Monster movie fans got a surprise last week when Star Wars: Rogue One director Gareth Edwards dropped out of Warner Bros.' Godzilla 2, the sequel to the big-budget reimagining of the classic Japanese kaiju feature he had helmed to great success only a few years earlier. The move was received curiously throughout the industry, which had pegged Edwards as a rising new talent largely based on his having turned the notoriously difficult to manage (particularly in the West) Godzilla franchise into a box office success in the U.S. for the first time in decades. Questions now linger as to what this means for the proposed crossover between the new King Kong and Godzilla series that Warners is aiming to launch.
Some fans, however, are likely to have welcomed the news, as Edwards ultra-realistic approach to Godzilla left some missing the enthusiastic, spectacle-driven action of the classics of the franchise. It's possible that a new director could put an entirely new spin on the proceedings, opening up new stylistic possibilities for the proposed "Kaiju Cinematic Universe." Modern Hollywood has no shortage of top talents who'd likely be up for the job, granted, but another possibility might be to take this opportunity to place the character back into the hands of the Japanese filmmaking aesthetic that birthed it in the first place, with plenty of Japanese genre filmmakers looking for big-time hits to help them break out in the West.
The bottom line remains: the Godzilla franchise needs a new team captain, Here are fifteen of the most promising prospects.
15 GUILLERMO DEL TORO
Let's start with the most obvious choice, but also (sadly) probably the least likely to sign on. Guillermo del Toro is one of the most talented big-budget directors on the planet and the biggest fan of all monsters great and all in Hollywood, but more immediately, he's the director of the best kaiju movie of the modern era: Pacific Rim - a project which, ironically, would likely not have come to fruition in the first place had its original spec-script not at one point been called up for consideration as a potential basis for the (then) hypothetical Godzilla reboot.
While del Toro's penchant for dark melodrama would nicely compliment the solemn tone established in the first film, but he's also demonstrated (not only in Pacific Rim but in the Hellboy movies and Blade II) an ability to mix "serious" genre chops with the kind of just-for-fun action that many fans felt was missing from Edwards' take on the material. On the down side: Godzilla 2 is likely to be under much heavier studio control than the first film, as Warner Bros. attempts to build its "Kaiju Universe" leading to the King Kong crossover, and del Toro is famously reticent to indulge meddling from producers - having departed multiple projects and turned down others over too much interference.
14 HIDEAKI ANNO
One of the most curious aspects of the 2014 Godzilla was how minimized a role the Japanese characters (and Japan in general) had, given that Godzilla himself is a Japanese creation born of uniquely Japanese influence - i.e. being a monster-movie metaphor for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - this despite the plot still placing Japan as the King of The Monsters' birthplace and featuring actor Ken Watanabe (albeit in a small role). Since Godzilla 2 now needs to find a new director anyway, it might make sense to use the opportunity to put the franchise back in the hands of a filmmaker from the culture that created it in the first place.
Anno is primarly known in the West as the creator of the landmark anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, but he's carved out an eclectic reputation as a director of animation and also live-action in Japan; having earned praise for his quirky adaptation of Go Nagai's Cutie Honey in 2004. He's also, of course, directing Godzilla: Resurgence, the upcoming Toho-produced "classic-style" Godzilla feature in Japan. This might make his signing on to do another unlikely, but it could provide interesting cross-promotion between the two projects.
13 ANTOINE FUQUA
He doesn't seek the spotlight as a "celebrity" director in the same fashion as some other action filmmakers (think Michael Bay, Zack Snyder), but the dependable director of Training Day has carved out a reputation as a rock-solid technician capable of infusing seemingly tired genre exercises like Tears of The Sun, Brooklyn's Finest and The Equalizer with slick visuals and real dramatic weight; while also stretching his muscles in genres like historical fantasy (King Arthur) and sports melodrama (Southpaw).
He may not have the distinctive style and genre-fandom "icon" status of some other names on this list, but he's one of the top "grownup" action filmmakers working, and it'd be fascinating to see what his straightforward, deliberately-paced style would look like applied to a kaiju thriller. His remake of the classic western The Magnificent Seven is one of this fall's most anticipated films, and if it's a hit, Fuqua could find himself very much in demand.
12 PETER JACKSON
Another unlikely but undeniably well-suited "big" name for the roster. Jackson may be known to mainstream filmgoers (and younger audiences especially) chiefly for the Lord of The Rings and Hobbit films, but to the generation of devout film geeks who came up in the '80s and '90s, he'll always be the mischevious, monster-obsessed oddball who parlayed a love of B-movies and homemade gore-FX into underground classics Bad Taste, Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles and Heavenly Creatures.
Having directed the LOTR features (and King Kong, while we're at it) is really all the "qualification" Jackson would need to direct a kaiju feature, but he's also of the exact retro film-geek persuasion that typically goes hand in hand with a genuine appreciation for what made the original Godzilla features so memorable to begin with. Also, his directorial sensibilities on more recent blockbusters have tended toward a "bigger is better" approach; and while occasionally outsized even for work like the Hobbit trilogy and The Lovely Bones, it's almost perfectly suited to a (literally) larger-than-life franchise like Godzilla.
11 TAKASHI YAMAZAKI
One of the top directors in Japan in terms of box-office and a repeat winner of his country's equivalent to the Academy Awards, Yamazaki is a stylish old-school technician with a special-effects background who's directed both animation and live-action. His recent international hits include the 2010 live-action adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers to Western fans), the most recent Doraemon animated feature in 2014, and the controversial but popular historical fiction feature A Man Called Pirate this past year.
However, Yamazaki is best known to Japanese audiences as the originator of the Always: Sunset of Third Street films, an award-winning trilogy of nostalgic historical films set in post-WWII Tokyo credited with rekindling interest in Showa-era period drama among Japanese moviegoers. Yamazaki directed the first two installments in the series, and opted to open the sequel with an impressive daydream sequence where the series' characters are attacked by Godzilla (a reference to the film being set in 1954, the year the original film was released to theaters); making Yamazaki the first person to direct a fully-CGI Godzilla in a live-action movie, if only for a moment of screentime - though that didn't stop the specially-designed version of the character from being part of Toho's official kaiju canon as "Third Street Godzilla."
10 MICHAEL BAY
On the other hand, if we must "Americanize" Godzilla, maybe it's best to bite the bullet and hire the filmmaker who practically bleeds red, white & blue. Michael Bay's tonal/visual aesthetic can best be described as a NASCAR pile-up at a Fourth of July picnic, and while he's begun to branch out into more dramatic fare (his next feature after the Transformers: The Last Knight is set to be a biopic of a veteran U.S. Army drone pilot who puts his skills to use fighting fighting rhinoceros poachers in Africa - no, really) he's never directed a monster movie - and if nothing else, it wouldn't look or feel like anything else in the genre.
Some might roll their eyes at this entry, but if Warner Bros. gets antsy for a box office smash (especially after the somewhat disappointing return for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a Bay-directed Godzilla film would almost guarantee a billion dollar gross, if nothing else.
9 JOE JOHNSTON
Star Wars fans know Joe Johnston as the veteran designer and FX artist responsible for the iconic look of Boba Fett (considered the "father" of the character) along with dozens of other now-famous franchise staples, but he's also a noteworthy director in his own right, having helmed fondly-remembered features like Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Jumanji, The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III. He was also behind Hidalgo and the most recent version of The Wolfman, and helped establish the key backstory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the director of Captain America: The First Avenger.
He may not be known for stylistic flourish, but he's a fine filmmaker who can be relied on to deliver classy, old-fashioned genre thrills. Sometimes, that's exactly appropriate, and a Godzilla sequel aiming to bring some of the series other classic figures into the mix could use exactly that touch.
8 SAM RAIMI
The #1 thing Edwards' Godzilla was lacking (apart from Godzilla 90% of the time)? A sense of fun. And while it can be argued that a certain solemnity is required in what amounts to a disaster movie built around a strange mysterious creature, that movie has already been made. In the sequels, we'll have already seen Godzilla, and the plan is for him to fight classic foes like Mothra and Ghidorah, and that's going to require a different approach.
And when it comes t making monsters fun, no one is better than Sam Raimi. The maverick Evil Dead auteur has pulled off some amazing big-budget feats before (Spider-Man 1& 2) and has the ideal "earnest camp" sensibility to get Godzilla back to his kaiju essence. It'd likely be a major stylistic shift between sequels, but if the plan really is to mash multiple potential giant-monster franchises into a Marvel-esque "Universe," it's probably best to start learning to absorb those kinds of changes sooner rather than later.
7 SHUSUKE KANEKO
The kaiju genre was at one of it's more stagnant points in the late-90s. When the second generation of Godzilla movies were being wound-down in preparation for the planned 1998 American remake from Roland Emmerich, and a few other films of the type being made overall, Shusuke Kaneko took up director duties on Toho's planned reboot of the Gamera series. The second most-popular kaiju series of the '60s and '70s, the adventures of Gamera the giant turtle had come to be regarded as dated camp by modern viewers - partially thanks to their child-friendly storylines and several of the films being memorably parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
But against all odds, Kaneko managed to turn Gamera: Guardian of The Universe into what was at the time easily the best kaiju feature of the modern era, bringing a realistic aesthetic and unprecedented mythic grandeur to a reimagining of the character and his various enemies that owed as much to boundary-pushing Japanese genre work like Evangelion as it did to classic monster fare. He would go on to direct two more films in the series, and the offbeat Godzilla entry GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, making him the most classically kaiju-experienced name on this list.
6 NEIL BLOMKAMP
Crazy? Maybe, but he's also one of the most original voices in global genre film working today. Blomkamp earned a shocker Oscar nomination for his debut feature, the Peter Jackson-produced dark sci-fi District 9, but has found critics and audiences less receptive to increasingly bizarre solo efforts like the politically-loaded Elysium and the unhinged action-comedy Chappie.
Even still, he creates some of the most strikingly unique visuals in recent science fiction, and he knows how to stretch a budget to maximum effectiveness. His take on Godzilla would be singular, weird, and maybe even a little dangerous - something that big-studio tentpoles could use more of now and then.
5 TAKASHI MIIKE
Japanese genre film has a surplus of "bad boy" auteurs, and Takashi Miike is the king of them all. While occasionally breaking out into international acclaim with prestige-esque projects like the grueling horror feature Audition or the magnificent historical actioner 13 Assassins, in his homeland Miike, is known and beloved for cranking out (sometimes at a rate of 2 to 3 films a year!) brain-melting horror/gangster/action/gore/comedy mash-ups like Fudoh: The New Generation, Ichii The Killer, the Dead Or Alive Trilogy and Visitor Q - films that panic moral guardians and test the limits of even Japanese genre fandom's famous resolve for extreme cinema.
But while he's also expanded his filmography to include children's fare (The Great Yokai War) and superhero movies (Zebra Man 1 & 2), Miike has yet to direct a full-scale conventional kaiju film. Yes, Warner Bros. would be highly unlikely to place a big-budget investment like Godzilla 2 under the control of an auteur occasionally considered too fringe for the Japanese direct-to-video market, but if they did, they 'd have the potential to unleash the most uncomfortable yet compulsively watchable mainstream monster movie since David Cronenberg's The Fly.
4 QUENTIN TARANTINO
Every few years or so, someone (often at Warner Bros., believe it or not) tries to tempt Quentin Tarantino into directing a studio blockbuster. He hasn't signed on for one yet, though offers are said to have included The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, Westworld, Luke Cage, Modesty Blaise and even a Friday the 13th sequel. So far, he's turned all such opportunities down, and there's little to indicate that he'd do so now as he's begun to talk more openly about retiring in the not too distant future, but could he resist the temptation to leave his mark on another true grindhouse/drive-in staple like this?
One imagines Tarantino's Godzilla 2 would be heavy on anachronism and kaiju-fandom indulgence. It's not hard to picture the Hateful Eight maestro demanding to use only rubber suits and '60s-style miniature-effects over CGI (he famously hired an authentic Japanese FX teams to build models for the skyline shots of Tokyo for Kill Bill) and possibly even shooting in Japanese with intent to dub actors into English later, just to keep things authentically-inauthentic - which sounds about as delightful as it is unlikely.
3 ANDRE ØVREDAL
Norwegian writer/director André Øvredal broke big on the international stage with his nifty monster feature Trollhunter back in 2010. A "mockumentary" style feature, it followed a film crew as they in turn followed a grumpy government employee as he went about the motions of his "boring" 9-to-5 job... as an exterminator of living, breathing trolls still causing trouble in the shadows of Norway long after most civilians had ceased to believe in them.
Øvredal has remained relatively quiet since (a proposed U.S. Trollhunter remake never fully came to be), but he managed a nifty tonal trick with the film in gradually segueing from deconstructionist parody to a sense of earnest mourning for lost wonder. And while the films monster-sequences tend toward "normal" sized creatures, an understated finale featuring the last stand of a mountain-sized troll is every bit as arresting as anything that Edwards conjured for the first Godzilla.
2 JOE DANTE
Few directors in Hollywood would be expected to jump at the chance to tackle the King of The Monsters than Joe Dante, who's made a career out of being the impish prankster of the Spielberg-era "ascended fanboy" generation of filmmakers. His oeuvre is nothing if not eclectic, having helmed everything from horror to comedy to animated features to television episodes, but monsters have always been a particular fixation. He's best known for the two Gremlins movies (the second of which was originally supposed to end with a kaiju-sized Gizmo climbing skyscrapers in Manhattan) but was also behind the original Piranha, The Howling, several episodes of Masters of Horror and the action-figure spoof Small Soldiers.
Most notably for these purposes, he also directed Matinee, a passion project set in the early 60s and featuring John Goodman as a B-movie producer hawking a giant-insect thriller called Mant ("half man, half ant!") that paid affectionate tribute to the glory days of movie monsters that will always be part of Godzilla's DNA. And while he hasn't had a major theatrical hit in a while, he's continued to work steadily, releasing horror feature The Hole 3D in 2010.
1 GEORGE MILLER
George Miller has one of the most skillful eyes and varied careers in modern filmmaking. Yes, he's best known for the Mad Max movies, but Fury Road is a hit with younger audiences who mainly knew him for his late-career turn as the boss of the Babe and Happy Feet movies. He's also tackled horror, comedy, documentaries and the drama Lorenzo's oil; earning favorable reviews and wide critical acclaim throughout a distinguished career whose second wind has had film buffs beaming ever since Fury Road hit screens.
But more to the point: He's one of the best action filmmakers working, he has a cozy relationship with Warner Bros. (who backed Fury Road and had him signed for a Justice League movie back in the day) and his skillset would be fascinatingly suited to the Godzilla franchise, where finding inventive new ways to photograph iconic creatures and create believable senses of scale for physically impossible beings. Fury Road had some of the most impressive action staging of the decade, and it would be a major cinematic event to see one of the best action and genre directors living tackle one of the (literally) biggest franchises ever.
Who do you think should direct Godzilla 2? Let us know in the comments.