While doing some cursory research for this article, I started to see a trend.
According to all available records on this niche subject, giant spider movies didn’t really have their heyday until the start of the 21st century.
That came as a surprise because I was about 8 years old at the start of the 21st century. And to my mind, giant spiders were always a kind of cultural obsession.
I assumed that stories about enormous monster spiders had been around for centuries, and that there had been dozens of movies made on the subject.
The idea was fascinating to me, and I spent a little too much time imagining my hometown being overrun by spiders the size of buildings. (Side note: one of the movies below conjures this exact image very very very well.)
But I was wrong, to put it mildly. Yeah yeah yeah, giant spiders show up in folk tales here and there, usually in countries that already had some pretty big spiders to begin with.
And as far as movies go, there were really only a couple classic horror movies with oversized arachnids.
So anyway, while this giant spider movies list is not comprehensive, it does highlight some of the most famous that fit well into the genre.
Every one of them does a great job of capturing the unique fear that comes with seeing any spider, of any size, in the flesh.
Tarantula – 1955
Not gonna say a whole lot about this one. It’s kinda the very first giant spider movie. It’s from the same era as the original version of The Fly, which should mean something to fans of very old, very bad B-horror movies.
A bad/mad scientist accidentally makes a tarantula very large. And uh, then the tarantula tries his best to attack a town, and he does it very slowly, mostly on a miniature set or in some trick photography that makes it look like he’s climbing over some mountains.
It’s still minorly scary, but for the most part it served as the inspiration for many of the other giant spiders on this list.
We good? Cool, I’ll move on.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – 2003
The Return of the King was the only portion of the Lord of the Rings series that I read before the Peter Jackson adaptation was released.
And that meant, for the most part, that I would be disappointed to find out how much of the book had to be left out of the movie completely.
But there was one character who just had to make an appearance: our friend Shelob, the giant spider lady who nearly does Frodo in before he can throw the evil jewelry into the special fire.
In fact, when I saw the movie in the theater, I spend much of the running time just waiting for Shelob to show up. And when she did, she didn’t disappoint.
Jackson’s huge crew of CGI artists did a pretty wonderful job making this infamous spider lady look just as greasy and intimidating as possible.
Her movements modeled those of a real-life spider so well, and the sparse lighting did plenty to put the audience in a state of general terror.
Even the literal army of ghosts failed to have the same basic effect of horror and intrigue.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 2002
This is a great movie. It’s nowhere near the best Harry Potter movie but we can have that conversation some other time.
It’s the movie that made the franchise a real thing, one that had real acting and cool props and impressive CG effects.
Among the latter we had Aragog, former pet spider of Hagrid, the large man who had a thing for non-human creatures.
Once again, it took a big chunk of the movie to even get to the giant spider scene, but it was well worth the weight.
What made the scene even more frightening for a young me was the fact that Harry and Ron were not exactly action heroes at this point in the series.
They were just kids scared out of their minds, with no idea what to do next.
So much so in fact that it took a good old deus ex machina to get them out of that very sticky (pun very much intended) situation.
Eight Legged Freaks – 2002
When I was just a young boy I saw a commercial for this movie and thought it was a legitimate horror movie.
There was a lot of screaming, some goofy/creepy spiders, and plenty of mayhem.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I actually watched the thing and had the slow realization that it’s supposed to be a satire. Kind of?
When I think of good satire I think of movies like Wet Hot American Summer or Eating Raoul. Eight Legged Freaks doesn’t really hit that mark.
What would it have even been satirizing? This was 2002. As we’ve already discussed, it wasn’t like giant spider movies were a huge deal quite yet, certainly not in the realm of mainstream horror films.
This is a forgettable movie overall, but it does render a fairly accurate portrayal of how people would actually react to an infestation of arachnids 4 or 5 feet across.
I rewatched it just last week and I still can’t really tell you what happened.
Enemy – 2013
Ok, so if we’re just talking about these movies in terms of actual quality, then Enemy tops the list.
It’s not a horror movie, but it is tense. There are giant spiders, but they’re sorta kinda metaphorical spiders. And that doesn’t make them any less creepy.
This is a movie from Denis Villeneuve. If you’re not familiar with that guy, get familiar.
He directed Arrival (one of the best alien movies in recent history), Blade Runner 2049 (the best Blade Runner movie on record), and he’s set to direct Dune (which, for any sci-fi/film geeks out there, should make you get weak in the knees with anticipation and fear).
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a guy who’s kinda getting tossed around by life. Things are falling apart, and he starts to have these dreams (visions? premonitions?) about spiders in many different forms.
It’s a giant spider movie for the grownups. It takes that very basic fear and amplifies it to a place of believability.
Like Threads (mentioned in our list of post-apocalyptic survival movies) Enemy will make you feel bad and sick and kinda angry. And that’s why it’s worth a watch.