Like my post for my favorite animated characters of all time (which would now probably include the titular character from Rango), I have compiled a list of my favorite animals and "creatures" from the annals of film history. And also like the previous list, I have given myself a few stipulations and limitations for this assortment. Well, I've only given myself one, actually: the animal or creature cannot have been made through the use of animation or computer generation. Therefore, it had to have been made into a physical prop or puppet that directly interacted with other components of its respective film (i.e., actors, other puppets, etc.). I mostly did this so that the list wouldn't be nearly identical to the aforementioned animated characters list, but I think I've compiled a pretty good set. So without any further adieu, here's the list of my twenty favorites, listed chronologically in order of their original appearance:
First Film Appearance: King Kong (1933)
Oh, that great ape from the way back when. Although he wasn't the first great beast to grace the screen (the 1925 film The Lost World is the first that comes to mind, but I'm sure there were others with equally massive giants), Kong is easily the most memorable and most instantly recognizable. He's had quite a storied history, appearing in seven films over the years, culminating in the Peter Jackson remake from 2005. He's battled Godzilla (in 1962) and a mechanical version of himself (in 1967), so I'm sure he's got quite a few scars to go with the years, but there will always be a special place in my heart for this giant gorilla. I was originally introduced to Kong on the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Studio Tour where he "attacks" the tram on a bridge. Sadly, that particular part of the attraction was destroyed in a fire in 2008, but I'll always remember it and the creature that spawned its inception.
First Film Appearance: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
If you click on the link above, you'll see that I only watched this film very recently, so the Creature is still in my immediate consciousness. Sure, it may look a little bit goofy. Yeah, it's not scary at all by today's standards (although I'm holding out quite a bit of hope that the proposed 2013 remake will present a horrifying Creature). But there's something very sinister and lethal about this human-like being that lurks beneath the still waters of a black lagoon in the Amazon. Perhaps it's the fact that the Creature gets the slip until the film's waning moments. Perhaps it's the fact that it attacks from the blackness, giving little to no warning of its coming. In a way, you could make an argument that the Creature may have influenced the creation of a certain shark in a certain summer blockbuster in the summer of 1975, but I won't go to such lengths. But the Creature should be remembered and be admired despite coming from one of the better B-movies of the 1950s.
First Film Appearance: Gojira / Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1954)
If I'm putting King Kong onto this list, there's no possible way that I could leave off his reptilian counterpart. The gargantuan Godzilla has appeared in twenty-eight films to date, with another film slotted to be released in 2012. His first appearance, however, came in 1954 with a man dressed in a costume smashing tiny sets at his leisure. I don't know about you, but I would've loved that job. I haven't seen the original Japanese version of the film - just the American analogue which is basically the same with some American-centric scenes inserted to form a little more plot - but if you're watching any of the Godzilla movies, you're watching to see what carnage and mayhem the monster is going to wreak. Us Americans actually tried to make our own Godzilla flick, crafting a monster that bears nearly no resemblance to the original, and the movie flopped as it probably should have. Give me the classic Godzilla any day.
First Film Appearance: Old Yeller (1957)
If you've never seen Old Yeller, then I'd actually caution you if you're thinking about giving it a gander. You could probably call it the Marley & Me of the 1950s (although I've never seen Marley & Me, but I know how it ends and that's probably why I didn't want to see it). Now that I've effectively given away the ending to this classic film, I can talk about Old Yeller himself. He's a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mix, but when I first saw the film as a child, I couldn't quite distinguish that from the Golden Retrievers my family always owned. As a result, I developed quite a strong liking for Old Yeller, and this liking soon became a love and affection for this cinematic dog. I think that makes the film all the more traumatic for me, but that's neither here nor there. Old Yeller is easily my favorite dog to ever grace the silver screen.
First Film Appearance: Jaws (1975)
There's no way that the most famous shark in cinematic history was ever going to be left off this list. Since the first time I watched Jaws, it has easily been one of my favorite movies of all time. I could go on for ages about the film itself - I'll do a "movie recommendation" for it at some point or another - but this post will focus only on the shark. Part of the reason the shark is so effective as a terrifying character was because the audience never actually sees the shark until at least halfway through the movie. Before that point, Steven Spielberg chose to use a sleight of hand approach, showing the shark without actually "showing" it, so to speak, using underwater tracks to give the appearance of a massive beast gliding beneath the ocean's surface. Sure, the final reveal of the actual shark isn't as impressive as it must have been back in 1975 (I do admit it looks a little bit fake by today's standards); however, there's no denying the cultural impact that Jaws had, and it all stems from this toothy menace that comes from the depths.
First Film Appearance: Alien (1979)
In terms of pure terror, there's few movies that can edge out Alien (for me, at least). I can honestly say that Alien is the only film in which I've actually screamed out loud while watching it, and I'm perfectly comfortable with admitting that here and now. When people think about aliens, the first thing that often comes to mind are little green men from Mars. But when they think about "movie" aliens, this is often the first image that pops into their head, regardless of whether they've seen any of the films in the Alien franchise, of which only the first two are really worth watching. With a menacing look, acid saliva and a smaller, impaling head that explodes from its mouth, it's no wonder why this creature has terrified so many for the past three decades. And on top of that, it's quite a structural sight to behold. Kudos to the creators.
First Film Appearance: Caddyshack (1980)
Now, I know I might take a little bit of grief for this, but I'm actually not a huge Caddyshack fan. I didn't find it terribly funny, but it did have two very redeeming characters: Bill Murray's Carl and the ever-present Gopher who continues to haunt his days. The ongoing battle between the two is easily the most memorable for - at least for me - an ultimately forgettable film (I'm sorry!). This indestructible little rodent proves to be one of the film's funniest assets. The puppet is a little outlandish, but that makes it all the more appealing for comedy. It makes sounds like a dolphin, which never truly makes sense but always brings continuous laughter. Oh, and did I mention it dances? I haven't seen the film in a while, but if I remember correctly, the Gopher dances on a number of occasions, but none is more memorable than his final groove to Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright," which comes just after Carl tries blows up half the golf course in an attempt to kill the critter. Win for the Gopher.
First Film Appearance: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
With all of the magnificent and strange creatures presented in the extended Star Wars universe, I very easily could have gone with any number of other characters. My mind passed over Jabba the Hutt, the Sarlaac, a wampa, and a number of other beings, but I finally had to go with the ultimate Jedi Master: Yoda. When he first appears in The Empire Strikes Back, he just seems like a little green muppet (which is exactly what he is, actually) that doesn't really warrant much concern. However, we quickly learn that Yoda is one of the strongest beings in the galaxy in terms of his commune with the Force. With his tiny stature, Kermit-like complexion and tendency to take in backwards-formed sentences, it's hard to imagine Star Wars without him. He makes his way through five of the films (and he's technically "around" for the one in which he doesn't appear), making him one of the most seasoned characters in the franchise. And although he was created through computer-generation in Episodes II and III, I'd still prefer to see him as he first appeared back in 1980, sitting on a log, telling Luke Skywalker that he means him no harm.
First Film Appearance: Clash of the Titans (1981)
Now, you could probably argue that I shouldn't include Bubo the Owl on this particular list considering it's a mechanical creation from the goddess Athena, but it is a mechanical owl, which was still an animal the last time I checked. In a film that takes itself a tad too seriously (but nowhere near as much as the 2010 remake, which somehow left Bubo out of the story), this owl provides a consistent stream of slapstick comedy. Even its appearance - a shiny golden sheen of "feathers" and massive metal eyes - is a little bit goofy. In a way, Bubo doesn't fit into Clash of the Titans in any way whatsoever. I mean, we've got gods and men and ancient creatures like Pegasus flying around, and then this futuristic contraption with artificial intelligence comes swooping in to save the day on a number of occasions. It's a little weird, but I'm definitely glad that we were introduced to this little guy.
First Film Appearance: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
I suppose if I can mention an Alien crafted of pure evil, I might as well balance the list with an alien who's crafted of pure goodness. E.T. quickly swooped into the hearts of millions upon the film's release back in the early '80s, and to this day, he continues to do so. He starts out as this tiny creature on the run from capture from grown men, ultimately finding a safe haven in the home of a young boy named Elliott. When the two meet, they develop an immediate friendship that bonds them more closely than Elliott could have ever imagined. They're so close, in fact, that whatever happens to E.T. happens to Elliott as well. This proves a little troubling for his family towards the end of the film when E.T. falls terribly ill, but the beauty, innocence and spirit of their friendship is really what resonates throughout the entire film. E.T. may be a goofy-looking alien, squatting low but holding his high with that slender neck, but he definitely has a glowing heart (pun intended).
First Film Appearance: The NeverEnding Story (1984)
This one might bring up a swell of nostalgia if you're anything like me. The NeverEnding Story used to be one of my favorite childhood films, and to this day, I'll always take the time to sit back and watch it. One of my favorite characters has been and will always be Falkor, a luckdragon that helps our hero Atreyu in his quest. When I was younger, a little part of me was scared of Falkor because I always felt that he might turn on Atreyu and maybe eat him. But those passing thoughts faded as I grew older, realizing that Falkor is one of the most sincere characters to appear in this story. He's the perfect mix of a dragon and a dog, and both facets are shown in his character. His booming voice and laugh probably led to my childhood fear, but now I can still imagine and hear that voice whenever I think about this friendly and majestic beast.
First Film Appearance: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
When you've got a movie that's centered around a flesh-eating plant that's determined to take over the world, you probably know exactly what you're getting yourself into. When the film also happens to be a musical in which said plant has a couple of musical numbers, then you might besquealing with pleasure. If you're into that sort of thing, of course. Audrey II is fascinating in all stages of its life and growth, but it really hits its peak when it reaches its massive size in the side shop on Skid Row. Provided with voice work from Levi Stubbs, who was best known as the lead singer of the Motown group the Four Tops, we get a fun and sadistic character that holds its own against an already fantastic cast. You'll be laughing at what it says and sings, but you'll also be worried about just how far this thing will go to get what it wants. It's filthy, it's irreverent, and it's definitely one of the most fun creatures to grace the silver screen.
First Film Appearance: The Fly (1986)
One of the best parts of the 1986 remake of The Fly (the original was a 1958 Vincent Price vehicle) is that we get to see the gradual, if totally disgusting, transformation of Jeff Goldblum into said fly, or "Brundlefly," as he calls himself (in relation to his character's name - Seth Brundle). While I could have included the 1958 version of this human-fly concoction, the 1986 creature is much more fascinating, as you can see from the picture to the left. The final product is quite disturbing, but the slow change from man to fly is definitely a sight to behold. We see the complete mutation of a man into a fly, as parts of his body begin to fall off and he begins to gain superhuman strength. I warn you now - The Fly is not for the faint of heart, especially if you're not terribly great with the gross and the gory. It's a little bit tame by today's standard set by the likes of the Saw franchise, but it's still not something you're really going to forget anytime soon.
First Film Appearance: Predator (1987)
If I'm going to throw the aliens from Alien on this list, I suppose I should also include their biggest adversary from the 21st century (yes, I'm referring to those terrible Alien vs. Predator flicks). Although the Predators got their own revamp last summer with Nimród Antal's Predators, they first got their start back in the late '80s when they were doing battle with the Terminator himself. Personally, I like them better when they're the film's antagonist. The biggest problem with the recent "versus" movies is that they made the Aliens the villains, leaving the Predators to adopt more humanistic tendencies and become protagonists alongside the humans just trying to survive. And although there have been other moments where specific Predators have empathized with humans, I'd still take the quarry-hunting sort any day of the week.
First Film Appearance: The Princess Bride (1987)
In term's of screen-time, the Rodents Of Unusual Size (or "R.O.U.S.'s") definitely rank as one of the lowest on this list. They only appear in one particular scene in The Princess Bride, but it does prove to be a rather important scene, with Wesley having to do battle with one of them, ultimately finding himself rather injured at this giant rat's bite. There's really nothing all that special about these creatures aside from their name which has always stuck in my consciousness. It's such a simple name, but it totally fits within the whimsical nature of the film. Whereas a normal person would just call it a "giant rat," we're instead told that they're of "unusual size." Yeah, it's a little bit lame, but these R.O.U.S.'s are always one of the first things I remember from The Princess Bride, so that has to count for something, right?
First Film Appearance: Tremors (1990)
I don't recall the characters ever calling these "giant worms" by the term "graboid" in the first film, and to be fair, I have not seen any film in the Tremors franchise aside from the first effort. But what an effort it was. Our first journey into Perfection, Nevada left us - let alone the cast - totally unprepared for the type of creature they'd have to face. I think "giant worm" may be the best way to describe this massive being, but it's got so much more going for it than that. With it's beaked bill, it can grab and snap at its prey. and don't forget about the snake-like tentacles that it spews from its gaping maw! Those prove to be the most fatal parts for a few citizens of Perfection. In a way, you could call this a moving Sarlaac because it has a similar mouth and feeding pattern (if you're in tune with the Star Wars universe, you'll know what I'm talking about). The term "graboid" may have come around in a later film, but that's now the name we have for these dirty and deadly creatures, and I'll forever have a fondness for them.
First Film Appearance: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
You can have your pick from our four famed heroes - Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo - but I'm going to take their aging but fearless mentor, Splinter. With his storied background and his expertise in martial arts, he's the perfect sensei for this rag-tag group of adolescent, anthropomorphic amphibians. Splinter presents himself in a calm and collect manner, much as one would expect a master of martial arts to approach life. Even when the tides turn against him and his "sons," as he frequently calls them, he rarely ever loses his temper and always stays true to his heart and to his training. That's made especially difficult by the adolescent angst he has to deal with on a daily basis, but Splinter does manage to make a couple of friendly stabs at the turtles. Can anybody say "cowabunga?"
First Film Appearance: Jurassic Park (1993)
I know that I said that computer-generated creatures could not make this list, but I'm only slightly bending the rules on this one. Yes, there's a significant portion of the film that relied on special effects to bring the king of all dinosaurs to life, but Stan Winston and Co. also created scale robotics for necessary human interaction. Therefore, T. Rex finds a spot on this list, so no complaining or pointing out any problems with my logic. Now, I could have had my pick of the litter in terms of choosing a dinosaur from Jurassic Park, and part of me wanted to place Velociraptor on this list instead. However, the majesty and the brutal power of the Tyrannosaurus was just too much to pass. It's the first dinosaur that comes to mind when you think about Jurassic Park (mostly for its ripple-causing footsteps), so it has to take the cake.
First Film Appearance: Dogma (1999)
Judge this creature not by its appearance... or its smell, for that matter. If you're wondering just what this "Golgothan" is, then you have to look no further than the slightly warped but always brilliant mind of Kevin Smith. In his irreverently hilarious look at Catholicism, the protagonists stumble upon this creature which is essentially a "shit demon." After some explanation, we learn that the demon is composed of the final bits of fecal matter of the people crucified at Calgary, where Christ himself had been crucified. Along with its most horrendous odor, the Golgothan also sports superhuman strength and the ability to launch massive balls of... well, poo, at his enemies. Although his appearance in the film is short-lived, it's definitely memorable. You won't forget this demon anytime soon.
First Film Appearance: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
Yes, this is a little bit of a weird addition to this list, but the Mutant from The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra helps to epitomize the absolute absurdity of the whole film. In case you haven't seen the film or read my recommendation of it (linked above), then you should know that this film is basically a parody of the old B-movies from the 1950s. They go about as far as is humanly possible, and the Mutant is no exception. It looks terrible, almost as though it's going to fall apart at any moment. A child could easily have thrown it all together in a matter of seconds. It's that level of ridiculousness that makes it such a redeeming part of the film. And that's why I love it so much. Just embrace it's amazing stupidity all wrapped up with a heart of gold. Yes, I said it - a heart of gold. Just watch the movie, and you'll see what I mean.