Monsters are back on the big screen.

Van Helsing, all about monsters, was No. 1 at the box office last week. A little less noticed was the re-release of the original Godzilla, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, to select theaters. A recent USA Today story chronicled the success of horror hits in the theaters—and on home video, as classics Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man are all now out as DVD "Legacy Collection" packages.

Two more famous movie monsters, Alien and Predator, return to the big screen in August in Alien vs. Predator.

Sounds like Movie Monsters Inc. is alive and well. So I've compiled my own list of favorite creature features, with the following criteria: No vampires or demons. I tried to avoid the occult, opting for more "traditional" monsters—creatures from outer space, or scientific experiments gone bad.

Some of these movies scared the daylights out of me. Others made me laugh. And some just made the list for their sheer creativity. So, read on, be afraid—and feel free to disagree. If your favorite cinematic creature didn't make the list, let us know!

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Scariest cinema creature ever?

Scariest cinema creature ever?

1. Alien (1979)

I'll never forget that night in 1979 when I joined some college buddies to go see Alien when it opened. The previews had looked promising. And we were a bunch of bulletproof, fun-loving 19- and 20-year-olds, and man, absolutely nothing could scare us—until this movie started. I was scared spitless, especially when the baby creature burst out of Kane's chest while the crew was eating dinner—giving new meaning to the term "mess hall." In the aftermath, Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm, the future "Bilbo Baggins") coolly says, "It used him as an incubator." Was that one of the grossest, scariest—and coolest—moments in movie history, or what? I remember feeling sick to my stomach—and yet remained glued to the screen. That alien is, hands-down, the most terrifying monster in movie history. But it takes more than just a scary monster to make a great movie. The scriptwriting and direction in Alien is terrific. And Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is as tough a woman as you'll ever see on the big screen. We all decided that night that we definitely did not want to go out with her any time soon. (Warning: The language and the violence in this R-rated film are intense.)

2. Godzilla (1954)

I drive a Toyota, and I'm convinced it's the best car ever made. But it's not the best thing to ever come out of Japan. That would be the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla. When I first saw this film, I was about 6 or 7, and, typically, I was really into dinosaurs. I'd look at the pictures in the World Book, convinced that if T-Rex were alive today, we'd all be toast. And then I saw this movie—and indeed, much of Tokyo was toast after that. I didn't have a clue back then that it was a social commentary on the horrors of nuclear war—and indeed, a response to the horrific U.S. bombings of Hirsoshima and Nagasaki. But here was Mr. Nuclear Breath himself, Godzilla, and we Americans had better watch our backs. Raymond Burr plays American reporter Steve Martin in the film, where he utters this infamous line: "I was headed for an assignment in Cairo when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social call. It turned out to be a visit to the living hell of another world." Indeed.

3. The Thing (1982, 1951)

I couldn't decide which version of The Thing to choose. John Carpenter's 1982 remake, starring Kurt Russell, is absolutely terrifying, featuring a shape-shifting alien that can mimic the look of anyone it comes in contact with—OK, anyone it eats. Carpenter's brilliant special effects carry the show, but the script ain't bad either, as it reads almost like a whodunit—which of the guys is The Thing now? The '51 version is much more campy than scary; the creature is played by James Arness, who just a few years later would be world famous as Marshal Matt Dillon in TV's Gunsmoke. Perhaps the spookiest thing about the original Thing was Dr. Carrington, played by the creepy Robert Cornthwaite.

4. King Kong (1933)

What's most remarkable about the original Kong is that it was made more than seventy years ago. The special effects—featuring the brilliant stop-motion photography of Willis O'Brien—were absolutely stunning for their day, and movie audiences actually ran screaming out of theaters because it was so realistic and frightening. Fay Wray, who starred in eleven movies in 1933 alone, was the perfect screeching damsel in distress, and Robert Armstrong was a hoot as the wheeling, dealing Carl Denham, intent on making a buck off this "Eighth Wonder of the World." But the real stars were Kong (and that dazzling celebrity death match with a dastardly Tyrannosaurus Rex) and O'Brien, who would soon pass his special effects legacy on to Ray Harryhausen, who later brought us the even more visually dazzling …

5. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Ray Harryhausen was just 13 years old when King Kong hit the theaters, and he was so blown away by the special effects that he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up. He finagled a meeting with Kong effects guru Willis O'Brien, and the rest, as they say, is history. The apprentice learned well from the mentor, resulting in a brilliant career of movie-making—including what I think is Harryhausen's masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts. Some will argue for 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and while that was excellent, nothing tops the skeleton army that Harryhausen created for Jason. In his quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason encounters all kinds of monsters—pterodactyl-like Harpies, a giant bronze statue, and the seven-headed Hydra. But the enduring highlight is, by far, that amazing skeleton army. (Trivia note: In the marvelous 2001 Pixar production Monsters Inc., Mike Wazowski's favorite restaurant is called Harryhausen's—a nod to the master himself.)

The amazing skeleton army

6. Jurassic Park (1993)

Maybe it stems from my childhood fascination with dinosaurs—a fascination that never really died, and lives on now that I've got two sons—but Jurassic Park was the culmination of all those boyhood dreams come true: Dinosaurs coming to life, and looking realistic at that! The plot is contrived—Crichton's book was much better than the movie—but who gives a rip when T-Rex and all those nasty raptors are scaring the daylights out of you? Spielberg nailed it. (True story: When the Rex broke through the roof of the children's car, my wife, a little over eight months pregnant at the time, went into labor. I asked her if she wanted to leave, and she said, "No, I want to watch the movie!" The next day, our son was born. We resisted the urge to name him after Alan Grant.)

7. The Blob (1958)

I don't know what it is about this creature that's so "attractive." No eyes, no nose, no mouth, no face, no features. Just a big, well, blob that slowly works its way around town, ingesting people, cars, buildings, anything in its path—except, of course, Mr. Cool Himself, Steve McQueen, who would go on to make a career out of playing war heroes. But no army could stop The Blob—a film which was also known as The Glob, The Glob that Encircled the Globe, The Meteorite Monster, The Molten Meteorite, and The Night of the Creeping Dead. (Trivia note: An absolutely terrible sequel, Beware! The Blob, released in 1972, features cameo appearances by pioneer Jesus rockers Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill.)

8. Frankenstein (1931)

No top ten list of monster movies is complete without this classic, starring Boris Karloff as the hideous creation of a mad scientist. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film—indeed, about Mary Shelley's story—is that this is likely the first big-screen monster that the audience actually feels sorry for. The poor creature didn't bring this upon himself; he's an experiment gone bad, and it's not his fault. When we looked at the monster, the lines between good and evil weren't quite so clear, and we pitied him. We didn't want him to die, but to somehow live happily ever after in some Monster Heights retirement home (with the likes of Bela Legosi and Lon Chaney). This audience "creature empathy" was a first for the big screen. (Kong's cinematic pity party would come a couple years later.)

9. Them! (1954)

One of a zillion horror flicks based on the what-ifs of the atomic age, you gotta love this movie's choice of mutants. Not something scary, like alligators or spiders or man-eating lions. No, this story puts ants at the center of its plot—gigantic ones, on the rampage! Who'da thunk? The story isn't great, the acting isn't great, and the special effects with the mega-critters aren't even all that great. But the idea is fabulous, and somebody deserves some points for saying, "Hey, let's make a monster movie about giant ants!" Once the laughter subsided, others apparently "caught the vision," so to speak, and voilá, here comes the six-legged army!

10. Predator (1987)

You can't help but like this movie's setting: A huge, alien creature of colossal strength—and with really bad teeth—goes on a deadly rampage in a Central American jungle. But enough about Arnold Schwarzenegger. This movie's big star is the otherworldly Predator, a monster that can go virtually invisible to sneak up on its prey—human beings—before its lethal attack. Incredible special effects highlight this film, but beware: The violence is graphic and gory.

This is NOT the future California governor

This is NOT the future California governor

Special Mention: The Deadly Mantis (1957)

This really lame flick—a giant praying mantis, yikes!—doesn't come close to my top ten list of monster movies, but I wanted to give it a nod because it's the one that got the ball rolling for me. It's not just the first monster movie I ever remember watching (I was about five years old), but the first movie that I remember, period. It scared the daylights outta me at the time, but it certainly taught me the power of the silver screen. And I've been watching movies ever since!

And the Worst Monster Movie of All Time …

No contest: Robot Monster (1953). The "monster," called Ro-Man, is a guy in a gorilla suit. Seriously. But it gets worse: He wears a diving helmet … spray-painted silver … with a TV antenna duct-taped to the back. That's it. He lives in a cave, and communicates with his leader (somewhere in a spaceship) via a sophisticated communication device that looks suspiciously like an old radio sitting on a wooden table outside the mouth of the cave. But this is definitely a radio of the future. We know this, because it emits … bubbles. Yes, bubbles. They come from some bubble machine behind the radio (or maybe it was Lawrence Welk). Director Phil Tucker later said he wanted a real "robot costume" for his creature, but he couldn't afford it. So he asked a friend who owned a gorilla suit to play the role—and for no salary, at that. After all, Tucker's total budget for the film was less than $20,000 … and it shows. Oh, how it shows.