The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 American black-and-white science fiction monster film from Warner Bros., produced by Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester, directed by Eugène Lourié, that stars Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, and Kenneth Tobey.[1] The film's stop-motion animation special effects are by Ray Harryhausen. Its screenplay is based on Ray Bradbury's short story The Fog Horn, specifically the scene where a lighthouse is destroyed by the title character.[2]

The storyline concerns a fictional dinosaur, the Rhedosaurus, which is released from its frozen, hibernating state by an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle.[2] The beast begins to wreak a path of destruction as it travels southward, eventually arriving at its ancient spawning grounds, which includes New York City.[3]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was one of the first atomic monster movies which helped inspire a generation of creature features.[4][5]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms poster
Directed byEugène Lourié
Produced byJack Dietz
Hal E. Chester
Screenplay byFred Freiberger
Eugène Lourié
Louis Morheim
Robert Smith
Based onThe Fog Horn (short story) by Ray Bradbury
StarringPaul Christian
Paula Raymond
Cecil Kellaway
Kenneth Tobey
Music byDavid Buttolph
CinematographyJohn L. Russell
Edited byBernard W. Burton
Jack Dietz Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 13, 1953
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.25 million


Far north of the Arctic Circle, a nuclear bomb test, dubbed "Operation Experiment", is conducted. Prophetically, right after the blast, physicist Thomas Nesbitt muses, "What the cumulative effects of all these atomic explosions and tests will be, only time will tell". The explosion awakens a 200-foot (61 m) long carnivorous dinosaur known as a Rhedosaurus,[6] thawing it out of the ice where it had been held in suspended animation for millions of years. Nesbitt is the only surviving witness to the beast's awakening and is later dismissed out-of-hand as being delirious at the time of his sighting. Despite the skepticism, he persists, knowing what he saw.

The dinosaur begins making its way down the east coast of North America, sinking a fishing ketch off the Grand Banks, destroying another near Marquette, Canada, wrecking a lighthouse in Maine and destroying buildings in Massachusetts. Nesbitt eventually gains allies in paleontologist Thurgood Elson and his young assistant Lee Hunter after one of the surviving fishermen identifies from a collection of drawings the very same dinosaur that Nesbitt saw. Plotting the sightings of the beast's appearances on a map for skeptical military officers, Elson proposes the dinosaur is returning to the Hudson River area, where fossils of Rhedosaurus were first found. In a diving bell search of the undersea Hudson River Canyon, Professor Elson is killed after his bell is swallowed by the beast, which eventually comes ashore in Manhattan. A later newspaper report of its rampage lists "180 known dead, 1500 injured, damage estimates $300 million".

Meanwhile, military troops led by Colonel Jack Evans attempt to stop the Rhedosaurus with an electrified barricade, then blast a hole with a bazooka in the beast's throat, which drives it back into the sea. Unfortunately, it bleeds all over the streets of New York, unleashing a horrible, virulent prehistoric contagion, which begins to infect the populace, causing even more fatalities. The infection precludes blowing up the Rhedosaurus or even setting it ablaze, lest the contagion spread further. It is then decided to shoot a radioactive isotope into the beast's neck wound with hopes of burning it from the inside, killing it without releasing the contagion.

When the Rhedosaurus comes ashore and reaches Coney Island's amusement park, military sharpshooter Corporal Stone takes a rifle grenade loaded with a potent radioactive isotope and climbs on board a roller coaster. Riding the coaster to the top of the tracks, so he can get to eye-level with the beast, he fires the isotope into its open neck wound. It thrashes about in reaction, causing the roller coaster to spark when falling to the ground, setting the amusement park ablaze. With the fire spreading rapidly, the park becomes completely engulfed in flames. The Rhedosaurus eventually dies from isotope poisoning and heat stroke.



Rhedosaurus & the lighthouse
The Beast destroys a lighthouse, an original concept from The Fog Horn short story

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had a production budget of $200,000.[7] It earned $2.25 million at the North American box office during its first year of release[8] and ended up grossing more than $5 million.[9][10] Original prints of Beast were sepia toned.[11]

The film was announced in the trades as The Monster from Beneath the Sea. During preproduction in 1951, Ray Harryhausen brought to Dietz and Chester's attention that Ray Bradbury had just published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post called The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (it was later anthologized under the title "The Fog Horn").[12] This story was about a marine-based prehistoric dinosaur that destroys a lighthouse. A similar sequence appeared in the draft script of The Monster from Beneath the Sea. The producers, wishing to share in Bradbury's reputation and popularity, promptly bought the rights to his story and changed the film's title to match the story's title. Bradbury's name was used extensively in the promotional campaign. They also had an on-screen credit that read "Suggested by the Saturday Evening Post Story by Ray Bradbury".[13]

An original music score was composed by Michel Michelet, but when Warner Bros. purchased the film they had a new score written by David Buttolph. Ray Harryhausen had been hoping that his film music hero Max Steiner, under contract at the time with Warner Bros., would write the film score. Steiner had written the landmark score for RKO's King Kong in 1933. Unfortunately for Harryhausen, Steiner had too many commitments to allow him to do so but, as it turned out, Buttolph composed one of his most memorable and powerful scores, setting much of the tone for giant monster film music of the 1950s.[14]

Some early pre-production conceptual sketches of the Beast showed that at one point it was to have a shelled head and at another point was to have a beak.[15] Creature effects were assigned to Ray Harryhausen, who had been working for years with Willis O'Brien, the man who created King Kong. The monster of the film looks nothing like the Brontosaurus-type creature of the short story. The film creature is instead a kind of Tyrannosaurus rex-type prehistoric predator, though quadrupedal in stature. It was unlike any real carnivorous dinosaur and more closely resembled a rauisuchian. A drawing of the creature was published along with the story in The Saturday Evening Post.[16] At one point, there were plans to have the Beast snort flames, but this idea was dropped before production began due to budget restrictions. The concept, however, was still used for the film poster artwork. Later, the Beast's nuclear flame breath would be the inspiration for the original Japanese film Gojira (1954, Godzilla).[17]

In a scene attempting to identify the Rhedosaurus, Professor Tom Nesbitt rifles through dinosaur drawings by Charles R. Knight, a man whom Harryhausen claimed as an inspiration.[18]

The dinosaur skeleton in the museum sequence is artificial; it was obtained from storage at RKO Pictures where it had been constructed for their classic comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938).[19]

The climactic roller coaster live action scenes were filmed on location at the Pike in Long Beach, California and featured the Cyclone Racer entrance ramp, ticket booth, loading platform and views of the structure from the beach. Split-matte, in-camera special effects by Harryhausen effectively combined the live action of the actors and the roller coaster background footage from the Pike's parking lot with the stop-motion animation of the Beast destroying a shooting miniature of the coaster.[20]


In his review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms for The New York Times, Armond White was not impressed with the story: "And though the sight of the gigantic monster rampaging through such areas as Wall Street and Coney Island sends the comparatively ant-like humans on the screen scurrying away in an understandable tizzy, none of the customers in the theatre seemed to be making for the hills. On sober second thought, however, this might have been sensible".[21]

The Variety review focused more on the impressive special effects: "Producers have created a prehistoric monster that makes Kong seem like a chimpanzee. It's a gigantic amphibious beast that towers above some of New York's highest buildings. The sight of the beast stalking through Gotham's downtown streets is awesome. Special credit should go to Ray Harryhausen for the socko technical effects".[22] Our Culture Mag critic Christopher Stewardson rated the film 3.5 out of 5.[23]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 18 reviews and gave the film a 94% approval rating.[24]


The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was the first live-action film to feature a giant monster awakened/brought about by an atomic bomb detonation,[25] preceding Godzilla by 16 months. During the production of Godzilla, its pre-published storyline was very similar to that of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and was actually titled The Giant Monster from 20,000 Miles Under the Sea (海底二万哩から来た大怪獣 Kaiteinimanmairu kara Kita Daikaijū).[26][27] The film's financial success helped spawn the genre of giant monster films of the 1950s. Producers Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester got the idea to combine the growing paranoia about nuclear weapons with the concept of a giant monster after a successful theatrical re-release of King Kong.[16] In turn, this craze included Them! the following year about a colony of giant ants (the first of the "big bug" films), the Godzilla series from Japan that has spawned films from 1954 to the present day,[4][5] and two British features helmed by Beast director Eugène Lourié, Behemoth, the Sea Monster (U.K. 1959, U.S. release retitled The Giant Behemoth) and Gorgo (U.K. 1961).[28]

The film Cloverfield (2008), which also involves a giant monster terrorizing New York City, inserts a frame from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (along with frames from King Kong and Them!) into the hand-held camera footage used throughout the film.[29]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.[30]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms also appears in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990).

See also



  1. ^ "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Eugène Lourié - Cast and Crew - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  2. ^ a b "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. ^ "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. ^ a b Jones 1995, p. 42.
  5. ^ a b Hood, Robert. "A Potted History of Godzilla." Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  6. ^ The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen: Features, Early 16mm Experiments and Unrealized Projects by Roy P. Webber
  7. ^ Van Hise 1993, p. 102.
  8. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953." Variety, January 13, 1954.
  9. ^ Johnson 1995, p. 61.
  10. ^ "Hal E. Chester". The Times. London. May 2, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2018. (subscription required)
  11. ^ Harryhausen & Dalton 2003, p. 58
  12. ^ Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun, Doubleday, March 1953.
  13. ^ Glut, Donald F. (1982) The Dinosaur Scrapbook, Citadel Press
  14. ^ "David Buttolph - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  15. ^ "Concept art from 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms'." Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Rovin 1989
  17. ^ McKenna, A. T. (September 16, 2016). "Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolutions in Film Promotion". University Press of Kentucky – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Harryhausen, Ray (2010) Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, Aurum Press Ltd
  19. ^ Berry, Mark F. (January 1, 2005). "The Dinosaur Filmography". McFarland – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Hankin, Mike (2008) Ray Harryhausen-Master of the Majiks, Archive Editions LLC
  21. ^ White, Armond (A.W.). "Movie review: The Beast From 20 000 Fathoms (1953); 'Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' invades city." The New York Times, June 25, 1953.
  22. ^ "Review: ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’." Variety. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  23. ^ "Review: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)" Our Culture Mag. Retrieved: May 04, 2017.
  24. ^ "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)". Rotten Tomatoes (Fandango Media). Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  25. ^ Poole 2011, p. 124.
  26. ^ Godzilla Days. Shueisha. pp. 34-38. ISBN 978-4087488159.
  27. ^ Tabata M., 2005, "Why Does Godzilla Destroy Cities?", Studies in Urban Cultures, p.17, Vol.5, pp.16-29, Urban Culture Research Center, Graduate School of Literature and Human Sciences, Osaka City University
  28. ^ Berry, Mark F. The Dinosaur Filmography, McFarland & Company
  29. ^ "Easter egg monster images." Cloverfield News. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  30. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot." AFI. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.


External links

Afternoon movie

The afternoon movie was a popular practice of local television stations from the 1950s through the 1970s. It consisted of the daily weekday showing of old films usually between 12:30 and 2:00 P.M; if the film ran two hours or more, it was split into two parts. Atlanta local station WSB-TV, for instance, would show films in this time slot under the umbrella title Armchair Playhouse. Popular titles, such as the 1953 House of Wax, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (also 1953), the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty, the 1949 The Secret Garden, or National Velvet (1944), would often turn up as afternoon movies (years later, in 1978, National Velvet was shown on network television, by CBS). During the Christmas season, such films as Gulliver's Travels (1939), Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy (1954), or A Christmas Carol (1938) would sometimes be telecast on local stations after the network telecast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

These afternoon movie telecasts existed in an age where was no cable TV, home video, or video-on-demand. Viewers either had to watch an old film when it was telecast, or wait for it to be shown at a revival house.

WABC-TV in New York City ran The 4:30 Movie weekdays from 1968 to 1981. Other ABC owned-and-operated stations also used the format at different times in the afternoon.

Some local stations also telecast morning movies in much the same format; these were often shown from 9:30 A.M. to 11:00 A.M., and, like the afternoon films, would often be split up into two parts. Many obscure B-films turned up as morning movies, though occasionally a "big film" such as The Miracle of the Bells would be telecast.

As more and more films began to be televised by entire networks in prime time, and as more and more soap operas, talk shows, and daily syndicated programming filled the network airwaves and became extremely popular, the daily afternoon movie on TV was gradually phased out on the local affiliates belonging to the three major commercial networks (NBC, CBS and ABC). Ted Turner's WTBS-TV (now Meredith-owned WPCH), on the other hand, showed old films such as the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors and the edited version of Joan of Arc both in the morning and in the afternoon throughout the 1970s, when it was called WTCG.

Today, films are often shown locally on commercial stations in the afternoon on weekends (especially since there are now so many more television channels), but none are shown in the afternoon on a weekday on any local TV station.

Bill Woodson

William T. Woodson (July 16, 1917 – February 22, 2017) was an American voice actor, best known for his narration of the radio series This is Your FBI and the animated series Super Friends and all its spin-offs.

Eugène Lourié

Eugène Lourié (April 8, 1903 – 26 May 1991) was a French film director, art director, production designer, set designer and screenwriter who was known for his collaborations with Jean Renoir and for his 1950s science fiction movies. Allmovie contributor Sandra Brennan has written that he was "among the best art directors in French cinema." He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 for Best Visual Effects on the film Krakatoa, East of Java.

Fred Freiberger

Fred Freiberger (February 19, 1915 – March 2, 2003) was an American film and television writer and television producer, whose career spanned four decades and work on such films and TV series as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Star Trek (1968–69) and Space: 1999 (1976–77).

Freiberger is best known for his work as the producer of the third and final season of science-fiction series Star Trek, between 1968 and 1969. His screenwriting credits include 13 films made between 1946 and 1958. He appeared as himself in the short documentary Funny Old Guys, which aired as part of the HBO series Still Kicking, Still Laughing in 2003, a few months after his death in March.

Freiberger died on March 2, 2003 at his Bel-Air home, according to his son, Ben. No cause of death was given.

Godzilla (Scott Ciencin series)

Godzilla is a series of children's novels about Godzilla, the Japanese movie monster, by Scott Ciencin.

The first novel, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, shares the title of the American version of the original film, but is not otherwise connected to it. The second, Godzilla Invades America, features Godzilla fighting a giant scorpion, Kamacuras, and Kumonga. The third book, Godzilla: Journey to Monster Island, features Rodan and Anguirus. The last book, Godzilla vs. the Space Monster, has a face-off between Godzilla and King Ghidorah.

Godzilla Game

Godzilla Game was a board game released by Mattel in 1978. Between two and four people could play. Each player controlled six spaceships. One player's spaceships were all green, another's were all yellow, another's were all orange, and another's were all magenta. Occasionally Godzilla would appear and eat one of the spaceships. The last player to have a spaceship left would be the winner.


Kaijū (怪獣, kaijū, from Japanese "strange beast") is a Japanese film genre that features giant monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. It is a subgenre of tokusatsu entertainment. This word originated from the Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas.

List of films featuring giant monsters

This is an alphabetical list of films featuring giant monsters, known in Japan as kaiju. One of the first films involving giant monsters was the 1933 classic King Kong, as developments in cinema and animation enabled the creation of realistic giant creatures. The film influenced many giant-monster films in its wake, including many produced in Japan, starting with the adaptation King Kong Appears in Edo in 1938, which is now presumed to be a lost film. The visual effects in King Kong, created by Willis O'Brien, inspired future monster film effects artists such as Ray Harryhausen and Dennis Muren. Early giant-monster films often had themes of adventure and exploration of unknown regions, and incorporated fights with giant monsters as a climactic element.

The development of atomic weaponry in the 1940s gave rise to its involvement in popular themes. The 1953 American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms featured a giant dinosaur that awakens due to nuclear tests in the Arctic. The 1954 film Them! involved giant irradiated ants. Later in 1954, the Japanese film Godzilla was released. This was followed by an ongoing trend of giant reptiles created by nuclear radiation. Japan continued with a giant moth in Mothra, a turtle in Gamera, and many more that followed. Other countries have their own giant monster movies such as the United Kingdom with Gorgo in 1961.

Films featuring Godzilla and Gamera were made into the 1970s, and a King Kong remake was released in 1976. Awareness of toxic waste in the 1970s inspired the release of various horror films, and the giant monster subgenre saw the release of 1971's Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Godzilla received a 1998 remake by TriStar Pictures, and King Kong received a 2005 remake by Universal Pictures. 2008 saw the release of the successful Cloverfield, which some critics have claimed inspiration from the September 11 attacks. Pacific Rim, a film featuring giant mecha battling with kaiju, was released in 2013, and the following year Legendary reinterpreted Godzilla for a new generation of audiences in the series' 30th film. The latest entry in the Godzilla series, Shin Godzilla, premiered in Japan in July 2016. A reboot of King Kong known as Kong: Skull Island was released in March 2017.


Megalon (メガロ, Megaro) is a kaiju who first appeared in Toho's 1973 film Godzilla vs. Megalon.

Model animation

Model animation is a form of stop motion animation designed to merge with live action footage to create the illusion of a real-world fantasy sequence.

Monster movie

A monster movie, creature feature, or giant monster film is a disaster film that focuses on a group of characters struggling to survive attacks by one or more antagonistic monsters, often abnormally large ones. The film may also fall under the horror, comedy, fantasy, or science fiction genres. Monster movies originated with adaptations of horror folklore and literature. Typically, movie monsters differ from more traditional antagonists in that many exist due to circumstances beyond their control; their actions are not entirely based on choice, potentially making them objects of sympathy to film viewers.


Orga (Japanese: オルガ, Hepburn: Oruga) is a kaiju who first appeared in the 1999 Toho film Godzilla 2000.

Paula Raymond

Paula Raymond (born Paula Ramona Wright, November 23, 1924 – December 31, 2003) was an American model and actress who played the leading lady in numerous movies and television series episodes. She was the niece of American pulp-magazine editor Farnsworth Wright.

Ray Harryhausen

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) was an American-born British artist, designer, visual effects creator, writer and producer who created a form of stop-motion model animation known as "Dynamation".His most memorable works include: working with his mentor Willis H. O'Brien on the animation for Mighty Joe Young (1949), which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; his first color film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958); and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which featured a famous sword fight with seven skeleton warriors. His last film was Clash of the Titans (1981), after which he retired.

Harryhausen moved to the United Kingdom, became a dual US-UK citizen and lived in London from 1960 until his death in 2013. During his life, his innovative style of special effects in films inspired numerous filmmakers. In November 2016 the BFI compiled a list of those present-day filmmakers who claim to have been inspired by Harryhausen, including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, Nick Park, James Cameron, and Guillermo del Toro. Others influenced by him include George Lucas, John Lasseter, John Landis, Henry Selick, J.J. Abrams, and Wes Anderson.

The Fog Horn

"The Fog Horn" is a 1951 science fiction short story by American writer Ray Bradbury, the first in his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun. The story was the basis for the 1953 film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

The Giant Behemoth

The Giant Behemoth (a.k.a. Behemoth, the Sea Monster and The Behemoth) is a 1959 American-British black-and-white science fiction giant monster film distributed by Allied Artists Pictures. The film was produced by Ted Lloyd, directed by Eugène Lourié, and stars Gene Evans and André Morell. The screenplay was written by blacklisted author Daniel James (under the name "Daniel Hyatt") with director Lourié.

Originally a story about an amorphous blob of radiation, the script was changed at the distributor's insistence to a pastiche of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), though elements of the original concept remain in the early parts of the film and in the "nuclear-breathing" power of the titular monster.

The Iceman Ducketh

The Iceman Ducketh is a 1964 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes theatrical cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. This cartoon short is directed by Phil Monroe and co-directed by Maurice Noble, with a story by John Dunn. It was the last Warner Bros. theatrical cartoon featuring Bugs and Daffy together until Box-Office Bunny in 1991, and the last that Chuck Jones worked on, though he was fired at an early stage of production and replaced by Monroe (by the time it was released, Jones had already produced two cartoons at his new studio, Sib-Tower 12).

The roaring of the angry bears in the cartoon seems to be the same sound effect used for the monster's roar in the feature film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was also produced by Warner Bros.

Clips from this cartoon were used and commentated on by John Madden and Pat Summerall as the second quarter of the 2001 Cartoon Network special The Big Game XXIX: Bugs Vs. Daffy.

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