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'Cocaine Bear,' 'Jaws,' 'Anaconda' and more: The definitive killer animal movie for every species
Cocaine Bear is far from the first species to go on a rampage on the big screen.
Cocaine Bear is part of a rich, rich tradition in movie history. Some might call this subgenre “Man vs. Nature,” while others describe it as a “Creature Feature.” Neither term is 100 percent correct, but if you’ve seen a drug-crazed bear leap into the back of a fleeing ambulance, you know exactly what type of film you’re dealing with. This is a killer animal movie.
In honor of Cocaine Bear's premiere, we’re going to attempt to form a definitive list with a representative killer animal movie for every one we could find. Some animals are the subject of lots of movies. While Jaws has to be the shark movie on the list, films like The Shallows and 47 Meters Down are worthy honorable mentions, even if they can’t compete with Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. Other animals, like, uh, slugs, are the subject of fewer films, so Slugs gets the nod by default.
Additionally, before we get started on the list, we should clarify what counts as an animal. For it to truly be a killer animal movie, the beast needs to be, well, an animal. A mutated, monstrous animal doesn’t count, nor does one that’s so big that it’s a bonafide kaiju. Killer animals can be bigger, meaner, or altered in some pseudo-scientific way as long as they are still fundamentally animals. In other words, King Kong is not a killer animal movie about a gorilla (too big), and Attack of the Giant Leeches is not a killer animal about leeches despite the title (the leeches in the 1959 movie are humanoid monsters, not just leeches, but killer).
Finally, there’s no vouching for the quality of all of these movies. With perhaps the exception of Jaws and The Birds alone, both of which are great films, most killer animals flicks are glorious B-movies ... at best.
Amphibians: Frogs (1972)
Full disclosure: Despite a great poster that features a person’s hand dangling out of a frog’s mouth, frogs don’t do any killing in this eco-horror. Other animals in a southern swamp lash out against mankind, and while the legion of frogs who show up at the end do give a character a fear-based heart attack, it’s not exactly the man-eating frog experience you might be hoping for. Still, it’s a killer animal movie, and amphibians don’t have a lot of other options.
Apes: Link (1986)
With apologies to Nope, which features a terrifying chimpanzee scene that nevertheless is a subplot in Jordan Peele’s UFO sci-fi/horror film, Link is a much more traditional killer animal movie about a chimpanzee who lashes out when his masters try to have him euthanized.
Arachnids: Arachnophobia (1990)
Few movies do horror-comedy better than Arachanopbia, as most entries in the subgenre tip their hat too far in one direction or the other. This movie, though, is an early ‘90s delight that is also legitimately scary regardless of whether or not you have the titular fear of spiders.
Ants: Phase IV (1974)
Ants are a popular B-movie monster, but typically they’re of the giant variety, as in Them!, which is an absolute classic. Phase IV, notably the only movie Saul Bass ever directed, features regular-sized ants, albeit ones with an advanced hive mind and goals of world domination.
Baboons: Shakma (1990)
Believe it or not, this was a close one, as there’s another killer animal movie about baboons that nearly made the cut, 1984’s In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro. Shakma, though, a movie about a research baboon who escapes euthanization and brutally mauls a bunch of med students and their friends as they LARP in a building, is much dumber, and, for our purposes, better.
Barracuda: Barracuda (1978)
Barracuda is what you get when sharks have already been taken. The plot is bad, but the special effects and focus (or rather, lack thereof) of the barracuda make this an especially disappointing also-swam. Nevertheless, it's a killer barracuda movie, so here we are.
Bats: Nightwing (1979)
Jaws inspired a wave of killer animal movies after it was released, none of which came close to capturing a fraction of the greatness Spielberg achieved. That said, a killer colony of vampire bats with exaggerated blood-sucking capabilities is a pretty good choice of beast, and the film has grown to have a cult appreciation since it was released.
Bears: Cocaine Bear (2023)
The real-life story behind Cocaine Bear wouldn't count as a "killer animal" one. The actual bear didn't do any murders after it ate 75 pounds of cocaine that had been dumped into the Georgia woods. It just ... died. Thankfully, the 2023 film changed history and instead had the coked-out bear go on a glorious, bloody R-rated rampage.
Bees: The Swarm (1978)
Despite an all-star ensemble cast led by Michael Caine, The Swarm sometimes comes up in conversations about what “the worst movie ever made” is. Overlong, weirdly morose, and cheap-looking despite a substantial budget, The Swarm doesn’t even have the scrappy charm needed to make this bee movie a fun B-movie.
Birds: The Birds (1963)
Weirdly, there aren’t many killer animal movies about birds. That doesn’t really matter when you’ve got a ringer like Alfred Hitchcock making a movie about them. The scariest aspect of the Master of Suspense’s avian horror flick is how normal these birds are. There’s nothing “mutated” or “extra-strong” about these crows and gulls. They’re just birds who have, for totally unexplained reasons (another horrifying choice), decided to attack mankind en masse.
Crocodilians: Crawl (2019)
After sharks, alligators and crocodiles are among the most popular beasts in killer animal movies, so competition for their shared slot was fierce. Alligator and Lake Placid put up a valiant effort, but if you’re going to watch one movie about a killer gator, watch Crawl. A Florida college student goes home to get her dad out of the way of an oncoming hurricane and gets trapped in a crawlspace with a big mean alligator while the water rises. It owns. Crawl is so good.
Dogs: Cujo (1983)
Being an adaptation of a Stephen King novel certainly helps Cujo make this list, but what’s extra scary about the movie and book is that Cujo is — or was — a good boy. He was a friendly Saint Bernard who became a terrifying, shaggy force of bloody death due to a rabies infection.
Dolphins: Orca (1977)
One of the more notable (and arguably successful) Jaws rip-offs of the ‘70s, Orca follows a killer whale (which is technically a dolphin despite the name) as it attempts to get revenge on a boat captain who killed its mate and unborn calf. Many killer animal movies show some degree of sympathy — or at the very least, respect — for their featured predator, but the Orca here is essentially the straight-up hero and those humans deserve what’s comin’.
Lions: Beast (2022)
There have been some other killer lion movies like 2007’s Prey and 1996’s The Ghost and the Darkness, the latter of which is actually based upon the hunt for a pair of real-life man-eaters, the Tsavo Man-Eaters. However, “Idris Elba versus a Lion” will be taking the lion spot on this list. You understand.
Monkeys: Monkey Shines (1998)
George A. Romero took a break from zombies to shoot this cult classic film about a Capuchin service monkey who develops a dangerous and deadly attachment to the paraplegic man she’s supposed to be helping.
Piranha: Piranha 3D (2010)
Piranha II: The Spawning has the distinction of being the great James Cameron’s debut film. However, the over-the-top 2010 Piranha 3D is dumb as all hell, and we simply have to give a respectful nod to a movie where a killer fish bites off a penis and then vomits it back out at the audience in 3D.
Rodents: Willard (1971)
Willard is a character study about an awkward man who feels a closer kinship to rats than to his peers. It’s also a movie that ends with that same man screaming “I was good to you!” as the rats swarm and kill him.
Sharks: Jaws (1975)
Jaws, in addition to being a perfect movie that basically invented the summer blockbuster, is by far the most effective killer animal movie of all time. Sure, you might watch Crawl and have a healthy fear of alligators when the credits roll, but watching Jaws will make it so you’re always just a little bit scared to go into the ocean. You never know when that John Williams theme music might start playing ...
Slugs: Slugs (1988)
Slugs is a movie much more graphic and violent and disgusting than you’d expect a movie about [checks notes] slugs to be. The ‘80s were wild sometimes.
Snakes: Anaconda (1997)
Fantastic stuff. The snake sometimes looks like a big rubber toy and at other times it looks like the worst CGI you’ve ever seen. Jon Voight winks after he gets thrown up by the big snake. 10/10, no notes.
Swine: Razorback (1984)
Australia is already a real-life killer animal movie, in that every single species on that continent can and will kill you. Razorback highlights a sometimes overlooked (but very real and dangerous) animal Down Under: A razorback boar. This pig straight-up eats people.
Tigers: Burning Bright (2010)
Borrowing its name from a line in William Blake’s poem The Tyger, Burning Bright takes a formidable animal out of its normal jungle environment and plops it inside of a nice mansion where it hunts down two kids who are trapped inside. It’s a fun spin, one that at times brings to mind the scene of Jurassic Park where the raptors are in the kitchen. This animal does not belong here. It belongs in the wild, and the disconnect from where it should be and where it is makes for some excitement.
Whales: In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
This adaptation of the real-life event that inspired Moby Dick has a different vibe than most killer animal movies, especially since the entire second half of the movie is whale-free and focuses instead on the survivors resorting to cannibalism as they float in the ocean. That said, the big sperm whale is indeed a killer.
Wolves: Frozen (2010)
A great, thematically similar subgenre to the killer animal movie is the “we’re trapped” movie. The movie Fall is a great example, and 47 Meters Down, which also boasted killer sharks, is another. Frozen also blends both genres, as it’s about some skiers who are stranded on a ski lift and exposed to the elements as hungry wolves circle below.
Worms: Squirm (1976)
We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here a little bit, but Squirm gets points for turning worms into a suitably icky threat, and for special effects from the great Rick Baker.
The newest entry on this list, Cocaine Bear, tears into theaters this Friday, Feb. 24.
Looking for more creature-based horror to watch? Peacock has lots of horror movies to keep you suitably scared including Ben, Bigfoot, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and Bad Moon.