There is something beautiful about Godzilla. He is a giant, radioactive monster that, despite his radioactive tendencies, has punched a place into the hearts of horror fans. He spans decades and generations, split into four eras of production: Showa period (1954-1975), Heisei period (1984-1995), Millennium period (1999-2004), and Reisei period (2016-present), with foreign adaptations happening throughout the franchise’s history.
Each era has their own distinct style, with Godzilla sometimes bringing destruction, and sometimes protecting humanity from a monster more ghastly than himself. Godzilla movies run the gamut of quality, with some amazing films and some horrible ones. But regardless of quality, they are always fun to watch for their strange monsters and their social commentary.
These are ten of the best Godzilla movies out there, which I encourage you to binge before Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomps on to big screens May 31, 2019.
10. Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)
What’s better than one giant radioactive lizard? Two of them, but one is actually a robot version built by aliens who want to take over Earth. These aliens have been watching Godzilla in order to build a replica of him to conquer Earth. While MechaGodzilla proves to be a formidable opponent, Godzilla has help from King Caesar, an ancient doglike deity, who is awoken to protect humanity.
9. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Two legendary kaiju battle in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. It is your typical monster movie, complete with epic fight scenes on a massive scale. The government encourage these two creatures to fight each other in the hopes they will kill each other and end the world’s monster problem. But that is easier said than done. While a classic part of the franchise, it is not without its racist caricatures of both King Kong and the people who worship him.
8. Godzilla vs Biollante (1989)
It’s Godzilla versus plant life (sort of) in the 1989 film, Godzilla vs. Biollante. In this installment of the franchise, Godzilla must face off with a creature that has been created from rose cells fused with Godzilla’s cells. A professor, mourning the loss of his daughter, thought that this combination would immortalize his lost child. However, it just creates a mutant monster that can spit poison and evolve into stronger forms.
7. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Godzilla’s arch nemesis, King Ghidorah, is introduced in the 1964 film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Ghidorah comes to Earth in what appears to be a meteor, but is actually an egg. But, this three-headed dragon-like kaiju is so powerful that Godzilla must team up with two other kaiju, Mothra and Rodan, to defeat him and save humanity. But getting three giant monsters to work together is harder than it sounds.
6. Godzilla (2014)
While I was not the biggest fan of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 rendition of Godzilla, it is still an epic monster movie that brings our favorite kaiju back in a big way. This film introduces Project Monarch, which is invested in investigating these titans. My main complaints about the film was its lack of monsters, however, when revisiting earlier Godzilla films, I realized that many of them don’t really include monster battles until the end. Regardless, Godzilla (2014) set up a bright future for the franchise and promised us a new era of the king of monsters.
5. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Sometimes, it just seems easier to gather the world’s monsters onto a single island. This is the Japanese government’s plan in Destroy All Monsters. Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Manda, and Gorosaurus now call Monsterland home, a place where there can live in peace and leave the rest of the world alone. This dream is short lived, however, when an alien race called the Kilaaks implant mind control devices in each kaiju and force them to attack major cities. While humans do regain control of the alien-influenced monsters, the Kilaaks have a secret weapon: King Ghidorah.
4. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1974)
The 1974 film Godzilla vs. Hedorah continues the franchise’s theme of speaking out against political issues, this time addressing pollution and its devastating effects on the environment. Hedorah is a small alien life form that feeds on the ocean’s toxic pollution to give itself form and power. As it consumes more and more, it becomes a giant sea monster that begins attacking ships. It first looks like a frog, but then gains so much power that it can transform into a UFO-like object and fly. Yes, fly. He is also a formidable enemy that’s poisonous attacks may just render Godzilla helpless.
3. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Mothra is, I believe, the best monster besides Godzilla. She’s a badass moth lady who don’t need no man. She is introduced to the world of Godzilla in Ishiro Honda’s 1964 film, Mothra vs. Godzilla. At first we only see her as a giant egg that has washed on shore and is going to be exploited by a wealthy Japanese businessman as a tourist attraction. However, two journalists and a professor who are working to save the egg meet two tiny women, who claim they are protectors of Mothra. They spend much of the film singing about Mothra, her history, and where she comes from. But where does Godzilla come in? He just so happens to wash up onshore after a hurricane. The trio, plus their tiny fairy friends, must awaken Mothra from her egg to save Japan from Godzilla’s destruction.
2. Shin Godzilla (2014)
The most recent Godzilla movie (outside of the terrible animated Netflix movies which we will not address), Shin Godzilla (or Godzilla Resurgence), is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Godzilla so scary, while also functioning as a cultural critique about Japanese bureaucracy. Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno took a break from the world of animation to create his interpretation of the legendary kaiju, and wow, did he deliver. This version of Godzilla has three forms, which shows him transforming from a legless creature into his giant, magnificent self. He is an even more monstrous version of previous Godzilla iterations as his tail is shown breaking off into smaller monsters. Anno’s interpretation of the well-known story is fitting for our current cultural context as it serves as an allegory to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.
1. Godzilla (1954)
Not much can beat the original 1954 Godzilla which is a direct response to the 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Director Ishirō Honda created a film that was both a monster movie and a terrifying look at the effects of nuclear exposure on the human body. While much of the Godzilla franchise is marked by increasingly outlandish monsters and battles, the monster in Godzilla (1954) is humanity’s capacity for violence and war.