A Beginner's Guide To Godzilla Movies
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 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...
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 (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)
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 (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.
This film marks the second appearance of Mothra who would later star in a trilogy of her own films in the 1990s. Known by names such as Godzilla vs. Mothra and Godzilla Against Mothra, it was introduced to American audiences as Godzilla vs. The Thing with posters with question marks and tentacles suggesting something far more sinister than the giant moth it turned out to be. Of note is the fact that this film, unlike the previous entries in the series, was relatively intact when brought to U.S. shores with only a few minor cuts.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle On Earth, 1964)
A police detective assigned to protect a princess from the small nation of Selgina is surprised when, after her plane exploded, she turns up in Japan claiming to be from the planet Venus. Meanwhile, meteors have been falling recently and a team of scientists head out into the mountains to investigate a particularly large one that turns out to be highly magnetic. An assassin and his henchmen are dispatched by the princess’ uncle to eliminate the apparently still living heiress who has been predicting disaster for Earth. His plans are foiled after the detective is warned of the assassins’ impending attack by the Shobijin, two tiny girls from InfantIsland who were in Japan for a television appearance. Detective Shindo takes the princess to a psychiatrist to determine if she’s gone mad, but nothing appears to be wrong with her. Her final revelation is that Ghidorah, the monster responsible for Venus’ destruction, has arrived on Earth. The scientists studying the huge meteorite shortly discover it’s really a massive egg. To their horror, King Ghidorah hatches and begins wreaking havoc and destruction. The Shobijin call Mothra to convince Godzilla and Rodan they must work together to defeat this new menace.
This film was completed and released the same year as Mothra vs. Godzilla due to the Akira Kurosawa film Akahige falling behind schedule and Toho wanted to cover the release of the film. When brought to the United States, it was known as Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster and included some substantial changes. Most of Akira Ifukube’s score was replaced, the planet Ghidorah destroys was changed from Venus to Mars, and Mothra being referred to as a male are just a few.
Invasion of Astro-Monster (Great Monster War, 1965)
It’s the year 196X and a spacecraft carrying one American and one Japanese astronaut is on its way to newly discovered Planet X just behind Jupiter. They are greeted by the inhabitants, but upon entering the aliens’ underground facilities they’re informed of an impending attack by Ghidorah. After Glenn & Fuji are informed the monster has been driven away, the aliens known as Xians proceed to ask permission to bring Godzilla and Rodan from Earth. Astronauts Glenn & Fuji agree to present the proposal to Earth and they return home.
Released in the U.S. as Monster Zero and later known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Invasion of Astro-Monster featured an appearance by Rodan and was the second film to feature Ghidorah. The English dubbed version had a few minor changes including the opening music and some cuts of Godzilla stomping on houses, etc. Also in that version the Xians promised a drug to cure all diseases where in the original it was to be a cure for cancer.
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (Godzilla, Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas, 1966)
Three friends and a bank robber have a close encounter with the giant lobster Ebirah and are washed ashore on an island. The island is home to a heavy water facility run by the Red Voodoo organization, a terrorist group using natives from InfantIsland as slave labor to assist them in their efforts. Avoiding capture the four soon accidentally come across a sleeping Godzilla. Determined to defeat Red Voodoo and escape the island, they awaken Godzilla with a lightning rod. Godzilla and Ebirah clash in the waters just offshore. Later, the four shipwreck survivors and a native girl manage to free the slaves while Godzilla destroys the base and has another battle with Ebirah. Mothra arrives and after a brief altercation with Godzilla, helps the people get off the island.
This film, originally written with Kong in mind to battle the giant aquatic nightmare, was the first Godzilla film that did not receive theatrical distribution in the U.S. and instead went straight to television. There were some minor changes in that version of the film including a couple of deleted scenes as well as one character getting a new name. This film also had a lower budget from Toho than previous entries in the franchise which is why it was set on an island instead of a city that would require lots of miniature work. In one scene, for example, instead of using a physical representation of Mothra behind the natives of Infant Island, a matte painting was used that included both the background and Mothra herself in most of the composite shots.
Son of Godzilla (Monster Island’s Decisive Battle: Godzilla’s Son, 1967)
A team of scientists working to perfect a weather control system on a small island are visited by a reporter and a couple of giant praying mantises called Kamacuras. A radioactive balloon being used in their experiments detonates too soon causing the Kamacuras grow to even larger. The massive insects attack a gigantic egg and shortly a baby Godzilla creature hatches. Godzilla himself shows up soon thereafter and proceeds to beat the daylights out of the entomological nightmares. He adopts the baby and begins teaching him how to use his atomic breath. Later, a goliath spider called Kumonga is awakened and Godzilla and son come to the rescue defeating the gargantuan arachnid. The scientists are able to complete their experiment turning the tropical island into a winter wonderland. Godzilla and junior hibernate to wait for the island to thaw.
Not much changed when this film was brought to the west. A few names were changed for some inexplicable reason including the names of both Kamacuras (Gimantis in the U.S. version) and Kumonga (Spiga in the U.S. version). The only real deletion was the pre-credit sequence in which Godzilla is sighted at sea. The U.S. version comes in at around two minutes shorter than the original Japanese version.
Destroy All Monsters (Attack of the Marching Monsters, 1968)
At the end of the 20th century, all of Earth’s giant monster population has been herded together on Monster Island. The United Nations Science Committee has a control center built underground there to monitor the many monstrous inhabitants. After communications are mysteriously lost, the monsters escape and begin attacking major cities worldwide. The spacecraft Moonlight SY-3 is ordered to investigate. They discover the scientists have been turned into slaves via mind-controlling technology by an alien race known as the Kilaaks. The leader of the Kilaaks reveals they are in control of the monsters and demand Earth’s surrender. The global attacks perpetrated by the monsters are designed as a distraction by the Kilaaks who are attempting to establish a base of operations in Mt.Fuji. After the aliens mount an attack on Tokyo, the UNSC realize they have begun broadcasting their control signal from a base on the moon and proceed to order the Moonlight SY-3 to intercept and attack the base. The crew returns the control device to the UNSC and in response the Kilaaks unleash their secret weapon, King Ghidorah. The monsters take on the three-headed dragon in a final battle to determine Earth’s future.
This film was originally to have included Ebirah and Maguma, but the decision was made to replace them with Anguiras, Minilla and Gorosaurus. The English dubbed version saw very minor changes and had the voice talents of such actors as Hal Linden (TV’s Barney Miller).
All Monsters Attack (Godzilla, Minilla, Gabara: All Monsters on Parade,1969)
A young boy, terrorized by a gang of kids led by a bully named Gabara, goes to sleep at night and dreams of Monster Island where he becomes friends with Godzilla’s son, Minilla. Minilla has bullies of his own and Godzilla teaches him to fight back. The boy helps Minilla and eventually learns to face fear and fight back at the ruffians who’ve harassed him in reality.
Known as Godzilla’s Revenge in the U.S., this film, directed by Ishirō Honda, was intended for children unlike the previous entries in the series. It is the only appearance so far of Gabara, the odd looking reptilian monster with a puff of orange hair and no tail. It’s also unique in that all the monster battles take place in the imagination of the child protagonist.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, 1971)
A mysterious tadpole-like creature is caught by a fisherman who brings the strange creature to marine biologist, Dr. Yano. In the hopes of finding more of the creatures, he heads out to shore where he finds a much larger one that injures both him and his son with an acidic secretion. Reports of other similar creatures begin surfacing and it is soon realized the creatures can merge together forming a much larger version. Godzilla arrives on the scene and, after sizing each other up, the two duke it out.
Godzilla film series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had been hospitalized for much of the production of this film. Once he was able to take a look at it, he was horrified and accused the director of having “ruined Godzilla”. While I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Tanaka’s opinion, I have to say the scene depicting Godzilla flying by using his atomic ray breath for propulsion definitely bars it from being ranked very high on my list.
Godzilla vs. Gigan (Earth Destruction Directive: Godzilla vs. Gigan, 1972)
Aliens from Space Hunter Nebula M plot to destroy Earth’s cities and colonize the planet. Disguising themselves by hiding inside the bodies of the recently deceased, the aliens, working from their base of operations at the center of a children’s theme park, hire a concept artist who later stumbles upon their plan to use King Ghidorah & Gigan to wipe out the planet’s civilization. After accidentally acquiring one of the Action Signal Tapes the aliens use to control Gigan & Ghidorah, the artist and his friends play it. Godzilla and Anguiras, able to hear the signal, head to Japan to put a stop to the aliens’ plans.
Released in the U.S. as Godzilla on Monster Island, Godzilla vs. Gigan features appearances by Anguiras & King Ghidorah. The film also features the 1st appearance of Gigan who would go on to appear in the next film in the series, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and in the final Godzilla film to date Godzilla Final Wars in which he received an updated (and in my opinion much improved) look.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (Gojira tai Megaro, 1973)
Having been deeply affected by the nuclear testing of surface dwellers, the underwater society of Seatopia reluctantly decide to attack back. They send their protector & deity, Megalon to exact revenge. Megalon is guided by Jet Jaguar, a robot stolen from his inventor, Goro Ibuki, who himself is kidnapped by the Seatopians. Goro eventually is able to regain control of Jet Jaguar and sends him to MonsterIsland to enlist the help of Godzilla.
With a shooting schedule of a mere three weeks and a total production time of approximately six months, Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that is most responsible for the bad reputation Godzilla films in general have had in the U.S. It is considered one of the worst in the series and was the first one to sell less than a million tickets in Japan in its initial release. Unfortunately, it is also the one most seen by Americans. Weirdly, this is the film that got me into Godzilla & Kaiju in general.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Gojira tai Mekagojira, 1974)
A group of aliens (the Simians a.k.a. Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens) looking like rejects from a Planet of the Apes film (which I also love, by the way) constructs a robot version of Godzilla complete with missile firing hands with the intent to destroy the real deal.
Featuring the first ever appearance of King Caesar as well as the title antagonist, this film also features an appearance by the first monster Godzilla ever tangled with, Anguiras.
This film was originally released in the U.S. as Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster, but was later changed to Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster after the U.S. distributor, Cinema Shares, received threats of legal intervention by Universal Studios for copyright infringement over the similarities to The Six Million Dollar Man & The Bionic Woman.
Terror of Mechagodzilla (Mechagodzilla's Counterattack, 1975)
A sub sent to locate the wreckage of Mechagodzilla is attacked by Titanosaurus and its crew is apparently lost. Interpol investigates and the clues lead them to the dwelling of an apparently deceased scientist. Unbeknownst to them, he is very much alive and plans to take revenge for having been forced to resign from the institute where he worked. The leader of the Black Hole Aliens from the previous film offers to assist hoping to join forces between Titanosaurus and their own rebuilt Mechagodzilla.
This was unfortunately the last Godzilla film for nearly a decade due to the Japanese film industry’s crash as well as the oil crisis of the mid 70s. Sadly, it was also the final one directed by the great Ishirō Honda who died shortly before he was to helm 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. The U.S. release saw many cuts including the first ever nudity in a Godzilla film.
Godzilla vs. Chuck Norris! Who wins?
The Return of Godzilla (Godzilla, 1984)
Giant sea lice are discovered on a Japanese ship after a terrifying encounter with only one survivor. The survivor tells his rescuer and during his recovery, a scientist visits bringing photos of the dinosaur-like creature that attacked Japan 30 years ago. Upon seeing his reaction to the photos, the scientist reports to officials with the government who in turn report to the Japanese Prime Minister of the suspicion that Godzilla may have returned after three decades. Fearing a worldwide panic, the Prime Minister orders a media blackout, barring all information regarding the incident from being reported to the public.
Although technically this film was the last of the Shōwa series, it is considered part of the Heisei series because of its proximity with the beginning of that period in Japan. In an early version of the script, Godzilla fought a new kaiju with shape-shifting abilities. Ishirō Honda was offered the role of director for the film, but citing dismay at what happened to the character in the films of the 1970s coupled with his then current involvement with the films of Akira Kurosawa, he ultimately declined. Released in a drastically reedited version by New World Pictures in the U.S., the film was known as Godzilla 1985 to western audiences. Massive cuts and major edits to the remaining scenes essentially turned it into a completely different film. One of the many alterations New World made was to cast Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin, the same character Burr played in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! when that film was released in U.S. theaters. New World had also reportedly attempted to turn the film into a comedy to Burr’s objections.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
During a search through the rubble for genetic traces of Godzilla, a paramilitary group attempts to steal a sample. A Saradian agent sent to return a sample to his government steals it from them. Dr. Genichiro Shiragami attempts to use the cells to create highly adaptable vegetation that could grow in the desert, but his efforts are thwarted when the facility is attacked by Bio Major, an organization attempting to monopolize genetic engineering. Dr. Shiragami’s daughter is subsequently killed in the attack. Several years later, after being asked to create Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria to destroy Godzilla in the event the monster returns, Dr. Shiragami crosses Godzilla’s cells with those of a rose and that of his deceased daughter. The result is a bizarre amalgamation that soon makes its way to LakeHashi where it grows to a tremendous size. Later, Godzilla is freed from the volcano in which he was trapped in the previous film by explosives Bio Major placed there in their attempt to blackmail authorities into giving them the bacteria. He makes his way to LakeHashi where he battles and seemingly destroys Biollante. The hybridized mutation proves to be more resilient than once believed when it reappears to destroy its genetic twin, Godzilla.
The genesis of this film takes us back to 1986 when Toho held a contest for a screenplay for the next Godzilla film. Dentist and part-time screenwriter Shinichiro Kobayashi submitted the winning entry though much of his original script was lost in the rewrite. Godzilla’s fight with Biollante’s “rose stage” and the Super X II replaced a battle with Deutalios, a rat/fish hybrid also created by Dr. Shiragami in Kobayashi’s submission.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Young reporter Kenichiro Terasawa believes he’s figured out the origin of Godzilla. In 1944, a Japanese unit was nearly defeated during a battle with U.S. soldiers on LagosIsland until a Godzillasaurus came out of the jungle. It attacked and killed the American infantry. The island was destroyed in 1954 by an atomic bomb test, mere months before the first attack by Godzilla. Shindo, the soldier in charge of the unit, now a prominent businessman, denies the story. In the meantime, a UFO has appeared and the crew claim to be from Earth’s future. They offer to go into the past, remove the Godzillasaurus and prevent it from becoming Godzilla thereby changing history so he never attacks Japan. The authorities agree and the reporter, a professor and a psychic go along. The visitors leave behind three creatures called Dorats. After their return to 1992, Japan is given an ultimatum, but they refuse. Japan is attacked by King Ghidorah, the result of the nuclear test affecting the Dorats. Godzilla is recreated using the radiation from a nuclear submarine and he heads to Japan where he and Ghidorah have it out. Godzilla defeats Ghidorah and proceeds to wreak havoc in Tokyo. One of the future visitors, who felt sympathetic toward the Japan of 1992, heads back into the future to return with Mecha-King Ghidorah to stop Godzilla’s rampage.
Toho had originally planned to do a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla entitled Godzilla vs. King Kong, but Turner Entertainment, holder of the copyright on many of RKO Pictures’ films including the original King Kong, made licensing demands that turned out to be too costly. Godzilla vs. Mechani-Kong was briefly considered, but for legal reasons it too was scrapped before Toho ultimately decided to go with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
Godzilla vs. Mothra (Godzilla & Mothra: The Battle for Earth, 1992)
A team on an expedition to a small island comes across a giant egg. The Cosmos (Shobijin) explain to them the egg belongs to Mothra and tell them a story of an ancient civilization that tried to control the weather and how the Earth created Battra in response. Mothra and Battra fought and after the civilization was destroyed they rested. Now that the Mothra egg has been uncovered, the Cosmos fear that Battra may have awakened as well. In spite of the warning a freighter is sent to bring the egg back to Japan just as Battra attacks Japan. Later, the egg hatches and Mothra and the newly arrived Battra and Godzilla fight. After returning to Japan, it is realized that Godzilla survived the battle and the Japanese government expresses concern about the three engaging in battle again, this time on Japanese soil. The inevitable occurs and after Battra suffers a mortal wound, Mothra carries him and Godzilla out to sea. Mothra and the Cosmos fly into space to divert a meteor headed straight for Earth after explaining to the humans that this is what Battra had been waiting for all those years.
This film opens with a nod to the Indiana Jones film series as the character Takuya Fujita tries to escape a booby trapped temple after taking an artifact. It was also the most popular of the Heisei period Godzilla films. Mothra would go on to star in her own trilogy following her appearance here.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, 1993)
The wreckage of Mecha-King Ghidorah is recovered from the ocean and the technology used to create a mechanical version of Godzilla designed to defeat him. Meanwhile, an egg is recovered from a Rodan nest only it’s not one of the giant pteranodon’s eggs. It hatches and out comes a baby Godzillasaurus. It’s speculated that the Godzillasaurus lays its eggs in the nests of other species. Just as the hatchling emerges, Godzilla arrives and the U.N.C.G.C. scrambles to engage him with their latest weapon, Mechagodzilla. Elsewhere, Rodan awakens and after transforming into Fire Rodan, flies to Japan to rescue the baby Godzillasaurus. Mechagodzilla defeats Rodan and both it and the U.N.C.G.C’s original Anti-Godzilla vehicle Garuda combine into Super Mechagodzilla for a final assault on Godzilla. But they count out Rodan too soon and the huge pteranodon gives its life energy to Godzilla’s lifeless body.
This film was to have originally ended with Mechagodzilla killing Godzilla. There was another alternate ending considered where Super Mechagodzilla kills Godzilla, but not before Garuda is damaged. The nuclear energy leaking from it would strengthen Godzilla enough for him to defeat the mech, but it was ultimately decided to use Fire Rodan’s sacrifice for a more emotional impact for the audience. As stated previously, Ishirō Honda, director of many of the Shōwa series, was to direct this film, but died shortly before production began.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
The United Nations Counter-Godzilla Center builds another mech, the Mobile Operations Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aerotype from the remains of Mechagodzilla in another effort to counter any potential Godzilla attacks. Meanwhile, a warning is sent to Earth from Mothra. A deadly creature is on its way threatening to destroy Godzilla and conquer the planet. The U.N.C.G.C. sends M.O.G.U.E.R.A. to stop the monster’s advance, but is forced to retreat after sustaining heavy damage. The monster lands on an island inhabited by the baby Godzilla last seen in the previous film, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. After Godzilla battles the creature, it is learned that the space faring monster’s cells are virtually identical to Godzilla’s and it is speculated that the creature could be the result of the cells of Biollante having been absorbed by cosmic rays and they name the beast SpaceGodzilla. SpaceGodzilla attacks Japan and creates a fortress of giant crystal spikes. Godzilla and the repaired M.O.G.U.E.R.A. combine forces to defeat the abomination.
Mechagodzilla was originally intended to appear in this feature, but Toho decided to go with M.O.G.U.E.R.A. a revamped version of Mogera, the alien controlled robot from the 1957 tokusatsu film The Mysterians.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
Birth Island, the dwelling place of the young Godzilla from the previous film, is found destroyed. Presumed dead, he later reappears larger and more powerful than before due to exposure to a large dose of radiation. Godzilla, meanwhile, is suffering from the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown as he rampages through Hong Kong. Elsewhere, there are unusual lifeforms in the area where the original Godzilla perished and testing reveals a connection to the Oxygen Destroyer used to kill him. The creatures continue to grow and mutate eventually becoming one gigantic monster bent on destroying the young Godzilla. Defeated by Godzilla, Destoroyah returns for one final battle before it is destroyed after an attack by the Super-X III aircraft. Godzilla begins to melt as the Defense Force bombards him with ice weapons in order to prevent his remains from melting into the Earth. The radiation emitted by his death revives the young Godzilla as he takes his father’s place as the greatest natural destructive force on Earth.
This would prove to be a film of closure for some associated with the franchise and the original film in particular. Not only did it feature the death of Godzilla, but it was also executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka’s last Godzilla film as he passed away two years after its release. Momoko Kochi who played Emiko Yamane in the original 1954 film reprised the role in this film. She died three years later. Akira Ifukube, the composer for many films in the franchise, composed the score. It would prove to be his last. He passed away eleven years after its release.
The Ultimate Battle!! Who would emerge triumphant?
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (Godzilla 2000, 1999)
A man working for the Godzilla Prediction Network, an organization put together to study Godzilla and attempt to determine when he might strike, comes face to face with his subject as the monstrous radioactive reptile comes ashore. Later, the Crisis Control Institute finds a strange structure deep below the surface of the ocean and attempt to bring it up for study. To their obvious surprise, it rises from the bottom on its own and flies off where it comes face to face with Godzilla. Big G blasts it revealing a strange silver craft resembling a flying saucer. The two fight, but Godzilla withdraws. After an attempt by the Japan Self Defense Force to contain the UFO, it lands on City Tower and begins downloading data on Godzilla. It is revealed the aliens wish to harvest Godzilla’s DNA. Later the Crisis Control Institute fails in their efforts to destroy the craft and Godzilla returns for another go round. During the battle, the UFO subdues him and begins extracting his DNA. It mutates, turning into a sort of jellyfish-like creature, but is unable to control the process and eventually the mutations transform it into the monstrous Orga. After Godzilla recovers and the battle continues, Orga again attempts to take more DNA. It’s ravenous hunger for Godzilla’s genetic material drives it to try swallowing Godzilla, who uses the situation to his advantage by blasting Orga from the inside. Having defeated the creature, Godzilla turns his wrath on Tokyo.
Originally Toho had planned on waiting until Godzilla’s 50th Anniversary in 2004 to produce another film in the series after Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, but due to poor reception of the Hollywood produced 1998 film Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick they decided they couldn’t wait any longer. This film not only marked the real Godzilla’s return to Toho Studios, but also his return to American theaters. This was the first Godzilla film from Toho to hit U.S. shores since 1985 with Godzilla 1985 (The Return of Godzilla). It also ignored established continuity with the exception of the original 1954 Gojira.
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
An experimental satellite weapons platform called the Dimension Tide that can create miniature black holes accidentally opens a wormhole through which a prehistoric dragonfly–like creature travels and lays an egg. After being found by a young boy, it’s thrown in the sewer system where the egg, in reality an egg cluster, hatches. The newly hatched Meganulon larva feed and begin molting, turning into the adult form, Meganula. Elsewhere, Godzilla appears and the anti-Godzilla section of the Japan Self Defense Forces known as the G-Graspers engages him. The Meganula, attracted to Godzilla’s nuclear energy, attack him, but most are subsequently killed and the swarm returns to the sewer where they inject the energy they absorbed from Godzilla into a cocoon. The monstrous insect ‘queen’ Megaguirus emerges and, after destroying portions of the city, she attacks Godzilla in defense of her territory. After battling and destroying her, Godzilla becomes the target of the G-Graspers once again. Unfortunately, the plan to utilize the Dimension Tide is hindered as it begins to fall out of orbit and cannot lock on to him. Major Kiriko Tsujimori lends a hand, however, as she pilots the aircraft Gryphon on a direct course for Godzilla.
Like the film before it, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus ignores previously established situations and events, only acknowledging appearances by Godzilla in 1954, 1966 and 1996. In this continuity, Godzilla wasn’t killed by the Oxygen Destroyer back in 1954, he retreated to the sea. At the beginning of the film, footage is shown from the original 1954 film, Gojira, only with the new Godzilla suit inserted into the scene. Both the Meganula and Megaguirus were developed from the Meganulon, a man eating insect from the 1956 film, Rodan.
Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)
It’s been almost 50 years since the initial appearance of Godzilla. Fears of his possible return are growing amid reports that a similar giant monster attacked New York City in 1998. A monstrous form is seen by an anti-nuclear sub during its investigation of the disappearance of an American nuclear sub off the coast of Guam. When Baragon appears and tunnels his way toward civilization, he is mistaken for the King of the Monsters by a truck driver. Admiral Taizo Tachibana believes Godzilla may have returned and a meeting of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces is called. Meanwhile, the daughter of Admiral Tachibana, Yuri, a reporter working on a low budget docu-drama, visits an old man she believed she saw on a hill where her crew had been filming who claims Godzilla will return one day. He tells her to go and awaken Ghidorah so that together with the two other guardian monsters, Mothra and Baragon, they might defeat Godzilla. He further tells her that Godzilla is a living manifestation of the souls of those lost in World War II and that conventional weapons cannot harm him, but he can be defeated. After a couple of reported sightings, Godzilla wreaks havoc across Japan as he heads toward Tokyo. Baragon intercepts him, but cannot stand alone against Godzilla’s might. Upon his arrival in Tokyo, Godzilla is engaged by Mothra and Ghidorah soon joins the battle. Mothra is defeated and the fight moves to Tokyo Bay as Ghidorah lands on Godzilla. The two continue the skirmish underwater. Meanwhile, Admiral Tachibana leads a submarine assault on Godzilla in an attempt to assist Ghidorah. Eventually, Ghidorah too is defeated and the Admiral pilots his sub into Godzilla’s mouth. Once inside, he fires a special drilling missile that lodges in Godzilla’s side. Godzilla erupts from the sea, notices Yuri who had been observing the battle from the bridge and is about to blast her with his atomic breath when it suddenly fires through the hole created by the missile. Godzilla sinks to the bottom and Admiral Tachibana flies out. Godzilla prepares to blast at the Admiral’s sub, but vanishes from the radar.
This film marks yet another departure from established continuity by portraying Ghidorah as a guardian of Japan instead of an alien monster bent on the destruction of Earth. Originally, the plan was to include Varan and Anguirus as guardians with Baragon, but the powers that be at Toho didn’t believe them to be “bankable” enough and so the story was reworked to include Ghidorah and Mothra instead. With his favorite monster Varan gone from the project, suit designer Fuyuki Shinada decided to give his facial features to Ghidorah. All three monsters were altered in order for Godzilla to appear far more powerful than any one of them. For instance, Baragon’s heat ray was eliminated and both Mothra and Ghidorah were decreased in size. In addition, Mothra’s powers were replaced with projectiles fired from her abdomen. Director Shūsuke Kaneko added the fantasy element of having Godzilla somehow connected to the souls of those who died during the Pacific War in World War II because he thought it worked better in explaining the enormous size of the monster in response to audiences wishing to see a more realistically portrayed Godzilla.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, 2002)
After a devastating attack on Tateyama, scientists work to construct a robot built around the original Godzilla’s bones to be piloted by a member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Four years later as the robot named Kiryu is completed, Godzilla arrives. Kiryu’s soul is awakened by Godzilla’s roar and the giant mech begins destroying the city causing far more damage than Godzilla had. Kiryu ignores all attempts at manually overriding its systems and continues its destructive behavior until its power is depleted. The JSDF recalls the robot in order to determine what went wrong. Godzilla reappears and Kiryu is once again called to service. The two battle to a stalemate and Godzilla retreats back to the sea.
Like the previous three, this film ignores previously established continuity and further assumes that the skeleton of Godzilla in the original 1954 film wasn’t destroyed. Interestingly, Kiryu is only referred to as Mechagodzilla three times throughout the film. For sports trivia buffs, Japanese baseball player Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui cameos in the film.
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
As Kiryu undergoes repairs following his encounter with Godzilla, the Shobijin warn the Japanese government that the usage of Godzilla’s skeleton will simply cause the monster to continue to return. They tell them that Mothra is willing to replace Kiryu in defending Japan, but if they refuse her offer, she plans to declare war on humanity. Shortly after, a giant sea turtle washes ashore, wounds on its neck, and it is soon determined that Godzilla is the culprit. Mothra engages Godzilla and it would seem he may win the fight, but the newly refurbished Kiryu arrives to lend a helping hand. Godzilla repels both however. Elsewhere on InfantIsland, two Mothra larvae hatch and quickly head to assist their injured mother. Their efforts are not enough as Godzilla blasts Mothra, killing her. On site repairs to Kiryu are finished and the mech is piloted toward Godzilla. Kiryu stabs Godzilla in the chest and the team are ordered to destroy Godzilla before the project is scrapped. Godzilla roars in pain, awakening Kiryu’s spirit once again and the giant robot grapples Godzilla. The machine flies Godzilla to the sea, taking itself and the King of the Monsters to the bottom.
This film picks up basically where the last one left off and ends with an interesting scene showing a lab filled with canisters containing the DNA of many giant monsters from Toho’s vast Kaiju library. This film also marks the second appearance of Kamoebas, the giant turtle species last seen in the film Space Amoeba.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
It’s the early 21st century and mankind’s constant warfare and pollution have caused giant monsters to appear all over the world. A deadly battle in Antarctica rages between Godzilla and the super sub Gotengo resulting in the atomic ray breathing monster being buried beneath tons of ice. Decades later, the Earth Defense Forces discover the remains of another giant monster. The Shobijin identify the creature as Gigan, a monster sent to destroy Earth 12,000 years prior. They warn that a great battle is coming. Soon, monsters begin appearing the world over. Ebirah attacks Tokyo, Rodan terrorizes New York City, King Caesar tramples Okinawa, Anguirus demolishes Shanghai, Kamacuras wreaks havoc in Paris, while Kumonga creeps across Arizona and Zilla, the monster incorrectly identified as Godzilla during an attack on New York in 1998, causes mass destruction in Sydney. The EDF do their best to repel the creatures, but it doesn’t seem good enough. Soon after, an alien spacecraft piloted by the self proclaimed Xilians appears, the monsters disappear and the aliens claim responsibility. They warn Earth that an impending asteroid named Gorath will impact on the planet unless all weapons are aimed on it.
This film, a sort of homage to/remake of the Shōwa series film Destroy All Monsters, is the only one in the entire Japanese series to receive a PG-13 rating. The film will likely be the last Japanese made Godzilla film until at least 2014 as Toho wants to put the character into semi-retirement to generate interest for Godzilla’s 60th anniversary. One of the more fun scenes for those who didn’t care for the American made film, Godzilla (1998), is when the real Godzilla meets and then humiliatingly defeats Zilla, the name Toho has given to the American version of the King of the Monsters. The film also has a number of nods to previous Toho films such as the aforementioned Destroy All Monsters, Gorath in which a sentient asteroid screams toward Earth, and one that surprisingly has gone relatively unnoticed – the giant spider Kumonga running rampant in Arizona harkens back to the giant bug movies of the 1950s, specifically the film Tarantula. While it may not have been an intentional reference, it’s certainly a very interesting coincidence.
Until The Future...
And so thus endeth the list of official films in the Godzilla series produced by Toho. In March of 2010, Legendary Pictures announced they had acquired the rights from Toho to make a new Godzilla film and at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con the first concept art for Big G's design for the film was revealed. The art showed that Legendary was not only distancing itself considerably from the previous Americanized version from Columbia/Tri-Star, but was even closer to the look of Toho's version than many fans were expecting. Legendary's version was revealed to the world in 2014 with the release of Godzilla a film that, unlike the 1998 film from famed disaster flick director Roland Emmerich, honored Toho's film series and was far closer in tone to them. Legendary's efforts proved successful and the studio announced there would be more to follow. Along with future films from Hollywood (including a new Kong film as well as a new King Kong vs. Godzilla from Legendary Pictures currently titled Godzilla vs. Kong), Toho announced they would be producing a new Godzilla film. The new film from Toho, Shin Gojira, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016.
I for one am looking forward to future Toho releases in the series. In the meantime, Legendary Pictures made a Godzilla film that long time fans can be proud of and one that's worthy of the studio's name.