carrion comfort

Vulture Ranks Movie Vultures

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

We here at Vulture are big fans of the animal kingdom. This week, spurred by the release of Strays, we’ve been celebrating some of the cream of the cinema creature crop. We dove into the best shark movies. We put our fingers on the best bug movies. We were charmed by the best snake movies. We honored the most purr-fect movie cats and determined which of man’s best friends made for man’s best films.

But, among all these animal accolades, what of our namesake? The humble vulture, that ugly (yet noble) carrion-eating bird of prey? Surely there must be great vulture movies, no?

Vultures are a cinema fixture of a sort. They’re ubiquitous in westerns, circling a soon-to-be dead cowboy stranded in the desert. But a ring of little birds high up in the sky does not alone make for a true vulture movie. Vultures rarely get a starring role compared to dogs or cats, but there are a few examples. So to honor our naked-necked scavenger namesakes, here are the best vulture moves we could find. There aren’t a lot, and they’re not all good, but when you’re dealing with films about turkey vultures, sometimes you’ll get a plain ol’ turkey.


The Giant Claw (1957)

At a certain point during the giant monster boom of the ’50s, they started running out of things to make big. Sure, you’ve got your dinosaurs, as seen in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and Godzilla. And you can make an ant scary, as seen in THEM!. But then you get The Giant Claw, featuring a massive vulturelike bird who is “from an antimatter galaxy” and looks like a Muppet found dead in an alley off of Sesame Street. For lovers of the genre, it’s a classic so-bad-it’s-good movie (and it is so bad), but to The Giant Claw’s credit, there is something … unsettling about the oversized avian despite — or perhaps because of — its goofiness.

Streaming on Tubi


Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017)

Vultures are almost always always cast as “bad guys” in movies, a fact that definitely prompts no self-reflection for us here at Vulture, no sir. One such villain is Monty, the evil wizard Gargamel’s henchbird who made his debut in the 2017 all-animated reboot of The Smurfs. In The Lost Village, Monty doesn’t do too much more than look cranky and dive-bomb the little blue Belgian creations. Frankly, though, he’s right to do so. The Smurfs are so weird.

Streaming on Prime Video


The Dark Crystal (1982)

Are Skeksis, technically speaking, vultures? No, but if the monster in The Giant Claw were an accidental Muppet, the villains of The Dark Crystal are the real Jim Henson deal. A horrible race of beady-eyed and big-beaked creatures, the Skeksis, led by the vile Chamberlain, take the vulture aesthetic and push it to its most depraved and decrepit. We have to stan, sadly.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime


The Jungle Book (1967)

Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy, and Dizzy, a quartet of vultures who initially poke fun at Mowgli before seeing him as a kindred outcast spirit and singing a nice little song about friendship (“That’s What Friends Are For”), were Disney’s attempt to jazz up their take on the Rudyard Kipling classic by making a feathered Fab Four. The vultures, with their Liverpool accents (in the Indian jungle, of course), are explicit riffs on the Beatles, and there was even some effort to get John, Paul, George, and Ringo to voice them, though those plans never took flight. Still, they’re part of a lovely and ultimately positive vignette in The Jungle Book, providing a rare example of friendly vultures. You do have to wonder, though, which Beatle would have been stuck voicing Buzzie, the balding vulture. Was Disney really going to do Ringo dirty like that?

Streaming on Disney+


Fall (2022)

In Fall, two girls climb up a 2,000-foot-tall television tower and become stranded on the top when the ladder breaks, leaving them without food, water, or a way to communicate with anybody on the ground, let alone get down themselves. That all seems pretty bad, but it’s made worse by the addition of some of the most comically aggressive and persistent vultures. Vultures are scavengers, meaning they almost exclusively eat dead or at least dying animals. (Part of the reason they don’t have feathers on their necks is because they’re frequently shoulders-deep in a rotting carcass.) In Fall, though, these vultures see a very much alive woman stranded 2,000 feet in the sky and think: I can probably make this worse.

The vultures in Fall go extremely aggro, pecking and clawing at protagonist Becky while she attempts to climb to the tippy top of the tower to charge a drone that she hopes can call them to safety. (It doesn’t.) The bird gets its just desserts, though, when it becomes, well, desserts. Toward the end of the film, a starving and near-delirious Becky wakes up to see a vulture doing what vultures are supposed to do: gnawing on an infected wound on her leg because it assumes she’s dead. Becky is not dead, however, and instead she lashes out and breaks the bird’s neck after a struggle before eating its raw flesh, giving her the strength she needs to accomplish the next disgusting task the movie has in store.

You might think that we here at Vulture would be upset to see a vulture die. Not so. That dead vulture served a purpose, nourishing Becky with what one can only assume was parasite-ridden flesh. We aim to serve.

Streaming on Starz

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Vulture Ranks Movie Vultures