Over the past couple weeks, I have had friends come up to me and go, “So that new Godzilla movie is looking pretty cool, are there any I should watch beforehand?” To which I always reply: “Watch the 1954 original.” That is my go-to answer and I am sticking to it. If anyone out there ever wants to understand why Godzilla became famous, why there are soon-to-be thirty movies starring the King of the Monsters, why this creation matters in culture: the original is the way to go. Problem is, most of my friends have now seen the original and are asking: “What others are worth watching?”
Thirty films is a tough list to narrow down. Really, the original is the best, and if you can only watch one Godzilla film before the release of Gareth Edwards‘ Godzilla, that should be it. That said, if you feel yourself craving a little bit more of the big G (yeah, that’s a fan nickname… just so cool right now), the following are my top five recommendations.
5. Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
Godzilla vs. Destroyah is the last in the second series of Godzilla movies (known as the Heisei series 1984-1995). For the record, this is my least favorite series of Godzilla films. It is more serious in tone than the first (the Showa series 1954-1975) while loosing nearly everything that (in my opinion) made the series fun. None of the “serious” Heisei films come anywhere close to being as effective as the 1954 original, but they do try… kinda. Right, now that I have bashed the Heisei enough, let me say why Godzilla vs. Destroyah is a Godzilla film worth watching:
This is the movie (outside of the original) where Godzilla dies (spoiler alert). This was a huge deal back in 1995 and is still worth noting today. I remember hearing about this in the news – here in the United States. When else, outside of a Hollywood remake, has Godzilla made the American TV news? Remember, the internet wasn’t a thing back then so this is even bigger. It took me a couple years to track down a bootleg VHS copy, but it was worth the effort.
Godzilla vs. Destroyah features the excellent monster effects that highlight the Heisei series. Destroyah looks sinister, like Godzilla is fighting the giant monster version of the devil. The plot is also more interesting than most as the humans have to try and figure out how to survive Godzilla’s meltdown (he is dying from an overload of radioactive energy). There is one sequence in particular that sticks out in my mind: the humans fight a bunch of primitive-form Destroyahs in an industrial complex. They go in guns blazing but just get annihilated. If this sequence is sounding like something out of Aliens, that is because it is.
Many of the Godzilla movies feature elements that are… let’s say similar to other culturally significant films. The better Godzilla movies incorporate those elements and make them fun. Godzilla vs. Destroyah accomplishes this well and is definitely worth the watch.
Also known as GMK, this film has a very unique feel to it. Of all the Godzilla films to approach the allegory of the original, this one comes the closest. It is the third in the third series of Godzilla films (the Millennium Series 1999-2004). Take a look at the Godzilla costume for this movie:
The all white pupils make it one of his most striking incarnations. As stated previously, this is a film about allegory… however it is not just nuclear allegory this time. Godzilla represents the angry souls of all of those lost in World War II (this is stated in the movie rather than implied). He has returned to wreak havoc on Japan and make sure that the people are reminded of the suffering that took place. Japan’s only hope, outside of the military, is three guardian monsters. Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah must battle Godzilla and attempt to calm his fury before Japan is destroyed. Interesting note: this is the only time King Ghidorah is every portrayed as a good guy.
If this movie is sounding weird, it is. It is also very well-filmed. The miniature and costume work are excellent, and there are several sequences that are very effectively directed. Godzilla is made terrifying again, and this is the only time since his creation that it works.
3. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Holy crap this movie! Made to celebrate Godzilla’s fiftieth anniversary, this film is a spiritual remake of Destroy All Monsters (1968). This film features fourteen monsters (14!) and has Godzilla just wade through a stream of enemies as he fights aliens that are attacking the Earth. This might be the most zany Godzilla movie ever made. The plot is this: Godzilla was locked in ice years ago and humanity has moved on, building advanced weapons to fight the other monsters on the planet. The greatest of these weapons is the Gotengo, a flying submarine with a drill on it… yep. Also, mutants have appeared, they’re just like people but more Matrix-y.
Anyway, aliens show up and put most of the Earth’s monsters and mutants under their control. Humanity’s last option: wake up Godzilla to fight EVERYTHING. What enfolds next is essentially a never-ending series of action sequences until the credits roll. Oh, Godzilla’s son is in this one too, he exists outside of the plot. I say plot but, don’t watch this movie expecting one. It’s not the point. If you let go of your sense of reason, this is one of the funnest movies out there. Godzilla even fights the first American Godzilla in this movie:
2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Don’t let the title fool you, this is definitely a Godzilla movie. The fourth Showa movie is one of the best in terms of overall film quality. Director Ishiro Honda (the man who created Godzilla) crafts a very in-depth tale of Japan rebuilding in the wake of disaster. Capitalism is featured… and not overall favorably, as greed drives employers to value money over safety.
The movie opens with a violent storm destroying a large portion of coastline. As the people sift through the wreckage, an enormous egg is discovered. An opportunistic businessman immediately seizes control and starts thinking up ways to use the egg to make money. Only one problem: it’s Mothra’s egg (giant moths lay eggs apparently). Oh, Godzilla also washed up as well. He isn’t discovered right away as he was buried by other debris but, he makes himself known fairly quickly.
There is just something about this movie that really makes it work. The costume design is one of the best, the characters are interesting, the fights are cool… oh, and the plot, for the most part, makes sense. This is a rare combo in Godzilla movies. Interesting note: this is the last of the Showa series to feature Godzilla as an antagonist. Going forward, he would be transformed into the hero of Earth, fighting any threat to mankind… and speaking of threats to mankind –
1. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
I may be biased here: this is the first Godzilla film that I ever saw. This was the fourteenth film in the Showa series and celebrated Godzilla’s twentieth birthday… by making him fight a giant, mechanized version of himself.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is a movie featuring spies, ape-like aliens, explosions, gore, monsters, and an overly-long musical number. Godzilla is the good guy, joining forces with Anguirus (Aang-gear-us) and King Caesar to fight the evil Mechagodzilla. The ape-like aliens, they control Mechagodzilla. The spies, members of the human race trying to thwart the aliens. The explosions, Mechagodzilla shoots more projectiles than any other two monsters in the Godzilla series. The gore, Mechagodzilla makes Godzilla bleed. The monsters: I already mentioned them. The overly-long musical number exists to wake up King Caesar, here it is:
This movie is campy in the best way. I absolutely love it.
So there you have it, five Godzilla movies that are worth checking out. If any out there manage to brave these selections and desire more, my runners up are as follows: Invasion of Astro Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla vs. Biollante. If you feel like watching any more beyond those then do yourself a favor: take a month and watch a Godzilla movie a day. At least you’ll be able to cross that off the Bucket List once you’re done.