Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
In the past 25 years, we at SYFY have seen enough teeth, tentacles, venom, claws, blasts of atomic breath, and unnamed alien appendages to take over spaceships and pirate ships and major metro areas and the entire planet—if not multiple planets. If not the entire universe.
Get on your armor and remember your weapons and anti-venom as you dare navigate this list of the 25 most terrifying monsters and get ready to party. Just don’t ask Godzilla to blow out the candles.
Big Daddies - BioShock
Imagine a lab-manufactured humanoid whose skin and organs have been recycled from corpses and grafted into a gruesome diving suit that functions as their exoskeleton. Horrified yet? The mad scientist who brought these ultimate bio-weapons into being would have been gruesomely pleased to see how they terrorized players trying to maneuver through the submerged city of the classic 2007 game Bioshock — and how their iconic image spawned some killer cosplay. I wouldn’t want one of these things to come and give me lollies even if I was a Little Sister.
Brain Worms - Star Wars: The Clone Wars
You’d rather have worms—any kind of worms—than a brain worm. This parasitic alien life-form will slither into your body and control you as if it has the remote. It’s one thing besides Vader that reminds us the universe of Star Wars that reaches throughout the movie, TV series, comics, and books can be seriously scary even from far, far away. Brain worms can also control hordes of zombies that will dismantle your forces and then infect them all to create even more half-sentient zom-soldiers. At least you can freeze these things to death.
The Cloverfield Monster - Cloverfield
It came from the deep and clawed its way into the pantheon of epic movie monsters almost as quickly as it crushed Manhattan. Not bad for something unrelated to any other big-screen beast that was so scary it managed to imprint itself into people’s nightmares. Those ridiculously long legs that appear bizarrely reptilian and insectile didn’t hurt. You know something is beyond threatening when the government decides to sacrifice New York for the sake of destroying it. As if that isn’t barbaric enough, it has parasites whose bite can make you explode.
The Crones - Witcher III
Do not let their ragged (or their occasionally nice) appearance fool you. As evil as they are powerful, the three crones of Crookback Bog are a force to be reckoned with. All of the monsters that Gerald of Rivia faces are tough, but facing them is his job. These three, however, test him (and the player) both psychologically as well as physically. There is no happy ending with them, no matter what choice you make. You fight them, you reason with them, you try to deal with them, it doesn’t matter— somebody loses in some way. Never have we needed revenge against three video game monsters more than we have here.
Cronos - God of War 3
What has already become known as one of the goriest game franchises ever only got gorier with a character monstrous enough to swallow his own children after a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him. To add to God of War’s notorious ultraviolence, the Titan totally gets what’s coming to him when one regurgitated son steals his soul and the other chains a temple to his back and sends him to wander the Desert of Lost Souls. Just imagine what (or who) he’ll splatter onscreen if the movie rumors that have been rumbling for years ever come to life.
Godzilla - Godzilla
He breathes massive blasts of atomic fire. He tramples skyscrapers like soda cans. He’s what happens when a dinosaur emerges from a bath of nuclear waste that made him more terrifying than even T-rex. Godzilla has been the king of kaiju since he first terrified theatergoers in the era of nuclear war paranoia that was the ‘50s, but he got a fresh coat of CG paint in Gareth Edwards' 2014 expanded-universe-launching blockbuster.
Headcrabs - Half-Life
The 2004 game that became an insta-classic for its eerily immersive experience and has even been called the “greatest game of all time” also exposed players to one of the creepiest parasites of Black Mesa and all time. Things that jump on your head and mind-control you aren’t the worst it gets. You’re way better off having one of those gaping mouths latching onto your skull than the Poison species turning you into a Poison Zombie. Even freakier is that these things are edible, but only Vortigaunts and Bullsquids really have an appetite for them.
Indominus Rex - Jurassic World
As if resurrecting dinosaurs with the potential to shred people wasn’t enough in Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1993 sci-fi film Jurassic Park, fast-forward to 2015 and you’ll actually be convinced there is something scarier than T-Rex. Dr. Wu’s Faustian obsession with DNA mixing levels up the franchise in its fourth freakish installment, when he doesn’t just raise the dead but genetically engineers a lethal hybrid of the voracious carnivore with other prehistoric lizards that have a taste for raw flesh, creating a monster dino with the smarts to outwit even Chris Pratt. Yes, that smart.
Knifehead - Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro can’t possibly go wrong with a creature feature, especially when those creatures get supersized to kaiju. Knifehead’s knife head is so sharp it can slice through even the Jaeger armor that snagged it so many special effects awards and nominations. Kind of like a goblin shark on legs, he’s even more massive than Yamarashi. Not even a Plasmacaster can destroy this killer kaiju so easily. You only think that thing floating in the water is a corpse until it re-emerges from the depths and nearly disembowels your Jaeger until you blast it in the face.
Kraken - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
For a film series that was wildly popular when human pirates were the biggest monsters on the Black Pearl, this tentacled leviathan took the movie-fication of the classic Disney ride to a whole new sea level, savvy? The Kraken only looks like the massive squid of legend until you realize it has so many concentric circles of dagger teeth you have no idea what it is anymore. Those tentacles can tear apart ships faster than ripping off a candy wrapper. The last person you ever want to be is Jack Sparrow as it drags him down to the unfathomable depths.
Marvel Zombies - Marvel Comics
Because zombies just aren’t nightmarish enough, there have to be zombies that can actually zombify superheroes and then go cannibal-feasting on other zombified superheroes. What is so shocking about these undead versus the usual zombie hordes is that they take the Marvel superheroes that have been icons for legions of fans and inject them with every evil they fought as humans. Hulk may usually smash to save people, but now he’s biting their heads off. You also don’t want to mess with walking corpses wielding a supergun loaded with cosmic powers.
Parallax - DC Comics
What’s worse than a parasite? How about a demonic alien parasite that embodies your worst fears and may or may not inflict enough paranoia to make entire civilizations wipe themselves out? Like, it can actually push you to murder (and it will, as it did to Green Lantern Hal Jordan), but its sickening shade of vomit-yellow should be enough to drive you away before that happens. Parallax has not only managed to stay alive through Green Lantern comics for years, but it’s persisted enough for DC to unleash it into film and video game extensions of the series.
What do you get when you cross the most voracious fish in the world with the hugest snake in the world? You get a beast slithering out of the jungle whenever it senses blood, and humans are on the menu. SYFY is the master of a certain breed of TV movie monsters (you already know that by now), so it’s no surprise that a virtual DNA experiment bred two of your worst fears into one monstrous hybrid. The bite of this thing might make you rethink your next tropical vacation, especially if you’re headed for Hawaii. Whatever you do, do not steal its eggs.
Pyramid Head - Silent Hill
He might have a human body (at least, a body of human flesh crudely Frankensteined together), but even if Pyramid Head has no shred of humanity left, he’s become the bloodstained poster child for the Silent Hill franchise and one of the most iconic video game villains ever. You don’t need to read the label to know which game that is if that faceless face is staring back at you. Game and movie cosplay versions of him have infested every con I’ve ever been to, but that doesn’t downplay the fear factor. You do not want that much rusted metal head-butting you.
Sadu-Hem - Hellboy
When Rasputin unearths something from the Antarctic wastes, don’t stick around to see what it is, because it will eat you. When comic luminary Mike Mignola creates a monster in a series in which the hero is already half demon, expect nothing less than a Cthuloid that is all writhing tentacles and vicious claws, with an unearthly head of eyes and feelers that probably won’t let you sleep for a month. This gelatinous mass of evil can be incinerated—just be sure you burn all of him.
Sharktopus is what happens when you combine the genes of Jaws and Cthulhu in a petri dish. Sort of. While it doesn’t actually have Lovecraftian DNA, this failed military science experiment was successful for SYFY in its merging the freakiest aspects of the most famous shark attack movie of all time and a many-tentacled mythos to create a leviathan that’s even more fearsome than the Kraken. It’s exactly what it sounds like—half carnivorous fish, half eight-legged cephalopod with extra teeth and sharp tentacles. At least you can blow it up.
The Silence - Doctor Who
They will make you confess all your sins without ever knowing you’ve done it, but that’s not the worst thing about the Silence of Doctor Who, which has had some of the scariest aliens ever to crawl through all of time and space. Neither are those mouthless faces with gaping eye sockets (hard as that may be to believe). Most terrifying is that they can change the course of time and warp it to their will—like, if they want you already dead. They seem to have accomplished their mission by becoming ingrained enough in the classic series to be part of its universe forever.
The Witch - Left 4 Dead 2
Usually, you shine a flashlight in a monster’s face to frighten it away. While the Witch will lunge at you if her darkness is disturbed, special infected like her were powerful enough to level up the Left 4 Dead universe in 2009 with new strategies that made players much more likely to think because they were that much more likely to die. Your instinct may usually tell you to kill monsters, but any threat to the Witch will trigger this upgraded banshee to slash you to shreds, so switch off the flashlight and try to slink back into the shadows.
The Mayor - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Back when Buffy slayed prime-time TV, you came to expect vampires to look like vampires and demons to look like demons (most of the baddies on the show had hideously wrinkled faces from being thousands of years old). What makes this one especially scary is how obvious he isn’t. You would never think the deceptively squeaky-clean Mayor of Sunnydale is a sorcerer hell-bent on morphing into a purebred demonic entity. The shock from seeing a guy in a suit transform into this unspeakable thing is what really burns him into your memory.
The Pale Man - Pan’s Labyrinth
We've seen plenty of disturbing horror images over our years at the movies, but we'd never seen anything like the scene that unfolded when this guy picked his eyeballs up off a platter, which is all the more proof that Guillermo del Toro can master any monstrosity. Disturbing visions of the Pale Man echoed in the nightmares of moviegoers for weeks. You don’t easily forget something that can only see by sticking its eyes on the insides of his hands, and then putting his hands to his deformed Voldemort face so he can hunt down dinner. He’s only supposed crave children, but adults might want to steer clear as well.
The Weeping Angels - Doctor Who
Don’t blink. Because if you do, what looked like an innocuous graveyard statue half a second ago may kill you or send you to an unknown dimension. It’s no wonder that so many Whovians may stand unusually still in the presence of an inanimate angel, even it is made of nothing more than marble, because Weeping Angels are not stone but quantum-locked humanoids that can send you into some chasm of time just by touching you. They’ve become so iconic that you know all those “don’t blink” stickers around weren’t just for the recent solar eclipse.
Titans - Attack on Titan
Almost as huge as the following of smash sci-fi manga and anime series Attack on Titan, whose enormous fandom trampled previous chart-topper One Piece in 2014, are these disproportionate humanoids who eat humans for breakfast (and every other meal). The quasi-cannibalism should be enough to make you run, but just in case it isn’t, the only reason they exist is to devour homo sapiens. You may or may not get away if you shoot one, because you won’t know which ones are immune to pain—or can regenerate, even if decapitated.
Violator - Spawn
Spawn is so insanely popular it’s spawned movies, fan films, video games, and even a metal album, so of course you will bow in fear to the overlord that spawned every iteration of Spawn. The Violator is already creepy enough as his alter ego The Clown (who kind of looks like John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo the Clown persona), but his demonic form is just beyond. He has every murderous appendage you could possibly imagine, and you can’t kill him because he always gets reanimated. It’s no surprise that this is who is in charge of mentoring new Hellspawn.
Uruk-Hai - The Lord of the Rings
These orcs on steroids were birthed from the bowels of the earth by Saruman. Before that, they and the other agents of Sauron emerged from the epic imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien as one of many powerful metaphors for the destruction wrought by war and industrialism. Their impact has endured to the point that you can actually take college courses on Tolkien. Like machines on an assembly line, they never stop self-replicating and need no incubation. Meaning, if tens of thousands get slaughtered, another ten thousand can trample your elf-dwarf-hobbit-wizard-human army tomorrow.
Zunisha - One Piece
Zunisha is one mammoth elephant—and something huge enough to carry an island on it back is kind of difficult to forget. So is the best-selling manga series of all time that soon turned into an anime and has flooded the high seas with 13 feature films and 11 TV specials since it set sail in 1997, with no signs of sinking yet. Zunisha is even more ancient than that. While it isn’t out to slaughter everything in sight, try to attack it and one whack of its gargantuan trunk will sink your entire fleet of pirate ships.
Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which terrifying monsters from the last 25 years you’d put on your list!