With the release of the newest trailer for “Godzilla” out, I have been in a Godzilla mood lately. And why not? The King is gaining all sorts of new popularity and notice these days, which he hasn’t received now for more than ten years. Godzilla is now coming out of his hibernation and the revitalization of the daikaiju genre seems to have begun.
So, with an all new audience starting to appreciate Godzilla, I think its time we look at the best the franchise has to offer. With twenty-eight entries in the series, there is more than enough room for a top ten list of the best Godzilla films.
These are the films that I feel are the most well-made of the Godzilla legacy. Not just the most entertaining ones, but the ones that have the best writing, acting, directing, tone, music, special effects and style of all the many films. These films are the reason I cling to Godzilla so tightly and why I love cinema so much.
Ten: “Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster” (1964)
Not only is this the film to introduce us to the classic Godzilla enemy, King Ghidorah, but it is the film that shows a dynamic shift in Godzilla’s character. Up to this point in the franchise, Godzilla had always been the enemy of man. This film introduces a threat far greater than Godzilla. A threat that has already destroyed worlds and civilizations and could easily do the same again. It is because of this that Godzilla must team up with Rodan and Mothra to take down King Ghidorah, or be destroyed.
On top of that, there is hidden political commentary going on with this film. In 1964, Communist China was beginning to rise to power and had begun to threaten Japan. Filmmakers Ishiro Honda and Tomoyuki Tanaka felt that the only way to stop such a threat was if the other two super powers in the world, the Soviet Union and America, put aside their differences and worked together to stop China. Isn’t it convenient that King Ghidorah just so happens to look like a three-headed Chinese dragon, and that Godzilla and Rodan are so blinded by fighting each other that they can’t see the bigger threat, hmm?
Overall, it’s a nice film that manages to make all four monsters in the film stand out and give them their own strengths. The human stories are a little cluttered and confused and the pacing is all over the place, but they make up for it with a wonderful climax.
Nine: “Invasion Of Astro-Monster” (1965) aka. “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”
Now this is the film that takes the ideas given to us in “Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster” and develops them even further. This one is a combination of director Ishiro Honda’s favorite films to make. It is part alien invasion story, part monster flick and is all topped off his continued themes of unity through nations and exploring the depths of space.
What really shines throughout this one is the chemistry between the lead actors, Akira Takarada and Nick Adams (yes, an American actor). While filming this, the two spoke their native languages, but their reactions to what they were saying felt natural, like they fully understood one another and have been friends for years. When the aliens aren’t melting satellite dishes or Godzilla isn’t dancing, watching these two is a blast.
Eight: “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” (1971) aka “Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster”
One of the things I find most fascinating about Godzilla is how he reflected the change in mood and tensions in Japan. When the country was scared to death of the bomb and still feeling the effects of the war, Godzilla was dark, destructive and unforgiving. As that tension was relieved, Godzilla began this ambiguous creature who could either destroy us at a moments notice or fight to save us.
When new threats were introduced to Japan, Godzilla was still there, but now to fully protect Japan from those threats. The first of those threats was pollution. In “Godzilla vs. Hedorah,” Godzilla fights a gigantic space spore that fed off of our pollution and grew in size every time he ingested more of it. Soon, he is much bigger than Godzilla and there is little that Godzilla can do to stop Hedorah.
Hedorah is pretty much the biggest threat that Godzilla has ever faced in one monster. His atomic fire has no effect, punches and kicks just bounce right off and his innards are made of acid, so even if he does hurt him, the acid will just melt the skin right off of Godzilla. Hedorah also emits toxic gases, making it hard for Godzilla to breath.
The real highlight of the film is the overall style and presentation of the film. This film is a time capsule that will take you back to the 1970s, trippy hallucinations and all. This is neck-deep in counter culture ideals and seems to be made by someone who completely understands how weird it is to be Japanese but also the strength of it as well. From weird dance numbers to animations showing the strength of Hedorah, this film is a blast to watch.
Seven: “Godzilla vs. Biollante” (1989)
This is an example of everything going right. The film is able to nail every aspect just right, from the acting, story, characters and tone.
The second film in the second series of Godzilla films, also known as the “Heisei” series, “Godzilla vs. Biollante” is a direct sequel to the previous film, “The Return Of Godzilla.” That one suffered from having uninteresting characters that were the backbone of the film, and thus became boring and predictable quickly. This one solves that problem by introducing characters like Dr. Shiragami, who wants to use Godzilla’s cells to cure diseases and even death. Like many great scientists, he oversteps his boundaries and combines the Godzilla cells with a rose to create a giant plant monster.
“Godzilla vs. Biollante” works because it so atmospheric and moody, but not so moody that it goes over the top and suffocates the fun out of the film. This is mostly done through the music, which is slow and methodical, even from the opening as we start on something at the molecular level but pan out to see Godzilla surrounded by fire. Now that is a way to open up your monster film.
Six: “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack” (2001)
Yeah, long title but I’m not complaining. The subtitle is just too awesome to be left out.
GMK is a different Godzilla from any other. Directed by Shusuke Kankeo, who had previously directed the 1990s Gamera trilogy, decides to take Godzilla both back to his roots, while also adding elements of fantasy and mysticism to it all. In this film, Godzilla isn’t just a rampaging monster, but is an embodiment of all the souls lost during World War II and are attacking Japan because the people have forgotten about their sacrifices to ensure they could live.
In the 2000s, this was a big problem in Japan. The newest generation was neglectful and unsympathetic to Japanese traditions, including remembering those who gave their lives during the war. Kaneko felt that this was a great opportunity to reintroduce life into Godzilla and a wonderful way to make him attack modern-day Tokyo.
On top of that, this is probably the best-looking Godzilla film. The effects are integrated well with some CGI and it doesn’t feel like it takes place on a model of a city. The explosions have weight behind their impact, which is often shown through the camera moving ever so slightly when something big happens. Godzilla’s design is both menacing and harkens back to his design in the original Godzilla.
Overall, GMK is the best Godzilla film from the 2000s, with updating the image of Godzilla without forgetting where he came from.
Five: “Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep” (1966) aka. “Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster”
“Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” is different from any other Godzilla film, but in a good and noteworthy way. Rather than effects and monster fights, this film is more laid back and focuses mostly on the characters and story, to create a Godzilla film that isn’t forgotten easily. The film also has several elements that give it a re-watchability that is unlike any other film in the franchise, such as comedy and an atmospheric score. This film knows what it wants to be, and does not fail at providing solid entertainment.
Unlike most Godzilla films made before this one, the characters and story are the main attraction, with the monsters taking a back seat. With strong performances from Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno, among others, it propels these characters to icons of the late 60s Godzilla films. While the monsters aren’t amusing as the characters, Godzilla and Ebirah provide some decent fights. What gives the film its re-watchability is the theme of rebellion and how each character acts around rebellion.
Four: “Terror Of MechaGodzilla” (1975)
If you watch this one, I highly recommend watching the Japanese version, because there is one aspect which drastically changes the outcome of the film. For years, I watched the English dubbed version and thought it was alright. Then I saw some of the scenes which were cut from the English version and I feel in love with this film.
The reason this film is so high on the list is because of two reasons: Dr. Mafune and his daughter Katsura, easily the most well-written and interesting characters in any Godzilla film. They are tortured souls who only wish to be recognized for their achievements and will do whatever it takes to achieve that, even siding with an alien force bent on wiping out humanity. In a way, their characters are very Shakespearian-esque, with these of loss, regret, vengeance and sacrifice.
On top of all that, this is one of the darker Godzilla films, right down to Akira Ifukube’s atmospheric score to punctuate moments of dread and hopelessness. Even the classic Godzilla theme seems suffocated and closed in by how screwed Godzilla is in this film. I said before that Hedorah was the most powerful single monster he has ever faced, but this situation is even worse.
Godzilla now faces a mechanized version of himself, whom he fought before and nearly lost to, only winning due to the help of another monster and getting a brand new power that he now lacks. MechaGodzilla is also equipped with even more powerful weapons than before and features security measures in case Godzilla tries any of his old tricks. Not to mention, MechaGodzilla has backup with the help of Titanosarus, whose strength is on par with Godzilla. Finally, Godzilla has no backup. He faces these two monsters on his own and without any hope.
This is a tense and nerve-racking film and I love it for that. Wonderful characters, excellent score, beautiful effects and unique fight scenes. Everything I love about monster movies.
Three: “Godzilla” (1954) aka “Gojira”
You can’t have a top ten Godzilla list without including the original somewhere.
I feel like this film speaks for itself. Countless remakes and different interpretations, classic themes that have been adapted to many monster films, stunning effects that changed the way we look at guys in rubber suits and is often referred to as one of the greatest monster films ever made.
This is the “Citizen Kane” of giant monster films. When it came out, it changed everything, whether we knew it or not. All monster films, whether they were willing to admit it or not, took some inspiration from “Godzilla.” Why not? It is a technical marvel and encapsulates the struggle of life in Japan following the war. It took something like a giant monster and it relevant and exciting in everyday life.
That is a major accomplishment, and this film and its creators have my eternal respect for that. This isn’t just a great monster movie, this is a great movie. Period.
Two: “Son Of Godzilla” (1967)
You’re probably wondering what this film about Godzilla’s son did that makes it better than “Godzilla.”
It makes me emotional.
This is no easy task. To my knowledge, there are only two films that are able to make me burst into tears: “It’s A Wonderful Life” and this film.
This is also one of the few Godzilla films that gives Godzilla an actual character-arc. It makes out to be more than just a monster, but a character with flaws, wants, needs and emotions. At the beginning of the film, he starts out as a heartless and uncaring monster. By the end, he is willing to sacrifice himself for his adopted son. To make me care about something like that shows the strength of this picture. This is made even better when you realize that it is being conveyed by two guys in rubber suits. Stunning.
Also, this is probably the most well-written Godzilla film. Every scene has a purpose, with every action sequence having a reason to be there. The monsters have a bigger reason to be here than to just smash buildings and trample people and the human characters don’t feel like superfluous additions to spout exposition. In fact, the humans are funny, well-thought out and have some tense moments where they are at each others throats.
Above all else, this is a fun movie. It does exactly what I love most about monster movies: Making me smile. That’s probably the biggest reason why I put this one ahead of “Godzilla.” Because as good as that film is, it does not make me happy. “Son Of Godzilla” is a blast to watch, whether it is making you laugh, exciting you with suspenseful action sequences or pulling at your heartstrings.
One: “Mothra vs. Godzilla” (1964) aka. “Godzilla vs. The Thing”
To me, this is movie that I have the most fun watching. Some people might say it is “Star Wars” or the Indiana Jones movies or even “The Lord Of The Rings” but for me, it will always be “Mothra vs. Godzilla.”
There is not a dull moment in this film. From the beginning, it throws us into the middle of a typhoon where a giant egg washes up on the shore of Japan. A corporate company buys the egg and intends to make an entire amusement park around it, only seeing endless amounts of money coming from this egg. Their plans are ruined however when Godzilla rises up out of the ground, also washed up by the typhoon and attacks Japan, seemingly confused and disoriented by the storm. The main characters, finding out that the egg belongs to Mothra, plead for help to the natives of Infant Island to get Mothra to take care of Godzilla, only to find out that she is dying. That won’t stop Mothra from protecting her egg and all of Japan from Godzilla.
Every bit of this film exists for a reason and all of it adds to the overall picture. From the corporate figureheads wanting to buy the egg and Mothra’s twin fairies, to the gruff head of the newspaper our lead characters work at complaining about doing something instead of complaining, to the themes of distrust and cooperation throughout the film.
The score fits the film like a glove, each note punctuating the scene, especially once Godzilla is introduced. The fight sequences are easily the best of the franchise, with each monster fighting for a reason and fighting like their lives depended on it. The effects have no aged one bit and still look wonderful even today. I just love everything about this film.
It is not only my favorite Godzilla film, but is one of my favorite films of all time. I could watch this film at any time and my mood would immediately brighten. I feel like that’s exactly what Godzilla does for me. He is constant source of happiness in my life and will always be there to make my day better. Whether he is doing that with awe-inspiring action sequences or representing both the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, Godzilla is amazing.