From The Grey to The Birds, a Taxonomy of Man vs. Animal Films

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 27 2012 3:24 PM

The Tree of Murderous Life: A Taxonomy of Animal Attack Films

Still from Jaws
Publicity still from Jaws.

Photo by MCA/Universal Home Video © 1995.

When The Grey tears its way into multiplexes on Friday, it may, surprisingly, become the first major cinematic release to pit man vs. wolf. Hollywood’s heroes have fought for survival among nearly every frightening species there is, from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to the bats of Bats—and even some that aren’t so fearsome.

Here at Slate we like to take a rigorous scientific approach to popular culture, so we’ve assembled a Linnaean taxonomy of these ecological horror films, from Jaws to Frogs. Below you’ll find a tree arranging every savage beast into its proper place—by class, order, genus, and species, as precisely as we could determine them—in Hollywood’s animal kingdom.

Of course, it’s a slippery slope from the survivalist thrills of a film like The Grey to the unearthly horror of werewolves and aliens, so we did set some parameters. To be included in our menagerie, a film must have received a U.S. theatrical release, which means none of the straight-to-DVD or made-for-TV camp of Sharktopus or Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. Speaking of sharktopi and gatoroids, the animal villain or villains must be an actual earthly species—we didn’t include the megapredators of movies like King Kong, Tarantula!, or the rabbit horror film Night of the Lepus. Finally, to avoid needless clutter, no sequels. (Sorry, Ben.)

Beyond those parameters, we strived to include as many homicidal beasts as we could. Click on the plus and minus symbols in the upper left corner to take a closer look. There are still a few more species as yet unclaimed by Hollywood, so we can’t wait for its next entry. We hope it will involve Liam Neeson kicking hippos.


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Update, Jan. 30, 2012: This diagram originally classified Deep Blue Sea under Carcharodon carcharias. The mako sharks in the film are of the Isurus genus.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

Natalie Matthews-Ramo is a Slate Web and interactive designer.