Since the dawn of film, animals have played a major role in movie-making. From loyal side-kick to raging beast to city-destroying monster, movies would be a lot poorer without them. In this feature we count down what, in my opinion, are the ten greatest movie animals ever!
The criteria for the list were difficult to come up with, being as it is an extremely subjective matter. Not only does inherent bias towards certain types of animal play a part but bias towards particular films too! Like all lists of this nature, the author’s own favouritism pulls all the strings so by no means is this meant to be the final word on our non-human cinematic antagonists!
Let the countdown begin!
10) The spider from Arachnophobia.
The smallest animal on the list is also one of the most deadly. Hitching a ride in the coffin of it’s first victim, this merciless arachnid starts as he means to go on. After surviving a bird attack (the bird never) he begins to terrorise a small neighbourhood and even manages to find a mate, spawning hundreds of mini-killers! The movie is named after one of the most common human fears and the star of the show certainly doesn’t disappoint. This huge tarantula provides us with both funny and genuinely frightening scenes that have had us checking the insides of our shoes and cereal boxes ever since.
9) Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro.
I think anyone who’s seen My Neighbour Totoro falls immediately in love with the title character. He’s big, soft and friendly and I think any child would love to have one of their own. He gives the children in this movie hope and friendship when they need it most and perhaps they give him the same in return. Even if you’re not a fan of animé I urge anyone to see this film especially if you have children to watch it with you.
8) Falkor The Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story.
The Neverending Story is a lot of people’s favourite childhood film. Ask those people what they remember first from the movie and most would say Falkor the Luck Dragon. This huge, white, furry dragon is hard not to love with his gentle nature and noble spirit. He relies on sheer luck to get him through most situations and this seems to make him all the more amiable.
7) The Rancor from Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi.
In movies that are perhaps more famous for epic space battles and glowy sticks, the Rancor stands out as one of the most memorable creatures across the whole franchise and takes part in one of the best sequences. Luke Skywalker very nearly becomes lunch for the Rancor in Episode VI and was pretty lucky to escape his claws. This towering 30-odd foot monster is actually an arachnid. If it was a real animal I’m pretty sure arachnophobics would be taken a lot more seriously if Arachnophobia hadn’t done the job! I always thought it was a shame we didn’t get to see more Rancor action in the new trilogy, given as we were several other sub-par creations, none of which matched up to the meanest and ugliest of them all. I think we all shared in his handler’s sorrow when he is finally defeated at the hands of the Jedi Knight.
6) Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King.
I suppose the list was bound to have at least one Disney animal so I decided I’d cheat and enter these two as one character. The Lion King gave us two of the most genuinely funny and likeable characters Disney have ever made. After being cast out of the pride, Simba bumps into this crazy Meercat and Warthog duo as he is wandering through a jungle. Once they realise he’s not going to eat them they soon become his best friends. Not only that, they become his mentors as he grows from but a tiny cub to the eventual king of the pride. Without this unlikely, yet believably heroic pair, Simba would no doubt never have returned to free the plains of Scar’s rule of tyranny. When we first meet them they haven’t a care in the world. By the end they show their true bravery and for that we’ll never forget them.
5) Babe from Babe.
He may be small and humble but he has a heart as big as anyone. And it was Babe who captured everyone else’s heart when he first appeared on screen back in 1995. Naïve but smart, Babe quickly learns about life on the farm and just how tough it can be when you’re the only piglet. Soon though he finds he has a talent. Using his charm and good manners he is able to “out-sheep-dog” the sheep-dogs and becomes the first ever sheep-pig! It is only the farmer and the viewer who has any faith in him but by the fantastic climax he is loved by all, even the disgruntled dogs. We’d seen talking live-action animals before, but this self-titled porcine adventure raised the bar and set the standard with it’s seamless blend of effects and animatronics.
4) King Kong from King Kong.
Arguably the most famous movie animal of all time. Even if you’ve never seen any of the King Kong movies you will still know exactly what he is. This giant ape has appeared in several movies but the three most people think of are the original 1933 incarnation and the 1976 and 2005 remakes. Kong’s story is one of discovery, love and ultimately tragedy. There are many giant movie animals I could have picked but Kong is my favourite for a few reasons. He has intelligence to match his size and he behaves in a much more realistic manner than most other movie monsters. Kong doesn’t just turn up one day and start wreaking havoc for the sake of it. It’s the humans who turn up. They capture him, taking him back with them, which inevitably leads to his destruction. It is his attachment to, and protection of, a terrified woman that endears us to him. By the end we mourn the events and reflect on the real monsters within ourselves.
3) Gromit from Wallace And Gromit.
It’s easy to lose count of the number of times Gromit has saved Wallace’s bacon (or should that be cheese?) and everyone’s favourite stop-motion canine is fully deserving of a place on a list of all-time great movie animals. This dog-genius plays the classic smart side-kick to a hapless hero perfectly and most fans would name him as their most-loved character by a long way. His patience with his clumsy owner knows no bounds, and we are forever feeling sorry for this poor dog who is perhaps too loyal for his own good! We all know that look to the camera, the sigh or the shrug. His slumped-shouldered, eye-rolling resignation to each situation his clumsy owner gets them both into always make us smile and his resourcefulness and bravery keep us on the edge of our seats. Gromit shows us all what it means to be “man’s best friend”.
2) The Great White Shark from Jaws. (The Shark itself is usually referred to as Jaws too).
The film that gave us the Summer blockbuster also gave is probably one of the scariest movie animals ever seen. Although somewhat unrealistic in it’s portrayal of an evil, calculating fish (not to mention suspiciously rubber-looking), Jaws still thrills us to this day.
Jaws, unlike some monsters, does not come to land and try and confront the screaming humans in their own back yard. Rather he waits for them to come to him. Whilst humans make pretty good swimmers we aren’t exactly made for the open sea. This is a fact that our favourite Great White Shark exploits perfectly. It is this sense of helplessness that brings on the fear in the viewer. Unsuspecting holiday-makers, carelessly splashing around, unaware of the impending shadowy doom that awaits them. Jaws sticks in our minds because he was smart, huge, dangerous and always hungry. Sharks are amongst the most finely evolved killers on the planet and Jaws definitely reminded us of this.
1) The Tyranosaurus Rex (or T-Rex) from Jurassic Park.
The best dinosaur film of all time is undoubtedly going to give us the best movie dino’ of all time. It was a tough decision between the T-Rex and the Velociraptors but after careful consideration I went for the big girl. I loved the ‘Raptors but didn’t choose them for two reasons: They were unrealistically portrayed as 6 foot man-eaters when in fact they were no bigger than a turkey and, secondly, they attack the T-Rex and she kicks their arses!
The T-Rex is Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park is the T-Rex (her skull is even the logo!). The film has dozens of memorable moments but nobody ever forgets the ripples on the water, the disappearing goat (and subsequent reappearing leg), the lawyer on the toilet, the car chase and the aforementioned confrontation with the ‘Raptors.
Every schoolboy’s favourite dinosaur was flawlessly brought to life on to the big screen in Spielberg’s masterpiece. With special effects that still outdo a lot of films some 16 years later, most people remember this as the first time they sat in a movie theatre and saw truly realistic computer generated creatures on the screen. This was largely down to the conservative way the technology was used as opposed to now when it is clearly much, much over-used.
Like in King Kong, we can sympathise with this majestic creature who is created in artificial circumstances – except this time it is the humans who end up out of their depth. The viewer is left in quiet awe of these prehistoric creatures and their feathered descendants.
© BRWC 2010.
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