Not bad science

Not bad science

New discoveries in animal behavior and cognition

Top 10 Horror Movies Featuring Animals (and Behaviour)


One of my guilty pleasures is sci-fi movies featuring animal behaviour, especially when it’s done terribly. For something different from my usual articles, I decided that for Hallowe’en I’d highlight my top ten favourite good-bad movies that feature animal behaviour as a main theme (even if not intended that way).


10) Piranha 3D

In the trailer for this movie, the voice-over says ‘Piranha hunt in packs - not for protection, but for overwhelming force. They're organized, methodical. The first bite draws blood. The blood draws the pack’. Unfortunately, this just isn't true. Piranha are in fact quite shy fish, that stay in schools for protection from their own predators, like dolphins. Yes, sweet lovely dolphins are the ones taking out these 'super-aggressive, super-intelligent man-eating machines'.

9) Rise of the planet of the apes

This movie was highly entertaining, but contained some very bad science. I’m willing to suspend belief far enough to accept that non-human apes could evolve into a super-intelligent race. I’m even willing to go with the idea of injecting chimps with genes that become incorporated into their own DNA. But really, a talking chimp? (sorry for the spoiler, but I promise this scene will still be as ridiculous for you). Even if a chimpanzee somehow gained super-intelligence and learned human language, because of physiological differences they don’t have control over their vocal cords like humans. Chimpanzees also don’t have mouth and jaw structures that would allow them to produce human speech. Although, having said that, maybe I shouldn’t be so judgemental. Perhaps the ability to develop a new mouth and throat structure was in the Alzheimer’s drug along with the super-intelligence, and they just forgot to mention it in the plot.

8) The Birds

A classic horror film; it’s one of those ones that young people today can never believe that our parents’ generation actually found scary. The birds in this movie are more vicious than city seagulls. Why are the birds so angry? This is never explained.



7) Phenomena

This is perhaps a lesser-known movie, to all except the hard-core horror fans. Made by Italian director Dario Argento in 1985, this surreal film surprisingly stars a young Jennifer Connelly. Early on in this film we learn that she can telepathically talk to insects. She goes to talk to a scientist about this new occurrence in her life. He tells her that this is unusual. However, not for the reasons that might seem obvious. No, he surprised because apparently although it is well-known that insects have a telepathic connection with each other, humans aren’t normally in on this connection. If this weren’t weird enough, this scientist also has a pet chimpanzee sidekick who displays some very unnatural chimp behaviour throughout the movie, culminating in him stabbing someone to death.

6) Snakes on a plane

This was a brilliant film. And entirely realistic, as anyone who has ever taken a plane or worked with snakes will know.

5) The Fly

This is a film so classic that even if you haven’t seen you’ll have seen references to it in other movies or shows (including The Simpsons). In it, Jeff Goldblum attempts to teleport himself, but ends up mashing together his DNA with a fly’s. Teleportation science aside, the fly behaviour is somewhat basic in this film. Yes, they give the fly-man the ability to walk on walls and regurgitate acid. He also becomes more aggressive and interested in casual sex. But had the writer’s known about the elaborate courtship songs of even the simple fruit fly, perhaps this film might have featured some more specific insights into the surprisingly complex behaviour of flies.

4) Every shark movie ever made

All shark movies follow the same safe formula: bikini-clad lady swimming with scary music – is it a shark? – oh no it’s just her boyfriend/ goofy friend/ random person dressed up as a shark. Next attack is the real one, and this will continue seamlessly until there are only two people left, giving them just enough time to make out before they too are probably eaten. One behaviour that is never explained in these movies is why the sharks seem to only attack good-looking people, and save the best looking people (preferably a blossoming romance) until last? Also, how do they know to attack the ‘evil’ characters just after we see them doing something particularly evil? Perhaps some of the ‘shark scientists’ in these movies should be looking into these questions. Jaws was already a bit ridiculous (in terms of the realism of the shark behaviour), but since then people have taken it upon themselves to take the theme as far as a tornado of sharks (sharknado) and sharks that swim through snow (avalanche sharks).

3) Black sheep

This dark New-Zealand horror comedy about genetically modified sheep attacking humans is one of my favourites. Although the behaviour displayed by the sheep in this film isn’t characteristic (such as them driving farm trucks and biting off human ears), I’m willing to forgive them for the comedy that ensues.




This is a 1950s movie about giant radioactive ants. It is also one of the very first movies about scientists irradiating an animal to make it big and angry, and perhaps the inspiration for many more of such films. The 'ant science' in this movie is actually surprisingly good, or at the least passable.

1) Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is one of those films that just doesn’t seem to age, and even the ‘90s graphics still look good today. Unfortunately, since the movie was made scientists have found out more about the dinosaurs in question, including new ideas about their behaviour. The (utterly terrifying) scene with the velociraptors, for example, would not be quite the same if made today. In the film they are presented as highly intelligent predators that corner the characters through group hunting. We now know that these animals were feathered, much smaller, and may not have hunted in groups. Would the scene have been as terrifying if were being chased by animals not dissimilar to chickens – perhaps even looking a bit like this?

If you think back to the best scenes in this movie, so many of them relate to the dinosaur’s behaviour, and the humans trying to work it out. Perhaps because in reality scientists know so little about dinosaur behaviour, this movie is in fact one of the most believable of all.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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