With the new Godzilla film hitting North American shores on May 16th, it’s time to brush up on the legendary monster movies. Spanning 60 years and 30 films, Godzilla has run the gamut from topical war metaphor to so-bad-they’re-good B-movies. So without further adieu, it’s time for a monster movie marathon.
1. Gojira (1954)
Despite the franchise’s low-rent reputation, the first-ever Godzilla film was much more than a special effects laden cheap thrill. In Japan, Godzilla himself was an allegory for something very real and very devastating: the atomic bomb. The negative effects of atom and hydrogen bomb testing were a contemporary reality in 1950s Japan, and Godzilla — a horrific force of destruction born out of nuclear testing — was their avatar.
As the vengeful King of Monsters stomped through a grainy black-and-white Tokyo, raining radioactive death on a helpless city, Japanese audiences reportedly watched in “sombre silence, broken by periodic weeping.” That according to the New York Times.
2. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
This is rubber-suit-wearing, cardboard-city-destroying action at its finest. There are spaceships, aliens, and yes, monsters. Eleven of them, actually. When the world’s kaiju (giant monsters) start going haywire and attacking various capital cities around the globe, it turns out a race of all-female silver-jumpsuit-wearing aliens are behind it, using mind-control devices on the monsters and levelling the Earth. Unlike its illustrious predecessor of the 1950s, Destroy all Monsters is pure B-movie shlock. With amusingly poor special effects, hilarious English dubbing, wild editing, and just general nonsensical plot elements, it’s a monster-mash that’s so bad, it’s good.
3.The Return of Godzilla (1984)
After decades of increasingly silly and light-hearted films, the Godzilla franchise was laid to rest in 1975 with Terror of Mechagodzilla. The big guy would rise again nearly 10 years later in The Return of Godzilla — a movie that saw the restoration of the malevolent monster that first emerged from the Pacific Ocean in 1954. Gone were the laughable monster sidekicks, and the basement-budget special effects. Facing off against the Japanese military and their ultimate anti-Godzilla weapon, this would be one of the only Godzilla films ever made not to feature an enemy kaiju (giant monster).
4. Godzilla 2000 (1999)
In 1999, Toho — the company behind each and every Japanese Godzilla film —rebooted the franchise for a third time with Godzilla 2000, a classically minded modern take on the king of kaiju. Godzilla 2000 combined the old-school master model work that made Godzilla famous in the first place with the computer-generated special effects of a new age. The result was a film that retained all the cheesy charm of the Godzilla of yesteryear, with the best special effects of the day. Unlike its 1954 or 1984 counterparts, Godzilla 2000 doesn’t it take itself too seriously.
5. Godzilla (1998)
How do you know what a great Godzilla movie looks like, if you haven’t seen a bad one?
Hollywood’s first attempt at an American Godzilla flick crashed and burned in spectacular fashion, tanking at the box office and ticking off old-school Godzilla fans, who struggled to recognize the iconic monster’s T-Rex style makeover. A “lobotomized” (as one writer puts it) plot and poor acting earned the film the 1998 Raspberry for Worst Remake or Sequel. The movie was so bad, Toho went out of its way to acknowledge the American Godzilla as a completely separate entity from the “real” King of Monsters, and would poke fun at it in movies to come.