With the new MonsterVerse franchise currently in the works, I thought now would be a good time to revisit the original Godzilla series. Whether you’re a casual G-fan or, like me, a lifelong enthusiast of Japanese creature features, hopefully this article will serve as a guide on which efforts to avoid, which movies fall into the guilty pleasure category, and which installments carry the most emotional and narrative impact despite suffering from dated special effects, cheesy rubber costumes, and cardboard city models.
Listed below are my personal rankings for the Showa-era Godzilla films:
15) All Monsters Attack / Godzilla’s Revenge
Imagining himself on Monster Island, a lonely child named Ichiro forms a close friendship with Godzilla’s son Minilla. Able to communicate in a Barney-like voice, Minilla stands up to the monster Gabara and teaches Ichiro a lesson on dealing with bullies of his own.
Likely inspired by the child-friendly Gamera offerings, All Monsters Attack is marred by copious stock footage, juvenile antics, and an appalling message for young children. It’s also worth noting that the film’s only kaiju sequences occur within the dreams of Ichiro, which, perhaps fortunately, preclude the events of this movie from counting as official series canon.
14) Godzilla vs. Megalon
Threatened by nuclear activity, the Seatopian kingdom unleashes an insectoid kaiju named Megalon. With the assistance of a superhero mecha known as Jet Jaguar, Godzilla defends the people of Tokyo from both Megalon and Gigan.
Notorious for its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Godzilla vs. Megalon benefits from many hilarious, over-the-top sequences (Godzilla’s “flying drop kick” maneuver comes to mind). Nevertheless, this entry places too much emphasis on Jet Jaguar and his appeal to children, leaving G-fans with a feeling of disappointment over Godzilla’s lack of screen time. Godzilla vs. Megalon also contains a high camp factor typical of early 1970s sci-fi/horror films, resulting in a dated viewing experience for the youngest of monster buffs.
13) Son of Godzilla
On a tropical island, a group of praying mantises (known collectively as Kamacuras) attack the infant son of Godzilla. After defending his offspring from the giant insects, Godzilla teaches Minilla to become a fierce and independent warrior like himself.
Lacking the somber tone of the original Godzilla from 1954, Son of Godzilla is an underwhelming feature in Toho’s lineup of Showa films. Especially problematic are the cutesy antics of Godzilla and his son, which may induce groaning from even the most lighthearted of G-fans.
12) Ebirah, Horror of the Deep / Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster
Enslaved by a terrorist organization known as the Red Bamboo, the inhabitants of Infant Island rely on Godzilla for assistance. In order to thwart the Red Bamboo, however, Godzilla must defeat a giant, crustaceous kaiju who lives in the ocean.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep should be criticized for its idiotic surfer music and weak antagonist for Godzilla. While King Kong enthusiasts may enjoy the tropical, adventure-themed atmosphere of this offering, traditional Godzilla fans would be wise to avoid at all costs.
11) Godzilla vs. Gigan / Godzilla on Monster Island
Posing as humans, giant cockroaches from the M Space Hunter Nebula set out to destroy the people of Earth. Now in control of both Gigan and King Ghidorah, the aliens face a formidable challenge in the form of Anguirus and Godzilla.
Despite an awesome kaiju antagonist, this effort is hampered by languid pacing, choppy editing, and ridiculous “conversations” between Godzilla and Anguirus. Japanese monster buffs may nevertheless enjoy Godzilla vs. Gigan, which contains some of the most epic destruction footage since the 1954 classic.
10) Godzilla vs. Hedorah / Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster
Feeding on pollution, an alien lifeform grows into a giant, acidic monster known as Hedorah. Deeply concerned for the environment, Godzilla makes an effort to save mankind from his swampy nemesis.
Combining a unique concept with subtle commentary on the pollution scare, Godzilla vs. Hedorah earns its status as a fan favorite. This offering also recaptures the bleak and moody atmosphere of the early Godzilla movies, which may appeal to kaiju eiga buffs of a serious nature. That being said, modern viewers may fail to connect with the bizarre, psychedelic atmosphere of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, while the film’s cartoon segments often clash with the images of death, deformity, and destruction that appear in many sequences.
9) Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla / Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster
Planning to conquer the Earth, simian creatures from the Black Hole Planet 3 release a mechanical version of Godzilla on the Japanese countryside. Only the real Godzilla, now accompanied by an ancient shisa kaiju named King Caesar, can defeat Mechagodzilla and prevent the ape-like aliens from destroying humanity.
Containing a giant robot, an alien invasion subplot, and a possible homage to Planet of the Apes, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla should captivate fans of the science fiction genre. Child audiences may, however, feel disturbed by Mechagodzilla’s treatment of Anguirus, whose jaw is brutally torn open during an early fight sequence. Older kaiju fans, in contrast, might appreciate Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla for its visceral giant monster battles, which resemble those of the original King Kong from 1933.
8) Godzilla Raids Again / Gigantis the Fire Monster
While stranded on a body of rocks near Iwato Island, two pilots discover a new Godzilla creature locked in combat with Anguirus—described as an ankylosaurus with hostile tendencies. Drawn to a fire started by escaping convicts, both monsters ultimately finish their battle in the city of Osaka.
Godzilla Raids Again maintains the dark and haunting mood of the original Godzilla, avoiding the campy antics and juvenile tone of later installments. The conflict between Godzilla and Anguirus should also be commended for capturing the realistic, ferocious movements of two prehistoric monsters fighting over dominance in a modern world—much in contrast to Godzilla’s showdown with King Kong seven years later, which emulates the stylized action of a professional wrestling match. Unfortunately, a boring human subplot prevents this well-made sequel to Gojira from earning the status of a true kaiju classic.
7) Destroy All Monsters
In the year 1999, all of the surviving Terran monsters—Anguirus, Baragon, Godzilla, Gorosaurus, Manda, Minilla, Mothra, Kumonga, Rodan, and Varan—are sent to a secure location in the Ogasawara island chain. Mayhem ensues when the Kilaaks, members of a feminine alien species, disrupt the barrier around Monsterland. Despite eventually losing control of a lunar base, the Kilaaks later unleash King Ghidorah on the people of Japan.
Though lacking in character development, Destroy All Monsters will appeal to fans of the tokusatsu genre. Specifically, this offering contains a rousing musical arrangement from Akira Ifukube, an engaging alien/human conflict, and a riveting climax on Mount Fuji. Kaiju eiga buffs will also identify a number of parallels between Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla: Final Wars—the epic conclusion of the Millennium series. For diehard G-fans and series newcomers alike, this one is a must.
6) King Kong vs. Godzilla
Hoping to improve the ratings of his television program, pharmaceutical chairman Mr. Tako abducts King Kong from Faro Island. Meanwhile, Godzilla emerges from a massive iceberg and wreaks havoc on Tokyo. Only a confrontation between Kong and Godzilla, now roughly equal in size, can spare Japan from utter annihilation.
For its haunting musical arrangement and memorable daikaiju fight sequences, King Kong vs. Godzilla deserves its reputation as one of the most iconic giant monster movies of all time. Casual viewers will no doubt enjoy this film for its entertaining battles involving Kong, Godzilla, and a giant octopus (later showcased in Frankenstein Conquers the World), while fans of Japanese cinema may appreciate the “salaryman” aspect of Shinichi Sekizawa’s narrative—a satire on white-collar tropes in post-war Japan. King Kong vs. Godzilla also depicts how a thinking animal (Kong) could realistically outsmart a more primitive beast (Godzilla) in a combat scenario, adding an air of realism to a fantastic premise. Viewers should be warned, however, that Kong’s “upgraded” appearance may evoke snickering during key moments of the film.
5) Terror of Mechagodzilla
Plotting revenge, the Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens conspire with the eccentric Dr. Mafune to destroy human civilization. Only Godzilla can defend Tokyo from the aliens and their mad scientist companion—now in control of both Mechagodzilla and a giant, dinosaur kaiju named Titanosaurus.
The final installment of the Showa series, Terror of Mechagodzilla balances epic monster action with a poignant romantic subplot. This offering also generates sympathy for its main antagonist, who, unlike the cartoonish enemies featured in most Godzilla movies, offers a relatable motive to justify his villainous actions. For those who enjoy creature features with a strong human element, Terror of Mechagodzilla should be requisite viewing.
4) Invasion of Astro-Monster / Monster Zero
Kidnapped by Xiliens on Planet X, astronauts Glenn and Fuji are presented with a unique proposal: in exchange for Godzilla and Rodan, the aliens—desperate to rid themselves of King Ghidorah—will provide humanity with a cure for cancer. Before long, however, the Xiliens unleash all three monsters on the people of Earth and assume control of civilization.
Combining the narrative structure of The Mysterians with the aesthetic vision of Forbidden Planet, Invasion of Astro-Monster is a clever and engaging effort from Toho Studios. Also worth praising is the performance of American actor Nick Adams, whose character exudes a strong and heroic presence when working to undermine the Xilien race. Barring the occasional groan-worthy antics (e.g. Godzilla’s “victory dance” on Planet X), this effort should appeal to alien invasion buffs and fans of classic kaiju offerings.
3) Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster / Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster
Arriving on Earth in a giant meteorite, a three-headed dragon named King Ghidorah wreaks havoc on Japan. Meanwhile, Mothra compels Godzilla and Rodan to set aside their differences, join forces, and defeat Ghidorah in a team effort.
Introducing the archenemy of Godzilla, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a classic installment in the Showa series. Notably, this film contains a number of exciting monster battles, well-choreographed action sequences, and ominous motifs from Ifukube—reworking his lesser-known score from Varan the Unbelievable. It should also be mentioned that Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster establishes Godzilla as an antihero, allowing child audiences to connect with the king of monsters for the first time in cinematic history.
2) Mothra vs. Godzilla / Godzilla vs. the Thing
After a heavy storm, a giant egg containing the offspring of Mothra arrives on the Japanese shoreline. Hoping to exploit the object and the surrounding beach area, a greedy developer awakens Godzilla from his resting place. Only the adult Mothra and her two larvae, persuaded by the twin fairies of Infant Island, can stop Godzilla from destroying the city of Nagoya.
Recapturing the dark, serious tone of Gojira along with the political themes of Mosura, Mothra vs. Godzilla is a powerful entry in Toho’s lineup of Showa films. In addition to its “root for the underdog” subtext, this movie offers a clever approach to showcasing Mothra’s fight with Godzilla—a difficult task when considering the extreme physical differences of both monsters. For series newcomers and longtime creature feature fans, Mothra vs. Godzilla will make for a memorable viewing experience.
1) Gojira / Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Affected by nuclear testing, Godzilla makes his debut appearance on Odo Island. After the destruction of Tokyo, Dr. Serizawa agrees to defeat Godzilla by using a top-secret weapon known as the oxygen destroyer—with a terrible cost.
Benefiting from the special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, a poignant commentary on post-war devastation, and a sense of impending doom following Godzilla’s emergence, Gojira earns its standing as the greatest Japanese monster movie ever made. Also worth viewing is the Americanized version released in 1956, which cleverly inserts new footage of American actor Raymond Burr (known for playing Perry Mason in the long-running television series) into the original scenes directed by Ishiro Honda.
What do you think are the best movies in the Showa Godzilla series? Share your own rankings in the comment section below. Also, stay tuned for my upcoming list of the Hesei Godzilla Movies Ranked from Worst to Best.
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