On January 24, 2012, The Criterion Collection will release the original Godzilla on DVD and Blu-Ray. The famous monster has been a pop culture icon for nearly 60 years and continues to stomp his way through entertainment, and our hearts. A few years ago I made a commitment to myself to watch every single Godzilla film in order, and preferably in its original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. Over a year’s time, I accomplished that goal.
Unfortunately, some of the Godzilla titles have not even been released yet here in America, but I know a guy who was able to provide them for me! I was determined to see how the films evolved through half a century, and it was quite an experience. There are 28 Godzilla films to date, not counting the dreadful American version. I would say half of them are hardly worth watching, but half of them certainly are!
Here is a top 10 list of the essential Godzilla films to watch in what I believe will give you the ultimate viewing pleasure.
1. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) – My top pick would have to be Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. I won’t give anything away, but it was actually intended as a final Godzilla film until America bastardized the good name and Japan brought the big G back to the screen. Affected by a volcanic eruption, Godzilla’s body temperature becomes so elevated that he will eventually suffer a meltdown. The explosion would become so devastating it would annihilate all life on earth. A Devil-like monster called Destoroyah is born from cells that are left behind from the original Godzilla’s demise in 1954, and it begins to terrorize Tokyo. What I love about Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is that it gives you everything you want to see in a giant monster movie. Destoroyah is an incredibly fierce looking kaiju (loosely translated as monster) and I would place its design level on a par with King Ghidorah and his other famous foes. It is incredibly satisfying to watch these two colossal beasts clash it out in the finale.
2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Although the sex of Mothra is never fully revealed, the general consensus considers the epic kaiju to be female. Mothra made her debut in a stand-alone film in 1961, and begins her first appearance here in the Godzilla franchise. After a massive typhoon strikes Japan, a giant egg is washed ashore. Two very tiny girls from Infant Island claim it is the egg of their god Mothra. When Godzilla appears and wreaks havoc on the city, it is suggested that Mothra may be able to defeat him. A battle of epic proportions ensues as Mothra and her kin battle Godzilla. Mothra vs. Godzilla is classic in every sense of the word. Everything works, from the story to the characters, and even the adorable twin girls; aka real-life singing sensation known as ‘The Peanuts.’ I dare you not to get their Mosura song stuck in your head.
3. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) – What’s interesting about Godzilla vs. Hedorah is that it returns to the dark nature in which Godzilla began. Toward the latter half of the Shōwa Era (1954-1975), Godzilla films became lighter in tone and this was a drastic change in direction. Hedorah is a creature from space that flies to earth and has a taste for all things trashy. It feeds on Japan’s smog and pollution until it grows into a full-fledged poisonous monster. Godzilla becomes the hero here as he fights Hedorah, whom has been destroying Japan and its inhabitants. Despite the laughable finale of Godzilla flying by his own atomic ray, the film is much more horrific than its predecessors. Upon seeing the final film however, the Producer was so displeased, he claimed the director ruined the series and banned him from ever making another Godzilla movie. The Producer was certainly wrong on that one, because the film stands the test of time and continues to be a fan favorite in the series.
4. Gojira (1954) – Of course known as Godzilla in America, he is called Gojira in Japan. The word comes from a combination of the two Japanese words for gorilla and whale. In glorious black and white, Godzilla makes his first monstrous appearance when he is revived by a nuclear explosion. It is no secret that Godzilla is a metaphor for the Atomic bomb that ravaged the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The real-life terror spread fear of nuclear threat levels throughout the country, akin to Godzilla’s deadly atomic breath.
The 1953 film ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,’ featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen, played a large influence on the filmmakers of Godzilla. They wanted to create a stop-motion monster but due to budget and time constraints, well-respected special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya created the monster using ‘suitmation’ alongside superbly detailed miniatures.
The film was cut, edited, and basically butchered for American audiences in 1956 as Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Actor Raymond Burr was added in with new scenes while many others were eliminated.
5. Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) – Some hardcore fans of the series do not even consider this a Godzilla movie, and you can’t really blame them. The film brings the monsters into a whole new mythology. Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah are known as the guardian monsters, and they must be awakened to stop Godzilla from destroying the earth. The film lends itself much more into the elements of fantasy and spirituality. Despite this change, it is one of the most entertaining Godzilla movies I’ve seen. It is also the only movie to depict Godzilla with removed retinas. The eyes appear a solid white, and adds a new dimension of scary!
6. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) – After the defeat of Mecha-King Ghidorah in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Japan uses its remains to build an updated version of legendary monster Mechagodzilla. Also featured in monster battle are Godzilla Junior and classic flying kaiju Rodan. Characters, story, and special effects are in top form as it delivers one of the best films in the series.
7. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) – As any Horror or cult movie fan knows, there are good bad movies, and bad bad movies. Godzilla vs. Megalon is one of the good bad ones! Mystery Science Theater 3000 recognized this and added it to their collection. Megalon is the god of an ancient underwater race known as the Seatopians. They unleash their god on the world above in retaliation for nuclear testing by humans. Godzilla teams up with an android named Jet Jaguar to fight Megalon, who in return summons the help of space alien Gigan. Many of the scenes are so wacky, you’ll bust a gut laughing. Featured here is the infamous flying kick in all its jaw-dropping glory. Aside from the laughs, there actually is a lot of monster action, and enough entertainment to keep the movie moving along smoothly.
8. Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992) – After Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) underperformed at the box office, the studio decided to bring back the more familiar, classic Godzilla monsters. King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla were all brought into the Heisei Era (1984-1995) with dramatically updated special effects. The plot here is similar to Mothra vs. Godzilla from 1964, but includes for the first and only time, the black Mothra known as Battra.
9. The Return of Godzilla (1984) – The first film in the Heisei Era was The Return of Godzilla, aka Godzilla 1985. As with most any Horror Franchise, the original films begin serious and scary. As time goes by, they become funnier, until it is once again remade. This is true with Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Child’s Play, and yes, Godzilla. By the mid-70s, Godzilla was a silly, playful pet for children. One decade later, however, the beast is brought back to its roots. Along with suitmation, Godzilla is seen for the first time using animatronics. The robotics are very effective and this is one film that needs to be released in America.
10. Godzilla Raids Again (1955) – It is the only other Godzilla film in Black and White, and features his first foe, the spiky dinosaur-like monster Anguirus. The two fought millions of years ago, and volcanic eruptions have brought them together once again for intense battle. Made shortly after the original, it certainly still gives off that classic feeling.
You can see my full list of the ranked Godzilla films here: http://amzn.com/lm/R1419DKA72XFV4
I had the pleasure of meeting Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima at last year’s Monsterpalooza. Not only did he play the original Gojira in 1954 and throughout the rest of the Shōwa Era, he played other classic kaiju including Rodan, Mothra, and even King Kong. The man is truly a living legend in the realm of memorable monsters.