God(zilla) Save The King
Captain Gordon: [to an alien invader] “Listen, kid. There are two things you don’t know about the Earth. One is me. The other is Godzilla.”Godzilla: Final Wars
Godzilla is Japan’s biggest movie star. The original Godzilla from 1954
launched the longest running film series in history. It has spawned thirty-two sequels, remakes, and adaptations, more than James Bond, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, X-Men, Star Wars, Star Trek or others.
A catalogue that big is bound to vary in quality. Five of these flicks are great, but five are in for a monster-sized beatdown. Which movies made the list? Do the bad movies have any redeeming qualities? Let’s find out.
5 Godzilla Movies to See
#5: Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster
[Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra are conversing]
Naoko: “Good… good heavens, it looks like they’re having a conversation. Shindo, what do you think they’re saying to each other?”
Detective Shindo: “Huh, how would I know? You expect me to understand monster talk?”
Mothra’s Fairies: “Oh, Godzilla, what terrible language!”
Plot Synopsis: Detective Shindo is hired to protect a visiting princess. She is seemingly assassinated but appears in Japan, claiming to be possessed by a Venusian. The princess warns him that a monster called King Ghidorah had destroyed Venus and was now making its way to Earth. The only way to stop Ghidorah is to get Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan to work together.
Why this Film: This was the first Godzilla movie to portray him as a hero and feature him working with other monsters to fight a common enemy. It also introduced audiences to King Ghidorah, a psychotic golden dragon who has since become Godzilla’s arch enemy. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a loose remake of Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster.
Best Scene: Godzilla and Rodan charging into battle to rescue an outmatched Mothra.
#4: Godzilla: Final Wars
Komuro: “You’re going to wake up Godzilla?…It’s too dangerous! What if he destroys the world?”
Captain Gordon: “There is no world left to be destroyed.”
Plot Synopsis: The Earth is at peace. An army of mutant soldiers have managed to capture almost every giant monster, even Godzilla. Earth is then visited by seemingly peaceful aliens called the Xilliens, who have come to warn the Earthlings that their planet is in the path of an oncoming planet.
The Xilliens are actually replacing world leaders and plan to conquer the world. The Xillien leader is assassinated by his subordinate, X, who has gotten tired of the slow and peaceful conquest. X uses advanced technology to take control of the mutant army and the monsters, which proceed to decimate the world. With no other alternative, the heroes unleash Godzilla, hoping that he can defeat the other monsters.
Why this Film?: Toho went nuts for Godzilla’s 50th anniversary. No social commentary or higher meaning, Godzilla: Final Wars is meant to be fun with cameos from nearly every Godzilla monster. It’s a remake of Destroy All Monsters with plot points borrowed from X-Men, The Matrix, and other contemporary movies. Of particular note is the villain X, who chews the scenery in every scene he appears in.
Best Scene: The fight between Godzilla and Zilla, the 1998 American Godzilla. It’s over in two hits while Sum 41’s “All to Blame” blares and X throws a tantrum cursing out Zilla.
#3: Godzilla vs Destoroyah
Miki Saegusa: “I’ve a feeling this is going to be Godzilla’s last fight.”
Plot Synopsis: Godzilla rampages through Hong Kong with his scales seemingly on fire. Scientists realize that the battles he has fought have caught up to him. Godzilla is dying and his nuclear heart is melting down. Even worse, the meltdown will destroy Earth if Godzilla can’t be stopped.
Meanwhile, a monster called Destoroyah appears. This hellish mix of Doomsday and a Xenomorph from Alien was resurrected by the Oxygen Destroyer, the weapon that killed the original Godzilla. Godzilla’s son Junior appears to help his dad fight Destroyah, but will the two of them be enough?
Why this movie?: Every hero has a final story where they’re called to fight one last time. This is Godzilla’s last dance. It introduces fans to his ultimate form, Burning Godzilla, and features several callbacks to the original movie. The use of a monster powered by the Oxygen Destroyer as his final opponent is thematically perfect.
Godzilla vs Destoroyah was an end of an era in more ways than one. It was the last Godzilla movie made before Godzilla’s creator, Tomoyuki Tanaka, passed away in 1997. It was also the last Godzilla movie scored by the series composer, Akira Ifukube, who passed away in 2006
Best Scene: The final assault on Destoroyah where an apocalyptically enraged Godzilla and the Japanese military work together to bring down the demonic monster.
#2: Shin Godzilla
Kayoco Anne Patterson: “Godzilla. Truly a God incarnate.”
Plot Synopsis: A giant monster appears in Tokyo Bay. It is codenamed Godzilla and metamorphoses into a shriveled, disfigured version of Godzilla. The Japanese Self Defense Force is unable to kill the monster, which goes on a rampage
Scientists discover that Godzilla is radioactive and is able to alter its body to adapt to threats. The U.N. decides to nuke Tokyo in hopes of killing Godzilla, leading to a race against time as the Japanese government tries to figure out how to stop Godzilla before they’re nuked.
Why This Movie: Shin (True/Pure) Godzilla is an astounding remake of the original Godzilla that manages to hit the same levels of horror and tragedy while also featuring social commentary. Everything from obstructive bureaucracy during emergencies to Japan’s place in world politics are put under the microscope.
Shin Godzilla does a great job of showing how modern day Japan would fight one of the strongest incarnations of Godzilla. With no giant robots or friendly kaiju, the humans are forced to use clever strategies. Some of these include loading unmanned bullet trains with explosives, having artillery target Godzilla’s knees, and even collapsing buildings to slow him down
Shin Godzilla was a smash hit in Japan and won Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards.
Best Scene: Godzilla spewing black smoke into Tokyo. The smoke then ignites, turning the city into a pyre. Finally, Godzilla focuses the flames into the most devastating atomic breath ever seen. And all of this to his new theme song, “Who Will Know? (Tragedy)”.
#1: Godzilla (1954)
Dr. Serizawa: “And what will become of us if a weapon such as that I now have, falls into the wrong hands?”
Ogata: “Then you have a responsibility no man has ever faced. You have your fear, which might become reality, and then you have Godzilla, which is reality.”
Plot Synopsis: Several ships have disappeared in the Pacific Ocean. A sailor named Otaga investigates and finds the inhabitants of a local island claiming their god Gojira is responsible. Godzilla soon attacks the natives and makes his way to Tokyo.
The Japanese military is unable to slow down Godzilla. Otaga meets with his lover Emiko, who reveals her friend Dr. Serizawa might have a way to stop Godzilla. Serizawa reveals the Oxygen Destroyer, a super weapon he accidentally created. He is hesitant to use the weapon, fearing the government will deploy it against their enemies. He ultimately decides to use the Oxygen Destroyer, but commits suicide to make sure he is not forced to recreate it.
Why this Movie: Godzilla is considered one of the best Japanese movies ever made. Ironically, the movie bombed when it first came out because it was too soon for the atomic bomb message and the wounds were too fresh. Godzilla is far darker than its sequels, more of a tragic horror movie than the later sci-fi fare.
The U.S. version has an interesting addition. Perry Mason’s Raymond Burr plays reporter Steve Martin. He reports on Godzilla’s reign of terror while serving as a Greek Chorus and narrator. The character was popular and returned decades later for the U.S. dub of Godzilla (1984).
Best Scene: The aftermath of Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo, which truly drives home the atomic bomb comparison. Special note goes to the part where soldiers wave a Geiger counter over a child’s body and it goes berserk.
5 Godzilla Movies to Skip
#5: Godzilla (2014)
Dr. Serizawa: “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control… and not the other way around. Let them fight.”
Plot Synopsis: Navy officer Ford Brody gets roped into helping his conspiracy theorist father investigate a shadowy organization called Monarch. They witness a monster called Muto escape from Monarch’s containment. Ford then joins forces with Monarch to try and stop the Muto. Things go from bad to worse as Muto’s presence summons its ancient enemy, Godzilla.
Why it sucks: Godzilla is barely in the movie, despite it being named for him. Every time he shows up the film cuts away from the action or the scene is obscured by storm clouds and debris. This might be tolerable if the human story wasn’t so bland.
Speaking of which, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is the blandest lead imaginable. He shows little personality, emotion, and exists to move the plot forward. This is especially glaring compared to the other leads, his father, Joe Brody (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) and Monarch scientist Dr. Serizawa (Inception’s Ken Watanabe).
Redeeming Factors: The scenes where Godzilla is visible are stunning. Legendary has used this film as a learning experience and shown that they can improve with Kong: Skull Island.
#4: Godzilla vs Gigan
Godzilla: “Hey, Anguirus!”
Anguirus: “Whadda you want?”
Godzilla: “Something funny going on. You better check.”
Anguirus: “Okay.” [wanders off]
Godzilla: “HURRY UP!”
Plot Synopsis: A young comic book artist is hired to work at an amusement park called World Children’s Land. He soon learns that his bosses are alien invaders. Specifically, they are giant cockroaches who come from “Space Hunter Nebula-M”, a world they have destroyed through pollution.
The Nebulans plan to lure Godzilla to the amusement park and kill him with a laser hidden in a giant tower shaped like Godzilla. When that plot fails, they unleash King Ghidorah and a cyborg monster called Gigan to fight Godzilla and Anguirus.
Why it Sucks: I just told you.
If you want more details, Godzilla vs Gigan is where the series started to get silly. Godzilla talks to his ally Anguirus twice, then promptly never does it again. Aliens plan to conquer the world from an amusement park and are opposed by a comic book artist. The list goes on.
Godzilla vs Gigan uses a lot of stock footage. Gigan and Ghidorah frequently hide behind trees so footage from War of the Gargantuas can be spliced in. Most of King Ghidorah’s rampage is also spliced together from previous movie appearances.
Redeeming Factors: Gigan is a great addition despite a messy debut. Fans were enamored with his cyborg aesthetic and sadistic personality. Gigan is also the first monster to make Godzilla bleed in all of the Godzilla movies.
#3: Godzilla vs Megalon
[Megalon has just appeared]
Joel: “He looks kinda like a Christmas tree monster.”
Crow: “Yeah, and his arms look like the Chrysler Building.”
Tom Servo: “Oof, he wakes up with the worst special effects in the morning”.Mystery Science Theatre 3000, “Godzilla vs Megalon” (Season 2, Episode 12)
Plot Synopsis: An underground atomic bomb test draws the ire of a race called the Seatopians. They call upon their god Megalon to destroy the surface world. To assist Megalon, they send agents to take control of an advanced robot called Jet Jaguar. The Seatopians reprogram Jet Jaguar, but its creator manages to undo the programming.
Jet Jaguar flies off to get Godzilla’s help while the Seatopians borrow Gigan from the Nebulans. Jet Jaguar pulls the ability to turn into a giant robot outta his ass and fights Megalon while Godzilla rushes to the battle. But when Gigan joins the fray, will Jet Jaguar be able to hold his own long enough for Godzilla to arrive?
Why it Sucks: Godzilla vs Megalon takes all of Godzilla vs Gigan’s sins and builds upon them. Gigan’s scenes are mostly stock footage while all of Megalon’s tricks are repurposed from King Ghidorah. Our human heroes are especially lame, with a scientist, his friend/implied lover, and one of the most annoying child actors in film history.
It’s worth mentioning that Godzilla vs Megalon wasn’t originally a Godzilla film. It was supposed to star Jet Jaguar and be the start of an Ultraman-esque film series. Godzilla and Gigan were added because the studio feared Jet Jaguar and Megalon alone couldn’t carry the movie. They were right.
Redeeming Factors: Megalon and Jet Jaguar are well liked even though the movie is crap. Godzilla vs Megalon was also featured in an episode of MST3K. A scene of Godzilla performing a dropkick even made it into the opening credits.
#2: Godzilla (1998)
Lecturer: “Monsters resembling Godzilla have been seen in the United States…”
Soldier One: [whispering] “Wasn’t that Godzilla?”
Soldier Two: [whispering back] “The Americans said it was Godzilla, but all the Japanese scientists denied it.”Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
Plot Synopsis: An iguana-like dinosaur is mutated by an atomic bomb. The creature makes its way to New York City where it goes on a rampage. The creature is named Godzilla and somehow disappears. Godzilla is revealed to have converted Madison Square Garden into a nest.
A scientist named Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is recruited by a French black ops team to help infiltrate the nest and kill Godzilla. Tatopolous quickly discovers that Godzilla was pregnant and had given birth to an army of human-sized Godzillas. Now it’s up to Nick and the team to end the Godzilla threat once and for all.
Why it Sucks: This is not a Godzilla film. It’s a mediocre ripoff of Jurassic Park. The Godzilla Juniors are indistinguishable from the Velociraptors and Godzilla’s rampage brings the T-Rex from The Lost World: Jurassic Park to mind. Even ignoring that, the rest of the film is a boring, incoherent mess.
Toho hates this movie. They cut a hiatus short and made Godzilla 2000 to demonstrate what a Godzilla movie should be. They bought the rights to this monster, renamed it Zilla because it took the “God” out of Godzilla, and had the real Godzilla annihilate it in Godzilla: Final Wars.
Redeeming Factors: Fox made a decent cartoon spinoff that followed Tatopoulos and his team raising a heroic Godzilla Jr.
#1 Worst: Godzilla’s Revenge
Minya: “Godzilla says ah should learn t’fight my own battles.”
Plot Synopsis: Ichiro is a young child who copes with bullying by imagining himself going to Monster Island and befriending Godzilla’s son, Minya. They go on adventures together to learn the true meaning of standing up for yourself. Minya has to confront a bully monster called Gabara while Ichiro in real life is kidnapped by bank robbers for some reason
Why it Sucks: Godzilla’s Revenge is a glorified clip show starring the shrillest child actor I’ve had the displeasure to watch. Godzilla’s son reveals that he can talk and sounds like The Flintstones’ Barney Rubble after too many blows to the head.
The movie is mostly stock footage, featuring unedited fight scenes from Son of Godzilla and Ebirah: Horror of the Deep in their entirety. It is the worst of all the Godzilla movies because it doesn’t even try to be good.
Redeeming Features: It’s the only movie to feature Gabara. That’s a good thing.
Do you agree with our list? Are there films you would shuffle around? Would you really willingly watch Godzilla’s Revenge a second time? Talk to us about Godzilla movies in the comments.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.