David J. Skal, author of The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror (1997), has made the observation that the history of horror entertainment closely parallels the great social traumas of the twentieth century.

Monsters became popular at the box office during World War II (1939–45), particularly during the second half of the conflict, and Hollywood film studios responded to the demand by creating horror tales featuring vampires, werewolves, and mummies. In 1944 alone, 21 horror films were released.

After the war ended in 1945, audiences no longer were attracted to such classic monsters. Science fiction tales of UFOs and aliens replaced Earth-based supernatural monstrosities.

During the Vietnam conflict, monsters and madmen returned with a vengeance, and a remarkable 54 horror films were released in 1972. Then, after the United States Armed Forces pulled out of Vietnam, the movie monsters retreated again. In 1975, only 17 horror films were released by major studios.

In 2001, the Media Psychology Lab at California State in Los Angeles polled people across the United States from ages 6 to 90 in all ethnic groups to determine which movie monsters ranked as the favorites. According to the survey, the most frightening motion picture of all time for all groups was The Exorcist (1973). The favorite top ten monsters were the following:

  1. Dracula, the aristocratic vampire, in the 1931 version, Dracula, with Bela Lugosi as the blood-sucking count.
  2. Freddy Krueger, the slayer of teenagers with the razor-sharp metal talons on his fingers, from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
  3. The Frankenstein monster, the original version with Boris Karloff, Frankenstein (1931).
  4. Godzilla, the prehistoric giant reptile that spews radioactive rays and stomps cities to rubble, from the original Japanese film, Godzilla of the Monsters (1954).
  5. King Kong, the giant ape, from the original King Kong (1933).
  6. Chucky, the possessed, murderous doll, from Child's Play (1988).
  7. Michael Myers, the masked murderer, who is described in the film Halloween (1978).
  8. Hannibal Lecter, the erudite, cannibalistic serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  9. Jason, the unstoppable monster in the hockey mask, from Friday the 13th (1980).
  10. The Alien, the multi-jawed, many-fanged creature in Alien (1979).


Seiler, Andy. "Oh, the Horror! Oh, Boy!" USA Today, October 25, 2001. [Online]

Skal, David J. The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. New York: Boulevard, 1997.

Stanley, John. Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide. New York: Boulevard, 1997.

Theokas, Christopher. "Bela's Dracula Still Has Bite." USA Today, October 31, 2001. [Online]

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