Attack of the Killer Bugs? What Bug Movies Say About Our Hidden Psyche

Scary, humorous or something in between? You decide.

Scary, humorous or something in between? You decide.

Chomping termites and other creepy crawlers are definitely not your preferred houseguests. In fact, bugs have long loomed larger than life in the popular imagination. If you happen to be a classic movie connoisseur, then you know bugs invaded movie screens in the 1950s, bringing our pint-sized horrors to life in a big way.

  • Them, 1954: This giant ant movie is widely considered the first “Big Bug” movie ever made
  • Tarantula, 1955: The movie preyed on our collective fear of hairy spiders
  • Beginning of the End, 1957: Giant grasshoppers invade Chicago, oh no!
  • The Black Scorpion, 1957: Giant scorpions duke it out
  • The Deadly Mantis, 1957: Terrible effects, inaccurate morphology, and lackluster writing makes this film largely considered one of the worst in the science fiction genre

Why is it that creatures so small as bugs have so often been tapped to play the big, bad movie monster? There is something to be said for the American mindset in the 1950s. The Korean War took place during this time, and we were knee-deep in the Cold War, which brought uncertainty and paranoia to our borders. Is it any wonder that audiences needed a simple, mindless villain like a man-eating scorpion for our heroes to fight?

What about today? Bugs are still on the big screen:

  • The Fly, 1986: Jeff Goldblum does his very best fly impression
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, 1989: Still haven’t gotten over the death of Antie
  • Arachnophobia, 1990: A quirky horror film starring none other than Jeff Daniels who overcomes his fear of spiders to save a small American town
  • Mimic, 1997: Surprise, your genetically engineered bugs turned on you
  • A Bug’s Life, 1998: Bugs get adorable
  • Eight Legged Freaks, 2002: The 1950s Big Bug genre is reinvented into a comedic riff

You can see even from this short list that our attitudes on bugs have changed, or at least expanded. No longer are they only horrific creatures that get radiated and then wreak havoc on the nearest town. Now, we see bugs as heroes (A Bug’s Life, ANTZ, James and the Giant Peach) or even as somewhat comedic, (Eight Legged Freaks).

Does this mean our relationship with bugs has changed or simply that we are ready for more complicated villains in our movies?

I am of the opinion that most homeowners still do not want to see bugs in their home, especially termites, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate them in nature and understand the important role they play in our ecosystem and in our collective story.