Giant Monster Attacks On London: A Natural History

M@
By M@ Last edited 9 months ago

Last Updated 23 October 2023

Giant Monster Attacks On London: A Natural History

Rounding up the times that London has been terrorised by giant beasts, on film and TV.

While London can normally hold its own in comparisons with New York and Tokyo, these other world cities surely win when it comes to giant monster attacks, right?

The Japanese capital gets smashed up by Godzilla almost every week. The Big Apple has also attracted the attentions of Godzilla, Cloverfield, King Kong and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

But London has also seen its share of mega-mutant mayhem — we're just more understated about it. Here, then, is our guide to the menagerie of supermegafauna (and a couple of giant humans) who have unleashed their wrath upon the Big Smoke.

1. The Lost World (1925)

A brontosaurus on a London street outside a pub

London's been a leviathan magnet for nigh-on a century. This early outing is an adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle novel (and the big man makes a cameo at the start). The silent film's finale sees a runaway brontosaurus trashing various bits of London. First to be pummelled is what appears to be the Royal Exchange. The beast then homes in on a most unlikely of targets — one of London's many Blue Posts pubs. It then heads downriver and stomps all over Tower Bridge, which collapses under its weight. Yes, it's jerky and simplistic to modern eyes, but some of the effects in this film put later movies to shame. Watch the full film here.

2. The Giant Behemoth (1959)

behemoth

"Brace yourself for a shock", warns the trailer. "The biggest thing since creation," it fibs. The Giant Behemoth turns out to be a slack-jawed dinosaur with "radioactive fire breath" and an appetite for destroying London. Borne of some kind of nuclear test vagueness, the tautological monster makes its way to the capital, where it flattens cars, levels cranes and engages in unacceptable levels of antisocial behaviour. Includes footage of Big Ben being thumped. Rahhhh!

3. Gorgo (1961)

gorgo

"Incredibly realistic", "shockingly convincing", and "like nothing you've seen before"...the film makers obviously didn't watch The Giant Behemoth a couple of years previously. Gorgo is another lumbering dinosaur thing, captured on a remote island and chained up for public spectacle (the film makers obviously did watch King Kong). Turns out that Gorgo is just a baby. As is the law in giant monster films, his 200-foot-tall mother, called Ogra, soon comes looking, working her way through My First Tourist Guide to London in search of her offspring. Big Ben gets a thumping, Tower Bridge goes a bit collapsey, and Piccadilly Circus is smited. Eventually, Ogra rescues Gorgo from Battersea Park. Everyone lives happily ever after, especially reconstruction firms.

4. Konga (1961)

A giant gorilla called Konga smashes up Big Ben

The early 60s saw a second giant monster attack in the shape of Konga, a shameless low-budget aping of King Kong. A mad scientist (and sex pest) develops a serum that embiggens plants and animals to enormous size. He tries it on a baby chimpanzee, which not only swells in size, but also changes species to become a giant gorilla. (Or, more accurately, a man in a gorilla costume.) The usual chaos ensues, including a punch-up with Big Ben.

5. Monty Python's Flying Circus: Spiny Norman (1970)

dinsdalebuck

In the long and peculiar annals of London, Spiny Norman remains the only super-sized hedgehog ever to terrify the city... but only in the mind of one man. Dinsdale Piranha, one half of the notorious Piranha gangster brothers, had regular delusions of the giant erinaceomorph towering over the capital. The end credits of this series 2 Monty Python episode feature Norman lurking over Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and, naturally, Big Ben.

6. The Goodies: Kitten Kong (1971/1972)

In perhaps their most famous episode, comedy trio The Goodies open a clinic for 'loony animals'. One patient is Twinkle the cat, who has an unfortunate close encounter with a specially formulated growth mixture. The super-sized feline goes on the rampage, flattening the Post Office Tower, knocking the dome off St Paul's, smashing Westminster Bridge and crushing Michael Aspel. It looks a bit shit now but, believe it or not, Kitten Kong was nominated for a BAFTA.

7. Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974)

A stegosaurus wanders around some light industrial buildings while third doctor Jon Pertwee looks on

Due to a glitch with time, dinosaurs begin appearing all over London. Fortunately, the The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah-Jane are in town to fix the fanged anachronisms. The dinosaurs pop up all over the capital, but most of the monster shots were filmed down in Kingston.

8. Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons (1975)

zygons

The dinosaur invasion of the previous year was obviously deemed a winning formula, for the Whoniverse returned to London a few months later. In the terrifying conclusion to this famous Tom Baker story, a glove puppet purporting to be the Loch Ness Monster is drawn to the Thames by a glorified dog whistle. The beast rears its jerry-built head above the embankment wall at Millbank, but is soon driven away, when the Doctor feeds it the dog whistle.

9. Queen Kong (1976)

Queen Kong movie with the giant ape hanging off Big Ben

Another Kong pastiche, which thanks to legal action from the makers of the 1976 King Kong remake, never saw a British theatrical release. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. On the one hand, it is touched with genius, subverting stereotypes by having the beast fall in love with a man-in-distress, casting Robin Askwith from the Confessions films, and calling that man Ray Fay. On the other hand, it looks absolutely shit. Big Ben is the natural surrogate for the Empire State Building.

10. Chewits advert (mid-80s)

The 1980s were fallow years for giant monster attacks on London... with one notable exception. Across a series of adverts, Chewie the Chewitsaurus rampaged his/her/its way across various world landmarks. The most famous commercial saw the beast chewing up London landmarks before deciding that Chewits offered a tastier treat. Unusually, Big Ben does not feature in the ad. Instead, landmarks include the Albert Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and 10 Downing Street. A sequel shows Chewie wearing the dome of St Paul's as a hat. In the course of researching this advert, we discovered that Chewits still exist, and now we want to eat a packet of Chewits.

11. Michael Jackson (1995)

In simultaneously the greatest and naffest publicity stunt in living memory, Michael Jackson floated a nine metre-high statue of himself along the Thames to promote the HIStory album. The two-ton King of Prop necessitated the opening of Tower Bridge, before heading upriver where he totally demolished Big Ben. We think.

12. Reign of Fire (2002)

reign

The year is 2084 AD. London is a smouldering ruin thanks to an infestation of dragons. Rentokil decline the job. St George is conspicuously absent. Fortunately, a stellar troop of humans stand in the dragons' way, including a Batman (Christian Bale), a Hardman (Gerard Butler), a Bond Girl (Izabella Scorupco), the greatest actor of this or any other age (Matthew McConaughey), and the doctor out of Deep Space Nine. Includes footage of Big Ben being thumped.

13. The Sultan's Elephant (2006)

Image by nickestamp in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Unbelievably, this attack wasn't in a film. It was in real life. Actual real life. The Sultan's Elephant was an oversized robotic elephant that trampled through the West End, bringing shock, awe and a new benchmark in pachyderm puppetry. OK, no buildings were destroyed (other than a strip of tarmac in St James), but it did squirt water in our face. That must count as minor harassment, right?

14. Doctor Who: The Next Doctor (2008)

A cyberking - a giant cyberman - rises from the thames near St Pauls

David Tennant's Tenth Doctor and Neil Morrissey's cryptic Doctor engage in a Christmas battle against a giant cyberman (a CyberKing, no less), which rises from the Thames near St Paul's. It then takes a walk north through the weirdly residential streets of the Square Mile, leaving havoc in its wake.

15. Mr Darcy (2013)

darcy

A four-metre high Mr Darcy was been spotted in the Serpentine in 2013. We could explain more, but let's just leave this here.

16. Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

In a clear, and better-rendered nod to his classic-era predecessors, Peter Capaldi's first outing as Doctor Who also featured a lumbering sauropod on the banks of the Thames. The time-displaced T-rex paces back and forth in front of the Houses of Parliament before vomming up the TARDIS, from which the Twelfth Doctor eventually emerges. Quite an entrance. Big Ben is troubled but not attacked.

17. Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017)

The ultimate B-movie goes global in this fifth outing. In case you missed this series, or are unable to unpick the self-explanatory portmanteau, a sharknado is a tornado full of sharks. They reap havoc wherever they appear. In this film, they very much appear in London, and very much destroy Big Ben. The London Eye is set freewheeling, Buckingham Palace swarms with fish, and the Household Division foot guards finally see some action. May not be based on actual events.

Did we somehow miss any giant intruders? Let us know in the comments. Note, monsters like the American Werewolf in London, the zombies of 28 Days Later, and those Attack the Block nasties are too small to count in this roundup.

See also: the top 9 London Doomsday scenarios and Hollywood blockbusters love destroying London.