10) Godzilla, 1954 (Godzilla)
The movie that launched a pop culture icon! Toho’s debut of Godzilla way back in 1954 was the beginning of what would become the longest running film franchise in history – spawning a total of 36 films (32 produced by Toho and 4 by Hollywood). Godzilla also pioneered “suitmation”, the man-in-a-monster suit special effects process that would become the backbone of countless monster movies made.
While somewhat silly looking by today’s standards, Godzilla’s feline-faced, lizard-like debut look was quite serious for the time; the movie’s theme focusing on the dangers of messing around with Mother Nature. People just don’t die as a result of nuclear experimentation – monsters are born, both figuratively and literally.
1954’s Godzilla was the start of what’s called the Shōwa Era (a period in Japan where Emperor Showa ruled). This run of Godzilla movies quickly introduced a ‘zilla staple of kaiju monster threats for Godzilla to combat starting with 1955’s Anguirus in Godzilla Raids Again. Alas, the Shōwa Era would eventually devolve into more kid-friendly Godzilla movies until ending its run in 1975.
Despite the more comical tone of Godzilla’s Shōwa Era, this long run of films did introduce fans to many classic kaiju, including Mothra and the three-headed monster Ghidorah (1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, respectively), arm-bladed Gigan (1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan), and Mechagodzilla (1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla).
However, arguably Godzilla’s biggest accomplishment during the Shōwa Era was 1962’s crossover event of the century: King Kong vs. Godzilla. Before modern geekdom was contemplating Alien vs. Predator or Batman vs. Superman, Toho put to the silver screen a pure nerd-fueled fantasy battle. While that film ended with a draw, monster fans will get a re-match in May 2021 when the two Titans square off again in Legendary’s MonsterVerse reboot, Godzilla vs. Kong (my money is on ‘zilla).
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9) Godzilla, 1984 (Return of Godzilla)
1984’s aptly named Return of Godzilla ushered in a new reign of ‘zilla films, the Heisei Era. Toho’s new Godzilla saw the comeback of our titular Titan picking up after 1954’s Godzilla left off and ignoring everything that came after (kinda like Terminator: Dark Fate). The new films also deviated from the Shōwa Era in that they had continuity until their end in 1995.
Godzilla’s appearance at the start of the Heisei Era wasn’t too radically different from the Shōwa Era; the famed kaiju really just looking more pissed off (it’s all in the squinty eyes). And an angry kaiju he was during the Heisei Era, Godzilla being depicted as no longer a savior of mankind, but a monster to once again be feared by humans.
8) Godzilla, 1989 (Godzilla vs. Biolante)
Come 1989, Toho switched up Godzilla’s Heisei Era look slightly with a smaller head, bulkier body and thicker tail. He needed the muscle mass to stand up against his biggest enemy threat yet: Biolante! Biolante radically upped the kaiju enemy ante, forcing Godzilla to basically fight himself… as a crazy Godzilla cell-infused rose plant creature! We’re talking about the manipulation of Godzilla’s very own DNA, dammit! The inhumanity!
7) Burning Godzilla, 1995 (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah)
Throughout his 12 year Heisei Era run, Godzilla took down many foes, some familiar (that pesky flying bug Mothra along with Mechagodzilla, again!), some sort of familiar (‘zilla cell plant Biolante) and some all new (Giant Sea Lice and SpaceGodzilla, WTH?!). However, it was 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah that proved that even the King of Monsters has his limits, including his very own body chemistry.
In the film, Godzilla’s heart, which acts as a nuclear reactor, is undergoing a nuclear meltdown. This movie pitted Godzilla against himself, as well as an external threat. To defeat Destroroyah, Godzilla sacrifices himself by going into full meltdown mode – aka “Burning Godzilla” – destroying himself, but also heroically taking out the evil kaiju in the process. Toho’s reimagined Godzilla story arc had reached an epic conclusion. It was an amazing finale to Godzilla’s Heisei Era run, but there was no need to cry. Godzilla Junior moved in to take father’s place at the end.
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6) Zilla, 1998 (Godzilla)
It took Hollywood 44 years to realize that Toho’s Godzilla was a potential money maker when TriStar eventually released 1998’s Godzilla. Directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day fame, the film had all the trappings of an over-the-top, explosive CG-heavy summer blockbuster movie. Alas, it deviated so much from Toho’s iconic Godzilla design that it left fans seething. The movie was so shunned by its original Japanese creators that in 2004, Toho began trademarking new iterations of TriStar’s Godzilla as “Zilla”. To be fair, after Toho’s 2016’s Shin Godzilla, one has to wonder what stuff they were smoking.
Appearing like a Tyrannosaurus rex on steroids, 1998’s Godzilla made for an entertaining creature feature. It just didn’t feel like a Godzilla movie.
5) Millennium Godzilla (Godzilla 2000)
After a five year hiatus, Toho took a cue from Prince and partied like it was 1999 with their second reboot of Godzilla. Kicking off the new Millennium Era, Godzilla 2000 reintroduced the Big G in a spectacular fashion. The movie pitted Godzilla against a UFO, strange alien called Millennian and ultimately, a new DNA-stealing foe (sound familiar?) named Orga. While a crazy plot, this Godzilla was lean, mean and full of attitude. It was a killer Godzilla look and my all-time fave.
4) Godzilla 2001 (Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack)
Just in its second year, Toho decided to shake up Millennium Godzilla with another new look. Personally I think it was a mistake, as his Godzilla 2000 appearance was already ‘zilla perfection and had barely been given the chance to marinate with fans. That said, Godzilla as seen in 2001’s title-challenged Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (better known as GMK) is still a pretty rad design. Godzilla depicted here is still angry and still very spiky. While Godzilla 2000 is my absolute favorite design, I have to hand it to Godzilla 2001 for marrying Godzilla’s classic look with that of something more sinister and threatening.
3) MonsterVerse Godzilla 2014 (Godzilla)
In 2014, Legendary Entertainment attempted to erase the stain left by Hollywood’s first ‘zilla film (see Godzilla 1998) with a reboot that showed respect for the source material. While lacking in giant monster-on-monster action, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla did manage to capture the essence of the iconic kaiju with a modernized new look. Featuring a small reptilian head, massive scaled body, stubby legs, lengthy tail and ever-present back spikes, 2014’s Godzilla ushered in a new era for the classic movie monster. The state-of-the-art digital effects were so good, even Toho was inspired (see Shin Godzilla).
2014’s Godzilla was the first release in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, a shared film universe which also stars King Kong.
2) Godzilla 2016 (Shin Godzilla)
The success of Legendary’s Godzilla spurred Toho back into action with a new reboot of their own. Shin Godzilla marked the 31st installment in the Godzilla franchise and the third reboot from Toho (that’s a total of FIVE Godzilla reboots between the U.S. and Japan). Ditching the charm of a man-in-a-monster-suit for cutting-edge CG special-effects, Toho’s Shin Godzilla brought to the screen the most terrifying (and odd) version of ‘zilla yet. Simply put, Shin Godzilla is WEIRD.
The film depicts the creature going through several evolutions; Godzilla’s final form (pictured above) featuring an over-sized mouth that splits open when firing its atomic blast. Godzilla’s skin is this strange zombie-like mottled mess and his incredibly long tail ends in a fleshy phallic tip (which in turn continues to evolve with the emergence of humanoid creatures!). I give Toho credit for thinking outside the box, but Shin Godzilla is just too out there for my ‘zilla tastes.
1) MonsterVerse Godzilla 2019 (Godzilla: King of Monsters)
Returning to their MonsterVerse after the events Godzilla (and Kong: Skull Island), Legendary presented audiences with Godzilla: King of Monsters. This prelude to the ultimate throwdown between ‘zilla and King Kong (May 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong) amped up the giant kaiju (Titan) battles significantly. The movie pitched Godzilla against multiple foes, including Ghidorah, the three-headed monster, as well as the fiery red Pteranodon, Rodan. The movie even threw in Mothra (and a TON of Godzilla Easter Eggs) for good measure.
Mindless compared to it’s more serious predecessor, Godzilla: King of Monsters did succeed in dishing out the action. It also successfully tweaked Godzilla’s appearance for the better with the addition of larger, spikier backplates and replacing his elephant-like stubby toed feet with more menacing talons. Legendary even brought back an explosive retro look introduced way back in 1995: a spectacular Burning Godzilla for the modern masses to admire.
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