Let’s face it, human beings like to be scared. This is what is behind the enduring franchises of Jurassic Park and Godzilla. Leo Braudy, a professor of English and American literature at the University of Southern California and a cultural historian and film critic, divided monsters into four distinct categories, three of which we will be talking about today as they pertain to giant monster movies. Monsters from the Past, Monsters from Man, and Monsters from Nature. (Braudy’s fourth category was Monsters from Within, and his example was Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde).  It should be noted that Braudy placed all giant monsters into the “Monsters from Nature” category.  

The monsters from the past have always been here. Often you must journey to some exotic location to find these creatures from another era, but if you know where to look, they are there for the intrepid explorer.  

One of the first movies in this genre is the 1925 version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It tells of a group of explorers led by Professor George Challenger searching for a lost plateau in the Amazon jungle where dinosaurs survived the catastrophe that wiped out the rest of their species. The dinosaurs are stop motion figures created by Willis O’Brian. Of course O’Brian’s greatest work was yet to come, King Kong

King Kong has long been lauded as the eighth wonder of the world. The same could be said of the movie as well as the Giant Ape. Once again, we have explorers journeying to a remote location to find a mystical beast, in this case a “devil god” worshipped by the indigenous people of the island.  

Braudy’s second category, Monsters from Man, are those monsters created from man’s interference with the natural world. His example was Frankenstein, but the term can also be applied to giant monsters.  In the 1950’s concerns rose among the populace of the effect of atomic testing and what new monsters might rise from this wanton destruction of the natural world. These creatures would be “man-made” instead of coming from the distant past. But sometimes, especially in earlier movies in the genre, these two subcategories overlapped. One of the first movies in this genre was The Beast from 20,0000 Fathoms. In this movie the atomic bomb awakens a dinosaur from a million-year sleep to ravage New York City. The special effects were created by Ray HarryHausen who himself was influenced by the effects of O’Brian.  

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms influenced a Japanese director, Ishirô Honda, to create his own dinosaur movie. Godzilla took aspects of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, such as a dinosaur being awakened by nuclear testing. Honda took it a step further. Having suffered through the bombings of Japan, Honda made his dinosaur’s genetic code altered by radiation. 

By the time the 1990’s rolled around, atomic radiation was not as scary as it was in the 50’s. Now a new scientific terror has arisen: genetic testing and cloning. In 1994, we got the first of the Jurassic Park movies based on Michael Crichton’s groundbreaking work. In this movie, John Hammond has cloned dinosaurs from DNA found in mosquitoes caught in amber. The terror comes not only from the fact that they can clone dinosaurs but also questions of where the cloning will stop.  

The last category is Monsters from Nature. These monsters exist in the natural world. The first is Jaws which swam onto movie screens in 1975.This classic monster flick from writer Peter Benchley and director Stephen Spielberg tells of a Great White Shark that is terrorizing a small New England town.  

Another movie to come from the pen of Peter Benchley is the miniseries, The Beast, that came out in 1996. In this seafaring monster flick, it is a Giant Squid that is terrorizing the townsfolk off the coast of Washington.  

The most recent era of giant monster movies has been mostly expansions and/or reboots of existing monster franchises. For instance, in 2022 Jurassic World Dominion, the last of the Jurassic Park movies, came to the big screen. We also have two different, recent, versions of Godzilla that came out in the last year. Toho, the original Japanese company, produced 2023’s Godzilla Minus One. Godzilla is also a part of Warner Brothers’ MonsterVerse which also includes King Kong and other classic Toho monsters. A new MonsterVerse movie, Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire premiered on March 29, 2024.  

Giant monsters have always appealed to the masses. Sometimes all you want from a movie is to see Godzilla destroy Tokyo again. They always deliver and they are always fun.  

See the following list for giant monster books and movies to enjoy. Some of the movies I referenced in this blog are here along with other books and movies!  Unfortunately, Godzilla Minus One is not currently available except to stream on platforms like Amazon Prime. Giant Monsters


Braudy, Leo. Haunted: on Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.