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All 38 ‘Godzilla’ Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

Godzilla has defeated giant spiders, giant lobsters, giant robots, giant dinosaurs, giant space dragons, giant plant monsters, giant beetles, and of course, giant monkeys. But recently, the King of the Monsters conquered a foe that many thought him incapable of taking on: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With “Godzilla Minus One,” Toho’s iconic kaiju (or giant monster) franchise “Godzilla” earned its first Academy Award, receiving the Oscar for Best Visual Effects after wowing audiences with its impressive CGI re-creation of cinema’s most iconic movie monster. It became the first Japanese production to win the award, bookending a successful season for the film, which broke through in America in a major way. After years of the franchise’s Japanese films reaching relatively niche U.S. audiences, “Godzilla Minus One” grossed $110 million worldwide and attracted critical acclaim, bringing the franchise new fans and newfound recognition.

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“Godzilla Minus One” and its massive success puts the pressure on the franchise’s American branch to deliver great films — or, at the very least, a great time at the theaters. Since 2014, Legendary Pictures has been producing “Godzilla” films under what it calls the MonsterVerse, releasing four films starring the iconic reptile. These films have ranged from relatively well-liked (“Godzilla vs. Kong”) to more divisive (“King of the Monsters,” the 2014 film), although pretty much everybody can agree they’re at least better than the 1998 Roland Emmerich attempt to Americanize the franchise. After the success of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” in which Godzilla decisively proved the victor in a fight against film’s other most famous big baddie King Kong, the two are teaming up in a new film “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” squaring off against another threat.

The “Godzilla vs. Kong” films lean more into the sillier, balls to the wall action side of the “Godzilla” formula, after the MonsterVerse started dark with Gareth Edwards’ ambitious if flawed 2014 film. But “Godzilla Minus One,” and its very human story of a postwar Japan struggling against the emergence of the giant monster, serves as a reminder of how diverse “Godzilla” stories can be, and how it can be used to approach heavy topics. It’s also very true to the franchise’s roots: the first film, directed by Ishirō Honda, who co-wrote the script with Takeo Murata, was released in 1954 while the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fresh in the minds of the Japanese populace. Depicted as a prehistoric monster awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation, Godzilla was depicted as a tragic figure, and a symbol of the potential consequences atomic warfare could bring.

As the films continued, the series departed significantly from that bleak first movie; Godzilla became a quasi-hero often charged with fighting worse threats to humanity, and giant monster battles became the standard fans wanted from the films. But still, Godzilla remained capable of exploring deeper themes: the franchise has used the character to explore environmentalism, Cold War politics, the long tail of Japan’s crimes during World War II, and everything in between.

With well over 30 films, there are a lot of “Godzilla” adventures. That can make the franchise intimidating for newfound fans to approach, and that’s to say nothing of the…variable quality from film to film. Making things more complicated, the Toho series is divided into four “eras,” with their own chronologies and continuities. These eras have unique quirks, filmmaking styles, and general tones, and inspire plenty of debate regarding which was the golden period for the character. A quick explanation of the various eras before we jump in:

Showa Era (1954-1975): Named after the reign of Japanese Emperor Showa, from 1926 to 1989. The films that started them all, the Showa series consist of 15 entries, from the 1954 original to “Terror of Mechagodzilla” in 1975. Pretty much all of the most iconic Kaiju debuted during the period, sometimes in solo films before crossing over with Godzilla, including Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla. Although the first film is a somber allegory exploring the lingering trauma of the nuclear bomb, the Showa movies are generally lighthearted, focusing on Godzilla as a hero fighting increasingly outlandish foes. The series ended due to “Terror of Mechagodzilla” underperforming at the box office, leaving the franchise on ice for nearly 10 years. Aside from the Reiwa movies, they’re the only films readily available online in their original Japanese versions, with all but “King Kong vs. Godzilla” streaming on the Criterion Channel.

Heisei Era (1984-1995): Named after the reign of Japanese Emperor Akihito from 1989 to 2019 (yes, the Heisei Era of “Godzilla” started five years before the actual Heisei Era of Japan; the naming is not an exact science). A franchise reboot, the Heisei era consists of seven films starting with “The Return of Godzilla” and ending with “Godzilla vs. Destroyah.” The Heisei series includes the original 1954 “Godzilla” film in its continuity, but otherwise ignores the other Showa films. The series is generally darker and more serious, and a bit more serialized and more focused on tight continuity than the Showa films; for example, all of the movies except for “The Return of Godzilla” feature Megumi Odaka as recurring character Miki. In 1995, “Godzilla vs. Destroyah” acted as an ending for the series; Toho initially planned to pause production on “Godzilla” films until 2005 so as not to interfere with an American “Godzilla” franchise being planned at TriStar. The first four films in the franchise are unavailable online, but the final three can be rented on VOD. Only “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II” can be rented in its original Japanese, while the other two are available in English dubs.

Millennium Era (1999-2004): Named after the fact that the series debuted with “Godzilla 2000: Millennium” and the general turn of the 21st-century release window (for extra confusion, “Godzilla 2000” was actually released in 1999). The series was started because of the critical failure of TriStar’s 1998 American “Godzilla” film, which killed the hopes for the American franchise and convinced Toho to resurrect the character for Japanese audiences. Unlike the Showa and Heisei Eras, which places all of the movies in the same continuity, most of the Millennium films are standalone; generally speaking, they all incorporate the events of the 1954 original in their canon while ignoring every other film, but it varies from case to case. The series ended with “Godzilla: Final Wars,” a 50th anniversary celebration of the character’s history. Because of the anthology nature of the series, the tone of each entry varies widely, from lighthearted to extremely serious. Every film can be rented on digital platforms, though unfortunately, all are only available in their dubbed English form.

Reiwa Era (2016-Present): The ongoing, current series, which began with “Shin Godzilla” in 2016, ending a 12-year drought between Toho “Godzilla” films. So far, the Reiwa films are following in the Millennium franchise’s footsteps in telling mostly self-contained films with separate continuities. The Reiwa Era is also notable for featuring the first Toho “Godzilla” movies to do away with practical suit effects and miniatures and create the title character with CGI. Besides “Shin Godzilla,” a total franchise reboot with no connection to the original, the era has also birthed a three-part anime trilogy and “Godzilla Minus One,” a film set before the 1954 original in the immediate aftermath of World War II. “Godzilla Minus One” and its critical acclaim have helped introduce the Toho films to more general American audiences, so whatever film follows, the future is looking bright for the franchise.

American Movies: The first attempt to bring Godzilla to America was TriStar’s notorious 1998 Roland Emmerich film, which received scorn from longtime fans for bearing little resemblance to the original character. That scorn pretty much entirely killed off plans for a sequel, although it did spawn a pretty good animated series. Eventually, the franchise got resurrected in the U.S. via Legendary Pictures “MonsterVerse,” which kicked off with Gareth Edwards’ divisive 2014 “Godzilla” film. It’s continued since with “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” an Apple TV+ series “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters,” and now “Godzilla X Kong.”

With so many diverse movies to his name, what ranks supreme as the greatest “Godzilla” slugfest of them all? In celebration of “Godzilla X Kong,” IndieWire decided to take a look at the entire Godzilla filmography to figure it out. Just one last note: certain “Godzilla” films like the original and “The Return of Godzilla” received English dubbed versions which reedited the films entirely; the English version of the 1954 film, titled “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” and suddenly starring Raymond Burr, even received a Japanese theatrical release and was a hit in the country. Those versions are not included in this countdown. With all that said, read on for our list of all 38 “Godzilla” films, ranked from worst to best.

With editorial contributions from David Ehrlich.

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