October 9 is a day with a history filled with important events. For example, Pope John Paul II shaking hands with the Dalai Lama, the first-ever performance of The Phantom of the Opera in London, or the 2013 death of Welsh psychic Jillian Lane, who counted Michael Jackson amongst her clientele.
None are more important this year than the fact that October 9, 2014 marks the 50th birthday of director Guillermo del Toro. In celebration of that fact — and of a career that’s given us such movies as Pacific Rim, Blade II and the two Hellboy movies — here are 10 fun (if not necessarily great) monster movies to stream on Netflix as soon as possible. Go on. Make Guillermo proud.
You can learn a lot about a movie from the alternate titles it’s had through the years; originally titled “Rodan! The Flying Monster!” (Yes, with the exclamation points) in the U.S., the Japanese title of this early Kaiju movie translates as “Radon, Giant Monster of the Sky.” If that sounds like you should prepare for an over-the-top movie about a nuclear-powered pterodactyl terrorizing 1950s Japan that can only be stopped by an erupting volcano, then you’re 100 percent spot on. In a time of over-the-top monster movies, this remains one of the best.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
Released in the same year as Rodan, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (again with the exclamation points) is exactly as weird a movie as you’d expect, given the circumstances surrounding its creation: essentially, it’s the 1954 original Godzilla movie re-edited for American audiences with all the dialogue dubbed into English, about 30 minutes of the original movie cut out and some all new footage featuring Perry Mason himself, actor Raymond Burr, added to try and explain away what the hell is going on. There’s no denying that it’s a mess, but it’s an extremely entertaining one.
You can’t talk about giant monsters without mentioning King Kong, but sadly the original 1930s version isn’t available on Netflix Streaming. (We’ll get to the ‘76 one in a sec.) Instead, we have Konga, a wacky and wonderful U.S./U.K. co-production in which a British botanist (played by future Bat-Butler Michael Gough) created a formula that turns a chimpanzee into a giant rampaging ape — that he then hypnotizes and sends to kill his enemies. I think we can all agree, as far as life plans go, that’s far more ambitious and productive than most of us have managed.
Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster (1964)
After you’ve introduced the atomic horror of Godzilla and Rodan, where else could the burgeoning Kaiju franchise go but outer space? Enter Ghidorah, a giant monster that has already destroyed Martian civilization (Sorry, Mars) and arrives on Earth to do the same to mid-20th century humanity. With Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra — another giant monster, albeit one friendlier to mankind — teaming up to stop the invader, this is everything that Pacific Rim 2 should be even with the lack of any ridiculously-named Jaegers.
King Kong (1976)
From the men who brought you the 1960s Batman series and Barbarella (no, really; Lorenzo Semple Jr., wrote the script and Dino DeLaurentiis produced), this polyester-era remake was so close to being a cinematic classic in its own right. It has the cast — Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange in her first big screen role, so beautiful that you could believe a giant ape would fall in love with her — and, for a brief second, it almost had Roman Polanski directing. Instead, John Guillermin ended up in charge and delivered a movie that’s only lovable for its kitsch qualities… and the fact that there was a 40-foot mechanical gorilla built for the movie, even if you can only see it for less than 30 seconds in the entire two-plus hours of the movie.
After so many giant monsters, maybe we should have a palette cleanser in the form of the only del Toro movie to appear on the list: the first Hellboy, in which the director did the seemingly-impossible and brought Mike Mignola’s taciturn hero (and beautiful, abstract artwork) to cinematic life while keeping the original charm intact. Plus, you know, Selma Blair. Why don’t we have a third installment of this yet, anyway…?
The Host (2006)
No, not the 2013 movie based on the book by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. Instead, this South Korean movie reinvigorates the monster genre a couple of years before Cloverfield did the same thing for American audiences. It features a monster created thanks to a corrupt American (of course) runs amok across Seoul despite the best efforts of scientists, politicians and the military to put a stop to its rampage. At once funny, smart and exciting, it’s very much an update on the classic Godzilla formula, right down to the understated political satire implied by the monster’s origins.
Not all monsters pop up in Asia or America, of course, as Trollhunter gleefully points out. Ostensibly The Blair Witch Project with a giant monster instead of that creepy scene with someone standing in the corner, what makes the movie different from the glut of other “found footage” horrors is the wonderfully Nordic, dark sense of humor running through the whole thing. There’s been an American remake reportedly in the works for years, but this will remain the best way to find out what really goes on in Norway when no-one’s looking (Spoiler: More than making lutefisk or lefse for hungry tourists).
Before Gareth Edwards hit the big time with this summer’s Godzilla reboot, he made this low-budget sci-fi thriller about Mexico becoming overrun with gigantic tentacled beasties from outer space (NASA is to blame, but you could probably guess that, really) and two Americans who have to try and pass through the area in one piece to return to the U.S. Part-political commentary, part-unsettling feeling of foreboding and soon-to-be disaster, Monsters is arguably a better movie than Godzilla — and certainly something that you can imagine del Toro happily enjoying while cooking up Pacific Rim.
The Cabin in The Woods (2011)
In a swerve that Guillermo himself would be proud of, you don’t really get to see the giant monsters in Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s horror deconstruction — but that’s because the true monsters are ourselves, in case you missed the true meaning of the story amongst all the gleeful slaughtering of the various horror tropes that pop up throughout the movie. Who would have thought that Josh from The West Wing would be partly responsible for the destruction of mankind?