From The Fly to Arachnophobia to Them!, we've rounded up some of the greatest, grossest insect movies of all time.

By Sarah Sprague
May 28, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Bug Movies
Kate Capshaw (L) in 'Indiana Jones & the Temple Doom' (1984) and Jeff Daniels (R) in 'Arachnophobia' (1990)
| Credit: Paramount Pictures; Everett Collection

It's not just people with cabin fever this summer. The Brood X cicadas are starting to emerge from their 17-year slumber, creeping and crawling to the earth's surface, singing chittering love songs while they look for a mate. Sure, it's great for the cicadas, but not so much for the humans around them. But what about for a movie night at home?

Here, we've rounded up some of the best big-bug movies to watch in the privacy of your own backyard. We're talking the ickiest, the squishiest, the ugliest, and the crunchiest. May none of their starring critters show up to join you like those damn cicadas.

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Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Empire of the Ants (1977)

Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) likes to think of herself as the queen bee when she takes a group of prospective real estate investors to look at beachfront property in Florida, but a horde of irradiated ants in sugarcane country are the ones who truly have the run of the place in this Bert I. Gordon flick. Like many of his other films, small creatures were used in principal photography, but through rear-projection shots, the creatures appear to be boat-sized as he switches to larger prop ants for close-up shots. The effect is uneven, and only terrifying if you're already inclined to avoid ants β€” or shady realtors.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

The Swarm (1978)

Unless you lived through this particular era of media panics, it's hard to overstate just how real the threat of killer bees seemed to Americans in the 1970s. (Cue John Belushi in a bee suit on SNL.) While movies-of-the-week Killer Bees (1974) and The Savage Bees (1976) were buzzing about, big-screen-bound Swarm descendedΒ with an impressive cast that included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Olivia de Havilland, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, and Patty Duke. Save this one for a group β€” few things are as fun as rounding up your pals for some retro-disaster-fare laughs, which in this movie are as plentiful as the bees attacking helicopters, trains, and nuclear power plants.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Them! (1954)

The nuclear age impacted art all over the world as humanity came to grips with the massively destructive side of science, and in what is one of the better sci-fi films of the '50s, America's nuclear hunger leads to mega-sized insects escaping the desert nukeΒ  laboratories and heading to Los Angeles. Don’t let the age on this film fool you β€” the large ants are effective as props, and the postwar tension of martial law being declared at the coast and nightly curfews infuses the whole ordeal with a palpable sense of dread.Β Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Universal Pictures

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Mysticism rules in this Michael Myers–less anomaly in the Halloween universe. The descendants of Stonehenge have a plan to sacrifice all the children via Silver Shamrock Novelties masks, all of which have slivers of the ancient stones inside them. Kids in the '80s were used to hearing television rotted their brains, but never was it so literal as critters replacing craniums.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

The Naked Jungle (1954)

It takes nearly half the film to get to the menaces in The Naked Jungle, but once the rivers of ants start to flow across the South American cocoa plantation, stripping bones dry as they eat their way through the landscape, both the creatures and leading man Charlton Heston turn up the intensity in this pulpy melodrama. In contrast to Them!, released that same year, real live ants in full Technicolor swarming people adds to the ick factor, but not necessarily the drama. Still, one could find a worse use of time than seeing a young Heston emoting at a different type of plague than the biblical ones he’s usually remembered for.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Squirm (1976)

Southern-style fried worms are on the menu in Squirm after a storm electrifies the mud in the small Georgia town of Fly Creek, causing the creeping critters to become carnivorous. As one of legendary special makeup effects creator Rick Baker's first films, it's a worthy watch for the worms-coming-out-the-face craftwork, or if you want to be genuinely suspicious of what is coming out of your shower head for the rest of your life.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: DISTER GROUP

Slugs: The Movie (1988)

There are many fair criticisms to make about the low-budget horror film Slugs (also known by its Spanish title Slugs, Muerte Viscosa), but top of the list would be that there are not nearly enough of the titular giant flesh-eaters promised in top billing. Nonetheless, the ones deployed, especially in a post-sexy-time scene β€” it is of course an 1980s genre film β€” are gruesome and gross, willing to eat everything from hamsters to humans.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Arachnophobia (1990)

While Jeff Daniels may have joked with EW in 1990 that he didn't have a good rapport with his arachnoid costar Big Bob, the results on the screen showed no tension between the two leading men outside of what was written on the page β€” and millions of years of interspecies distrust. True professionals. Although animal wrangler Steven Kutcher noted, "You can't actually teach them to do anything. You just watch what they do, then figure out how you can apply it to what you want them to do."

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Related: Wrangling real tarantulas in Arachnophobia

Bug Movies
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Copycat (1995)

Sigourney Weaver had to take care not to kill any ants β€” a few of them had been defanged β€” so they could be returned to their wrangler on the set of Copycat, but she confessed to EW about shooting the scene, "I put two sheets on the bed, one between me and the ants. I didn’t want to go home crying."Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Related: Sigourney Weaver braves the bugs

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

The Mummy (1999)

Giant scarabs have been getting under man’s skin both literally and figuratively since antiquity in The Mummy, and if cutting a large beetle out from one's bicep isn't icky enough, the swarm of locusts will send shivers down any spine.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜

Related: Snakes, sandstorms, and strangulation: The making of 1999's The MummyΒ 

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Of all the creatures in science fiction, few are as scary and disgusting as the one introduced by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo MontalbΓ‘n) as "Ceti Alpha V's only remaining indigenous life form." Inspired by a garden slug on producer Robert Sallin's driveway, the Ceti eel torturing Chekov (Walter Koenig) by sliding its small, slimy body across his face on the way to his ear canal so it can attach itself to his brain is one unforgettable earworm.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: 28 great revenge movies

Bug Movies
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (1984)

From eating large beetles like oysters at a formal dinner to lounge singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) having to brave being covered in myriad large bugs in order to save Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), the second installment of the Raiders series saw more than 50,000 insects take center stage over snakes for the creepy-crawly factor. Director Steven Spielberg famously stood next to Capshaw throughout filming the scene so she wouldn’t have to endure the insects alone β€” although she admitted she had some additional help by the name of "Valium" to stay calm throughout the intense sequence.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: Steven Spielberg: The EW interview

Bug Movies
Credit: Concorde Pictures

The Nest (1987)

An '80s gross-out classic from producer Julie Corman β€” Roger Corman's wife, notable in her own right for 1979's The Lady in Red and 1986's Chopping Mall, among others β€” might rival Creepshow for the best use of cockroaches in food. While much of the film is seen from the bug's perspective, the diner scene with a local waitress (Nancy Morgan) trying to keep the roaches at bay with everything from a microwave to a deep fryer really puts the "splat"Β in spatula.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: First Look Pictures

Ticks (1993)

Genre films like Ticks were a staple of the direct-to-video market in the early '90s, and if you were to watch one film about wood ticks that grow to unusually large sizes thanks to a local marijuana farmer (Clint Howard) dusting his plants with steroids, this should be the one. Rising stars Seth Green and Alfonso Ribeiro as at-risk youth sent to the woods with a counselor (Peter Scolari) elevate the production when dealing with the aggressive terrorists, which, as the local veterinarian reminds everyone in the film, "When in doubt, squish!"Β Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜

Bug Movies
Credit: TWC

The Mist (2007)

Writer-director Frank Darabont's success in adapting the works of Stephen King is unparalleled, and his work on The Mist maintains his reputation as being one the top King whispers. While the insect-like creatures torturing the citizens Bridgton, Maine, may belong to another dimension β€” a toxic, unthinking dimension of killer bugs, or did the government experiments make them this way? β€” the other townsfolk cracking under the stress of lockdown prove to be just as dangerous as the enormous scorpion-flies and gray widowers outside. Actress Marcia Gay Harden had to suffer through audiences yelling "kill her!" when there were perfectly good bug monsters to slay instead.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: The 12 best Stephen King movie and TV adaptations

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Creepshow (1982)

In the "They're Creeping Up on You" segment of the anthology Creepshow, millionaire germaphobe Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall) seals himself off from the rest of humanity in his penthouse to stay away from the "cockroaches" in his life, only to find his home has been infiltrated with the real thing. As Pratt's temper continues to mount at the "worthless" people beyond his walls, the little monsters grow in numbers and become more aggressive, leaving Pratt stuck alone in a panic room with nothing but the bugs.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: George A. Romero's 5 most terrifying movies

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

The Fly (1986)

It's hard to put this film on a list of gross bug movies because the humanity of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) shines through in his last moments as the Brundlefly (the same way it would have been wrong to exclude David Cronenberg's classic next on the list). The transformation into being more fly than man, human skin dripping off from his frame, his loss of speech β€” the nightmare isn't being covered with bugs, it's becoming one. All respect to Vincent Price and original 1958 Fly , but when it comes to grotesquerie, the goo is in the remake.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: Mel Brooks came up with one of the most famous horror movie taglines of all time

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Naked Lunch (1991)

Legendary director David Cronenberg told EW in 1992, "I find that the more monster-y you go, the less provocative the creature is," which holds true in his interpretation of William S. Burroughs' seminal classic Naked Lunch and of the author himself. After Bill Lee (Peter Weller), an exterminator by profession, accidentally kills his wife (Judy Davis), he journeys to the Interzone, where "exterminating rational thought" becomes an important step in understanding the hallucinatory world to which he has brought his own subconscious of guilt and self-loathing. And that's before getting to the part about the giant beetles who talk through their sphincters, the beetles that turn into typewriters Lee works on, giant bugs which are sliced apart in an open market to become a black powder, and everyday caterpillars, just to name a few. (Mugwumps, however, are clearly not bugs, even though they still go "squish.")Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: Behind the scenes of Naked Lunch

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Joe’s Apartment (1996)

Originally a short film concept that aired as comedy vignettes and bumpers between commercials on the network, MTV's first feature film, Joe's Apartment, did not do much for bugs or the box office. But 25 years later, one cannot help but laugh at the sheer audacity of making a movie about the dirtiest apartment in the East Village and the cockroaches who build up a floundering man-child into a full-fledged adult. And the bugs? They’re everywhere, including inside Jerry O'Connell's mouth.Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: Joe's Apartment changes cockroach's reputation

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Mimic (1997)

Director Guillermo del Toro unsurprisingly turns in one the squishiest bug movies on this list with Mimic, which right off the bat lets you know this film is all about insect invasions by casting Mira Sorvino as an entomologist charged with helping control the pest population in the subways through genetic engineering. The bugs might start out small and crunchy underfoot, but a few thousand breeding cycles later, they're no longer timid roaches hiding underground; the Judas bugs are ready to face mankind for the real fight.

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: Buggin' out in Mimic

Bug Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Bug (2006)

Bug is an unusual entry in this roundup of gross movies, because the audience never sees terrorizing insects, just the physical manifestation of their psychological effects on two people, drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) and cocktail waitress Agnes (Ashley Judd), who believe bugs are everywhere as the pair suffer mental breakdowns together in a dingy motel room. Shannon originated the role of Peter on stage before director William Friedkin brought Tracy Letts' play to the screen, and the absolute intensity the actor brings into believing there are egg sacks under his skin and teeth, coupled with Judd's equally unhinged performance, makes for a disquieting romantic demise.Β Β 

Gross bug factor: 🐜🐜🐜🐜🐜

Related: With Bug, activist actress Ashley Judd bites into her darkest role yet

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