Movies with legs: 11 unexpected cinematic spider infestations

Gif: Libby McGuire

It’s the spookiest season of the year, a time for all of us to come face-to-face with the things that terrify us the most: the clown decorations in a neighbor’s yard, Hereditary, or for some of us, the little eight-legged creatures that inspire arachnophobia. Yes, the spider is practically October’s mascot, and many horror movies have been made based on how frightening they are (including, appropriately enough, Arachnophobia). But we maintain that it’s even scarier when large, gruesome arachnids show up in movies where you weren’t expecting them—in outer space, for example—or also take bizarre, mutated forms. So in honor of the Halloween season, enjoy this spooky list of huge cinematic spiders that seemed to come out of nowhere.

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1. It (1990 and 2019)

1. It (1990 and 2019)

Look, IT is literally a horror story—that’s a clear caveat emptor to any potential arachnophobes in the audience. But still, nothing about the trailer (or plot description) of the small- or big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s IT suggested any anthropod-based scares waiting to sink their fangs into the viewer. So unless a devotee of the novel warned you, it probably came as a nasty shock when, in the climactic showdown of the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise reverted to his true form—a giant spider (with a hint of ant mixed in for good measure). It hasn’t aged terribly well, to the point that it now resembles papier-mâché more than a monster, but for kids of the time, it was nightmare fuel. And those who saw the new two-film adaptation of the story didn’t even have to wait for the final battle (in which Pennywise just grows the spider body but keeps his clown head); there’s an earlier scene in which the severed head of Eddie confronts the adult Losers, and in a truly creepy moment, has spider legs burst from his flesh, the better to menace his former friends. It’s the perfect bathroom-break moment if you hate spiders. [Alex McLevy]

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2. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

2. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

Sure, there are lots of moments of bravery in the Harry Potter series, but you’ve really got to hand it to arachnophobe Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in the blood-curdling sequence in Chamber Of Secrets when he and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) go deep into the Forbidden Forest to visit the leader of the spider clan, Aragog. On a tip from Hagrid, the boys are trying to find the identity of the monster that’s been petrifying Hogwarts students. Aragog, an Acromantula, gives them a few clues, but a swarm of his offspring soon envelop Harry and Ron. Sure, not a surprise if you’ve read the books, but director Chris Columbus does an excellent job of pitching those spiders in the most menacing angles. Countless giant spiders swarm Harry and Ron on all sides; one fuzzy leg even grabs Ron through the car window before they’re able to escape. Aragog dies in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, but his legend lives on: In 2017, a newly discovered series of wolf spider was named for him, due to its similar fuzzy exterior and penchant for hunting. [Gwen Ihnat]

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3. Wild Wild West (1999)

3. Wild Wild West (1999)

There is all sorts of belief-beggaring stupidity that took place behind the scenes during the production of Will Smith’s 1999 dud Wild Wild West. (They’re gathered in an account of the making of the box office bomb, and nearly all of them are more entertaining in and of themselves than the actual film.) But there’s an especially odd reason that a giant mechanical spider ended up in the climax of the movie, and it has everything to do with weirdo producer Jon Peters. As Kevin Smith recounts in his 2002 special An Evening With Kevin Smith, the longtime Hollywood producer had an obsession with ending a big action movie with a giant robot spider. He originally insisted it happen in the never-was Nicolas Cage Superman movie, Superman Lives. When that failed to launch, he turned right around and forced it down director Barry Sonnenfeld’s throat, resulting in an 1868-set movie in which a giant robot spider menaces the hero. That’s the magic of Hollywood, people. [Alex McLevy]

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4. Jumanji (1995)

4. Jumanji (1995)

When making a list of especially dangerous jungle predators, your brain is likely to start by playing the hits: lions, tigers, the deadly and territorial hippopotamus. That is, unless your brain has seen 1995’s action-adventure Jumanji, in which case, it’s well aware that there’s nothing on earth (or board games) scarier than the fat-bellied, venom-dripping spiders that come crawling out of the walls to give that film its abruptly arachnophobic climax. While Jumanji is generally nastier on its protagonists than a lot of movies of its era and ilk (those big-ass mosquitos aren’t winning any good neighbor prizes either), there’s still nothing that comes before in the film to suggest that it was going to make quite such an eight-limbed lunge for the jugular. But there they are, skittering around, terrifying Kirsten Dunst, and somehow managing to leer at Bonnie Hunt right before trying to sink their giant fangs into her leg. Give us a stampeding ostrich and a rampaging Jonathan Hyde any day of the week. [William Hughes]

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5. Enemy (2013)

5. Enemy (2013)

It’s arguable that no movie in the last decade has an ending as genuinely jarring as Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s divisive erotic thriller about doppelgängers and the subconscious. Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays two roles (or does he?) in the film, turns a corner expecting to see the woman in his life—instead, he stumbles upon a scurrying tarantula, one so large it nearly engulfs the entire room. The shocking image isn’t without precedent—spiders small and large surface in surreal sequences throughout the movie, while Villeneuve’s camera lingers on webs of streetcar wires and cracked car windows. What does it all mean? People are still trying to figure that out. But, hey, maybe you’re better off not knowing. It’s scarier that way. [Randall Colburn]

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6. Dr. No (1962)

6. Dr. No (1962)

Early in 1962’s Dr. No, Bond is in the Bahamas when he finds a deadly tarantula in his bed, placed there by a villainous geologist. Not only was Sean Connery deathly afraid of the giant arachnid (real name: Rosie), so was his stunt double, Bob Simmons, who called the scene his most frightening moment in the entire franchise. As the spider crawls up Bond’s arm, you can see that a sheet of glass was used to protect the actors from the hairy beast; Connery’s excessive facial perspiration during the excruciating two-minute sequence is downright impressive. Eventually, the creature mercifully crawls all the way off Bond to the pillow, and James immediately springs into action, brandishing that slipper as a deadly weapon as furious soundtrack strings synch up with the beating. R.I.P. Rosie. [Gwen Ihnat]

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7. Lost In Space (1998)

7. Lost In Space (1998)

When the leads were signed for the 1998 movie version of the 1960s TV show Lost In Space, they were all booked for a three-movie deal. But LIS (which cost $70 million to make) turned out to be such a bomb that any hopes for a franchise were soon scrapped. Probably because the fun family exploration film turns strangely dark halfway through when the Robinsons are attacked by spider-like space creatures, and stowaway troublemaker Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman) is even wounded by one. The family is then stranded on a mysterious planet filled with time warp bubbles, where they encounter a grown-up Will Robinson (a strangely dubbed Jared Harris), who reveals that in the original timeline, the spiders came back and killed them all. Will was saved thanks to his new father figure: Spider Smith, a spider version of Dr. Smith that’s truly one of the freakiest arachnid amalgamations ever to hit the big screen. Spider Smith fortunately gets defeated, but it’s an even greater blessing that the LIS franchise went under as well (until the far superior Netflix series showed up 20 years later). [Gwen Ihnat]

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8. Son Of Godzilla (1967)

8. Son Of Godzilla (1967)

Son Of Godzilla is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the introduction of the adorable Minilla, the apple of Godzilla’s eye. But Son Of Godzilla is also seared into the eyeballs of arachnophobes for Kumonga (a.k.a. Spiga), a mutated spider with glowing purple eyes, wirelike pincers, and sticky webs it spits with the force of a Super Soaker. More than 50 years on, Kumonga remains an impressive work of creature design and puppetry—the prop reportedly required nearly 20 people to operate it—and an underrated kaiju. Son’s climactic battle between the eight-legged freak and the lizards is a genuine blast, one made even more thrilling by the manmade snowstorm that arises halfway through it. [Randall Colburn]

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9. Home Alone (1990)

9. Home Alone (1990)

In Home Alone, Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) has quite an arsenal at his disposal to help him protect his house against thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern)—including his brother’s pet tarantula. Late in the film, when Harry and Marv have reached the inside of the McAllister homestead, Marv becomes perilously close to grabbing Kevin. But the savvy 8-year-old spies the giant pet spider on the stairs, grabs it, and tosses it onto Marv’s face, who screams like a toddler. Stern offered a behind-the-scenes remembrance in a Facebook post a few years ago: “People who meet me are always curious if the tarantula was real, if my scream was real, and if I was scared, crazy or both. The answer to all three of those questions is ‘Yes.’” Marv tosses the tarantula on top of unconscious Harry, who Marv then hits with a crowbar, trying to get the spider (he misses). Stern remembers, “I then had to beat Joe Pesci with a crowbar. And we all know that even though it was pretend and funny and a fake crowbar, it’s a thousand times more dangerous pissing off Joe Pesci than pissing of[f] a venomous spider that’s crawling on your face.” [Gwen Ihnat]

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10. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)

10. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)

Yes, it’s an incredibly famous fantasy epic that has entertained young and old for generations, its timeless appeal endures, blah blah blah. If you’ve never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic trilogy about plucky hobbits, enigmatic elves, fallible men, and one ring to rule them all (and somehow avoided encountering The Hobbit in either book or animated form as a child), it’s got to be a shock when, after two solid movies full of distinctly non-spider action have unspooled, all of the sudden you get to the end of The Return Of The King and bam—giant spider time. So close to his Mordor destination, Frodo (Elijah Wood) stumbles into the lair of Shelob, a giant spider, and gets promptly captured. He ends up needing rescue from his old buddy Samwise (Sean Astin), but by then, the damage is done—anyone not relishing the nightmare of a giant spider and its weirdly thrusting stinger is out of luck. [Alex McLevy]

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11. The Mist (2007)

11. The Mist (2007)

If there’s one criticism to lob at Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of Stephen King’s beloved novella, The Mist, it’s that CGI can’t quite capture the revolting horror of the prose’s insectoid creatures (it’s better in black and white). There are giant flies and thorned tentacles, and, most prominently, hulking spiders, thick boys with big, bristly legs and chomping human teeth, the likes of which gnaw on no shortage of Bridgton, Maine’s doomed denizens. What’s lacking in their presentation, however, is made up for in their nastiness—one unlucky soldier becomes an unwilling womb for thousands of tiny arachnids, which burst from his liquifying body like kids sprinting from a schoolhouse. It’s truly revolting stuff, a loving ode to the gnarliness that’s part and parcel of King’s pulpiest work. [Randall Colburn]

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