los Angeles, they don't need anything deep to keep my interest. There are some incredible special effects here, and the producers don't shy away from daylight monster attacks (unlike some monster movies that use dark lighting to hide imperfections in the special effects). The creature feature action is some of the coolest around, as snake-like dragons tunnel through parking decks and flying dragons dogfight with helicopters, all culminating in an epic battle between two serpentine dragons. Maybe the coolest aspect about this movie is the creature designs, of which we tragically never got action figures (at least, I haven't seen any). Can you imagine how awesome FigureArts Dragon Wars toys would be?
I always tried to imagine what a giant monster invasion would be like in real life, and Cloverfield pretty much nailed it on the head. Bucking the monster movie trend by creating a film with some degree of quality, Cloverfield follows four friends (one filming with a camcorder) as they try to rescue a fifth who is trapped in the middle of monster-devastated Manhattan. The camcorder cinematography contributes to the realism, making you think that you're in the middle of the giant monster attack yourself. The glimpses of the monster are fleeting and brief, but that just might make it more mysterious and interesting. There have been rumors of a sequel to Cloverfield, although I think this is one property that would lose its impact with more sequels.
5. Mega Python vs. Gatoroid
Movie geeks might wonder why in the world I would rank Cloverfield behind Syfy Channel schlock like Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, but it's the stars that make this movie infinitely rewatchable. Debbie Gibson (yes, that Debbie Gibson) plays a python-loving, gator-hating conservationist who butts heads against Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany) who plays a gator-loving, python-hating park ranger. The cheese-dripping conflict between the two that finally reaches its peak in a pop-singer battle royale is what really makes this movie great. The giant man-eating gators and pythons help, too.
4. War of the Gargantuas
A loose sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World (which isn't included here because of Baragon's prominence in the Godzilla universe), War of the Gargantuas is about the battle of a good brown-colored Gargantua named Sanda versus an evil green-colored Gargantua called Gaira. Created from the cells of Frankenstein, these guys look fantastically weird and creepy. One of the things that I love about this movie is that there's no slow plodding destruction typical of kaiju movies. The Gargantuas are active and lively, running through buildings rather than slowly stomping them.
The astute Toho fan might object to War of the Gargantuas being included in this list, since there are a few references in Godzilla movies that seem to indicate that the Gargantuas are actually part of the Godzilla universe. But how they fit into that universe, or if they do at all, is debatable. And since Godzilla and the Gargantuas have never explicitly appeared in a movie together, I'll allow it.
Despite the super-cool monster designs, the Gargantuas never made an appearance on the big screen again. Bandai also never made a vinyl Gargantua figure (as far as I know), even though it would fit perfectly in its kaiju line. Weird.
3. The Giant Claw
In The Giant Claw, a massive, vulture-like bird makes war on all mankind! The plot is a mess, the acting is laughable, and the creature looks like a Muppet reject. But this movie just screams 1950's drive-in theater fun. Seeing The Giant Claw is a challenge... I believe I managed to see it from one of those multi-movie DVD bargain sets. But those who love B-movie awfulness like Plan 9 From Outer Space will find a lot about this movie that makes it worth tracking down.
2. Big Man Japan
Big Man Japan is about a Japanese man who is the last in a familial line of sumo-esque super heroes that increase in size to mammoth proportions by absorbing electricity. It's up to Big Man to fight the giant monsters that plague Japan. The movie is filmed in a documentary style, as an interviewing camera crew delves deeply into the psyche of a man who is constantly ridiculed by the public and just can't seem to live up to the status of his legendary predecessors.
It's an interesting movie in that there are a lot of ways in which it could be interpreted. Is Big Man's plight a metaphor for modern Japan moving away from traditional values? Maybe he represents people whose jobs have been eliminated? Or, maybe the movie is really about the fact that people with the most important jobs are often the ones who are the least appreciated? Whatever it is, it's a surprisingly touching film.
The monsters really play up the weird factor. They often have human faces and freaky (in some cases even perverse) designs. The juxtaposition of the realistic human faces on the wacky monster bodies makes the monsters that much more disturbing. They would be great to see as vinyl figures.
1. The Host
My #1 Giant Monster Movie That Has Nothing To Do With Godzilla Or King Kong is the Korean classic, The Host. The Host follows a family as they try to rescue the lead character's daughter who has been kidnapped by a giant fish creature. Like Cloverfield, the directing, acting, and plot are top-notch, which makes this movie seem a little too good to be included on a list of otherwise B-movies.
What I love most about this movie is the monster. This fish creature isn't a multi-story giant, but a creature just small enough to be realistic but just big enough to be impressively massive and dangerous. It's also the perfect size to be able to directly interact with the human characters. Tragically, this monster never saw plastic, despite the movie's success.
The Host is one of the most realistic monster movies ever created thanks to the special effects work by the Weta Workshop (other work by the studio includes Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong 2005, and Avatar). This is another movie that doesn't shy away from daylight monster attack scenes, and the monster's introductory scene is arguably the coolest movie monster sequence ever captured on film.
And that's it for my Top 10 Favorite Giant Monster Movies That Have Nothing To Do With Godzilla Or King Kong! My fellow Leaguers posted other great Top 10 lists:
- Brian (CoolAndCollected.com) went bananas and listed his top 10 monkey movies.
- Howie of Under Scoop Fire! fame listed a top 10 list of movies he's never seen.
- Shawn's list over at Branded in the 80's went all retro with a top 10 list of films starring his favorite villains.
- Paxton's gotta get back in time with his top 10 movies featuring time travel.
- Shezcrafti relives the teenage years in the 80's with her top 10 obscure but awesome teen movies of the 80's.