Humans have always been fascinated by the ocean ... After all, even today we’re not entirely certain what lies beneath the waters that cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. So it’s no wonder that storytellers throughout history—from the most ancient mythologies to modern monster movies—have populated those dark waters with all sorts of giant ocean monsters, ready to wreak havoc on the surface world at a moment’s provocation. Below are just a few of our favorite sea monsters, from the mists of prehistory to the silver screen of the last few decades. What are some of your favorites?
It wouldn’t be a proper sea monster list without touching on at least a few of the squamous entities that dwell beneath the waves in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu is probably the Old Gent’s most famous creation, described by Lovecraft himself as resembling “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.” According to Lovecraft’s work, Cthulhu “waits dreaming” in his house in the sunken city of R’lyeh, but when he wakes up, there’ll be trouble.
While Cthulhu may be Lovecraft’s best-known sea monster, he is by no means the only one. An actual deity from ancient times, Dagon is not only mentioned in some of Lovecraft’s most famous stories—the “Esoteric Order of Dagon” plays a major role in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”—but also has a story of his own named after him and lent his name to Stuart Gordon’s 2001 Lovecraftian film, despite that movie sharing more in common with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” than it does with Lovecraft’s story “Dagon.”
Beginning in 1954, Toho created a sort of cottage industry releasing films starring their home-grown giant radioactive monster, Godzilla. Over the years, Godzilla went up against many threats, several of which came out of the ocean. Heck, Godzilla himself is technically a sea monster. But for a sea monster list, why not go with the creature that lent its name to the 1966 film Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster.
In the movie, Ebirah is a giant crustacean controlled by an evil organization known as Red Bamboo. Ebirah later reappears (thanks to the magic of stock footage) in All Monsters Attack and then later in Godzilla: Final Wars. Ebirah is superficially similar to the monster Ganimes, a mutated stone crab that appears in the 1970 film Yog Monster from Space (aka Space Amoeba).
In the 50s and 60s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby populated the pages of comic books with a lot more than just some of their greatest super heroes—they also filled them with lots of big, lumpy monsters, many of whom came out of the sea. Few of these sea-faring brutes, however, are as memorable as Giganto, actually the name of a whole race of giant whales with arms and legs who helped the Atlanteans attack the surface world, beginning in Fantastic Four #4, published in May of 1962.
The word comes to us from Norwegian, where it means an “unhealthy or twisted animal,” but it entered the popular lexicon when it was borrowed for one of the main antagonist monsters in Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans. While Harryhausen’s Kraken was a humanoid sea monster with tentacle-like arms and a fishy tail, the mythological Kraken more closely resembles a giant squid. The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie featured a more mythologically-accurate depiction of the Kraken, while the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans boasted a critter that was something of a mixture of the two, also incorporating some crab-like elements.
There are loads of giant (and not-so-giant) sea monsters populating the movies, from the giant octopus of It Came from Beneath the Sea to more recent creatures like those in, say, Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus. But one of my favorites is the thing that attacks the Argonautica in Stephen Sommers’ 1998 Aliens-like, Deep Rising. While one of the characters within the movie hypothesizes that the creature is an evolution of a type of Cambrian worm known as an Ottoia, the end result is something more closely resembling the mythical Kraken, mentioned above.
Scylla & Charybdis
Something of a matched set, Scylla and Charybdis also come to us from Greek mythology, specifically the Odyssey. Two monsters dwelling on either side of the Strait of Messina, Scylla represented the dangers of the rocky shore, and was depicted in a variety of ways, including as a woman with a dragon-like tail and dog heads sprouting from her body, while Charybdis represented a deadly whirlpool. The two monsters have given us an idiom that dates to this very day, with “between Scylla and Charybdis” meaning about the same thing as “between a rock and a hard place.”
Famed for luring unwary sailors to smash their ships upon the rocks, the sirens are known for their lovely and enchanting songs, with which their names have become virtually synonymous. In Greek mythology, the sirens plagued both Jason and the Argonauts and Odysseus on their respective voyages. Most depictions of the sirens show them as part-woman, part-bird, though some more recent variants have taken a looser approach, as in the 2003 animated adventure Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, in which the sirens are portrayed as a sort of living water taking on humanoid form.
Featured photo: Alchetron