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The Universal Monsters (1931 - 1956)

Over the course of two decades (though mostly in the 30s and 40s) Universal Studios permanently affixed their visions of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man and an original creation called The Gill Man to the popular culture. From institutionalizing the importance of professional makeup effects artists to inventing most of the "rules" we now associate with vampires and werewolves, the impact is almost beyond measure.

The Universal library is pretty damn vast, but the key entries would probably be Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man (the first franchise crossover!), House of Frankenstein and Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Godzilla, aka Gojira (1954 - Present)

What began as a Japanese reworking of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (another must-see) eventually became a chilling parable of Japan's suffering in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and ultimately became the most enduringly popular monster movie franchise of all time. For decades, the original was only available in a heavily-edited U.S. version with actor Raymond Burr inserted and anti-nuke sentiment muted, but now the uncut version is widely available. As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as too much Godzilla, but the essentials of the original run would be the '54 original, Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, and Godzilla vs. Mothra.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

The high-minded inquisitiveness of "big idea" sci-fi and the gee-whiz robots and rockets of "pulp" sci-fi join forces, thankfully not for the last time, in a space-age retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest. A team of astronauts (including a pre-comedy Leslie Nielsen!) explore a strange planet where the leftover machines of a doomed alien civilization have allowed a human scientist to expand his intelligence to superhuman levels, but may also have unleashed an unstoppable, invisible monster born of his own Id that threatens to destroy them all. The film also gave us Robby, cinema's first robot movie star.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956)

Here begins the age (if not the genre) of paranoid sci-fi. A doctor discovers that his fellow townspeople are being replaced with sinister duplicates hatching from alien pods. No one will believe him, and almost anyone could be one of them. Officially remade four more times (and counting) and ripped off even more often than that.

The Films of Ray Harryhausen (1955 - 1981)

Stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen was the first superstar special effects technician, whose work was so distinctive it was a reason to see the movie in and of itself. He was responsible for some of the best-ever renderings of flying saucers (Earth vs. The Flying Saucers), giant monsters (20 Million Miles to Earth), Greek mythology (Jason & The Argonauts - pictured), and even The Arabian Nights (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).

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