In this summer’s highly anticipated franchise reboot/nostalgia machine Jurassic World, scientists and corporate stooges conspire to invent the Indominus Rex — a genetically modified “new” creature meant to be larger and deadlier than anything the modern world has ever seen. (“No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore!” claims Bryce Dallas Howard’s Type-A executive, summing up the entire if-it-moves-overkill-it ideology behind modern summer blockbusters in a single meta-line.) Several stories tall, this giant beast has the killing instincts of a great white shark, the toothy fearsomeness of a T. rex and a sadistic streak that would make a high-school gym teacher envious. But forget whether this is the alpha predator of the movie’s amusement park; the real question is whether it’s as big and bad as all the other movie behemoths we’ve spilled our popcorn over for decades?
We’ve crunched the numbers on 10 films featuring giant lizards, bugs, snakes, robots, aliens, and the like — taking into account the viciousness of the creatures, the survivability of their attacks and their preference for delicious Homo sapien flesh. For anyone wondering which kind of city-stomping, world-ending, supporting-character-consuming superbeast is the best of the blockbustery bunch, look no further.
The threat: A great white shark, a macro-predatory fish not-so-reassuringly called “the white death” in some cultures.
Habitat: This rapacious man-eater stalks the ocean waters outside Amity Island, a New England beach resort so tourist-friendly that it keeps its beaches open even after half-eaten corpses start washing ashore. The animal’s main nemeses are a nervous local police chief, a grizzled fisherman, a smug marine biologist, and a John Williams score that tells the audience when to start getting nervous.
Method of marauding: Like all killer of the deep, the great white circles beneath swimmers, eyeballing dangling legs and listening to reckless horseplay, ready at any moment to take a big bite. This monster’s in no hurry. It’s always there, in the waters just below you, waiting, waiting. . . .
Enormity: The mature “carcharodon carcharias” can weigh around 7,000 pounds and reach 25 feet in length. It’s about as big as a stretch limo — with teeth. Yes, a bigger boat is required.
Deadliness score: 4. Make no mistake: If you’re splashing happily in the Atlantic, and a fin pops up beside you, you’re probably seconds away from being shark-chow. But always remember that you don’t have to swim faster than the great white — you just have to out-pace the old folks and kids around you.
King Kong (2005)
The threat: Kong, a legendary giant gorilla worshipped by the natives of the remote Skull Island.
Habitat: Like the 1933 monster-movie classic, Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake begins in a sort of “land that time forgot,” populated by gargantuan creatures otherwise presumed to be extinct or fictional. Then the film moves to New York City, because if Kong can make it there…
Method of marauding: Given his druthers, our primate pal would prefer not to maraud, and would rather be left alone to lounge about his freaky, dinosaur-filled home jungle. Once he’s in Manhattan, however, Kong busts loose and starts pounding and flinging, while looking for the tallest “tree” around — which happens to be the Empire State Building.
Enormity: Jackson’s Kong is a fairly fixed 25 feet tall, though past movie versions have ranged widely in height depending on the era and the purpose. (When fighting other giant monsters, the ape tends to grow.) The original Great Ape famously varied in size from scene to scene, because animator Willis O’Brien cared less about continuity than about staging exciting action.
6. This dude beats up numerous Tyrannosaurus rex, which means he’s no one to trifle with. But the beast also has a soft spot for the ladies, a factor that makes him more than a little vulnerable.
The threat: Burrowing, biting super-worms that the movie’s redneck heroes dub “graboids.”
Habitat: The graboids plague a dinky Nevada town populated by survivalists, scientists, and scroungers, including a pair of resourceful handymen played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward.
Method of marauding: The creatures writhe around underground — causing suspicious seismic activity in the region — and then pop up and latch onto their prey with hooked mandibles. In the sequels, however, they develop legs and wings, while retaining their appetites for human-meat.
Enormity: A mature graboid can be up to 30 feet long and 6 feet wide, and can weigh as much as a tanker truck. In other words, these aren’t your middle-school science class kind of worms.
Deadliness score: 5. Though hard to kill and all but impossible to see, the monsters do produce a noticeable stench, and are handicapped by their blindness. With some measure of persistence and cleverness, they can be outsmarted, killed, and then sunk to the bottom of the world’s biggest bottle of tequila.
The threat: Ants! Eeeeeeek! Gi-nourmous aaaaants!
Habitat: The first of the “radiation-enhanced animals” horror pictures begins near an atomic test site in the New Mexico desert, and then marches toward several affordably run-down Los Angeles locations.
Method of marauding: The ants exact some measure of revenge on mankind’s reckless trodding by crawling up to well-dressed 1950s Americans and then chewing them to bits. Though vulnerable to fire and bullets, the sheer number of these critters make them some formidable formicidae.
Enormity: Imagine one of those air-blown tube-people fluttering outside of a used car lot. Now add bug-eyes and wiggly antennae. Then take a few deep breaths and try to get that image out of your head.
Deadliness score: 7. If their pincers don’t snap you in half, just the sight of a colony of enlarged insects might be enough to kill a person. (Cause of death: Terminal creep-out.)
The threat: A couple of huge freakin’ snakes.
Habitat: This horrifyingly long and thick movie version of the common green anaconda can be found in South America, creeping along the Amazon River — the perfect place if you want to keeps your eyes out for documentary film crews to terrorize and eat.
Method of marauding: These big-ass reptiles slither up to humans and squeeze them into submission, before swallowing them whole. Here, these cold-blooded killers don’t have to do a whole lot, since a party of cocky anthropologist filmmakers float their way toward them — like a hand-delivered moron smorgasbord.
Enormity: Herpetologists aren’t sure that giant anacondas actually exist, but there have been unconfirmed reports of some kind of creature that can stretch up to 60 feet (or close to the distance between a regulation pitching mound and home plate).
Deadliness score: 3. The overgrown Eunectes murinus strike quickly and are almost impossible to overcome; they’re also pretty well-confined to an environment where only idiots need to go.
Jurassic Park (1993)
The threat: The ferocious, prehistoric apex predator Tyrannosaurus Rex, recreated in a genetics lab and inadvertently set loose by Seinfeld‘s Newman. (Newman!)
Habitat: The T. rex stomps and roars across a private island, designed to house a state-of-the-art zoo. In the 1997 sequel, a rogue beastie from a different island is brought to San Diego, where the climate’s mild and the prey’s abundant.
Method of marauding: In the Steven Spielberg movies, the lizard king is less of a hunter and more of a “walk around until some edible idiot appears” kind of animal. But once it spots food, the creature has multiple killing options, from a good hard stomp to the classic “biting, shaking, and swallowing.” And even if Jurassic Park tourists make it past this particular big bad, they’ll still have to deal with Velociraptors — which stalk their victims and then work together to devour them.
Enormity: The T. rex is about the size of three NBA centres stacked on top of each other — albeit with the reach and dexterity of a newborn baby.
Deadliness Score: 5. Though the king of the dino jungle is as powerful as a freight train and as terrifying as a circus clown, it’s not exactly stealthy. (Just keep a cup of water handy, and look out for ripples.) Plus the animal can be fooled by keeping completely still… though most palaeontologists agree that if you were to play freeze-tag with an actual Tyrannosaurus, it would look quizzically at you for a second and then crunch you like a Cheeto. (Also, to be fair, the film’s pack of raptors would rate a 7.)
The Host (2006)
The threat: An unnamed, unclassifiable amphibious mutant, accidentally created by an American military outpost in South Korea after a scientist dumps formaldehyde into the Han River.
Habitat: The monster dangles from the Wonhyo Bridge and stalks the nearby sewers, terrorising the tourists and the local merchants. It’s also got an aptitude for making both the U.S. and South Korea governments nervous that their decades of carelessness and ineptitude will be exposed.
Method of marauding: Between its prehensile tail, springy legs, and yawning maw, this killer is as agile as it is hideous. But the bigger issue is the panic that ensues, which allows the authorities to flex their muscles and the citizenry to give up personal freedoms in the name of security. (The local constabulary should put up a sign: “Warning: Metaphor.”)
Enormity: Size-wise, the creature equates to a mid-sized RV. But the largeness of The Host‘s mutant thingie is less of an issue than the thickness of its carapace-like skin, which makes it seemingly indestructible — even when the Army gasses it with “Agent Yellow.”
Deadliness score: 6. Even beyond how savage it is (and how hard to kill), the beast causes a lot of incidental trouble just by forcing a public panic that’s even worse than any danger of being eaten.
Pacific Rim (2013)
The threat: An escalating assortment of “Kaijus,” who’ve emerged from an inter-dimensional portal in the ocean floor for the express purpose of laying waste to human civilisation.
Habitat: Though their actual home remains a mystery, these angry, oversized freaks have made themselves at home in the Pacific Ocean, where they surface periodically to knock some coastal city around.
Method of marauding: Initially these skyscraper-tall monstrosities follow in Godzilla’s giant footsteps, slowly trodding across populated areas until they’ve effectively levelled everything in sight. But gradually their attacks become more frequent, more deadly, and more coordinated.
Enormity: It varies depending on the Kaiju, but by the end of the movie, “Category Five” creatures are big enough to wipe out a whole block with a flick of the tail.
Deadliness score: 8. The good news is that the governments of the world have a plan to save us all, involving giant robots. The bad news is that the robots require an over-complicated piloting procedure that can cause irreparable psychic damage, thus making them not always very effective.
The threat: The Decepticons, a horde of shape-shifting alien robots locked in a generations-old battle with the similar-looking Autobots.
Habitat: Both races hail from the planet Cyberton, though before the start of the first Transformers movie they’ve begun to abandon their ravaged home-world. Naturally, this means bringing their grudge match to Earth, which houses an artifact of immense power.
Method of marauding: True to their name, the Decepticons disguise themselves as ordinary mechanical objects, like weapons or cars. When they transform, they retain the mobility and lethal sting of their other guises, while displaying a frightening intelligence and a single-mindedness in pursuit of their mission.
Enormity: Generally vehicle-sized, these sentient machines are capable of changing themselves into humanoid figures that are several stories high — or in the case of the chief villain Megatron, about as big as a California Redwood tree.
Deadliness score: 2. Because the Autobots — and in particular their leader, Optimus Prime — are adamant about defending our planet against the Decepticon menace, the villains don’t get a chance to much more than wreck property. So long as the good giant robots don’t turn on us, we should be okay.
The threat: A prehistoric, skyscraper-sized lizard-thing called Godzilla, who emerged from the sea in the 1950s, followed soon thereafter by more Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms — or MUTOs, as the scientific community calls them.
Habitat: In the original run of Japanese Godzilla movies (from 1954’s Gojira to roughly the mid-Seventies), the MUTOs plagued the Pacific Rim. The 2014 remake/reboot/sequel honours the franchise’s history by starting in Japan, though the fight soon spreads to Hawaii, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.
Method of marauding: Godzilla and its ancient enemies have motivations that range from parental protectiveness to what seems like sheer spite, though whatever the reasons, they always lead to large-scale shoving-matches, accented by spurts of fire and acid — and a lot of inadvertent crushing of the puny humans below.
Enormity: Look up! Keep looking. Higher. Crane your neck way, way back. There it is.
Deadliness score: 9. Godzilla and the MUTOs give about as much though to the people cowering at their enormous feet than we do toward non-Them!-sized ants during any given stroll down the street.