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The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

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The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEugène Lourié
Screenplay by
Based onThe Fog Horn
by Ray Bradbury
Produced by
Narrated byWilliam Woodson
CinematographyJohn L. Russell
Edited byBernard W. Burton
Music byDavid Buttolph
Jack Dietz Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 13, 1953 (1953-06-13)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5 million[1][2]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 American science fiction action horror film directed by Eugène Lourié, with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The film stars Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, and Kenneth Tobey.[3] The screenplay is based on Ray Bradbury's 1951 short story "The Fog Horn", specifically the scene where a lighthouse is destroyed by the title character.[4] The film is about the Rhedosaurus, a dinosaur that is released from its frozen hibernating state by an atomic bomb test in the Arctic Circle[4] and begins to wreak a path of destruction as it travels southward, eventually arriving at its ancient spawning grounds, which includes New York City.[5]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was one of the early atomic monster films; it inspired a generation of creature features such as Godzilla.[6][7]


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,[8] 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 later is 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. It devours a police officer shooting at it, totals cars, knocks over buildings, and generally causes a panicking frenzy. 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 decided to shoot a radioactive isotope into the beast's neck wound with hopes of burning it from the inside, while at the same time neutralizing the contagion.

When the Rhedosaurus comes ashore and reaches the Coney Island amusement park, military sharpshooter Corporal Stone takes a rifle grenade loaded with a potent radioactive isotope and along with Dr. Nesbitt climbs on board the Coney Island Cyclone 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, Nesbitt and Stone climb down as the park becomes engulfed in flames. The Rhedosaurus collapses and eventually dies from the isotope's radiation poisoning.



The Beast destroys a lighthouse, an original concept from the Ray Bradbury short story "The Fog Horn"

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had a production budget of $200,000.[9]

The film was first announced in the trades on July 30, 1951 as The Monster from Beneath the Sea,[10] one of 16 titles the newly formed Mutual Films Corporation were readying for production. This announcement appeared a week exactly after Ray Bradbury had his short story "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" published in The Saturday Evening Post (it was later anthologized under the title "The Fog Horn").[11] During preproduction, in spring, 1952, according to Ray Harryhausen, Dietz showed him an illustration of the monster from the Ray Bradbury story published the previous year.[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. During production Bradbury visited his friend Harryhausen at the studio and was invited to read the script. When Bradbury pointed out to the producers similarities to his short story, they quickly bought the rights to his story.[13] When Warner Bros. bought The Monster from Beneath the Sea from Mutual a year later, they changed the film's title to match the story's title. Bradbury's name was used extensively in their promotional campaign. It also had an on-screen credit that read "Suggested by the Saturday Evening Post Story by Ray Bradbury".[14]

An original music score was composed by Michel Michelet, but when Warner Bros. purchased the film, it 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, but Buttolph composed one of his more memorable and powerful scores, setting much of the tone for giant monster film music of the 1950s.[15]

Remaining head of the Rhedosaurus model

Some early pre-production conceptual sketches of the Beast showed that, at one point, it was to have a shelled head and later was to have a beak.[16] Creature effects were assigned to Ray Harryhausen, who had been working for years with Willis O'Brien, the man who created King Kong. The film monster looks nothing like the Brontosaurus-type creature of the short story. It is instead a kind of Tyrannosaurus-type prehistoric predator, though quadrupedal in stature. The monster 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.[17] 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 used for the film poster. Later, the creature's nuclear flame breath was the inspiration for the original Japanese film Godzilla (1954).[18]

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.[19]

The dinosaur skeleton in the museum sequence is artificial; it was obtained from RKO Pictures' prop storage where it had been constructed for its classic comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938).[20]

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 beach views of the structure. 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's destroying a shooting miniature of the coaster.[21]


Drive-in advertisement from 1953.

Warner Bros. acquired the film for $800,000[22] (including a large advertising campaign) and released it on June 13, 1953 in New York and Los Angeles.[23] The film had one of the widest and fastest releases of the time, planning to have most of its bookings in its first two months, opening in 1,422 theaters nationwide within the first week.[24][25] Original prints of Beast were sepia toned.[26]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms for The New York Times, A. H. Weiler 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 theater seemed to be making for the hills. On sober second thought, however, this might have been sensible".[27]

Hy Hollinger's review in Variety 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".[28] Our Culture Mag critic Christopher Stewardson rated the film 3.5 out of 5.[29]

Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 21 reviews and gives the film a 91% approval rating, with an average rating of 6.60/10.[30]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $2.25 million at the North American box office during its first year of release[31] and grossed more than $5 million.[1][2]


Japanese poster of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms by Daiei Film in 1954.[32]

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,[33] preceding Godzilla by 16 months. During the production of Godzilla, its pre-published story was very similar to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and was titled The Giant Monster From 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (海底二万哩から来た大海獣, (Kaitei Niman-ri karakita Daikaiju)).[34][35] As above-mentioned, the Rhedosaurus was originally planned to breathe "atomic flame" similar to Godzilla's atomic heat beam.[18] The film's financial success helped spawn the genre of giant monster films of the 1950s. The success of RKO's re-release of King Kong in 1952 and the release of Beast in 1953 prompted other producers to cash in on the giant monster market. This craze included Them! the following year about a colony of giant ants (the first of the "big bug" films of the 1950s), the Godzilla series from Japan that has spawned films from 1954 to the present day,[6][7] and two British features directed by Beast director Eugène Lourié, Behemoth, the Sea Monster (U.K. 1959, U.S. release retitled The Giant Behemoth) and Gorgo (U.K. 1961).[36] Harryhausen himself admitted the extensive similarities with his work and Godzilla in an interview regarding Peter Jackson's King Kong in 2005 and expressed a bitterness towards the Japanese series.[37] Harryhausen would later reuse the Rhedosaurus model to portray the dragon in the 1958 film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.[36] Additionally, Harryhausen's baby Allosaurus within the 1966 film One Million Years B.C. was followed by Toho's Gorosaurus in the 1967 film King Kong Escapes where both theropods were grey-blue colored man-eaters and surviving descendants of Allosaurus,[38] and giant snakes and apes or ape-men appeared in both films.

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.[39]

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.[40]

The film was distributed by Daiei Film in Japan in 1954, the company which later yielded various tokusatsu productions most notably Gamera and Daimajin franchises where the 1965 film Gamera, the Giant Monster also depicted the titular monster was awoken by a nuclear explosion in the Arctic and later destroys a lighthouse. Prior to this, Daiei Film distributed the re-released edition of RKO's King Kong in Japan in 1952, making it the first post-war release of monster movies in Japan, and these distributions presumably influenced productions of the first films of Godzilla and Gamera franchises.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Johnson 1995, p. 61
  2. ^ a b "Hal E. Chester". The Times. London. May 2, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2018. (subscription required)
  3. ^ "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Eugène Lourié - Cast and Crew - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  4. ^ a b "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
  5. ^ "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
  6. ^ a b Jones 1995, p. 42.
  7. ^ a b Hood, Robert. "A Potted History of Godzilla." roberthood.net. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  8. ^ The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen: Features, Early 16mm Experiments and Unrealized Projects by Roy P. Webber
  9. ^ Van Hise 1993, p. 102.
  10. ^ "The Motion Picture Herald 1951-06-30: Vol 183 Iss 13". Quigley Publishing Co. June 30, 1951.
  11. ^ Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun, Doubleday, March 1953.
  12. ^ "Ray Harryhuasen - the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms". YouTube. March 11, 2013.
  13. ^ "Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship Featurette". YouTube. June 30, 2022.
  14. ^ Glut, Donald F. (1982) The Dinosaur Scrapbook, Citadel Press
  15. ^ "David Buttolph - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  16. ^ "Concept art from 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms'." theseventhvoyage.com. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  17. ^ Rovin 1989, p. 22
  18. ^ a b McKenna, A. T. (September 16, 2016). Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and His Revolutions in Film Promotion. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813168739 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Harryhausen, Ray and Dalton, Tony (2010) Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, Aurum Press Ltd.
  20. ^ Berry, Mark F. (January 1, 2005). The Dinosaur Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 9780786424535 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Hankin, Mike (2008) Ray Harryhausen-Master of the Majiks, Archive Editions LLC
  22. ^ "Brains-For-Dollars at WB". Variety. September 16, 1953. p. 3. Retrieved October 6, 2019 – via Archive.org.
  23. ^ The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  24. ^ "Play Fast Playoff For WB 'Beast'". Variety. June 17, 1953. p. 5 – via Archive.org.
  25. ^ Hayes, Dade; Bing, Jonathan (2004). Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession. Miramax Books. pp. 145-150. ISBN 1401352006.
  26. ^ Harryhausen & Dalton 2003, p. 58
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Hollinger, Hy (June 17, 1953). "Review: 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms'". Variety. p. 6. Retrieved October 18, 2020 – via Archive.org.
  29. ^ "Review: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)" Our Culture Mag. Retrieved: May 04, 2017.
  30. ^ "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)". Rotten Tomatoes (Fandango Media). Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  31. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953." Variety, January 13, 1954.
  32. ^ Cite error: The named reference Ui was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  33. ^ Poole 2011, p. 124.
  34. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (2019). Takashi Shimura: Chameleon of Japanese Cinema. McFarland. p. 83. ISBN 978-1476670133.
  35. ^ Ragone, August (2007). Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla. Chronicle Books. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8118-6078-9.
  36. ^ a b Berry, Mark F. The Dinosaur Filmography, McFarland & Company
  37. ^ William Shaw, 2005, "The origin of the species", The Observer, The Guardian
  38. ^ The Godzilla Movie Studio Tour
  39. ^ "Easter egg monster images." Cloverfield News. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  40. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot." AFI. Retrieved: January 30, 2015.
  41. ^ Hisayuki Ui, January 1, 1994, From Gamera to Daimajin: all of Daiei tokusatsuf films, p.63, Kindaieigasha


  • Harryhausen, Ray; Dalton, Tony (2003). Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. United States: Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0823084029.
  • Johnson, John J.J. (1995). Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0093-5.
  • Jones, Stephen (1995). The Illustrated Dinosaur Movie Guide. London: Titan Books. ISBN 1-85286-487-7.
  • Poole, W. Scott. (2011). Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press. ISBN 978-1-60258-314-6.
  • Rovin, Jeff (1989). The Encyclopedia of Monsters. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1824-3.
  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties: 21st Century Edition. 2009. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company (first editions Vol. 1, 1982, Vol. 2, 1986). ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
  • Van Hise, James (1993). Hot Blooded Dinosaur Movies. Las Vegas: Pioneer Books. ISBN 1-55698-365-4.

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