From its very earliest days, cinema has been home to classic movie monsters - the Universal monsters of the '30s and '40s, the big bug movies of the '50s, the Toho classics that began in 1954 and have continued through various Godzilla designs and guest monsters all the way up to 2019's King of the Monsters. Recent movie monsters may not have had the chance to become quite as iconic as those old standbys, but that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of new monsters in the 2010s worthy of going down in history.
Making a list like this requires some tough calls - and rules. To count as one of the scariest movie monsters of the 2010s, the monster in question had to have made its big-screen debut this decade. That means no vampires or werewolves, no matter how well-realized they might have been, but it also means some classic monsters of the 2010s - such as Bill Skarsgård's take on Pennywise from Andy Muschietti's two-part adaptation of Stephen King's It - didn't make the cut because they had already shown up on screen in the past. And no Godzilla, even though he's appeared in various incarnations in a number of films from both Toho and the United States this decade.
Ghosts are also excluded, even when those ghosts resembled monsters more than a little. So none of the stuff from the Conjuring universe, no red ghosts from Crimson Peak, and none of the weird, Stephen Gammell-inspired spooks of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. What did make the list are some of the most inventive, ambitious, and terrifying movie monsters of the decade.
Adapted from the novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual (2017) features an impressive monster. The film follows four friends who embark on a hiking trip in memory of a fifth, who was slain months earlier. In the woods, the friends encounter a sinister pagan enclave that worships a massive creature they call a Jötunn and "a bastard offspring of Loki."
It looks something like an enormous elk, with a bony ridges down its back and humanlike arms on its head. Though never called by name in the film, the creature is worshipped as a god by the cultists who follow it. As one of them tells the intruders, "It is a privilege to worship. You will kneel before the god. If not, it will hang you from the trees."
Sure, Krampus is a folkloric figure - a sort of demonic anti-Santa who punishes bad children at Christmas - but he never made his way into wider public consciousness until the 21st century, when he began appearing in horror films. Technically, the first of those was probably Rare Exports in 2010, followed by the 2013 direct-to-video flick, Krampus: The Christmas Devil. But the big silver screen breakout came with Mike Dougherty's 2015 film Krampus.
The film is jam-packed with monsters. There are dark elves, evil toys, sinister gingerbread men, and massive yule goats. But the star of the show is Krampus himself - huge and hunched, cloven-hoofed and goat-horned. His face is like a grotesque parody of Santa Claus - a slack mask of an old man's face, with a long, sinister tongue beneath. It's an impressive monster, and an impressive imagining of a monstrous figure that has become a Christmas icon all over the world.
Going all the way back to the earliest days of the silent era for its aesthetic inspiration, the eponymous monster from The Babadook instantly became one of the most iconic monsters of the 2010s when the movie hit screens in 2014.
From his storybook origins to his silent film look to his Pokémon-like tendency to say his own name, the Babadook was a movie monster unlike any we had seen since the golden days of the silver screen, and he quickly took on a life of his own outside the multiplex. How else could you explain Mr. Babadook becoming an unlikely gay icon?
Adapted from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, directed by Alex Garland, and starring Natalie Portman, Annihilation (2018) is a mind-bending sci-fi horror film that tackles "depression, grief, and the human propensity for self-destruction," according to Empire magazine. The film follows a team of armed scientists as they venture into "the Shimmer," a nebulous realm that suddenly appeared after a meteor struck a lighthouse.
The "Shimmer" is filled with mutated plants and animals. Communications equipment doesn't work properly, and time seems to pass differently. The film is full of striking visuals and more than a few weird creatures, but the standout, where monsters are concerned, is a mutated bear that attacks the team when they are camped at an abandoned military base. The bear's face is missing, revealing a humanlike skull. But what really puts the "skull bear" on the top of the heap when it comes to creepy movie monsters is that it cries out in the voice of one of its victims.