Featured in a total of 28 films (spanning three eras) produced by Toho Studios, knowing were to start in the Godzilla franchise can seem a bit daunting even though each entry is relatively stand-alone. With the 60-year-old icon stomping into theaters on May 16th, hopefully this article will be a helpful guide through some of the more notable entries.
1. Showa series (1954-1975): The initial series and the longest, spanning fifteen movies.
Gojira (1954): The black-and-white original that started it all. Much more than a straightforward monster affair, this somber masterpiece offers a brooding post-WWII commentary on the horrors nuclear destruction, something that Japan experienced first-hand.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964): Don’t let Mothra’s fuzzy beauty fool you, this moth packs quite a punch as the villainous Godzilla finds out the hard way. Manages to have the right balance of comedy and seriousness. The two-part Mothra vs. Godzilla battle is among one of the franchises’ best.
Destroy All Monsters (1968): Originally intended as the final G-film, Earth is under siege by aliens that have taken control of the planet’s monsters. Godzilla attacks New York, Rodan invades Moscow, Mothra lays waste to Beijing, and Manda attacks London. Electrifying romp that will bring out the ten-year old in all of us, plus you don’t want to miss the climactic battle featuring Godzilla and his friends against the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974): Green dirty ape humanoids are invading the Earth and their main weapon is a Terminator Godzilla. Made during the hero-phase of the Big G’s career, this campier entry is a nostalgic favorite. Featuring an exotic jazzy score, colorful special effects, and entertaining monster fights; this tale of technology vs. nature will make your head-spin.
2. Heisei series (1984-1995): Seven movies that act as direct continuations of “Gojira”, ignoring the other Showa entries in between.
The Return of Godzilla (1984): Returning to the franchise’s initial dark and gritty roots, Godzilla’s homecoming to the big screen after a nine-year hiatus re-established the icon as a terrifying force of nature. Featuring the scariest G-suit and an intense then-topical Cold War plot, this entry not only works as a sequel to the original but as a great horror movie. Oh by the way: STAY FAR AWAY FROM THE 1985 BUTCHERED, HEAVILY-ALTERED AMERICANIZED VERSION STARRING RAYMOND BURR!
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991): A trippy time-travel plot mixed in with Godzilla’s most famous adversary!?! Great Scott!!
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995): The spectacular and emotionally powerful conclusion to the Heisei series. The devil-looking Destoroyah is a great opponent monster and Godzilla’s dramatic climactic death will leave any G-fan teary-eyed.
3. Millennium series (1999-2004): Six movies that are mostly one-shot stories, each acting as a direct sequel to “Gojira”.
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)/Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003): A double-bill that most effectively presents Godzilla in a more modern context. Mechagodzilla’s origin story is revamped to a human defense weapon used against Godzilla and other giant monster attacks. Delivers the mech vs. monster action of “Pacific Rim” while also presenting solid human drama.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004): The most recent entry celebrates the 50th anniversary of the monster’s debut, and it’s a birthday blowout. Featuring a ton of fan favorite monsters like the giant cyborg Gigan, this crazy thrill ride adheres back to the light-hearted romp of the campy 60’s entries. Include a nutty alien invasion plot and a dash of Matrix-style fights; action movie fans will not be disappointed.
Other Personal Favorites: Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, and Son of Godzilla.
Least Favorite: Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla (1998), Godzilla’s Revenge, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, and Godzilla vs. Gigan.