The 8 Most Frightening Animals in Film History

Not all animals are cute and cuddly, and these movie beasts are sure to put a little spring in your step (as you run in the opposite direction!). Take a look at the eight most terrifying movie animals of all time.

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St. Bernard dog
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Frightening Movie Animals: Dogs

Everybody loves dogs. Cujo changed that. For the record, St. Bernards are lovable, friendly, shaggy dogs. Weighing in at upwards of 200 pounds, they are, however, very large. Perhaps this is where author Stephen King came up with the idea for his 1981 novel, Cujo. Now synonymous with vicious dogs the world over, Cujo’s horrifying tale is one audiences have yet to forget. Bit by a rabid bat, Cujo soon succumbs to rabies, and proceeds on a murderous rampage, even turning against his owners. It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare: their loyal pup turning violent and uncontrollable, and it’s made all the more frightening by the fact that Cujo’s affliction is a real virus that kills an estimated 55,000 people annually.

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Two chimpanzees
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Frightening Movie Animals: Apes

Apes aren’t typically scary creatures, but Planet of the Apes made them the most horrific animals in cinema history. Think about it. As the sympathetic lead of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (a chimpanzee) represents the most frightening of possibilities: an animal smart enough to outwit his masters, with a desire to turn the tables on humanity. Born in a testing lab, and gifted through science with extraordinary intelligence, Caesar quickly becomes disillusioned with mankind. But it’s not until Caesar is thrown into an animal control facility and brutalized by a cruel zookeeper that he turns against humans, and unleashes an army of super-smart primates. While the story is outlandish, the idea is truly terrifying: what if animals were smart enough to realize how mankind treats them, and organize a revolt?

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Yellow anaconda
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Frightening Movie Animals: Snakes

While they have long been wrongly maligned, hunted and persecuted, snakes are still creepy as heck. Most humans have an innate fear of snakes, and that’s where 1997’s Anaconda hits terror pay-dirt. Based on real-life Green Anacondas, these snakes are the heaviest in the world, and grow to upwards of 40-feet in length. While they almost never bother humans, Anaconda took some liberties, namely in that these nasty snakes can eat full-grown men. Sure, the film is a thinly disguised Jaws knockoff, but man does Jon Voight ever get it! Sadly, Jennifer Lopez does not.

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Black crow
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Frightening Movie Animals: Birds

While snakes, sharks and rabid dogs are guaranteed to terrify the average person, birds are not. Leave it to Alfred Hitchcock to take a relatively passive animal and turn it into our worst nightmare. Sure, the concept seems fairly tame now, but in 1963, The Birds was horrifying. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects, and produced real-looking birds capable of pecking out eyes and blowing up a gas station. As ridiculous as that sounds, audiences flocked to The Birds, and it easily earns its place as one of the most terrifying animals gone-bad films of all time.

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Close-up of tarantula
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Frightening Movie Animals: Spiders

Ranking right beside snakes on the all-time creepy crawly list is spiders. And which big-screen spider takes the cake? Aragog, whose appearance in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets still leaves some arachnophobes sleeping with one eye open. What makes Aragog so creepy? Maybe the fact that he is a talking, elephant-sized tarantula with a taste for human flesh. Making matters worse, Aragog has an army of massive sons and daughters just waiting to dine on Harry and Ron.

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Shark underwater
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Frightening Movie Animals: Sharks

Dun-Dun. Dun-Dun. The biggest, baddest movie animal has got to be sharks. Chances are you’ve seen the most terrifying shark movie of all-time, Jaws, and even if you haven’t, you know the distinct, alternating E and F notes that make up Jaws’ musical score. Does Jaws deserve the bad rap? Really now, the poor guy is just a big fish. A big, 25-foot fish with rows of razor-sharp teeth, a desire to munch on teens. Heck, to this day swimmers still think twice about taking a dip in the ocean because of Jaws. What you might not know is that Jaws is based on a true-story. In 1916 five shark attacks were reported along the New Jersey coast, causing widespread panic. Much like Jaws, the attacks led locals to hunt the shark down and close beaches. Would a series of shark attacks along Jersey Shore cause panic today, or celebration? Would MTV make a reality show about it?

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Grizzly bear
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Frightening Movie Animals: Bears

Word to the wise for all would-be campers: don’t watch 1996’s The Edge. Now, if your plane crashed in the Alaskan wilderness, your main concerns would probably be keeping warm and finding shelter until help arrived. If you’re Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins, however, your number one concern is not being eaten by a giant, relentless Kodiak bear. The Edge brings bears to the forefront of every camper’s worst nightmare, and casts Bart the Bear as the film’s unforgettable man-eating pursuer. Bart stood a massive 9-feet-6-inches tall, and weighed 1,500 pounds, yet somehow moved like a cheetah. There is something truly terrifying about an animal that can not only tower over you, but easily outrun you as well.

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Male lion
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Frightening Movie Animals: Lions

A hidden-gem of terrifying-animal goodness, 1996’s The Ghost and the Darkness casts Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas as two frontiersmen out to stop a pack of man-eating lions in Kenya. Like many great scary films, The Ghost and the Darkness is actually based on a true story. In 1898, a stunning series of lion attacks in Kenya left an estimated 130 rail workers dead over the course of a year. The lions would attack at night, dragging the workers from their tents and devouring them alive. After finally being shot and killed, the man-eating lions measured over 9-feet in length. Meow!

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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