from the movie Gojia (Godzilla) 1954
Designed by Akira Watanabe
Sculpted by Teizo Toshimitsu
Portrayed by Haruo Nakajima
Watanabe took his inspiration from an article on prehistoric life published in Life magazine. The article was illustrated with paintings by Rudolph Zallinger and Zdenek Burian. Watanabe combined aspects of the Iguanadon with those of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and adding to it the plates from a Stegasaurus.
Before constructing the suit to be worn by Haruo Nakajima, Teizo Toshimitsu created scaled down clay models of the creature with different skin textures with the version depicted with an alligator like skin texture chosen over the others.
Over the years, Godzilla's appearance has changed going to a friendly-looking almost puppy dog look in the early 70s to a more cat-like fearsome look in the 90s to an aggressive version with longer, more formidable spines in the 2000s, but no matter the changes, he's clearly recognizable as Godzilla.
Designed with a low center of gravity and a massive tail and legs, his bipedal dinosaur design seems deceptively simple. I think it's the spinal plates that not only complete his look, but take his design to a place that can't be topped. He's immediately recognizable, even to someone who has never seen a Godzilla movie, and has a distinctive silhouette. There are few characters who share such recognizability and deceptively simple design, including Mickey Mouse.
Aside from being a terrible movie, the 1998 American Godzilla movie made the mistake of trying to design Godzilla from the ground up. Based on the tiger, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, this new Godzilla seemed uninspired and lacked the personality, or presence of the classic, true, Godzilla.
4. The Xenomorph
from the movie Alien (1979)
Designed by H.R. Giger
Portrayed by Bolaji Badejo
Everything about the xenomorph was perfect and convincing. It was found in a really bizarre alien landscpe featuring a giant biomechanical pilot who seemed to have grown into the machinery around it. It had a lifecycle with an egg, a parasitic delivery system shaped like a hand with too many fingers, a steel teethed eel like embryo which exploded violently from the chest of the lifeform incubating it, and it had an adult form, humanoid like the human it grew inside of, but like nothing anyone had ever seen in any movie before. It was sleek and skeletal with double opposable thumbs on each hand, a spiny tail tipped with a knife-blade-like stinger, weird growths on its back which looked like exhaust pipes on a motorcycle more than anything else, amplifying its own biomechanical look, it had that strange elongated head ending in a fearsome mouth full of metal teeth and a tongue that shot out like a lance which was tipped with it's own set of wicked jaws. It also had acid for blood, and best, and most frightening of all; it had no eyes.
Never before had an alien in a movie looked so alien. A feat even more impressive because this was still a man in a costume, but you never once thought it looked like one. H.R. Giger was the perfect designer to choose for something new, and the biomechanical stylized sex organs that filled his artwork lent themselves perfectly to everything he touched in this movie from the crashed alien spacecraft to the xenomorph's eggs and the xenomorph itself.
The xenomorph has yet to be topped in terms of creating an alien even more alien, but instead has inspired a slew of thinly disguised copies in comic books and other movies.
3. The Cyclops
from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Designed and animated by Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen has created and brought to life a wide number of memorable creatures in the films that he brought his mesmerizing stop-motion animated special effects to, but by far the best of them was the Cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (actually there were 2 Cyclops; one with a single backward curving horn, and the other with two forward curved horns). Not merely a giant man with one eye, Harryhausen gave his Cyclops a very credible yet fantastic look without going overboard. A wooly legged, cloven hoofed satyr from the waist down, the Cyclops' upper body resembled a djinn, with its pointy ears and wide nose. The horn rising up from the center of the Cyclops' head is what really takes the Cyclops that final step into becoming something perfect and memorable from a design standpoint. I also liked the way that Harryhausen handled the single eye, clearly conceiving of this creature and it's skull structure to be designed for one eye only, rather than typical depictions that even though they station one eye in the middle, still leave in sockets for the eyes that would normally be there on a face with two eyes in the usual places.
Harryhausen was also able to get a lot of expression with only a single eyebrow to work with. Combined with the personality that Harryhausen's brand of stop motion infuses into his creations (I love the Cyclops licking his chops as he roasts a sailor, and some well chosen sound effects for the Cyclops' roar and you have a fearsome creature that can only inspire imagination.
2. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Designed by Millicent Patrick
Sculpted by Chris Meuller
Portrayed by Ben Chapman (on land)
and Ricou Browning (under water)
This is an absolutely perfect monster design. The Gillman looks like the prehistoric manfish he's meant to be, sympathetic and threatening, sleek, and unlike so many other rubber suit monsters; alive. Like the xenomorph in Alien, even though you are aware that you are watching an actor in a costume, you never think about that, so convincing is this creature in depicting a living, breathing, lifeform. When it's on land, it gasps for air like a fish, with it's big fish mouth gulping and it's gills breathing in and out. It's eyes look so alive.
It's an incredibly detailed, well thought out and designed costume that never looks like a rubber suit, bunching up around the actors' elbows or knees as it moves. Both actors also deserve a lot of credit in bringing the Creature to life. It must have been hard to walk on the ground, and to climb around in that costume between the oversized webbed hands and feet and the limited vision afforded by the mask, but the Creature never appears clumsy. Ben Chapman gives him a nice walk and some ferocious speed when it's called for making the Creature seem to be moving naturally and not like someone in a costume. Likewise Ricou Browning gave the Creature a distinctive swimming style unlike how a human would move under water, again letting us forget we're watching anything but the real deal.
Whenever announcements are made of an inevitable remake, I can only pity the poor creature designer. What could you possible do to make the Creature look any better? No doubt they'll be instructed to make the new creature more ferocious looking, and it may even be pretty cool looking, but it won't look better. It can't.
1. The Frankenstein Monster
from Frankenstein (1931)
Designed by Jack Pierce
Portrayed by Boris Karloff
This version of the Frankenstein monster wins hands down as the greatest movie monster design of all time. Not only is it a brilliant design constructed on the features of just the right actor, but the Frankenstein monster has been depicted in countless movies since then, and not a single other design even comes close to being as good as this one, let alone threatening to surpass it. Like Godzilla, everyone recognizes this Frankenstein monster, whether they've seen the movie, or the sequels made by Universal which featured this same design. Once it's implanted in the mind, it cannot be purged. This is probably why other designs fall so short. The make-up artists and conception artists have this version filling their minds and in trying to move as far away from it as possible, they find there seems to be nowhere else to go.
From the flat top head, scars, gaunt face, heavy eyelids, neck bolts, costume, boots and black fingernails, this monster is truly a sum of its parts, all brought to life not by Dr. Frankenstein and an electrical storm, but by Boris Karloff and the astonishing make-up by Jack Pierce. Pierce also designed Universal's Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, and others, and while they are all great, iconic designs, none of them come close to his crowning achievement, the Frankenstein Monster.
I recognize that this is exactly the kind of post that invites differences of opinion and welcome you to share in the comments section below.