Though Godzilla has been around for 62 years, the mutated dinosaur somehow remains just as popular as ever. 2014 saw director Gareth Edwards reboot the classic monster in Legendary’s Godzilla, with a sequel set for 2019 and a crossover movie with King Kong slated for 2020. Over in Japan, original studio Toho has released their new movie, Godzilla Resurgence, which is currently dominating the box office overseas. And even more recently, a new animated movie by Polygon Studios has been announced for 2017.
It’s no mystery as to why Godzilla remains so relevant in pop culture. He’s a humongous mutated lizard that can shoot blue atomic breath out of his mouth. And frankly, if you don’t know why that’s awesome, then you need awesome lessons. For being more than six decades old, Godzilla hasn’t seemed to age a day. With all the recent uproar, we thought it would be an appropriate time to go over that 60+ year career and take a look back at the Big G’s best movies. These films are what we consider to be the most memorable from the series, either for their giant monster fights, vast destruction, or their often ludicrous plots. We also attempted to include films from all different eras of Godzilla, which consist of the Showa series (1954 – 1975), the Heisei series (1984 – 1995) and the Millennium series (1999 – 2004).
Godzilla is the undisputed King of the Monsters, so long live the king. Here are the 15 Best Godzilla Films Ever Made.
17 Dishonorable Mention - Godzilla (1998)
Before we take a look at the best the franchise has to offer, we felt it was appropriate to first look at the worst. Honestly, this movie is so universally hated it shouldn’t even count as part of the series, but since it bears the name, Godzilla 1998 gets its very own dishonorable mention for how poorly it represented the King of Monsters.
The gigantic iguana featured in this movie is completely devoid of any of the trademarked characteristics that makes Godzilla the absolute force of nature he is. It’s significantly smaller and weaker, and for a monster that is notorious for easily destroying militaries, it’s brought down by a couple of guided missiles from a fighter jet. While the movie is at least mildly entertaining once you accept its campiness, its biggest problem stems from the fact that it’s a Godzilla movie that doesn’t really feature Godzilla. It was a massive opportunity to reinvent the classic Japanese monster to Western audiences, but instead it became a cheap Jurassic Park knockoff that we all like to pretend didn’t happen.
16 Godzilla 2000 (1999)
After the 1998 American disaster, Toho was quick to get the bad taste out of everyone’s mouths. They retaliated by rebooting Godzilla yet again with Godzilla 2000, a Japanese production which actually picked up enough steam to have a theatrical release overseas. Directed by Takao Okawara, who was responsible for three of the best movies in the previous series, this outing has a giant flying saucer crash land right in the middle of Tokyo. After much speculation as to what it is, the spaceship transforms into the gigantic beast named Orga, a massive kaiju with a big enough mouth to swallow Godzilla whole.
Godzilla 2000 is a solid flick that pits two big creatures in a monster throw down. It’s far from perfect however, featuring some CGI scenes of Godzilla that are clearly outdated. Still, this movie kick-started Toho’s millennium series, and was a return to form for the titular monster, who looks scarier and more intimidating than ever.
15 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Giant monster fans had their dreams come true in 1962 when East met West in King Kong vs. Godzilla. A Batman v Superman for that generation, audiences got to witness firsthand the Japanese kaiju battle the famous great ape. Kong was beefed up in size so he could have a fair fight against Godzilla, and was also given a bizarre trait where he could feed off of electricity for no apparent reason than to serve as a convenient plot device.
Still, Kong’s inexplicable upgrades aside, the third movie in the Godzilla franchise is a fun ride. It’s certainly absurd and the effects are more than outdated, but the final battle is entertaining nonetheless as the two creatures exchange punches and throw boulders at one another. The climactic duel comes to an end when both monsters plunge into the ocean, with no real winner to crown as the victor.
It’s a fight that most audiences would love to see a rematch of, and as luck would have it we soon will. With Kong being rebooted yet again in the upcoming Skull Island, Legendary has already planned a Godzilla vs. King Kong for 2020. Take your bets people.
14 Godzilla (2014)
Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it provides a glorious special effects driven monster fight in the final 30 minutes. On the other hand, the remaining chunk of the runtime is devoted to overstuffed human drama with characters who (beside an intense Bryan Cranston who gets killed off way too quickly) we could care less about.
Ultimately it’s a popcorn movie that doesn’t quite capture the nostalgia of the early Toho productions, certainly not the bleak undertones of the original Gojira, but at the same time isn’t quite the disaster Roland Emmerich’s version was. The big plus is that Godzilla looks exactly like Godzilla, a towering presence that can breathe blue radioactive fire. Unfortunately, most fans would agree that he’s not in the film nearly as much as he should be, almost taking a backseat to the newly introduced MUTOS. Still, the final act is pure bliss for any kaiju fan which earns it a spot on this list. We just wish the rest of the movie had been more like that.
13 Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Intended to be the very last Godzilla film, everything about Final Wars is notched up to 11, with aliens, psychic abilities, martial arts showdowns and every obscure giant monster that Toho could find crammed into one movie. The plot, in a nutshell, involves mysterious aliens named Xilians as they unleash havoc on mankind with Earth’s various creatures. The final half of the film has Godzilla stomping around from place to place as he beats down monsters like Anguirus, Gigan, Ghidorah, and even the pathetic 1998 version of Godzilla (which is killed off in glorious cathartic retribution).
Godzilla: Final Wars may be campy, but like almost all of the films on this list, it’s a lot of fun if you’re willing to completely switch your brain off for the duration of the runtime. It’s nothing but nonstop action all the way through, with either humans fighting aliens, or Godzilla fighting, well, everyone. Final Wars culminates in a fantastic all-you-can-eat-buffet of monster matches that does the King of the Monsters justice.
12 Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Following in the giant footsteps made by Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel that is rather different in tone. By this point in the 70s Godzilla had become cartoony and downright silly, but this final installment in the Showa saga is a much bleaker affair. The principle story involves a doomed relationship between a man and his lost love who is now a cyborg. Also complicated is the relationship between a race of aliens and a disgruntled human scientist who resurrect a new aquatic kaiju named Titanosaurus.
Along with a newly repaired Mechagodzilla, Titanosaurus goes around Japan stomping on buildings and causing chaos. Things seem lost until Godzilla shows up to save the day and, in one of his best entrances in the entire series, takes on both monsters like an absolute boss. Heat canons and ray beams are exchanged until Godzilla is the only monster left standing and returns to the sea. It’s an appropriate farewell for the King of the Monsters, as this was the last Godzilla movie to be produced for ten years.
11 Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Kicking off our top ten is the ultimate monster battle royale: Destroy All Monsters. Originally intended to be the final Godzilla movie as Kaiju films were beginning to lose steam, the budget was increased to include more giant creatures; almost too many. Among the expansive roster included Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan Ghidorah, Anguirus, Kumonga, Manda, Varan and even Godzilla’s son, Minilla.
The plot is a familiar one as aliens once again attempt to take over earth, this time by using mind control to use all of Earth’s monsters to destroy the human race (if the plot to this movie sounds exactly the same as Final Wars, that’s because it is). Though the movie is a bit slow in the beginning as each monster is separately introduced, they all wind up in the same place in the final act for a massive brawl that Godzilla fans’ dreams are made out of.
Though Destroy All Monsters would have been a fitting end to Godzilla’s film career, it surprisingly went on to be very successful, changing Toho’s mind about cancelling the franchise. Good thing, as the world wouldn’t be quite the same place without a fire breathing dinosaur stomping all over it.
10 Return of Godzilla (1984)
By the end of the Showa series, Godzilla was a far cry away from his original design. Initially depicted as a destructive force of nature, he had been turned into a mighty savior who fought other creatures in order to protect Earth. By the time the mid-80s rolled around, it had come time to return Godzilla to his roots; it was time to make him a villain again. It led to the most serious Godzilla film since the original 1954 version, titled Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 1985 for Western audiences.
Set to the backdrop of the Cold War, the story is dour, grim even as Godzilla leaves nothing but death and destruction in his wake. There are no other monsters for him to fight here, no goofy plot about aliens. It is simply a classic man vs. nature story in which nature is a personified as a 300 ft. prehistoric beast that rains fire from above. Though it may not be as much fun to watch as other entries on this list, Return of Godzilla is a milestone for rejuvenating the franchise and spawning the beginning of the Heisei series of films.
9 Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)
If a movie franchise lasts long enough, then odds are it's going to end up in space at some point. James Bond did it, the Friday the 13th films did it, Ice Age did it, and of course, Godzilla ended up making the move to the cosmos as well with 1965’s Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. That’s not to say that it didn’t work out in its favor. This was the first full blown space-themed film in the franchise, and audiences couldn’t get enough of it at the time.
When a new planet is discovered two astronauts are sent out to investigate it. They uncover a secret race of aliens that who request the help of two of Earth’s monsters, Godzilla and Rodan, to fight King Ghidorah who plagues the surface of their planet. Of course the aliens turn out to have ulterior motives (as they always do) and use the newly mind-controlled Godzilla, Rodan and Ghidorah to unleash chaos on Earth.
While the camp levels in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero are off the Richter scale, it doesn’t stop it from being a great bit of fun. This marked the only time that Godzilla journeyed to another planet in the series, which led to one of the goofiest moments in the entire franchise. It’s something you just have to see to believe.
8 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
We realize that the names of these movies can be somewhat confusing; Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla aren’t the most creative titles in the world. The easiest way to differentiate this particular production, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, from the rest of the group is that it’s the only Mechagodzilla movie of the Heisei series, and it’s easily the best out of the entire bunch featuring Godzilla’s robotic nemesis.
Unlike the previous Showa installments, this marked the first time that the giant robot was a hero rather than a villain, being constructed by the U.N. to fight a rampaging Godzilla. It also introduced Godzilla’s offspring for the second time in the series, and also resurrects another classic kaiju, Rodan. The movie has some fantastic action sequences, with some super creative weapons from Mechagodzilla including its “shock anchors” that are able to electrocute Godzilla from the inside.
Though some might prefer the original and more menacing Mechagodzilla design from the Show era, this movie has a far better story and vastly superior visuals, not to mention a thundering soundtrack from Akira Ifukube that is easily the best since the original film.
7 Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
Possible the most underrated entry from not just the Heisei series, but the entire franchise, Godzilla vs. Biollante is truly a one of a kind Godzilla film. After rising from his volcanic tomb, Godzilla once again goes on a full-blown rampage on Japan. At the same time a scientist combines the Godzilla cells from his previous attack with cells of a rose. The result is a fascinatingly unique biological monster known as Biollante, which looks like a cross between a crocodile, a killer rosebush, and a “Graboid” from Tremors. It’s intimidating to say the least.
Containing one of the most creative monster designs, Godzilla vs. Biollante also scores one of the most interesting human stories, creating a unique blend of action and suspense. There are big themes at play here like the ethics behind reanimation and biological weapons. It’s so dark and brooding that sometimes you forget you’re watching a Godzilla flick. With a compelling narrative, and one of Godzilla’s most vicious opponents, Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of the most memorable films for its ability to take risks that certainly paid off.
6 Godzilla, Morthra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)
Though the title of this movie might be ridiculous, the movie is anything but. Kicking off our top five is a film which returned Godzilla to his bad guy roots, while reimagining Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon as the guardians of Earth. The film also provides a brand new backstory on Godzilla, explaining that the dead ghosts of WWII have possessed his body in order to destroy Japan. Along with his new backstory comes a new look, with ghostly white eyes that make the Big G more frightening than ever.
Thanks to some fantastic direction from Shûsuke Kaneko (who also directed the live adaptations of Death Note) the monster fights here are dazzling and grandiose in scope. Godzilla is at his absolute fiercest as he lays waste to Japan and unleashes his full destructive potential. There’s even a compelling human story in the mix that actually advances the plot, with characters we genuinely care about. GMK is a Godzilla film which very little can be improved upon, and it gets our vote for the best in the entire millennium series.
5 Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Mothra vs. Godzilla is one of the best and earliest pairings of two classic monsters going at it. Though it doesn’t have the dark allegorical elements of the first movie, it isn’t downright silly like so many of its successors. Godzilla is presented as an unsympathetic monster who is virtually impervious to military grade weapons, while Mothra is the upstanding protector of Earth who will do anything to defend its young and the fate of the world. It’s a classic story of good vs. evil.
The plot involves two of Mothra’s eggs washing up onshore in Japan, with Godzilla slowly moving in their direction to obliterate them. It leads to a legendary showdown between Big G and an adult Mothra, who although puts up a good fight, is eventually bested by the King of the Monsters. The two eggs hatch into gigantic larva who are faced with the impossible task of finishing off Godzilla once and for all.
When it was marketed to Western audiences, the title was changed to Godzilla vs. The Thing in order to mislead audiences that the insect kaiju would be more horrific and menacing. Viewers were stunned to learn that “The Thing” was an adorable giant moth, but that shouldn’t sway your decision from watching this gem. Mothra vs. Godzilla is a classic giant monster flick that should not be missed by any Godzilla fan, let alone any fan of science fiction and fantasy.
4 Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
Capping off the Heisei series, Godzilla vs. Destroyah might be the most emotionally devastating Godzilla film to date. After his home island has been destroyed, it is revealed that Godzilla’s heart, which is essentially a nuclear reactor, is beginning to melt down. To make matters worse, there’s a new monster in town named Destoroyah, who looks like the kaiju embodiment of the Devil. The two monsters finally meet up in the end to face off in a climactic and brutal fight to the death.
For Godzilla fans, it’s hard to pick apart anything in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. The monster designs are top notch, with director Takao Okawara borrowing influences from everything including James Cameron’s Aliens for inspiration. The monster fights, which are as thrilling as they are brutal, are much more violent here than in previous installment. For the first time in a brawl, Godzilla actually looks like he might die, making the fights much more investing to watch. The human story is also quite good, at least for a Godzilla film, with returning characters all the way back from 1954’s Gojira.
Upon release this film became notorious for depicting Godzilla’s death in such detail on screen. As King of the Monsters melts down into oblivion with Akira Ifukube’s iconic score in the background, it really is a moving sight. It’s a requiem for a legend that made the most hardcore Godzilla fans shed a tear, and one that is still looked at as a milestone in the series.
3 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
This one has got it all: time travel, cyborgs, laser guns, and the return of Godzilla’s arch nemesis King Ghidorah, who looks better and meaner than ever. It serves as both an origin story for Godzilla and Ghidorah, but really it’s a just an excuse to get two of the greatest kaiju ever to go toe-to-toe with each other in a series of no-holds-barred monster brawls.
The story shifts into gear when time travelers from the 23rd century return to Japan in 1992 with a plan to erase Godzilla from existence. The whole plan is later revealed to be an evil scheme to spawn their own monster, King Ghidorah, to destroy Japan so it will not become the economic powerhouse it does in the near future. Fortunately, Godzilla still manages to be created and squares off against Ghidorah in a fight in which the three-headed dragon is obliterated, and then another when it’s resurrected using bio-mechanical technology.
The best part about this over-the-top sci-fi adventure is that it knows exactly what it is without making any apologies for it. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah might be a campy B-production but it’s a spellbinding piece of popcorn entertainment that moves at a lightning pace, and in the end isn’t that exactly what we want from a Godzilla movie?
2 Honorable Mentions
With 30 films under its belt, the Godzilla franchise has its share of classic movies. Before we reveal our #1 pick, here are a few monster brawls that barely missed this list.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) – After a meteorite falls to Earth, it transforms into the menacing Ghidorah who travels to planets leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake. This was the first movie that featured Ghidorah, the three-headed golden dragon from outer space that shoots lightening out of its mouths. It has some decent, if not dated monster fights, and is awarded bonus points for a bizarre human subplot about a Martian princess that is being hunted down by a ground of assassins.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) – The first movie with Godzilla’s mechanical rival, this entry has apelike aliens build Mechagodzilla in order to destroy Japan and take over the world. It’s a B-movie paradise with dated effects, a jazz/funk soundtrack, monsters in rubbery suits, and aliens in monkey masks who look like they got booted off the Planet of the Apes set.
Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992) – The fourth movie in the Heisei series has Godzilla square off against his old enemy Mothra, as well as a new monster named Battra, which is basically an uglier and more evil version of Mothra. It’s a solid Godzilla flick with a decent plot that moves at a brisk pace, and a rousing ending monster fight. If only it didn’t get too preachy about saving the environment, it might have landed higher on our list.
Godzilla vs. Megauirus (2000) – Another reboot that ignores every film except the first one, this creature-feature has Godzilla up against giant prehistoric insects that appear out of a black hole. The formula here is a bit tiring with not much from the plot to relate with, but the monster fights are at least entertaining enough to where it’s worth a watch.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) – This installment pit Godzilla against Mechagodzilla yet again, and served as a direct sequel to the previous Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. This movie also has Mothra added into the mix, although the reasoning behind it is a bit convoluted. Tokyo S.O.S. didn’t add a whole lot new to the series, but it still has a bunch of flashy effects, and of course, giant monster brawls aplenty.
1 Gojira (1954)
It seemed appropriate that the original that started it all earned the top spot on this list. Less than a decade later from the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, the traumatized people of Japan welcomed a movie which a giant monster stood as a symbolic representation for heinous nuclear testing. That giant monster was a mutated prehistoric dinosaur with radioactive breath, and its name was Gojira, aka Godzilla.
Depicted as an unstoppable force of nature, this is Godzilla at his most primal and destructive. This was before Godzilla turned into the campy hero kids beckoned to save the world. This is a Godzilla that simply wanted to watch the world burn. We’re not saying that the sequels which had Godzilla brawl with other monsters are anything less. It’s a blast to watch giant monsters duke it out, but 1954’s Gojira is a dark and brooding allegory for nuclear testing that is in a league of its own. Though it was edited for American audiences with added scenes with Raymond Burr, there is absolutely no substitute for the Japanese original, directed by the legendary Ishirô Honda. The next time someone dismisses Godzilla for being a guy in a hokey rubber suit, give them a copy of the original Gojira. We guarantee you that it will change their minds.
What's your favorite Godzilla movie ever? Does the 2014 movie deserve more love? Let us know in the comments!
The Godzilla animated film will be released in 2017; Godzilla 2 on March 22, 2019. and Godzilla vs. King Kong on May 29, 2020.