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A Beginner's Guide to Godzilla Movies

Godzilla  © 1954 Toho Company LTD

Godzilla © 1954 Toho Company LTD

Godzilla. It’s been over 50 years since the world first heard the roar of the King of the Monsters. In that time, there have been a total of 28 films in the series produced by Toho Studios. Since his debut in 1954, Godzilla has become a pop culture icon. Practically wherever you go, whether they're fans or not, people recognize the name of Godzilla.

The film series spans across three eras. The first, known as the "Shōwa series" due to the fact they were made during the Shōwa period of Japan (1926-1989) when Emperor Hirohito ruled, has by far the largest number of films. A total of 15 were made during this period, featuring such movies as the much beloved Mothra vs. Godzilla, the classic King Kong vs. Godzilla, the monster battle royal Destroy All Monsters, and of course the original Gojira.

The second set of films is known as the "Heisei series" since most of them were made following the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989. This series saw not only the return of Godzilla, but several of his most famous or infamous adversaries such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.

The final series is known as the "Millennium series" having begun in 1999. This series again saw the return of a few of the classic monsters as well as several new creatures that gave Godzilla a run for his money in the mean & nasty department. Some of the best effects can be found in this exciting group of celluloid adventures.

If you live in the U.S., most of the films are available on Blu-ray or DVD though there are a select few that sadly do not contain the original Japanese language track. If you're a purist like me, you'll want to keep searching. Viewing these films in their original language is a special treat. The often hokey and somewhat silly aspect of the English dubbed versions isn't to be found. Seeing them as they were originally intended is a must for any true Godzilla fan. Pretty soon, you too will be cheering, "Man in suit, man in suit, man in suit!"


(Ahem...) Now then, on to the list...

Shōwa Series

Gojira (aka Godzilla, King of the Monsters) © 1954 Toho Company LTD

Gojira (aka Godzilla, King of the Monsters) © 1954 Toho Company LTD

Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, 1954)

A fishing community on Odo Island believes their misfortune in the loss of fishing boats and poor catches is due to a giant monster living in the sea that was said to come out to feed on humans. After a storm arrives bringing another attack, the survivors are taken to Tokyo and a request is made by Dr. Kyohei Yamane to send in a team for an investigation. The team discovers giant footprints saturated in radiation. They realize that Strontium-90 in such large amounts could only come from an atomic bomb. Once the team returns to the mainland, Dr. Yamane makes a presentation during which it is ultimately decided despite objections to the contrary that the information regarding Godzilla should be made public. A fleet is sent out with depth charges to destroy the creature to no avail. Godzilla rises from Tokyo Bay and descends again creating panic among the citizens of Japan. Steps are taken to electrocute the monster and people are sent to bomb shelters. After nightfall, Godzilla reappears and breaks through the electrical towers and attacks Tokyo. By daybreak, the city is practically destroyed with many citizens suffering radiation burns and sickness. A colleague of Dr. Yamane’s, Dr. Daisuke Serizawa realizes the only hope may lie in his Oxygen Destroyer. More powerful than a nuclear weapon, it is capable of destroying all life in the sea. Dr. Serizawa destroys his research and a ship carrying him and his device head out into Tokyo Bay to plant the device.

The one that started it all. The giant atomic energy breathing monster in the film was an allegory for nuclear weapons, specifically the hydrogen bomb, and their affects on people. Unfortunately the message was lost when the film was brought to U.S. shores and heavily edited. The American production company responsible also cast Raymond Burr as American reporter Steven Martin on route to Cairo for assignment. Burr’s character is injured and after being questioned by authorities he begins reporting on the mysterious destruction of ships in the Sea of Japan. He witnesses the arrival of Godzilla and the subsequent devastation left in his wake in several key scenes that were added in so that western audiences could better follow the reworked story.

Godzilla Raids Again © 1955 Toho Company LTD

Godzilla Raids Again © 1955 Toho Company LTD

Godzilla Raids Again (Gigantis, the Fire Monster, 1955)

Two pilots searching for fish, land on an island when the plane develops a malfunction. Hearing unusual sounds, they stumble upon a battle between two giant monsters that both fall into the ocean. It is later learned that rivalry between Godzilla and Anguirus goes way back. Dr. Yamane, who was present during the previous Godzilla attack, indicates this Godzilla is a different one than the one that attacked Japan. Later Godzilla comes ashore and attacks Osaka. He is eventually joined in battle once again by Anguirus who fails to survive Godzilla’s wrath.

This film marks the first appearance of Anguirus and the first time Godzilla would have a toe to toe slugging match with another colossal monstrosity in the long running franchise. When brought to the United States, the film saw massive changes. Subplots were altered dramatically, stock footage and music were used, Godzilla’s roar was made to sound more like his opponent’s, and intelligent characters were turned into buffoons. The alterations to the film were so drastic that even the name of the film was changed. The U.S. producer, who has since regretted his decision, thought at the time he wanted audiences to believe they were watching a totally new creature and so re-named Godzilla, “Gigantis”. George Takei (Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu) provided voiceovers for the English dubbed version.

King Kong vs. Godzilla © 1962 Toho Company LTD

King Kong vs. Godzilla © 1962 Toho Company LTD

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

The head of a pharmaceutical company, frustrated with the television programming his company produces, decides to send two men to Faro Island to bring back Kong to exploit him for publicity. Elsewhere, the U.S. submarine Seahawk is destroyed by Godzilla after colliding with an iceberg that contained the creature. Godzilla heads to Japan and wreaks havoc. Meanwhile, Kong manages to escape from his captors and swims to the mainland where he and Godzilla slug it out.

The two most famous giant monsters of all time go head to head in Toho’s third film in the Godzilla series. This was the first time either monster appeared in color. The film was made more lighthearted to appeal to kids and the wrestling match style fight scenes (the actors in the suits even practiced wrestling moves before shooting) are filled with humorous moments. This was also the film with the most changes once it was brought to U.S. audiences. Many scenes involving character development were cut and replaced with scenes featuring a U.N. reporter providing background information and commentary on the monstrous confrontation from orbit in a United Nations communications satellite.

Mothra vs. Godzilla © 1964 Toho Company LTD

Mothra vs. Godzilla © 1964 Toho Company LTD

Mothra vs. Godzilla (Godzilla vs. The Thing, 1964)

A giant egg is washed ashore during a typhoon and becomes the talk of the town. Entrepreneur Kumayama purchases the egg from the locals and rushes off the scientists there to study it. His plans for a tourist attraction are cut short when the Shobijin, two 1 foot tall girls, arrive to plead for the egg to be returned to Infant Island. Meanwhile, Godzilla, blown ashore and buried in mud from the storm, rises and begins attacking Nagoya. Reporter Ichiro Sakai together with photographer Junko Nakanishi hopes the Shobijin can help them convince the natives of Infant Island and Mothra to assist Japan in the defeat of Godzilla. Although they are initially turned down, Mothra eventually agrees.