It’s safe to say that Godzilla has changed a lot during his sixty-five years on screen. He’s played the part of a hero and a villian. He’s fought monsters of all shapes, sizes, and origin. He’s destroyed Tokyo more times than anyone can count. But most of all, his physical appearance has changed considerably since his black and white years, and not every Godzilla is created equal.
Throughout the franchises’ long history, Godzilla’s appearance has been altered or even completely redone, usually to satisfy production company Toho’s demands. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Godzilla’s look was tweaked on and off in order to appeal to Japan’s youth. Later on, designers took more creative risks with Godzilla’s visual presence. This has produced a catalog of designs that range the gamut from the iconic to the horrible. Here are the best and worst mugs the franchise has to offer.
10 Worst: Hanna-Barbera’s Godzilla (1978)
America doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to making their own Godzilla movies. While the 2014 remake was pretty good, previous offerings made in the states haven’t fared so well. Twenty years before 1998’s Godzilla opened in theaters (more on that in a bit), cartoon studio Hanna-Barbera, best known for Scooby Doo, somehow got Toho’s blessing to make an animated TV show based on the beloved monster. The end results couldn’t have been worse.
Hanna-Barbera’s Godzilla looks more like Reptar from the Rugrats than the monster he’s trying to emulate. His bright green skin and puny dorsal spines are offensive enough, but the worst part of this creature is the roar. Rather than use the tried and true roar that Godzilla fans have come to know by heart, this abomination sounds like a grown man trying to do an impression of what he thinks a T-Rex sounds like. The whole show is an affront to sight and sound. Oh, and the less that’s said of Godzooky, the better.
9 Best: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
The last Godzilla movie in the Millenium Era, Final Wars threw one hell of a party to celebrate the big man’s 50th birthday. Naturally, the pressure was on Toho’s design department to deliver a Godzilla that struck all the right notes, and they more than delivered on that respect.
Final Wars’ Godzilla takes all of the creature’s best design aesthetics and wraps them up into a nifty package. By mixing classic Showa Era elements with those of more recent designs, Final Wars gave G-fans both young and old something to enjoy. Lean, muscular, and with refined facial features that conveyed the right amount of strength and menace, Final Wars’ Godzilla is a culmination of a half-century’s worth of monster design that was just shy of perfection.
8 Worst: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
The only movie in the franchise to get riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Godzilla vs. Megalon is widely seen as one of the worst movies in Showa Era. In addition to relying heavily on stock footage from previous films, the movie’s goofy tone and stupid alien subplot make this one of the least watchable films in the entire franchise. Sure, Megalon may be a cool character, but not even he can save this movie from the dustbin of kaiju cinema. But one aspect that doesn’t get mentioned much is the design for Godzilla, which, much like the rest of the movie, is pretty awful.
By the time Megalon came out, Godzilla had been watered down from a threat to humanity to a hero, trying to save the human race from all manner of otherworldly threats. This, combined with the series’ increasing popularity among children, prompted Toho to change Godzilla’s looks in order to make him less threatening. This included softening his harder edges, giving him a pair of puppy dog eyes, and slimming him down to give him a more humanized look. The result was Godzilla at his most neutered, an oversized stuffed animal that was about as threatening as a muppet. Megalon’s Godzilla was the end result of nearly a decade of pandering to kids, and mercifully, it was the last Godzilla to do so.
7 Best: The Return of Godzilla (1984)
After decades of being portrayed as a hero for youngsters, Godzilla returned to his dark, villainous roots with the franchise’s first ever reboot. Scraping the big, goofy eyes and friendly appearance of the past, Return a offered a modern update to the original 1954 Godzilla, but with more emphasis on making the big G as mean looking as possible.
The first thing one notices when they first see this Godzilla are his canines, which stick out like vampire fangs. His enlarged forehead pushes his eyebrows forward, making him appear as though he is constantly glaring, while his big, piercing eyes are seemingly filled with insatiable rage. A thick, muscular body evens everything out, presenting a Godzilla that yearns to destroy a world that he’s learned to hate.
6 Worst: Son of Godzilla (1967)
Trying to make Godzilla friendly can only go so far, and at one point there needs to be a line that simply cannot be crossed no matter what. Son of Godzilla crosses that line and then some, giving us easily the worst Godzilla design during the classic period. Minilla is annoying enough as it is, with his atomic spit bubbles and whiny cries. But it’s the Godzilla design in Son of Godzilla that most fans like to hate on the most. While some may see it as unfair, given that the film was geared more towards children, there’s no denying that Godzilla’s looks in this film rank among the bottom of the franchise’s barrel.
First off, those eyes. Dear god are those things hideous! Godzilla’s eyes alone are enough to give this movie a pass. But don’t worry, it gets worse. In order to make Godzilla look as warm and fuzzy as possible, designers softened just about every part of his body, robbing him of the strength that once defined him. Son of Godzilla’s rendition looks more like an irradiated teddy bear than anything else. The worst part of all of this is that all the needless fluffing gives the creature an uncanny valley vibe that would probably scare children more than the original.
5 Best: Godzilla 2000 (1999)
After the failure that was TriStar's Godzilla (1998), Toho struck back with one of the most radical design alterations in the franchise’s history. Perhaps to counter many of the criticisms director Roland Emmerich had about the original Godzilla, such as him being too fat, 2000 offers a stiff rebuke of TriStar’s mistake that proves that no one can beat Toho at their own game. And in the process, they defined Godzilla’s look for a new generation of fans.
The most obvious of these changes is in Godzilla’s dorsal spines, which resemble the rock formations found in caves. They’re jagged and uneven, but they also contribute to the chaotic look that this Godzilla embodies. Sharp around the edges, with a pointed snout, a sleak, whiplash tail, and a huge maw full of razor-sharp teeth, Godzilla 2000 is the most animalistic design in recent decades. But it's his atomic breath that really seals the deal, replacing the classic blue of earlier years with red-hot fire that is almost hypnotic in its destructive majesty. Godzilla 2000 gives us the coolest looking creature in the franchise’s lineup, and his repeat appearances in the Millennium Era brought the series roaring into the 21st century.
4 Worst: Shin Godzilla (2016)
No one would ever argue with you if you said that Godzilla wasn’t pretty. Godzilla’s not supposed to look pretty, he’s supposed to look strong, powerful, and threatening. But there comes a point when trying to make Godzilla as threatening as possible goes too far, and in the case of Shin Godzilla, the most recent live action Godzilla film released by Toho, this is exactly what happened.
The Godzilla in Shin looks like he was created to be as ugly as humanly possible. Nothing about this design works, from the vastly uneven body proportions to the arrangement of his teeth and, of course, that weird metamorphosis that started with him looking like a durpy tadpole. But the one thing Shin Godzilla did that no other Godzilla movie had done before was that it made Godzilla gross. Like the way he splits his bottom jaw like the predator, or that disgusting mouth at the tip of his tail, or those weird humanoid-like creatures that crawl all over him like he’s their host. All of this combines to make Godzilla look more like a Resident Evil boss than the mean, green, killing machine we all know and love.
3 Best: Heisei Godzilla (1989-1995)
When most people hear the name Godzilla, this is what they see in their mind’s eye. It’s no mistake that the Godzilla of the 90’s is the most recognizable out of the entire series, and that’s because it’s such a timeless design. Taking inspiration from the 1984 model, designers smoothed out the head and gave the creature a more mammalian look. This is especially apparent in the upper lips, which are puffy like that of a tiger. The result is a creature that is less threatening, but does not sacrifice the strength and power that Godzilla is known for.
While less threatening Godzillas have often been the subject of ire among fans, in this case, the plan actually worked. Heisei Godzilla needed to be a more sympathetic character, if he was expected to take on the role of a reluctant hero. Once more, audiences were expected to be sympathetic to Godzilla, whose constant struggle to protect his son from monsters became a focal point of many of the later films. And then, of course, there was Godzilla’s tragic death at the end of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, a movie that made G-fans everywhere burst into tears. If Toho wanted to make a Godzilla people could root for, and grieve over, they definitely succeeded.
2 Worst: Godzilla (1998)
Come on, you knew this was going to be the worst! At this point, it goes without saying that 1998’s Godzilla (whose creature is now referred to as Zilla by Toho) is not only the worst ‘Godzilla’ film of the last thirty years, but it had the worst looking Godzilla. Period. End of story. Unlike other designs on this list, there really isn’t any way to argue in Zilla’s favor. He truly is that bad.
Where to start? Perhaps we can begin with the pencil-thin body? Sure, other Godzillas on this list can be classified as ‘slim’, but even they looked like they possessed the muscle mass needed to withstand a few hits from an Apache Black Hawk. Or what about the fact that he’s asexual, giving him the ability to randomly lay a nest, to help TriStar knock off Jurassic Park? Oh, and he can’t breath atomic fire, or take on a band of helos without running, or know how not to get stuck in the wires of a suspension bridge. You can make an entire list of the many problems with Zilla, all starting from the fact that director Roland Emmerich hated the original movies. With that in mind, it becomes blatantly obvious why Zilla is so despised by the Godzilla community.
1 Best: Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla may have evolved over the years, but nothing could replace the 1954 masterpiece that started it all. Before Godzilla became an international icon and a mascot for children, he was a metaphor for the nuclear bomb, a weapon that Japan had become all too familiar with less than a decade earlier. This Godzilla was a villain at heart, an abomination created by human recklessness, sent to punish them for their sins against their fellow man.
Designed to resemble a burn victim of radioactive fire, Godzilla was created to strike fear into the hearts of audiences. His skin is blackened as if by soot and covered in deep lacerations. His head is rounded, with a reptilian face and pointed ears like that of a demon. He looks at the world through a pair of psychotic eyes, behind which lays a mind that is twisted by misanthropic rage. Simple, yet horrifying, 1954’s Godzilla is the embodiment of a nation’s collected fears, and the world’s worst nightmares.