It’s been nearly 70 years since Godzilla first step foot on the silver screen with Ishiro Honda’s 1954 opus, Gojira. What started as an allegory about the horrors of the atomic bomb and war has since been reimagined myriad times to cover everything from the awesome forces of nature to geopolitical alliances, the absurdities of consumerism to mankind’s inability to curb pollution. Whether Godzilla is a tragic monster, a defender of earth, or children’s role model, there’s no denying the appeal the Big G has to audiences.
After all, it’s damn entertaining to watch a giant monster stomping around the streets of a metropolis and leaving a path of destruction. Sure, American movies like King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms primed American audiences for features of this magnitude. But really, it was Godzilla and the evolution of the IP’s unique genre of films — kaiju eiga (Japanese for monster movie) — that perfected the formula, took it internationally, and captured fans across multiple generations. That fanbase, mind you, even includes revolutionary filmmakers like John Carpenter, Tim Burton, and Martin Scorsese.
And like the impermeable lizard, there’s no slowing down this franchise. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is currently expanding Legendary’s MonsterVerse on Apple+ with Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire set to touch down April 2024. That’s not all, either. Toho returned this weekend with their critically acclaimed Godzilla Minus One, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2019’s Shin Godzilla. To celebrate, Bloody Disgusting went ahead and ranked every live-action Godzilla title from the beginning until now. It’s quite a feat given the monster-sized back catalogue, but here they are: 34 features in all their stomping, roaring glory.
34. All Monsters Attack (1969)
A latchkey kid named Ichiro spends most of his days alone, avoiding his bully, and left to daydream. His favorite place to escape to is Monster Island, where he imagines he is friends with Godzilla’s son Minilla who also faces his own problems with bullies in the form of a monster named Gabara. The sole Godzilla movie created with children as the primary audience in mind falls prey to the worst of TV show trope: the clip show. A mashup of recycled monster footage from several previous Godzilla films, All Monsters Attack is mercifully short and has a strong message about standing up for yourself … but it’s a slog to sit through.
33. Godzilla (1998)
Americans had waited for years to take a crack at a Godzilla movie for themselves. Numerous scripts (including one penned by the folks who wrote 1992’s Aladdin) and directors were attached (including Speed and Twister heavy Jan de Bont). Sadly, what we finally ended up with was this flaming pile of garbage that’s more of a sendup to Independence Day and Jurassic Park than a proper Godzilla movie. This has even led to the monster shown being dubbed as Zilla in fan circles. It’s totally devoid of any kind of social commentary or metaphors that make many of the other movies work and misappropriates the monster as overgrown pest that just wants to eat fish all day. Despite all of that, Godzilla was a huge hit at the box office and directly responsible for an increase in his popularity stateside to a whole new generation of moviegoers.
32. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
The idea that Godzilla movies are mindless — just men in rubber suits wrestling — owes a great deal of that stereotype to Godzilla vs. Megalon. The film received a wide theatrical release in the US and was the first Godzilla title to receive a prime time broadcast by NBC that was hosted by John Belushi. What’s it about? Recent nuclear tests have disturbed the lost city of an Atlantis-like underground civilization dubbed Seatopia. As punishment, they send their fearsome monster Megalon, a giant cockroach with drills for arms, to punish mankind’s destructiveness. The film was made with one of Toho’s smallest budgets, and it shows with its barren country side battles and the rehashing of old special effects.
31. Son of Godzilla (1967)
What if Godzilla had a son? The title tells you everything you need to know about this one, and marks the first appearance of the turd-looking progeny of Godzilla, aka Minilla. A government research outpost is stationed on an island where they hope to test a new weather control system that will hopefully combat the effects of global warming. Godzilla plays the strict parent here who seems annoyed at his wimpy son’s inability to do anything — including being picked on by some of the other monsters who live there like a giant spider and some mantises. It cannot be stressed enough how truly terrible the creature design for Minilla is in this movie.
30. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
In a world where Godzilla intermittently threatens Japan over the decades as they advance their energy capabilities, a section of the Japanese Defense Force called the G-Graspers is created to combat him. Their idea to rid the world of his presence is a new piece of technology called the Dimension Tide, which can fire localized black holes from a satellite. As you would expect, this device inadvertently opens a portal to a previous era and the giant armored dragonfly, Megaguirus, is unleashed on Japan. This movie raises some interesting questions about the responsible use of nuclear energy and has some pleasing popcorn moment fights, but fails to stand up to any kind of logic with its large leaps in science.
29. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)
Godzilla 2000 marks the beginning of the ‘Millennium Era’ of Godzilla movies, where each cite only the 1954 as canon and the rest are disregarded. The Godzilla Prediction Network seeks to track Godzilla’s landfall patterns to learn more about his habits and study his behavior. Meanwhile, an inert UFO that is millions of years old is found deep in the Japanese trench and comes to life to unleash an alien plot and take over the world. It’s hard not to see some of the fears of Y2K present here, but the film suffers from some drawn-out action scenes and poorly-aged CGI effects.
28. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
The first of five Showa Era movies directed by Jun Fukuda, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep marks the period in which Godzilla starts to enter more silly and campy adventures. There is little nuance to the titular monster, a giant lobster engaged in battle with Godzilla where they are hitting rocks back and forth like two tennis players volleying for a point. Ebirah’s action all takes place on an island where the terrorist group Red Bamboo has enslaved local inhabitants to manufacture a chemical made from local fruit that can ward off the crustacean’s attacks. Godzilla feels out of place in this movie, though, which makes sense considering the original script had King Kong in his place instead.
27. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is a rarity among these movies as it serves as a direct sequel/part two to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, in addition to 1961’s Mothra. Mechagodzilla, called Kiryu in the Millennium Era and built using the bones of the 1954 Godzilla, is under repairs after its previous square off with Godzilla. The Mothra twins arrive, telling them that Godzilla will continue to attack Japan unless they return the bones to their original resting place, a common theme in several of the Millennium Era titles. Mothra’s usage is the highlight here and serves as a point to strengthen its underlying message of working together to overcome obstacles.
26. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a wildly uneven movie and the low point in the otherwise strong Heisei Era of movies. Sure, there’s some good stuff in the form of the creature design like SpaceGodzilla, as well as Godzilla’s adopted and adorable son, Little Godzilla, but the movie suffers from a bloated plot and scenes that stretch on for far too long. The premise here is that some of Godzilla’s cells have found their way into space and mutated with an asteroid that is barreling towards Earth, which leads to his doppelganger crash landing in Japan and Godzilla’s son being kidnapped. There are some underlying themes about genetics and biology, but they’re … flimsy to say the least.
25. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
One of the major complaints about Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla is that there weren’t enough monster scenes. King of the Monsters responded to this by letting them eat cake and fight ’til the proverbial curtain drops. To do that, the movie adds some of Godzilla’s most beloved foes with Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah all joining the party. There’s a flipside to that coin, though: One of the things that stands in the way of all giant monster melees is the overwrought human plot about ecoterrorists and kaiju mind control devices. And that’s what happens here as the humans merely exist to spout off exposition and lack any kind of real depth to their performances. Still, some mindless good fun is had here.
24. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
Aliens coming to Earth and pretending to be friendly but secretly having ulterior motives of world domination is an all-too-common plot device in this franchise. Godzilla vs. Gigan tries to add a new wrinkle by having it take place around a theme park, which serves as a secret base to destroy Godzilla. Themes of false prophets and consumerism are explored with plenty of ham on its fist. Even so, there’s a silver lining in Godzilla’s newest foe, Gigan, a space alien with scythed claws for hands, a buzzsaw in his tummy, and a red laser for an eye.
23. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Much like the inhabitants of Japan following the end of World War II, so too are the people who exist in the world of Godzilla. Together, they’re trying to restore order and balance to their lives following the events of his attack on Tokyo in the 1954 original. The prevailing theme here is having faith on your fellow man, not in institutions like the government or military. Not a bad story, either: This entry follows two airmen that work as spotters for a fishing company to show them where to trawl their nets. While they’re out flying, they make a discovery: You guessed it! It turns out there’s another Godzilla … only this one has a friend in Anguirus, introducing the Godzilla versus another monster formula to the series.
22. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
Ghosts of the past returning to haunt the present pulls double duty in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Still dealing with the death of her commander and fellow soldiers from a past battle with Godzilla, pilot Akane must confront the beast once again using the giant robot Kiryu, which utilizes bones from the original Godzilla’s body. During a battle with present day Godzilla, however, Kiryu goes haywire and something primal takes over when Godzilla’s roar awakens memories of the past. Akane must face her own history to save the day, ultimately becoming one of the strongest female leads written in the series.
21. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Marking the end of the Millennium Era, Godzilla: Final Wars is sheer opulence. The premise is simple: What if we brought back as many of Godzilla’s old foes as possible and had them fight? And also toss in aliens for good measure? What comes to fruition is an out-and-out action movie featuring karate, an original song by Sum 41, and as many callbacks and cameos to the entire history of Toho’s kaiju catalogue. There’s really nothing below the surface to explore in Final Wars, but damn if it isn’t a wild good time.
20. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Yoshimitsu Banno only directed one Godzilla movie, but he created what is perhaps the most unique of them all. The psychedelic Godzilla vs. Hedorah is part LSD trip and part commentary on the state of environmentalism. The monster Hedorah, a literal embodiment of smog and pollution, oozes around the screen like a nasty ichor leaving behind a trail of destruction and skeletons in its wake. Humanity has done a poor job keeping the Earth clean, so Godzilla decides it’s up to him to take out the trash. Note: This movie is also famous for being The One Where Godzilla Briefly Flies Using Atomic Breath.
19. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
One of the biggest changes to the way people consumed media between the 1950’s and the 1960’s was the accessibility of TV at home. King Kong vs. Godzilla is a commentary on this burgeoning landscape of consumerism. A pharmacy company is disappointed with the shows they’re sponsoring, but after hearing a tip about an ape monster living on one of the nearby Faro Islands, they decide he should be captured to help boost ratings. As the title suggests, Godzilla appears and the two biggest titan brands you can think of do battle. This movie is played for laughs so it is beyond silly, but Akira Ifukube’s driving score is one of the strongest in the entire series.
18. Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Light versus dark is a tale as old as time. Godzilla vs. Mothra employs this metaphor by unleashing Mothra and her chromatically opposite-colored doppelgänger Battra on each other and Godzilla as he threatens to destroy everything. Nature fighting back against the hubris of man is the unifying theme explored and only through the power of working for the greater good can things be resolved. It’s a movie about transformations and the shifts both Mothra and Battra take from their larval forms that speak to man’s ability for personal growth in the face of adversity.
17. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Godzilla is back, so Japan develops a Mechagodzilla using parts of the destroyed Mecha-King Ghidorah to try to stop him. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II‘s ruminations on the dangers of artificial intelligence have aged quite well given the present times we all live in. This movie also features the introduction of Baby Godzilla, whose adoptive mother is a member of the G-Force who possesses telekinetic powers. All of this sets the stage for some payoffs in the following two Heisei Era movies.
16. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
The Return of Godzilla marks the beginning of the Heisei Era and the first onscreen appearance of Godzilla in nine years. Hoping to shed some of the reputation of the sillier titles displayed in the Showa period, we’re treated to a soft reboot of the series which trades the nuclear bomb and post-World War II sentimentalities of the original and adapts them to the looming threats of the Cold War. Despite offers of aid from the Soviets and the US to stop Godzilla — especially after he has attacked submarines of their own — Japan decides to handle the problem themselves as these offers of aid come with the strings that nuclear force will be used. There is a growth and maturity to this film that would come to be hallmarks during the ’80s and ’90s movies.
15. Godzilla (2014)
America takes another crack at making Godzilla and the results mostly succeed. Gareth Edward’s direction leaves the movie with an impressive sense of scale. The metaphors of the original are updated to modern American sensibilities and a timely reference to the Fukushima nuclear accident lends itself as in interesting plot point to some of the monsters’ origins. The dawn of the MonsterVerse, Godzilla is lacking for onscreen monster time but the action sequences that do pop up start the era off nicely.
14. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
The final film of the Showa Era, Terror of Mechagodzilla serves as a mature coda to the initial series. It finds Godzilla squaring off against Mechagodzilla yet again, in addition to the giant dinosaur Titanosaurus. Terror is more of a global affair than most because it sees a marine biologist teaming up with Interpol to take down both a mad scientist and an alien race called the Simeons who have created a mind control device that threatens to destroy Earth and its protector, Godzilla. This would also mark the final films of director Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube, signaling the end of the classic Godzilla period.
13. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
Japan has discovered the mysterious Planet X and sends astronauts to explore it. Upon arrival, they are shocked to discover it’s home to an alien race called the Xiliens who face constant terrorization by King Ghidorah and are forced to live below the surface to survive. They propose a trade and offer humans a miracle drug that will cure all disease if they send Godzilla to defeat King Ghidorah. As per usual with these movies, the aliens have ulterior motives in mind. Predictable as that story may be, there is some deep charm to the movie’s retro-futuristic look. Of course, it’s also the first omen that this series would become sillier and sillier, much thanks to the victory dance Godzilla does after fending King Ghidorah off. Just skip that part.
12. Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
The human characters of the MonsterVerse have all been relatively paper thin. Godzilla vs. Kong combats this with success by adding King Kong to the fold, who serves as its most well-developed character to date. His friend, a young deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), and her adoptive mother Doctor Andrews (Rebecca Hall) are standouts as well. There’s a breezy, quick pace to this movie as it moves from one set piece to another while the action sequences are well designed and drenched in color. More of a King Kong vehicle than a Godzilla one, Godzilla vs. Kong sees old foes reunited in imaginative and fun new ways.
11. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah marks the first and only movie to feature a time travel plot, which it utilizes to great success. Humans from the far future travel back to Japan in the present day, pleading for help to defeat Godzilla who has wrought havoc on the world. Their mission is to go back further in the past and prevent Godzilla from being mutated. As always, there’s a catch, and upon returning, King Ghidorah is now the main threat to humanity. The science is shaky, but the monster battles in this are some of the best the Heisei Era has to offer.
10. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Despite being responsible for many of the weaker Showa Era titles, director Jun Fukuda finally hits paydirt with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. An imposter Godzilla is on the loose, creating havoc and destroying cities. Of course, this imposter is revealed to be none other than Mechagodzilla. With the help of King Ceasar, Godzilla must take down his most powerful enemy yet. Mechagodzilla works well thanks in part to its mystery elements, jazzy score, and well-written human plot. It’s dripping with interesting lore and has several memorable fight scenes, both human and monster.
9. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
After escaping from a plane that is moments away from detonating in an assassination attempt, a mysterious woman claiming to be from Venus appears with a warning that monsters will soon be appearing. This is the first Godzilla movie to feature the big guy teaming up some of his fellow kaiju and transforming from villain to Japan’s protector. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is full of awesome city-destroying set pieces and the reveals for each monster — Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah — are exceptionally memorable. Bonus: The theme of working together to solve problems makes this title a real stand out.
8. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Originally slated to be the end of the Showa Era, Destroy All Monsters is set in the near future in a world where all of Earth’s kaiju have been corralled to Monster Island, all so humans can take care and study them. Unfortunately, aliens arrive and take over the island, releasing them across the globe through the use of mind control. Soon, an all-out monster melee transpires in a battle of good versus evil. This movie is extremely hopeful in its gaze to the future, a world where mankind comes together for the greater good. This is peak Saturday morning matinee fare, and one of the best Showa Era releases.
7. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Godzilla movies usually follow a set of unwritten rules where Godzilla is painted as more of a tragic figure than straight up malevolent. In Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, we finally see a Godzilla that is truly evil and kills mercilessly. He serves as an excellent metaphor to the atrocities committed during World War II by Japan. The chickens have come home to roost and Godzilla is angry. We also have King Ghidorah playing against type as a protector of Earth. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah is the best of the Millennium Era and pure monster chaos.
6. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
Themes of genetics and human’s ability to bend nature to its will are explored in Godzilla vs. Biollante. After splicing cells from Godzilla’s body with a rose and some cells from his deceased daughter, a scientist inadvertently creates the giant flower monster Biollante, which angers Godzilla and sets them up for a showdown. There’s a fun subplot involving a nefarious organization hoping to procure some of the Godzilla cells for their own diabolical purposes and the ensuing cat and mouse game that transpires amongst the monster chaos unfolds nicely. Godzilla vs. Biollante muses on the responsibility we have to use science for good … and it’s great.
5. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
After a mysterious egg washes up on shore during a tsunami, a wealthy tycoon seeks to buy it and build a theme park around it. As always, Godzilla appears, and it’s up to Mothra to protect her soon-to-be-born progeny. Mothra vs. Godzilla is a simple story about corporate greed, environmentalism, and friendship told well by screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, who would collaborate on many of the Showa Era movies. It features some of the best characterization the era has to offer and establishes Mothra as symbol of good.
4. Godzilla Minus One (2023)
Godzilla Minus One follows the story of failed kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima and his return home after narrowly escaping an attack by a giant dinosaur at the end of World War II. Japan is in ruins and at is most vulnerable following the events of the war. A few years later, nuclear testing mutates the creature into Godzilla and he sets his sights on Japan. Minus One features the strongest characters in the entire franchise and deals with heavy themes of survivor’s guilt. The sense of scale is breathtaking, and the scenes of destruction play out to alarmingly good levels. The Reiwa Era of Godzilla movies is off to an incredible start with this latest release.
3. Shin Godzilla (2016)
A giant misshapen creature comes ashore in Tokyo, soon laying waste to all things in its path. As it stumbles and slinks along the city, it slowly starts to rapidly evolve into the Godzilla we all know and love in response to the obstacles it faces. On top of some incredible monster action, Shin Godzilla‘s strongest points are its exploration into the government’s response to such a disaster and the red tape that must be traversed. We see the full chain of command on display — warts and all — and it’s a refreshing plot line with no other comparison in the franchise. Godzilla is a literal force of nature in this one and at his scariest.
2. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
The final title in the Heisei Era, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is its most impressive and succeeds on both human and kaiju levels. Godzilla has transformed into Burning Godzilla after ingesting too much nuclear energy and is set to meltdown like a nuclear reactor with enough devastating force to destroy the world. If that weren’t enough, the big guy squares off against the demonic-looking Destoroyah, a monster mutated by the effects of the oxygen destroyer that defeated the original 1954 Godzilla. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is the ultimate culmination of good versus evil in the Godzilla series.
1. Godzilla (1954)
Director Ishiro Honda’s masterpiece serves as a transcendent metaphor for the horrors of nuclear war and the scars it left on Japan following World War II. Godzilla stands tall as a tragic figure and invokes powerful imagery of the destruction the nation felt during the fire bombings of Tokyo and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is no finer example of a Godzilla movie than the original, and it lays the foundation for all others that would follow. The iconography on display is truly moving.
Godzilla Minus One is currently playing in a theater near you. Don’t go away, though! Below, you can read our exclusive interview with director Takashi Yamazaki.
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned while reading about Godzilla this month is Toho’s mentorship program and the way they nurture and cultivate talent from within. I was curious how your previous experience working on Shin Godzilla played a role in this movie.
Takashi Yamazaki (TY): [Laughs.] Actually, I wasn’t directly involved with Shin Godzilla, but the company I was at was involved with it. However, because we were working at the same company and I knew the same VFX folks from Shin Godzilla, I got to recruit some of them. They did a lot of great work on the destruction scene as well as the tanks. I was happy I got to recruit them in this instance. It was fantastic.
Speaking of the visual effects, one of the most impressive aspects of the film is the sense of scale. You have a lot of angles from the ground looking up that allow the viewer to take in this giant force and the destruction being inflicted. The aerial shots invoke some of the ’80s and ’90s era films too. What were your influences to create this effect?
TY: I wanted to capture the audience’s awareness of their surroundings and that does help especially from some of the airplane shots and the biggest emphasis was to be close to Godzilla’s face. Because there’s so much detail and there’s a lot of fear that comes out of that. For example, when [Shikishima’s] in the plane or the train is in [Godzilla’s] mouth, the trick was we had to switch the POV from the train to Godzilla’s face because we’re at the closest point.
For something like when [Godzilla’s] in the ocean, he just pops out so that’s not such a big deal. That’s why we have those news reporters on the building so we’re rather close to his face as much as possible. Also, I had a hand in creating Godzilla the Ride at Seibuen Park in Japan. I wanted to recreate the experience of seeing Godzilla in your face.
There’s a really strong theme of survivor’s guilt and that’s something we haven’t seen in any of the other 30-plus movies. Why did you decide to go that angle with this story?
That had a very specific purpose. First of all, it’s part of the weight [Shikishima] is carrying emotional baggage, so to speak, and also we get to see everyone fighting against a calamity, in this case Godzilla. I was really tipping the hat back to Godzilla’s original metaphor which was to represent war and nuclear weapons and all these humans are trying to overcome him. I thought it was interesting that since Godzilla represents war, you have someone who essentially has PTSD and all this guilt from going to war. That’s what he’s battling against. To to make peace with his guilt.
There’s a ton of homage to 1954’s Godzilla. We touched on the rooftop reporter sequence, which is almost shot for shot for the original and same for the train scene. On top of that, you have a good amount of Akira Ifukube’s music in there. How do you feel your work here expands upon the original?
I feel like in 2023, now that we have so much more digital technology, the key was to create a Godzilla you feel like can exist, especially again, with how close you are to Godzilla and his details. So with 1954, it’s classic that Godzilla chomps on the train, but we never know what happened. What about the people in the train? What’s their experience?
In my version, we watched the reporters die, but in the 1954 version, you couldn’t do that. They just didn’t have that technology to do so. We’re in the 21st century, so now we have the digital tools to be able to look at these individual experiences that we weren’t able to see in that original version. And also, yes, Ifukube-san’s music It’s synonymous to Godzilla like the 007 theme song [is to James Bond]. We were very, very specific about when the famous Godzilla theme song should come come up when choosing that moment.
My last question is what’s your favorite Godzilla movie and why?
I would have to say the original 1954 Godzilla. Right off the bat when it came out, Godzilla already had the Godzilla qualities. No one had to add to that war anymore. And plus, on top of that, the human story and the war-torn, wounded, and hurt people then having to overcome Godzilla. So all of those three elements: the human story, the war, and Godzilla, everything was together and worked so great in the first movie. So great.