Learning to Love Monster Movies

Godzilla

Elizabeth Olsen in Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla (2014) © 2014 Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Guess what’s out this weekend, Gimme Some Oven readers? Yup. The new Godzilla.

If you immediately thought “Meh,” “Boooooring,” or “Ew”, this post is for you.

I didn’t always love monster movies—at least I thought I didn’t. But then I watched some. And I realized that monster movies have an extremely important role in our culture: to make us face our fears. If you look deeper into the genre, and into its best examples, you’ll find lots of metaphors for our society’s worst problems (war, racism, nuclear weapons, misogyny) along with a rallying cry to band together to stop those evils. You’ll also find cathartic tales that can inspire you to face your own personal demons. The monster movie genre is such an important part of our cinematic storytelling culture, that I really, really want to convince you to give it a second chance.

Read on for my take on four common complaints about monster movies, and the flicks that will help you move past ’em.

Monsters

Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy in Gareth Edwards’s Monsters (2010)

“I’m more into indie films.”

I feel you. You’re not a Blockbuster person. You don’t like big budgets and big egos. That’s cool. Sit your skinny-jeaned butt down on the couch and aim your cool glasses toward this little piece of magic: Monsters. Yep, it’s titled so you don’t get confused about exactly what kind of (cool, indie, low-budget) film it is. This compelling movie takes the best aspects of the genre—dread, mystery, social implications—and solves them without big stars or big effects. It’s unforgettable. So go watch it on Netflix Streaming, Amazon Instant Prime, or Vudu. Now.

And you know what else? The guy who wrote and directed this little gem? He directed the new Godzilla. I kinda flipped out when I found that out. Like, made everybody at happy hour stop talking and have a moment of silence to absorb this awesome movie information. (I have tolerant friends.) Let me know if Monsters propelled you off your couch and into a (gasp!) 3D cineplex to take in this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster.

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) © 1975 – Universal Pictures.

“I don’t like made-up stuff. I like stories that could happen in real life.”

Oh, you realists, you. You don’t go in for fantasy, and that’s fine. You can still find your own path into monster movies. Because, fortunately/unfortunately, non-made-up monsters exist.  Just watch Jaws. And never go into the ocean again. Because Great Whites are real, man.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched Jaws, you need to. (Rent it now on Amazon Instant or Vudu.) Not only is it a finely crafted bit of storytelling from an American Master (Spielberg), but it’s Monster Movie 101. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the genre from this scary shark flick. Like, the best monster movies don’t show the monster for a very long time. And you’ve got to have heroes with compelling backstories that add conflict (Brody hates the water). And fighting the monster has to be very, very hard. We’re-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat hard.

alien

Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) © 2003 Twentieth Century Fox.

“Monster movies are for dudes.”

OK, lady. I know. The movie industry is a Boys Club. Everywhere you look, it’s dudes doing dude things. And the monster movie genre isn’t an exception. EXCEPT: One of its flagship films is also a flagship film for feminists. On every Best Monster Movie list, you’re going to find Alien. In which a woman does what women do: Kick A$$. Sigourney Weaver is Ripley, a crew member of the spaceship Nostromo…and the Nostromo has a little stow-away problem. It’s terrifying and it’s empowering, even if Ripley does end up having to fight in her underwear at the end. At least it’s normal-person white-cotton and not crazy lingerie. Rent this freak-out film on Amazon Instant or Vudu and get your girl-power on. 

Jurrasic

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). (c) 2012 – Universal Pictures

“I can’t watch monster movies with my kids.”

Oh, but you can. Just not leeeetle kids. If you’re looking for a chiller of a family movie night film, remember that Jaws is actually rated PG. And one of the other monster movie classics on all the Best Of lists? Spielberg strikes again: Jurassic Park. This PG-13 wonder is how a lot of people in the end-of-X/beginning-of-Y generations learned to love monster movies. Can anyone forget the sound of that T-Rex careening through the forest? Getting closer and closer and closer and—- Goosebumps, every time. If you’ve got older kids who are good at separating fiction from reality, try giving Jurassic Park a go. Bonus: Opportunities for post-movie research on the (debated) science behind the book/movie. Learning! (Start with this article: “It’s Time To Build a Real Jurassic Park” to get the educational conversation rolling.)

And for the little kids? Ali reminded me of one of her favorite animated movies Of All Time: Monsters, Inc. It’s technically a buddy movie about monsters, but, hey, people, plant the seed. Plant the seed.

Are you a monster-movie person? A new convert? A hold-out? Comment below!

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Sarah Magill

Sarah Magill has a full-time movie habit made possible by a day-time greeting card writing gig. She blogs at Gimme Some Film and is learning to write scripts and direct. She tries to balance her screen obsession with trail running, jazz singing, book clubbing, and hanging out with The Best Golden Retriever Ever, Copa.

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2 comments on “Learning to Love Monster Movies”

  1. I absolutely agreed to see the new Godzilla movie because of Monsters. Monsters is great. Gareth Edwards is directing the first stand-alone Star Wars film, too!

    • Glad to hear from another Monsters fan, Lizzie! And thanks for the Edwards-Star Wars tip; I don’t know how I missed that (really good) news!