Humanity getting on your nerves? We hear you. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just hit the couch and watch a movie about nature taking its revenge on homo sapiens. But which film to watch? This list has you covered, broken down by what animal you’d most like to see dominating the dominant species on the planet.
Peter Weller is fantastic is this refreshingly low-stakes animal attack movie pitting a businessman against a single, pregnant rat nesting in his home. Weller loses his grip—and endangers his promotion at work—by taking various steps to eliminate one very clever rat, who’s determined she’s equally entitled to safe living quarters in New York City.
Directed by the always-interesting George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, Leviathan, Stallone’s Cobra), Of Unknown Origin doesn’t try to keep its creature hidden, instead depicting it almost exclusively in extreme close-up. In 1983, film critic Vincent Canby wrote a very catty and dismissive review of the movie, though he makes a great observation that the persistent shots of the rat feel more “intimate” than scary—and that’s probably true! It’s like viewing her under a microscope.
The film’s dialogue is essentially a litany of (mostly accurate!) rat facts—and so, in keeping with its theme, Of Unknown Origin’s scope might be too niche for most audiences. Stephen King is a professed fan, but the movie just hasn’t received the kind of love of others in its genre have enjoyed over the years. Often compared to a horror version of Mouse Hunt (and what’s wrong with that?), O.U.K. is a supremely entertaining as both a rat movie and a solo show for Peter Weller. If killer rats are your cup of tea, there is none finer.
- Willard (2003) The remake is a bit better than Willard (1971), but so is Ben, honestly. Add seven minutes of Batman unspooling the case and Shirley Walker’s score makes it feel like a feature-length episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
- Deadly Eyes (1982) Canadian horror icons Lesleh Donaldson and Lisa Langois take on a horde of rats with The Shining’s Scatman Crothers, from the director of Enter the Dragon.
- Rats: Night of Terror (1984) Features one of the freakiest final shots in cinema.
- Ratboy (1986) Directed by Sondra Locke!
The killer dog genre is truly an embarrassment of riches. Even the more questionable entries like 1982’s Mongrel may feature a knock-out performance from Mitch Pillegi, or in the case of Monster Dog, an entrancingly strange original song by Alice Cooper. Best-in-show, though, is probably a two-way tie between The Pack—in which pet dogs abandoned by vacationers on Seal Island, Nova Scotia, turn feral—and the incomparable Baxter.
In Baxter, a bull terrier—narrating his own story, like Wishbone—searches for an adoptive owner worthy of his possession. It’s not a straight horror film, or even a straight killer dog film (Baxter only kills his original owner) but it’s great movie about the ethics of pet ownership and features one of the all-time great TV spots:
- Dogs (1976) Secret government experiments cause neighborhood dogs to turn on their owners. Stars David McCallum as a despondent college professor, and features a truly great pre-credits sequence.
- Cujo (1983) Still waiting for a great, accurate rabies movie (though do see the first half of the BBC miniseries The Mad Death!) but the image of a snot-encrusted St. Bernard staring down Ed Lauter is golden.
- White Dog (1982) Samuel Fuller’s lost classic. Burl Ives steals the show as a trainer who hates Star Wars.
Written by John Sayles, starring Robert Forster and directed by Lewis Teague. Alligator is an unassailable entry in the genre, featuring a rogue gator flushed down a toilet that grows to monstrous proportions. Robin Riker plays the herpetologist (excellent), while Henry Silva is the big game hunter wheeled in to take down the killer reptile (YES). There’s even a massacre at a wedding. It’s perfect.
- Eaten Alive (1976) Loose biopic of killer innkeeper Joe Ball, who fed his victims to a gator behind his place of business. Neville Brand is creepy as the innkeeper, but William Finley’s performance as an unhappy family man is terrifying.
- Lake Placid (1999) Dumb, fun movie—Yancy Butler gives an incredible performance in the third, fourth, and fifth films in the franchise as a croc hunter named Reba.
- Black Water (2007) Another fine entry from the Open Water school of killer animal movies: one crocodile, two potential victims, and a tree branch keeping them apart. Solid.
- The Great Alligator (1979) Unusual Italian film starring Barbara Bach that features a discussion on the merits of dying before turning 30, and a climax where dozens of elderly people are eaten. Great soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani.
Razorback is an incredibly stylish Australian movie about a wild razorback boar, directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, the Total Eclipse of the Heart music video). Watch the clip!
There aren’t many, but a shout out to Pigs for its amazing theme song.
An enormous bear mutated by mercury begins slaughtering campers in Maine. Wildly entertaining, ecologically minded horror film with a deformed grizzly and a mutated tadpole. While it’s certainly less realistic than other killer bear movies, it’s so original and sincere, with a great-looking feral bear monster.
- Backcountry (2014) Excellent recent film about a couple who probably should never have gone camping, featuring some intense special effects make-up.
- Grizzly (1976) The classic from director William Girdler. Read up on its mostly finished but unreleased sequel, starring Laura Dern, George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, John Rhys-Davis, Louise Fletcher, and Deborah Foreman.
- The Edge (1997) David Mamet’s action film about a Kodiak bear.
Poisonous Venezuelan spider is accidentally shipped to a small town in California. Jeff Daniels takes a nail gun to it.
- Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) William Shatner vs. tarantulas!
- Ticks (1993) THIS CAST: Ami Dolenz, Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro, Peter Scolari, and Clint Howard.
- The Black Scorpion (1957) Incredible stop-motion effects.
Oliver Reed contends with a giant snake with ESP! Features music by Tangerine Dream and some incredible editing to get around the fact the director, William Fruet, was working without a full snake puppet.
- Venom (1981) Oliver Reed contends with a black mamba!
- Calamity of Snakes (1983) Wildly entertaining film from Hong Kong that unfortunately features the onscreen deaths of thousands of real, living snakes. Incredibly, most of the non-upsetting footage was re-edited into a direct-to-video U.S. release, starring Eartha Kitt, Clint Walker, Anne Lockhart, and Christopher Mitchum, called The Serpent Warriors. It’s the guilt-free way to enjoy the AMAZING kung fu boa constrictor fight.
- Ssssssss (1981) May be cheating, since it’s technically a killer Dirk Benedict movie, but it’s fantastic.
- Anaconda (1997) THIS CAST: J. Lo, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Kari Wurher, Eric Stoltz, Jon Voight, Danny Trejo, and more.
It’s Jaws. ’Nuff said.
- Orca (1977) It’s a killer whale, sure. But with heart! Ditto Tentacles (also from 1977).
- Open Water (2003) Another reason Of Unknown Origin feels so shortchanged. These Tremors-inspired one or two-hander movies—whether it’s a shark, a croc, or a tiger in the basement during a rainstorm—are just really fun.
- The Last Shark (1981) A nearly point-by-point remake of Jaws, but the mayor is eaten.
- Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) Willard with tiger sharks.
Runner-up: Island Claws
Runner-ups: The Giant Claw, Birdemic
Incredible movie about a yuppie couple who goes camping and does everything in their power to antagonize the wildlife, but are so ignorant they believe all of nature has risen up to kill them. Manages to make a scene with a manatee legitimately frightening. Perhaps the best film of the whole genre!