In case you’ve been living in a cave, or vacationing on a deserted island with no mass media access, the King of the Monsters has returned. Godzilla (2014) continues to generate revenue, well beyond what was expected of it, in theaters, so we thought what better way to pay tribute to tall, dark, and scaly than with a best-of/worst-of compilation. With 30 films, it’s hard to choose, but here it is:
5) Destroy All Monsters (1968)
This film gets a bad rap, because the scenes that focus on the non-monsters, or the humans trying to thwart the aliens, are very lethargic. Originally slated to be the last Godzilla film, Destroy All Monsters united almost every major Toho goliath including Godzilla, Mothra, Son of Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, Kumonga, and Gorosaurus, to battle King Ghidorah at the film’s conclusion. This is one of the most epic monster battles ever and this massive royal rumble offsets any boredom leading up to the final act. If you absolutely can’t stomach the slow storytelling, skip to the end, but don’t miss the fight.
4) Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Don’t let the lengthy title throw you, this is one of the most action-packed and visually-pleasing Godzilla films ever produced. The King of the Monsters faces off against a trio of his deadliest adversaries: King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon. There’s a great scene during the final battle where Godzilla is just fed up with everyone. While Mothra attacks, the army tries to take down the King. Godzilla unleashes an unforgettable fire-breathing attack that burns tanks, buildings, and sends soldiers flying through the air. It’s spectacular! And then he lights Mothra up. There are amazing special effects and plenty of “Oh, did you see that?” moments to satisfy every monster movie fan.
3) Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
This is the ultimate monster- mash vehicle. It was the 50th movie-monster icon from their previous films. And the result is the most action-oriented of the Godzilla films. Even the humans are battling, so there’s very little story here; it’s 99% action. The King of the Monsters tussles with a who’s who of creatures, but in the end it comes down to Godzilla and Monster X aka King Ghidorah. In a great scene, one any hater of the American 1998 Godzilla can appreciate, is when Godzilla obliterates American Godzilla aka Zilla. You can tell Toho was trying to send a message that the U.S. screwed up the King of the Monsters in the late 90s. Zilla tries to attack Godzilla, but Godzilla smacks him through the air with his tail. Zilla crashes into a building and Godzilla torches him. The fight lasts about 20 seconds. Ah, sweet justice…on film at least.
2) Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Some baddies from the future return to the past, with their own twisted agenda, and make sure Godzilla is never created. What the villains do is to make sure that, their own diabolical creature, King Ghidorah is born in his place. Unfortunately, for the bad guys, another Godzilla is created despite their best-laid plans. The King of the Monsters easily defeats his three-headed adversary, but he is rebuilt as Mecha-King Ghidorah. Believe it or not, the best scene is when a war veteran thinks that Godzilla is actually his friend. This guy really believes Godzilla recognizes him, from the past, so he gets up close and personal with the King of the Monsters. The veteran and Godzilla stare at one another and the man nods, as if Godzilla recognizes him. But despite the war vet’s delusion, Godzilla unleashes his fiery breath on the man and incinerates him. This guy had no chance and, to say the least, he was a very bad judge of character.
1) Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
The original is still, by far and away, the best of the franchise. Now, I can hear you purists out there screaming that Gojira (1954) is the better film, but there are elements about the American version that outshine the original. For instance, Raymond Burr does an excellent job in the movie, even if it is mostly as an on-screen narrator. Godzilla in black and white seems so much more menacing. You can’t go wrong with this one, or Gojira. The original is more akin to a horror film, and noticeably absent are all the other monsters that so frequently appear in the sequels. Everyone should see this film at least once. It’s a true classic, not just a genre film.
Now, with all that said, there are so many great Godzilla films worth watching and only a handful of unwatchable movies featuring the King of the Monsters. We’d hate for someone to watch one of the “toilet bowl” Godzilla movies and get turned off to the series before they become a fan; so, here are the ones to avoid:
5) Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)
This film marked the beginning of a slump in the franchise, which saw its Godzilla movies begin to cater to a much younger audience: children. The plot involves a young fanboy of Godzilla being kidnapped. As a coping mechanism, he envisions himself on Monster Island with Godzilla’s son. So, get ready to cringe because Godzilla’s kid can now shrink down to human size. And, as unbelievable as that notion is, he can talk, too. Laughter inducing scenes include Godzilla’s son telling the boy, “Godzilla says I should fight my own battles.” What’s worse, if you can imagine, is that when the boy and Godzilla’s son watch the King of the Monsters fight, it’s just stock footage from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) and Son of Godzilla (1967). There’s nothing redeeming about this film. Who did Godzilla get revenge on? The fans? What did we do to you, Godzilla?
4) Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971)
Toho was on a decidedly negative roll during this period. If you happened to be watching Godzilla films during the late 1960s and early 1970s, it’s a miracle you ever became a fan of the King of the Monsters. The movies during this stretch were just awful. This was another Godzilla film that incorporated music beyond the film score. Just when you think the song the fairies would sing to communicate with Mothra was annoying, here comes “Save the Earth,” the theme song that is constantly played throughout the picture. It gets stuck in your head and you just can’t get it out. But, even worse was the villain of the plot: the Smog Monster. This creature is essentially a steaming bowl of crap, minus the bowl. There’s a scene where the Smog Monster drops Godzilla into a hole and craps all over the King of the Monsters. Apologies, but there’s no other way to put it: yes, the Smog Monster essentially takes a bowel movement on Godzilla. Oh, and that poor kitty cat! If you torture yourself, and give the film a shot, you’ll understand. What were the filmmakers thinking? Okay, it’s supposed to be vehicle to promote the environment and the dangers of pollution, but couldn’t the powers-that-be put a little more effort into this? Avoid at all costs!
3) Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
If we told you that cockroaches from outer space were the primary antagonists, would you double over in laughter with us? Well, start chuckling. At this point, I don’t think there was anyone qualified for upper-management filmmaking working at Toho. This was the third-straight Godzilla film that creatively tanks. It takes nearly 45 minutes before any of the actual monster action starts up. Who cares about a plot involving villainous cockroaches? King Ghidorah makes an appearance with the new monster Gigan. FYI…Both are controlled by the cockroaches. And oh, again, the monsters talk. Godzilla actually spurts out, “There’s something funny going on.” Pile all that on top of Godzilla bleeding, the famous roar screwing up due to poor audio, and the famous suit actually falling apart on screen, and you’ve got Toho’s crowning achievement in poorly executed cinema.
2) Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Okay, at least there are no cockroaches this time, but the baddies here are underground Earth dwellers. Oh, and the movie poster shows Godzilla battling Megalon on top of the World Trade Center Towers, which never happens in the film. Who was running Toho during this stretch of time? The cockroaches perhaps? This installment introduces the robot Jet Jaguar, which was a character created by an elementary student via a contest to come up with a monster for the film. Uh, huh. And, of course, he comes stock with yet another infectiously catchy and obnoxious theme song. It’s just as bad, if not worse, than the King Caesar song. I really wish Godzilla would have bit Jaguar’s head off, but they end up working together to thwart Megalon. There is, however, one redeeming moment: Godzilla glides across the screen on his tail and dropkicks Megalon, while Jet Jaguar holds the baddie in place. It’s an awesome moment in the franchise, but it’s just sad you have to watch the whole film to get that one moment. Luckily, for us there is scene selection and fast forwarding. Use them, please!
1) Godzilla (1998)
Compared to the vomit-inducing Godzilla films from 1969 to 1973, this movie is actually watchable. However, that doesn’t forgive what director Roland Emmerich did to the King of the Monsters in the first, original American-made Godzilla film. Godzilla looks like a dinosaur, obviously inspired by the Jurassic Park film franchise. He’s much too small, he barely spits fire, and he is actually killed by the army forces. Did Emmerich ever view a Godzilla film? Doesn’t he know that missiles, bullets, planes, and tanks can’t kill the King? At any rate, fans of the series have dubbed the creature Zilla, because there’s nothing God-like about him in this film. And Zilla gets his in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). It’s an epic beating at the hand of the King of the Monsters.
There you have it. But, in conclusion, the Americans did finally get Godzilla right, with the latest installment. The story is solid, the action between the MUTOs and Godzilla is amazing, and I loved finally seeing him done right on the big screen. Godzilla’s not fat, he’s big boned; actually, he looked buff. Critics should stop attacking his looks; do you really want Zilla back? I didn’t think so.