Five Underseen Giant Monster Movies You Need to Watch

Giant monster movies are more popular than ever these days. With the record-breaking success of Godzilla Minus One, the top-tier storytelling of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, and the awesome trailers for the upcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, kaiju have come roaring back into the zeitgeist.

Granted, they may not be as popular as Star Wars or superheroes, but audiences are showing a clear hunger for these films and TV shows. And if you count yourself among that crowd, you’ve come to the right place. While everybody knows about Godzilla and his stable of larger-than-life costars, I’d like to introduce you to the world of lesser-known giant monster movies.

Some entries on this list are older classics that have been forgotten by later generations, and others are newer gems that simply don’t have the star power to compete with the genre’s heavy hitters, but they all have one thing in common. They’re just as good as their more popular counterparts, so if you’re on the prowl for some good giant monster movies to check out, you’re sure to love these five lesser-known standouts.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms poster

First up, we have The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, one of the most important giant monster movies ever made. It was the first film to feature a larger-than-life creature awakened by nuclear weapons (it beat out the original Godzilla by 16 months!), so it’s a legend of the genre. However, despite its iconic status, this movie has largely been forgotten by modern audiences, and that’s an absolute shame.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was one of my favorite films as a kid, and even though I’m in my mid-30s now, my love for it hasn’t waned a bit. In fact, I actually appreciate it even more as an adult, and two things in particular really make it shine. To begin, we have the story. People sometimes complain that giant monster movies focus too much on the human characters, but nobody would ever say that about this film.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is about a fictional dinosaur called a rhedosaurus, and when the creature is awakened from its eons-long slumber, it wreaks absolute havoc. However, that mayhem is largely contained to the third act, so for most of the movie’s runtime, the monster is hidden from view. We mainly follow the human characters as they debate the creature’s existence and attempt to uncover the truth, and that slow but steady quest is utterly fascinating.

On top of that excellent story, this film also features top-notch special effects from stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Sure, they’re outdated by today’s standards, but for a movie that’s over 70 years old, they hold up better than you might expect. Harryhausen’s wizardry makes the rhedosaurus an absolute joy to watch whenever it’s on screen, and when you combine that visual spectacle with the film’s compelling plot, you get one of the best giant monster movies of all time.

20 Million Miles to Earth

A giant monster standing outside

20 Million Miles to Earth is another Ray Harryhausen stop-motion extravaganza, and it’s about a small creature from Venus that’s captured by a group of astronauts and brought back to Earth. However, as you can probably guess, this thing doesn’t stay small for long. It soon grows to gigantic proportions, and it goes on a deadly rampage through the streets of Rome.

Like most giant monster movies, this one struggles a bit with its human element. It’s really all about the alien kaiju, and thankfully, this creature more than makes up for the weak characters. For starters, it just looks really cool. It’s an amalgamation of various traits we don’t normally find in the same organism (at least not on Earth!), but unsurprisingly, Ray Harryhausen makes it feel completely natural.

For example, this thing has scaly skin, a somewhat ape-like face, and a humanoid torso, and to top it all off, it has a dinosaur-esque tail as well. It’s an awesomely weird mix that’s unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen before, so if you’re a fan of cool creature designs, I can just about guarantee that you’re going to love this monster.

What’s more, this thing is also one of the most sympathetic kaiju ever created. See, unlike most of its cinematic peers, it’s not just an impersonal force of nature. Rather, it’s a scared animal that’s been transported to an alien planet millions of miles from its home, so you can’t help but feel for it. It has an emotional depth not often seen in this genre, and when you combine that with the creature’s great look, you get one of the best giant monster movies that way too many people have never seen. 

The War of the Gargantuas

A giant monster kneeling by his wounded brother

No country in the world has a rich kaiju history quite like Japan. Sure, the Japanese may not have invented the genre, but they just about perfected it. They’ve given us some of the most enduring and influential giant monster movies ever made, so a list like this would be incomplete without at least one entry from that great cinematic tradition.

I had a wide variety of kaiju gems to choose from, like the Daimajin trilogy, the Heisei Gamera trilogy, or Frankenstein Conquers the World (yes, that’s a not-so-subtle hint that you should check all of those films out as well), but after some intense deliberation, I chose to go with The War of the Gargantuas. In this movie, a giant humanoid monster begins attacking Japan, and when its good-natured brother shows up to stop it, the two fight it out across the beleaguered country.

From that one-sentence plot synopsis, this film might sound like just another giant monster brawl, but trust me, there’s a lot more to it than that. Most notably, the human characters strongly disagree about how they should react to the threat these creatures pose, and that debate infuses The War of the Gargantuas with more emotional and thematic substance than you typically expect from this genre.

What’s more, because the titular Gargantuas are humanoids, their movements are much more fluid and realistic than most other suitmation creatures. They feel like real animals, not just people in rubber suits, so the action perfectly complements the compelling story. That combination gives War of the Gargantuas a nearly unbeatable one-two punch and elevates it into one of the best giant monster movies ever made, so if you haven’t seen it, you need to remedy that as soon as possible.


A woman looking sad

Next up, we have Monsters, the directorial debut of Gareth Edwards, the man who gave us the 2014 Godzilla. This movie is set in a world where giant monsters have suddenly appeared and set up residence in areas people have since dubbed “infected zones,” and a man named Andrew is tasked with bringing his boss’s daughter safely through one of these places.

If you’ve ever seen Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, you probably know not to expect a ton of kaiju action in this film. Like his big-budget breakout, Monsters focuses primarily on the human characters, and the titular creatures remain largely in the background. So if you’re looking for all-out monster mayhem, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

But if you’re okay with a romance set against a kaiju backdrop, you’re going to love this movie. The two lead characters are super likable, and their story is charming as hell. You’ll get wrapped up in their budding relationship almost immediately, and when the film ends…well, I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t seen Monsters, so I’ll let you find out for yourself. Suffice it to say, the ending is a bit of an emotional gut punch, and it’ll stick with you long after the credits begin to roll.

That being said, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. This isn’t just a romance set in a world where kaiju exists. It’s a legit giant monster movie, and when the creatures do make their presence known, they’re super fun. Granted, they don’t exactly break any new cinematic ground, but they’re solid kaiju that any fan of the genre is sure to enjoy.

Simply put, Monsters is the best of both worlds. The human story is good enough that you don’t need to be a fan of giant monster movies to enjoy it, and the fun kaiju scenes add a fantastical touch that genre aficionados will just eat up. It’s a great experience all around, so whether you liked Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla or not, you should definitely check out the film that got him the job.

The Lake

A man and a giant monster face to face

Last but not least, we have The Lake, a Thai movie about two monsters that emerge from (surprise, surprise!) a lake to wreak havoc on the people who live nearby, and I have to be honest, this film is pretty generic. The characters are paper thin, and the story feels like little more than an excuse to showcase some cool kaiju action, so if you’re looking for something outside the box, you’re not going to find it here.

But if you just want to see a bunch of fun monster mayhem, The Lake will definitely scratch that itch. For starters, these creatures are brought to life with a mix of practical effects and CGI, and aside from a few minor hiccups here and there, they look great. On top of that, the chaos they cause is awesome, so you’re bound to have a blast whenever they’re on screen.

Admittedly, that’s not the great one-two punch the other entries on this list feature, so I can’t quite say that The Lake is one of the best giant monster movies ever made. Nevertheless, it’s still a worthy addition to the kaiju genre, and if you’re a fan of these larger-than-life creatures, I highly recommend that you check this film out.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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