Invisibility might have been the power you were going for as a kid if, instead of all those would-be superheroes who tied bedsheets around their necks in a mission to save the world, you wandered around completely covered by a sheet. You were onto something if that was you.
When your power is the ability to pass by unseen, it could be a get-out-of-jail-free card for everything from that dreaded employee training session to Aunt Sylvia’s third wedding. Except invisibility isn’t always a limitless adventure. It could also mean your imminent demise, as some sci-fi movie characters learned after thinking they got away with a string of savage murders until they ended up corpses themselves. Somehow they were always visible when dead.
Activate your cloaking device and press play on these 11 movies that take invisibility from fantastical to downright dangerous.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Why someone who could sneak anywhere unnoticed would want to wrap himself in mummy bandages and steampunk goggles just to be seen is beyond me, but maybe this invisibility thing is too new to a chemist who was corporeal before messing with bizarre things in test tubes. The film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel was something to see at the time because of then-shocking visual effects that included shooting Claude Rains in black velvet against a black velvet background and then mashing up that shot with another one of the actual setting to achieve that hollow suit look. While this triggered Rains’ claustrophobia, the scene where he peels away the bandages to reveal absolutely nothing, then laughs maniacally with no face, will always be nightmare fuel.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
What could possibly be more convenient than being invisible? Turning invisible right before you’re supposed to be executed for a crime you didn’t commit. It kind of helps when the brother of the original Invisible Man injects you with an invisibility serum, which saves your life for a while until you needs to be saved again after being chased and gunned down by the actual murderer. The blood transfusion you’ll need after that will mysteriously make you reappear, though how the doctor finds the vein in the first place is still unknown. That serum is obviously effective. Vincent Price appears as himself for one entire minute in this movie and for the other 80 as a disembodied voice.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
At first, this movie sounds like the fantasy of anyone who hates their job. When hungover stock analyst (no offense to all the stock analysts out there) Nick creeps out of an interminable shareholders’ meeting to take a nap, a lab tech causes a computer meltdown when his coffee sloshes all over the keyboard. Nick only wakes up after everyone else has been evacuated and a strange explosion that isn’t really an explosion but sounds like it is—and finds that he and most of the building are now invisible. Now he’s being looked at as a scientific test subject and even a potential CIA assassin. So if invisibility gets you out of one undesirable job, it could get you into something even worse.
Admit it—you must have had an invisible friend at some point before you knew it wasn’t socially acceptable. Except yours probably wasn’t a 6-foot-three-and-a-half-inch rabbit that could defy time and space and still drink cocktails at the bar like anyone else. Harvey isn’t even an ordinary mutant rabbit. He’s a pooka, a mischievous creature from Celtic mythology that is a also a shapeshifter, so he doesn’t need to stay in the form of the Easter Bunny but somehow wants to. It’s almost inevitable that the sanatorium is going to be after you once they find out your best friend is a mythical creature that no one can see, until the head psychiatrist actually meets Harvey and takes off on a time-travel vacation.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Millard Nullings (so appropriately named) has everything except looks. Literally. He may never be seen because he was born invisible, but that only means he can wander around naked whenever he wants and no one will have any idea until they see his pants hung on the back of chair. When he eats, food just appears to disappear, and when he moves things, it seems like some telepathic phenomenon happened. Best poltergeist costume ever. This works to his advantage in the showdown on the boardwalk when he can pelt the Hollows with popcorn and cotton candy without getting noticed. He’s probably better off nude. When Millard actually wears clothes, he only looks like an empty suit.
The Astral Factor (1976)
This movie is so egregiously bad you can’t help but get sucked in to the New-Agey vibe of a convicted strangler whose Faustian studies in the paranormal turned him into an invisible mastermind who can seek vengeance through have out-of-body experiences. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with the murder spree he then sets out on, except the fact that a killer is that much harder to handcuff when there is no way to detect him. The Astral Factor was bizarrely awful enough to be considered unreleasable until it disappeared only to hit theaters again in 1984 as The Invisible Strangler. Not like that made any difference in its exalted status as one of the worst sci-fi flicks of all time.
The Lord of the Rings (2001)
Of course a shiny gold ring of power can make you invisible the moment you slip it on your finger—that’s just what rings of power do—but this is where it gets creepy. You can’t expect a magical object created by the Dark Lord not to have fine print attached, though in this case it’s the Dark Speech of Mordor inscribed on the band. Even if you’re so embarrassed or terrified you’d rather vanish, put it on and the only reason you seem invisible is because you enter a shadow world where you can see the decomposed faces of the Nazgul behind their masks and still get stabbed by a Morgul blade just as easily as if you appeared corporeal to anyone else. That thing is better off as Gollum’s precious.
Because even if it’s invisible, if it bleeds glowing green ooze visible to the naked eye, you can kill it. The jungle is crawling with enough clawed and fanged things to need one more from another planet, especially when that extraterrestrial species can sense your body heat and is technologically advanced enough to create a cloaking device so you can’t see it as it savagely springs up on you. It can literally gauge your fear with its built-in sensors. Wen its cloaking device glitches, the face full of teeth it reveals will make you wish it were still invisible. Vaporizing this thing isn’t exactly easy when you’re paralyzed with fear. Of course, even the Predator is still no match for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Hollow Man (2000)
From director Paul Verhoeven, who was behind the fast-blasting action in Robocop and Starship Troopers, comes this reimagining of The Invisible Man that exposes the eerie hypothetical concept of how far you would push the limits of law, ethics and even humanity if you didn’t have to look at your face in the mirror. The only thing more terrifying than turning around to face a killer in an expressionless mask (hello, Jason and Michael Myers) is looking through those eyeholes and unmasking absolutely nothing behind them until nothing also brings a knife charging towards your carotid artery. That latex mask might possibly be even scarier than those other two iconic movie slashers who always hide their faces, and it’s a wonder that it never caught on at Halloween.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
What if your subconscious could create a monster which is that much more dangerous because the blasted thing is invisible (unless you bombard it with laser fire)? Morbius thinks these beasts into being, though at least he can also vaporize them by getting them out of his head. The question is, do monsters emerge from the id or is the id a monster in itself spewing out the horrific visions in the eldritch depths of the human brain? At least animators have demystified how they got partial visibility on the id monster. Each frame of the sequence was sketched in black and white, then photographed in high contrast so the thing could flash its most prominent (and most menacing) features, teeth included.
Harry Potter and…everything (2001-2011)
If you weren’t born invisible or encountered something really sci-fi that made you undetectable to the human eye, then the next best thing is a cloak that can make you disappear, especially when you’re skulking around in the forbidden section of the library. Or the Forbidden Forest. Or eavesdropping on Snape, who would otherwise be sure to throw you in his Potions cauldron if he caught sight of an interloper in the shadows. IT comes in especially handy when you’re surrounded by Death Eaters who could Avada Kedavra you in half a second if they knew there was a human presence under that thing. Just be careful not to leave any appendages sticking out, because then arms and legs will appear to be floating in thin air. Uncover just your head and you’ll look decapitated.