How long have I loved Godzilla? The details are lost to the mists of time. When you love a 984-foot tall nuclear monster with all your heart, it feels as though you’ve loved him forever.
My best guess is that I was introduced to Godzilla via Mystery Science Theater 3000, the beloved sci-fi insult show of my teen years. In the wee hours of the morning, hopped up on Mountain Dew and Cheetos, I would watch terrible movies like Godzilla vs. Megalon, Gamera vs Guiron, and my all-time favorite terrible movie: Manos, the Hands of Fate
Admittedly, Godzilla vs. Megalon isn’t the best Godzilla movie. But nor is it the worst! That title goes to Son of Godzilla, a movie so breathtakingly awful you might be tempted to give yourself a memory enema when the credits roll.
This post cannot be comprehensive. There’s simply too much Godzilla for a single blog post from a humble fan. But I will do two things today. First, I will tell you why I believe Godzilla is so great. And second, I will tell you which Godzilla movies to watch, in order of awesomeness.
There are thirty-six Godzilla films. I won’t recommend that you watch them all. The first Godzilla movie came out in 1954 and there is another one coming out next week. Godzilla’s been going strong for over sixty years, and he shows no signs of stopping.
Godzilla is a kaiju, or “strange beast”, and he’s a cultural icon in Japan and around the world. Godzilla has atomic breath capable of reducing most objects and living organisms to ash, he is capable of absorbing tremendous amounts of nuclear energy, and he is impervious to most damage. Godzilla can breathe underwater, and he regenerates! He can also throw a wicked right hook.
In Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, Godzilla is an official tourism ambassador.
Godzilla appears largely indifferent to humans, although at times he has fought on the same side as humanity. Godzilla has other kaiju enemies, such as King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla. Sometimes he fights alongside allies, including the giant insect kaiju, Mothra.
Why Godzilla is so Great
Here are some reasons why Godzilla is beloved:
Godzilla is an allegory: Godzilla often stands in for profound societal fears and issues. He’s a huge, dramatic, and enigmatic figure. But as for what Godzilla represents, it changes as humanity changes. In the original 1954 Godzilla, he was representative of nuclear annihilation. Arising out of the horrors of World War II, this campy monster movie had a lot to say about the horrors of war, the dangers of the military-science, and the suffering that followed. In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla is reflective of a different kind of nuclear threat. The movie is a critique of the Japanese government’s response to the Fukishima disaster. In American Godzilla movies, Godzilla often stands in for the natural order: a planetary defense system that fights back against environmental degradation or alien attacks.
Godzilla is powerful: Godzilla movies are big stories told on an unusual scale. Cities are knocked over like LEGO towers. Humans are diminished to the size of ants. The mighty military is outmatched!
An epic battle is at the heart of all Godzilla movies. I saw Godzilla: King of the Monsters in IMAX specifically to enjoy the scale and size of the monster battles. They were indeed, epic.
Godzilla evolves: He is not static. Godzilla may undergo mutation and transformation. At times, this makes him very difficult to fight. Godzilla’s evolution reminds us that our knowledge of the universe is limited.
Godzilla is not human: What are Godzilla’s motivations? They often remain mysterious. He is ancient, and he is fighting battles we don’t fully understand. Godzilla movies often place humanity on the sidelines, a place where we rarely are in our stories. Other times Godzilla fights humanity like a natural disaster. You cannot reason with Godzilla. You cannot communicate with him. He is alien, yet of the Earth.
Godzilla is old, but always new: While Godzilla movies are… Godzilla movies, there is always something new to appreciate about a Godzilla film. I enjoy comparing Japanese Godzilla movies to American ones. And I also enjoy seeing Godzilla throughout the decades. The movies made in the sixties and seventies are so campy! There’s incredible variety.
Why We Love Godzilla
But why do we watch movies? We watch them because they make us feel something.When I watch Godzilla movies I feel awe! And I often laugh. These are big, emotional movies with huge stakes. And the battles are often breathtaking in their scope. The history of Godzilla and what he means to people gives me much to think about.
But there’s incredible variation among Godzilla movies. Some are cringy-corny. Downright terrible! A few, like the original, are heartbreaking. The newer movies have amazing monster battles.
It’s my observation that Japanese Godzilla movies have better themes and American Godzilla movies have better battles. But I enjoy both.
Which Godzilla Movies Should You Watch?
I’ve written this guide like a travel itinerary. Depending upon how much time you have to spend, I’ll tell you which Godzilla movies to watch.
Godzilla in One Film
If you have only time for one Godzilla movie: Watch Shin Godzilla. Why? This movie offers the best of both worlds. It’s “classic Godzilla” in that it’s Japanese and it’s an allegory for a real-life nuclear threat, in this case, Fukishima. But it’s also “modern Godzilla” in that the special effects are great and the story is set in a modern context.
A tip: always watch Japanese Godzilla movies in Japanese if possible. (Subtitles > Dubbing)
For extra credit, refresh yourself on the Fukishima nuclear disaster before watching this movie. It will give you context for the satire. Also, all Godzilla movies contain some wacky moments. Roll with the wacky! It’s part of the experience.
Godzilla in Three Films
You’ll get a fuller appreciation for Godzilla if you watch at least three films.
- Shin Godzilla
- Godzilla (1954) - Japanese original
- Godzilla (2014) - American original
Compare and contrast the American and Japanese films. They’re very different, aren’t they?
Godzilla in Seven Films (My Recommendation)
This is the movie list I recommend if you’d like to enjoy the best of Godzilla while getting a comprehensive overview of his greatness.
- Shin Godzilla
- Godzilla 2014
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters
- Godzilla vs. Kong
- Godzilla (Original 1954)
- The terror of Mechagodzilla
- Destroy all Monsters
- Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
(For extra credit add Kong: Skull Island.)
These films encompass the best of Godzilla across different decades, and across Japan and the US. Some are scary. Some are cheesy! Some have aliens? And alien robots? It gets wild!
The older movies can be tricky to find, but here in the US I believe HBO Max has them all, and the criterion collection has most of them for sale.
Godzilla Lives On
In one week, the long awaited Godzilla vs Kong will be out. I’ve cleared my calendar, and I hope to see Mechagodzilla make an appearance! As far as I know, there’s never been an American take on Mechagodzilla before. Mechagodzilla is an evil robot version of Godzilla that sometimes pretends to be Godzilla.
And why do I hope to see the shiny silver bad boy?
In Godzilla (2014) there’s a scene where Godzilla is swimming through the ocean with his back-plates sticking out of the water. He smoothly ducks beneath an aircraft carrier to avoid hitting it.
And it makes you go: Whew! Godzilla is a good guy, this time.
But in the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer, they show the exact same scene. Except… Godzilla’s back-plates smash right through the ship!
And I was like… Oh! Shiiiit! This is NOT good guy Godzilla.
Godzilla has turned against humanity in the upcoming movie, and there must be a reason. Mechagodzilla is one possibility. In any case, I anticipate good times.
The new movie is part of the American monsterverse series, which includes the 2014 Godzilla, Kong Skull Island, and Godzilla King of the Monsters. There’s good plot continuity between those movies, and they’re worth watching as a set if you want all your prerequisites in place for Godzilla vs Kong. ☺️
Thanks for reading my post about Godzilla. I hope you enjoy the movies as much as I do. Also, if Godzilla ever shows up for real, remember the two step process for handling that situation:
Point at him and yell “GODZILLA!