The Plot Archetypes of Giant Monster Movies

Stephen King, in his book Danse Macabre, wrote that Horror Fiction could be divided up into four archetypes: The Vampire, the Monster (as in Frankenstein’s), the Werewolf, and the Ghost. It’s an interesting idea; one that’s I’ve given a bit of thought to over the years. At one point I even considered using something like it for quick and easy movie reviews.

And then sanity returned to me. I mean, capsule reviews are one thing, but there is such a thing as taking an idea to extremes.

However, I thought it might make an interesting little essay or two for the Blog. So, without further ado, and with some apologies to Mr. King for “borrowing” the idea (as if he’ll ever read this), the archetype plots of Giant Monster Movies:

  • The Beast – Due to science run amok, an ancient creature, usually a dinosaur, has been disturbed and lashes out at the world. Named after The Beast from 200,000 Fathoms, there are a whole slew of movies based on this theme, including Gojia/Godzilla and Sora no daikaijû Radon/Rodan

  • The Invader – A monster journeys from another world to threaten the Earth. The monster is either directed by aliens (Kronos), comes of its own accord (The Giant Claw), or is brought here accidentally (The Giant Spider Invasion, The X from Outer Space).

  • The Lost – A lost world or a distant planet is discovered to be teeming with unique life forms. One such life form is brought back to civilization, where it runs amok. Movies with this plot, to one degree or another, include The Lost World, King Kong, and 20 Million Miles to Earth.

  • Monster Mash – These movies (generally sequels to Kaijû movies) are more or less excuses to see two monsters fighting each other. The Monsters themselves might have various origins (from Lost to Beast, and so on.)

  • The Mother – Something precious has been stolen from a monster and the monster comes to take it back. Examples of this archetype include Mosura/Mothra, Gorgo, and Daikyojû Gappa/Gappa the Triphibian Monster.

    Unlike the other Monsters, Mother tends to win by the end of the film.

  • Them Intended – Normal creatures (and sometimes people) are altered by Science for purposes either benign or terrible. They become monster that threaten the world. Examples of this archetype include Tarantula, Konga, and Python.

  • Them Unintended – Normal creatures (and sometimes people) are altered by nuclear tests or other such carelessness and become terrible monsters. Them is the best example of this plot. Other films include Beginning of the End and The Amazing Colossal Man. (And, if one wanted to stretch the concept a wee bit (and why not?), one could also include The Incredible Shrinking Man.)


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