Movies That Well Illustrate Action/Suspense Plot Number One

  • ALIENS *
  • ALIEN 3
  • THE EDGE (I had a re-think, Jim)
  • JAWS
  • THE THING (John Carpenter version)
  • ANACONDA (Has some good horrifying moments)
  • THE BLOB ('88 version only)
  • VIRUS *
  • BATS
  • BEOWULF (starring Christopher Lambert, so consider yourself warned)
  • NEW ALCATRAZ [a.k.a. BOA. Not seen, but judging by the cover notes maybe the makers of THE THING and ANACONDA should sue. An ultra-high security prison is built in the ice in Antarctica, and something melts some of the ice allowing prehistoric monsters to thaw, come to life, and prey on the prison's inhabitants. The cover shows a huge snake slithering through an icy corridor. Sounds like a work of genius.]
  • PLEASE NOTE I will not be putting any supernatural stories on this list. I can't give a strong reason for this, except to say that my 'vision' for the list does not include the supernatural.
Author Comments: 

The A List: recommended

The B List: you might enjoy it, or some of it, if, like me, you are addicted to this plot

The C List: avoid like the plague (unless you are writing a thesis on movies that use this plot).

Action/Suspense Plot Number One has the following basic elements:

- An isolated group of people

- is preyed upon by some sort of monster(s)

- a hero emerges to defeat the monster(s)

- there remains some doubt as to whether the
monster is truly defeated (this element is not always present).

Why "Number One"? Because it is the oldest plot in English literature: it is the plot of BEOWULF.

"I'm the monster's mother." - Ripley in ALIEN RESURRECTION.

Feel free to add to this list; there are surely many examples to choose from. I would particularly like to add more non-sf titles like THE EDGE and THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS.

* = Produced by Gale Anne Hurd.

***HELP!*** There's this movie I'm sure will fit on this list, but damned if I can think of the title or who was in it. It involved a bunch of cops trapped in this warehouse with something [how's that for vague], and eventually I think one of them freezes it - or something. It's fairly recent - which, to me, means no more than ten years old. Did anyone else out there see it?
[Someone below has, I think, solved this mystery for me, but I'll leave this appeal here to show what we were talking about.]

Good thesis! Beowulf is about as old as they get in English lit, I believe.

Of course, you could add almost every slasher movie (Freddie, Michael, Jason). Well, I guess the Freddie movies didn't have as much of the isolation element.

Here are some more (man o man, have I watched some schlock or what?): Tremors, Anaconda, Cujo, Predator, The Edge, and From Dusk till Dawn (off the top of my head).

Of course, you said "well illustrate." If that means the movies have to illustrate "plot number one" AND be good, a couple of these might not qualify. :)

But to strictly adhere to the Beowulf plot, we probably shouldn't include movies with multiple monsters (okay, you could make a case for a two- or three-monster maximum, but Beowulf only had to deal with one monster at a time, so I think one is the number we should adhere to). So that knocks out Aliens, Alien 4, Tremors, and From Dusk till Dawn. Any maybe The Ghost and the Darkness, but I haven't seen that one.

Jim, it hadn't occurred to me that the 'slasher' movies qualify - I suppose many of them do.

I wouldn't want to adhere too closely to the Beowulf model. I'm prepared to accept multiple monsters. Before you toss out ALIENS, consider this: Beowulf first fights Grendel, then Grendel's mother, then a dragon. In ALIENS, the main monster is the mother or 'queen' alien. And in ALIEN 3 the alien is referred to as "the dragon". Coincidence? Of course, ALIEN RESURRECTION goes right off the track in a very perverse and horrific direction (it's partly about the sin of pride, btw: "She continues to make us all very proud.").

Speaking of multiple monsters, how about ARACHNOPHOBIA? Fits well, I think.

Of the titles you mention, I would welcome TREMORS and PREDATOR to my list. I suppose ANACONDA fits, but what a crappy movie. I see the other three as marginal, at best. I wish I could include THE EDGE, I quite liked it - hope you didn't mean to incude it under "schlock".

THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS is about two rogue male lions preying upon a bridge-bulding crew in
nineteenth century Africa. It claims to tell a true story. It's a pretty good movie - I recommend it, unless you absolutely can't stand Val Kilmer.

Jim, I forgot to mention that there is a recent movie titled BEOWULF and starring Christopher Lambert. I've seen it on video; it's watchable but a bit weird. It seems to have a post-apocalyptic setting. The action takes place in a medieval-style castle that is equipped with an electronic public-address system. I don't know if there is a more traditional movie version of the story available. I'll have to consult the Internet Movie Database.

Nope, the only movie IMDb lists under the title BEOWULF is the Christopher Lambert one. I suppose it's possible the story has been filmed under another title - movie-makers do crass things like that.

No, I liked The Edge too. It's just that most of my additions are schlock (but I happen to like a fair amount of schlock).

And while I have your attention, do you want to be an editor? As an editor, you'd be able to post stuff to The Listology home page (as often or as rarely as you like). E-mail me if you might be interested.

How 'bout Poltergeist? Can it count even if the hero is a four-foot tall woman that can't decide whether or not you should go towards the light when you're trapped in the TV?

Jim, you force me to set a further limitation: the movie must be either sf or realistic, by which I mean not fantasy; I consider ghosts and such to be fantasy. (Did you ever wonder why ghosts are always reported as wearing clothes? Ghosts are supposed to be spirits: do clothes have spirits too?)

The death event almost certainly leaves a psychic imprint on whatever the deceased was wearing. Those are the clothes that follow you into the afterworld. An excellent case for dressing better; you could be stuck in that polka-dot shirt for an eternity! :-)

Of course, the trouble with this limitation is that it conflicts with the fact that the original BEOWULF is itself unarguably fantasy. But there it is. It's my list, and I'll conflict if I want to.

Fair enough. How 'bout Deep Blue Sea? And while I have your attention, are you going to add any of my "approved" suggestions to the list proper, or is it good enough that they are mentioned in the comments?

Jim, 'fraid I've not seen D.B.S. yet.

Does The Forbidden Planet fit? Sure, they defeat Dad's id, but what about the rest of them? They are, of course, still human... I think that Terminator fits -- even though they kill the terminator, the threat may still (and does in T2) return. I don't know if T2 counts, because the idea is that they destroy it for good, but of course, there's always room for a T3. 8^)

Thanks for FORBIDDEN PLANET - should have thought of it myself, particulary since Jim and I have been discussing Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST in the comments to one of Jim's lists.

The TERMINATOR movies lack the important element of geographic isolation. Also, the terminators are after one specific person, they are not preying upon a group of people (on the other hand, you might say they are preying upon the whole human species).

Oooooh, Phantoms! Good one! Not necessarily "good" as relating to the movie, but "good" as relating to your ability to dredge it up and include it on this list. :)

Jim, I was looking up THE RELIC at IMDb and the producer's name, Gale Anne Hurd , caught my attention (I have this habit of reading all the opening credits of a movie). I wasn't quite sure why, so I looked her up. As you can see, she also produced ALIENS, THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, and TREMORS. What's more, VIRUS looks like it'll fit this list too, from what I read of it. Obviously a lady who knows a good plot when she sees one.

Usually. :-)

Jim, I've just finished watching VIRUS, and, as I expected, it fits the list. I'm not recommending it, mind you (I'm wary of recommending this sort of movie to you after The THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS Fiasco). To give you some idea: take a DEEP BLUE SEA-like setting (but leave out the humor, this movie has no intentional humor), add a sprinkling of ideas from some of the ALIEN series, and into the cooking pot throw a malicious alien-infested computer that has robotic and cyborg hench-things, stir in a liberal bucketful of blood and guts, and simmer at moderate warmth for about 90 minutes. This probably makes it sound better than it is. It has a better cast than it deserves: Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, and Donald Sutherland (who seems to have a soft spot for sf movies - he's been in several (e.g. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE PUPPET MASTERS)). Sutherland comes close to parodying his role - you keep expecting him to burst into Old-Salt-Speak like the sea-captain on The Simpsons. Did I like it? Not much, but I've seen worse.

I think that's Predator II your'e thinking of. It has cops going into a warehouse to trap one of the Predators in an environment where it can't use its IR vision.

Thanks for the tip off, but if you're right the movie doesn't really belong here after all. I have seen P2, but apparently my memory has failed to connect that part with the rest of it. I'll have to give it a second viewing some time.

The original Predator is more in keeping with list, IMO. In it, the victims are isolated from society by the jungle. P2 does have scenes where the predator hunts isolated folks (like the warehouse scene), but throughout most of the movie the predator (and his victims) aren't isolated from society at large.

Jim, I finally caught up with DEEP BLUE SEA, and I hereby declare it to be a fine example of Action/Suspense Plot Number One. In fact it's a purer example of the Plot than JAWS. All the basic elements are there, although there is no real standout hero - it has several.

Ok, this whole post is a spoiler:

Glad you liked it! So were you as surprised as I was when Jackson got cut off (tee hee) mid-sentence during the normally-cliched Big Speech? Our only big-name star! Killed! Barely half-way through (snicker) the movie!

I also spent the entire movie thinking the good-swimmer hero was going to get killed because he showed the "smart" shark his trick too early. "No way she's going to fall for that again." I was surprised by his survival.

And I liked the oven scene.

In all, tons of fun.

Okay, ditto. Yes, Jackson's demise was a classy shock. Added a definite touch of panache to the proceedings. [Here's a weird bit of trivia for you. Did you know that there's a species of shark named the 'Port Jackson' shark? I believe it's an Australian species.] We must also applaud the script-writers for solving the difficult problem of how to enable the shark(s) to prey upon the humans, the humans knowing they were being hunted, when, normally, all a human has to do to avoid a shark is stay out of the water. The writers of LAKE PLACID didn't have that problem, did they.

Yes, I'd sooner have seen the luscious lady scientist survive. (Her strip-to-undies scene put me in mind of Sigourney Weaver's similar scene at the end of ALIEN.) But the damn shark found her edible, too.

The Oven Scene, thrilling as it was, was one of the least credible. There he is, gas on, chopping through sheet metal, making no sparks?...sure.

I was delighted by the Bird Scene. "You ate my parrot!"

hey bertie i loved LLcoolJ's parrot scene too...jenhowel and i run a movie group here at our college and everybody loved the "you ate my parrot" line...LLCoolj is a lot of fun in some of his movies

Jim, I forgot to add to my post above that you owe me a viewing of and reaction to THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS. And be quick about it. :-D

Okay, I saw it. But don't tell taryn, who recommended The City of Lost Children to me around a year ago (I'll see it, really! Last night I called my wife from the video store and said, "The Limey, The Ghost and the Darkness, or The City of Lost Children?" So it's on a short list!).

Short review: it was okay.

I've come to realize that I don't really like Val Kilmer. Much like onion rings, I think I like him, but I always end up disappointed. It's taken me awhile to realize that Tombstone was an anomoly (loved him in that).

I also find I have more primal fear of sharks than lions (not necessarily logical, I know), so I didn't find the movie as effective in inducing tension as Jaws or Deep Blue Sea.

Cool stuff, though. I figured that in real life the lions killed a couple guys, and Hollywood blew it out of proportion. Turns out, from my very limited research, the movie was fairly accurate (except Michael Douglas's character was made up). This page was fairly informative, as was this one (although the museum link doesn't work). It sounds like the lion's cave was lost, but recently rediscovered. And the museum exhibit site is nicely done. While the movie didn't overly excite me, the fact that it was mostly historically accurate has piqued my interest in Colonel Patterson's book.

Wow, Jim! You were quicker about it than I expected.

Come on now, Jim, "It was okay"? It inspired in you a flurry of "limited research" that includes no less than five links. (Many thanks for them, btw. I had no idea the story had been filmed before.)

Kilmer was probably not the best casting decision made for the film, but I didn't find his fairly blah performance too much of a damper on the excitement, the horror even, of the story. (But, like you, I did admire his performance in TOMBSTONE - every now and then, "I'll be your huckleberry" still runs through my mind.)

For me, it adds greatly to the re-watchability of the movie that it tells a true story, unlike certain fishy adventures we could discuss. :-> And, as is pointed out in one of the links, it was technically very cleverly done. Plus, as a side-plot, we get some insight, or Willian Goldman's insight, at least, into the interpersonal politics of the British Empire at that stage of its development. We get to understand something of what might have added to the Colonel's motivation.

What did your good lady wife think of it?

Alas, you read too much into my propensity for research. I stand my my "it was okay" verdict.

As I was watching the movie, I really didn't feel much tension. I also assumed that the film wildly exaggerated history (wrong). I think if I had gone into the movie knowing that it really was quite accurate, I would have enjoyed it more.

But really the bottom line was the tension level. I just didn't feel it. Even though it's illogical, the shark fin cutting through the water elicits more of a reaction in me than a glimpse of a tail through the grass (even though I'd probably be better off swimming through shark-infested waters than a lion-infested plain). But maybe that's from watching Jaws at an early age.

How can I not break your heart with my wife's reaction? Hmm . . . I can safely say that she didn't like it quite as much as I did. :-)

how about THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR? i heard it was terrible movie but it was an adaptation of michael crichton's EATERS OF THE DEAD....i read the book a while ago but i think it had a mother monster it....i remember that it did indeed remind me of BEOWULF...good list idea too.

I've yet to see T13thW, and never heard of the Crichton book - but he's been very prolific lately and I haven't been keeping up. But thanks for the tip, I'll certainly watch the movie on video - after all, I watched Christopher Lambert in BEOWULF and that was pretty poor even for one of his.

I too have heard that the movie is terrible, but from the previews it looks like it might be "fun terrible" instead of "terrible terrible." And I think Eaters of the Dead was actually one of his early books (not sure if it was before or after Andromeda Strain). If I recall correctly, the book was mediocre. But it's now U.S. law that all Michael Crichton books be adapted into movies. Actually, come to think of it, are there any Crichton books that haven't been made into movies?

i like your distinction between "terrrible terrible" and "fun terrible." that's a good one to keep in mind. yes it was one of his early books...i don't know all of his books so i'm not sure what's been made into a movie and what hasn't...are any of them good? i liked jurassic park....didn't see sphere or congo but heard they were pretty poor...your u.s. law comment is funny :)

One of the best, if not the best, is WESTWORLD. Seen it? One of the best sf movies of its decade.

It can't be many. But he still can't compete with Stephen King, whose novels and short stories get movified.

BTW, can anyone think of a King movie (or novel or story that, if it were movified) would fit this list? THE SHINING, perhaps, with the boy as hero?

Ooops! Just remembered that I excluded non-sf and non-realistic stuff from this list. Too bad, but I'm standing firm.

I must be missing something. Don't you create an empty set by excluding non-sf and non-realistic (the SF stuff is not realistic, and the realistic stuff isn't SF)? Isn't Tremors about as non-realistic as you get? And isn't The Ghost and the Darkness practically historical (and realistic)?

You're partly right, Jim. It was sloppy of me to say I had excluded non-sf - obviously I haven't. What I meant was that I have excluded outright fantasy and the supernatural. So it could easily be argued that Lambert's BEOWULF doesn't belong. I put it down as sf of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, but that's probably stretching it.

Now, the part where you're not right. Of course TREMORS is realistic, by which I mean 'not outright fantasy or supernatural'. There are degrees of realism in sf, ranging from 'hard sf', which commits a minimum of violence against current scientific knowledge, to sf which is so 'soft' as to be difficult to ditinguish from fantasy. Okay?

Gotcha! The line between fantasy and soft SF is, of course, yours to draw. My confusion is resolved.

I went to IMDB to see if The Terminal Man was ever made into a movie, and alas, it was. I was also surprised to see Jurassic Park 3 in production. I believe A Case of Need is the only one (besides his last two -- Airframe and Timescape) that has yet to be made into a movie.

OK - disclaimer, I have not actually seen this - but from the trailers, I'm thinking the new Kevin Bacon movie, Hollow Man, will fit into this list (though I have no idea about the "there remains some doubt as to whether the monster is truly defeated" part.)

Which actually brings up an interesting point, is it possible for the "monster" to just be another human?

Thanks for alerting me. The only thing I'd heard about HM was the title.

Human monsters are probably the most interesting kind, and even more so when their monstrosity is psychological rather than physical - hence, I suggest, the popularity of the 'serial killer' genre. Wouldn't you agree that Hannibal Lecter is one of the most interesting monsters in recent cinematic history?

Definitely (on Hannibal Lecter).

Hollow Man is basically a reinterpretation of H.G. Wells The Invisible Man, from what I hear. And also the ultimate stalker movie (what if your stalker could get into your house without being seen?). It's not actually a great movie, from what I hear, but it does fit into the list.

Actually, I was pleased to see in the previews, that some of the victims appear to actually approach their problem intelligently, but trying to make him (temporarily) visible - they show people throwing mud on him, and turning on the sprinklers so they can see the water outline around him. So unusual for a horror movie, where the victims are idiotic about trying to save themselves.

I think I must go see it, even if it's not great.

Bertie, there was a movie in 1979 called Prophecy that was about a group of hunters who stumbled across a giant mutated owl creature. I dont know if you saw it or not, but it definetly qualifies.

I remember that I saw PROPHECY at a drive-in way back when it was first released, but I can't recall much about its content. I'll have to see if I can find it on video and give it another look before I add it to the list. Hey!...and '79 was the year ALIEN hit the screens.

Hollow Man was a horrible sad for Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue...But there WAS good suspense.

By a remarkable coincidence, I watched HOLLOW MAN on video Saturday last. It does fit the definition. Comments? - good fx, good plot [:)], very violent, not Paul Verhoeven's best (he who directed ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS). And you had to marvel at crispy Bacon's tenacity: after being flame-thrown, iron-barred to the noggin, and electrocuted, he could still climb up an elevator shaft for another go at Our Heroine.

I guess we have no life being up this late.

Problem, Jim. I did use the Spoiler Alert feature for my last post on this page, and it worked here, but when my post appeared on the Recent Posts page the Alert was missing.

I take it you haven't seen Prohecy yet?

Not recently, and I take it you haven't gone to bed yet.

Oo, I like the restructuring of this list! If you don't want a bullet to appear before your headings, you can preface them with an underscore like so:

_<b>THE A LIST</b>

No Lake Placid on this list? Or were they not isolated enough? And how 'bout Sphere as a "C List" addition? Or Jurassic Park as an "A List" addition?

Aha, Dreamcatcher fits this premise and also happens to be the crappiest movie I've seen in 2 years.

Beowulf with Christopher Lambert, sad to say but I have seen this'one and was impressed by the gigantic straight-razor/guillotine. That was a quirky piece of set-making. I actually thought it wasn't that bad considering it was piece of crap (strange logic I know). But consider, Lambert actually moves facial muscles in an actorly way and the camera-work was efficient.



PS: That's a lot of posting, more tomorrow.

The first movie you mentioned here, please don't ever mention it to me again - I'd like to forget it. It won't be sullying this list :-D

Woopsy! For some reason I get around to mentioning "reamcatcher Day" quite a lot. Maybe I'm subconciously trying to torture people. (snicker)


I think Shyamalan's The Village belongs on your C list.

What about night of the living dead

This list has always given me problems, and they have always been my own fault.

I owe you an apology. I decided long ago not to include any supernatural stories on this list (see my conversation with Jim above), but I neglected to post a clearer warning about it. Sorry, I'll do that now.

You should give Dog Soldiers a viewing, bertie. Definitely fits, and it's pretty good (for what it is). Same director as The Descent (which I'll be sending you after I get it and watch it (it's still coming)).

Have seen Dog Soldiers at least a couple of years ago, and I'm certain, dadblamed certain, I commented on it here at Listology, but I've been searching and can't find my comments.

Looking forward to going down with those girls :-)

Oh, btw, DS isn't on this list because I'm excluding the supernatural - you obviously missed my red-letter disclaimer above.

Ah, right, forgot about that disclaimer!

So how did you like it?

I remember liking it (wish I could find those earlier comments) - but not so much that I'd want to see it a second time. It got 78% on The Tomatometer , but that seems a tad higher than I'd give it - in retrospect. On t'other hand, IMDb's 6.8 seems a tad low. But if I enjoy The Descent to about the same degree as I enjoyed DS I'll be happy:-)