November 3, 2023
WRITTEN BY: CALEB
It’s a name that has struck fear into the hearts of cinema lovers since 1954, making the colossal, radioactive lizard an icon for almost seventy years. Almost everyone on Earth can recognize the roar, the music, and the “guy in the suit;” however, not many people are too familiar with Godzilla’s extensive filmography. Despite his notoriety, most of the movies in the franchise are relatively unknown amongst western audiences.
Still, the fact remains that Godzilla stands as one of the longest running film series of all time. There are now 38 Godzilla films, spanning sequels, reboots, and a multitude of perplexing continuities. To get a taste of just how intimidating the franchise can be, look no further than the years between 1998 and 2004, when the series was rebooted six different times! Needless to say, watching Godzilla can get pretty complicated, and navigating the franchise can be a nerve-wracking task. Luckily, I’ve got you covered.
In honour of the 69th annual Godzilla Day (November 3rd), I, a ravenous Godzilla fan, will be doing my very best to recommend the entries that I believe serve as fitting introductions to the franchise. I’ll be prioritising accessible films that you can enjoy without extensive prior knowledge of the series or its lore, and recommending a range of entertaining, distinct Godzilla experiences to give you a well-rounded understanding of The King of the Monsters. Now, narrowing this extensive filmography down to its bare essentials was no easy feat, but I’m confident that if you watch these movies, you’ll get a good idea of what the franchise is all about.
After all is said and done, if I’ve piqued your interest, I’d get a move on if I were you because with Godzilla: Minus One (2023), Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (2023), and Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire (2024) right around the corner, there has never been a better time to be a Godzilla fan. So, without further ado, let’s begin our kaiju-sized adventure by diving straight into some of the very best films the Godzilla franchise has to offer.
Long live the king!
THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL: GOJIRA (1954)
“Godzilla was baptised in the fire of the H-bomb and survived. What could kill it now?”
Director Ishirō Honda’s Gojira is a classic for a reason. The poignant film gave birth to Godzilla, using the titular kaiju as a metaphor for the horrors of nuclear war. Released nine years after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gojira challenged Japanese audiences with imagery that mirrored the destruction still vivid in the nation’s collective consciousness. The film features some truly haunting moments, far darker than anything the franchise would go on to do in subsequent entries, and nothing the film series has done since has left as profound an impact on me as the scene where a widow holds her children tight in a burning building, assuring them that they’ll be with their father soon. The anxiety around nuclear destruction permeates almost every frame, injecting the film with a palpable sense of dread and desperation. It’s been widely regarded as one of the greatest monster movies of all time, and it’s not hard to see why. If you are at all interested in delving into this franchise, then Gojira is essential viewing. I would certainly recommend starting here.
THE BEST OF THE B-MOVIES: GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)
“Megalon! Megalon! Wake up, Megalon! Come on, rise up now, to the Earth’s surface! Destroy the Earth! Destroy our enemies!”
Now, here’s the part where the hardcore Godzilla fans click away from the article, call me some sort of obscenity, and then proceed to throw their laptops out of a window. I get it… really, I do. Godzilla vs. Megalon is cheesy, and there’s no denying that. The plot revolves around a civilization from the hollow earth sending up a giant beetle to exterminate humanity because we make too much noise. Sounds a little extreme if you ask me, but I’ve never lived in a basement apartment, so I guess I can’t relate. In any case, this entry goes against pretty much everything the original film stood for, but it’s got one saving grace… it’s hilarious. I know that fans have a special reverence for the franchise, and they hate to admit it, but a big part of Godzilla’s appeal is the cheesy, B-movie shlock of the 60s and 70s. This particular entry easily meets the criteria for being “so-bad-it’s-good,” and it showcases just how light-hearted and funny some of the best Godzilla films can be. Moreover, it provides a great introduction to some of the most creative and beloved kaiju of all time, including Megalon, Gigan, and the fan-favourite, Jet Jaguar. The film is a non-stop slugfest, featuring some of the most entertaining and ridiculous action sequences in the franchise. If you don’t believe me, Google “Godzilla tail slide,” and thank me later. While this film is technically a sequel, you don’t need any context to enjoy it. If you’re looking for a colourful, campy, and hilarious monster movie to watch with your friends, Godzilla vs. Megalon should be right up your alley.
THE BEST MONSTER MASH: GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)
“The sky was blood red and filled with smoke, and through it a devil appeared. Its face was twisted with rage and hatred.”
Despite having one of the worst titles, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, or GMK for short (thank God for abbreviations), is one of the best entries in the franchise. Like a lot of the Godzilla reboots from the early 2000s, this film retcons every previous movie in the franchise except for Gojira, making it extremely accessible for beginners. This new Godzilla is pure evil, possessed by the vengeful spirits of the soldiers who died in the Second World War. When he emerges to seek his revenge on Japan, humanity’s only chance for survival comes in the form of three mystical Guardian Monsters: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. The heroic kaiju confront Godzilla for an epic showdown that, in my opinion, is the most memorable monster brawl in the entire series. Director Shusuke Kaneko expertly employs suitmation, pushing the unique craft far past its perceived limitations. The practical, in-camera effects allow for a tangible sense of weight and scale that the more recent CGI Godzilla films just can't match. If you’re of the opinion that “a guy in a rubber suit” can’t look cool, then GMK will make you a believer. This film is a fantastic choice for beginners because it introduces you to Godzilla's most famous foes and gives you a great taste of the monster throwdowns that have become a hallmark of the franchise.
A GREAT SCI-FI GODZILLA FILM: GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA (2002)
“Kiryu has a life, too. Why must it fight Godzilla when they should be friends?”
If you like Pacific Rim (2013) …or generally find any appeal in the idea of giant monsters fighting giant robots… then this one is for you. In Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, humanity creates Kiryu, a mechanised version of Godzilla built around the bones of the monster that attacked in Gojira. They use this monster to confront a new Godzilla specimen that emerges from the sea, hellbent on destroying Tokyo. The result is an action-packed thrill-ride, where humanity faces off against Godzilla in an epic kaiju-on-mech showdown. Similar to GMK, this film’s continuity only recognizes Gojira as canon, making it another easy watch for newcomers. The narrative revolves around Mechagodzilla’s pilots, so the human characters finally get a chance to be directly involved in the monster action. Unlike some other offerings, this film takes itself seriously, providing amazing action ses continuity only recognizes Gojira as canon, making it another easy watch for newcomers. The narrative revolves around Mechagodzilla’s pilots, so the human characters finally get a chance to be directly involved in the monster action. Unlike some other offerings, this film takes itself seriously, providing amazing action sequences, incredible practical effects, and some of the best music in the franchise. There’s also a direct sequel, so if you enjoy this movie, you can jump right into Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003) without missing a beat. If you’re a beginner looking for fun sci-fi action and a fantastic human story, then Godzilla X Mechagodzilla is a solid choice.
THE BEST AMERICAN GODZILLA: GODZILLA (2014)
“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around.”
This American reboot may not be universally loved amongst the fanbase, but I still think it’s a great entry point for anyone looking to get into the franchise. It’s got a faithful portrayal of the character, amazing cinematography, and a star-studded cast. It also has the benefit of being a western release, meaning you don’t have to read subtitles or listen to any bad dubbing (if that’s the kind of thing that bothers you). The film gives you a bit of the best parts of all the different Godzilla movies, calling back to 1954 by making Godzilla a critique of man's hubris while also giving him some of the heroic qualities that would feel at home in the films from the 60s and 70s. Plus, it’s got a great monster brawl and a whole lot of destruction. Godzilla also benefits from being the beginning of the modern MonsterVerse, meaning that if you enjoy this one, there’s a whole connected universe of western Godzilla films for you to dive into.
A GODZILLA FOR HORROR FANS: SHIN GODZILLA (2017)
“Man is more frightening than Gojira.”
With Shin Godzilla, visionary director Hideaki Anno presented a horrific new take on the monster. This is easily the most terrifying Godzilla has ever looked, as he begins as a weird, buggy-eyed, tadpole-looking thing before evolving into a massive radioactive abomination covered in tumours, open wounds, and mutated flesh. Shin takes a disturbingly realistic approach to Godzilla, treating him more like a natural disaster than a monster. This reboot satirises the Japanese government and its handling of the Fukushima meltdown, criticising the endless bureaucratic red tape that prevented swift decision-making during the catastrophe. Combining topical political commentary with haunting images of destruction, Shin feels like the perfect spiritual successor to Gojira. This is one you can’t miss.
THE HONOURABLE MENTION: THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984)
While I would love to properly include The Return of Godzilla, I feel as though I can’t. I’ve decided to add it as an honourable mention because while the film is accessible (an easy watch for new audiences), it isn’t actually accessible (easily available to stream or purchase). It’s definitely worth mentioning Return, though, because it would be criminal to discuss Godzilla without touching on his run in the eighties. Back in ‘84, this film began what is now referred to as Godzilla’s Heisei Era. It was a smash hit that went on to spawn six great sequels, plenty of which are becoming exceedingly difficult to get your hands on. If you can manage to find somewhere to watch this one, I’d recommend it.