Jeremy enjoys reviewing nostalgic topics when not working as a manager at his campus.
Spanning over 30 films, you never know what you're in for with a Godzilla movie. Sometimes he attacks alone, others he's joined by fellow kaiju. At times, he terrorizes Tokyo, others he defends Earth. He both literally and figuratively comes in many shapes and sizes, but he's gradually became more and more heroic (with exceptions), likely due to his popularity.
But heaven help civilization when the King of Monsters decides to strike; his antagonistic appearances are often darker films symbolizing the horrors of atomic weapons. Which ones deserve your time? These are the 10 best movies featuring a villainous Godzilla! Most are pretty old, but I'll warn you spoilers are ahead.
10. Shin Godzilla
Year Released: 2016
Other Kaiju: N/A
Shin Godzilla isn't for everyone, but like the now-partially red monster, the film has its own undeniable identity. Godzilla evolves throughout the movie, gradually gaining strength, a nice idea that has never been explored to this extent. The actions scenes are strong, Godzilla is fittingly terrifying, and unlike many of his films, there isn't a shoehorned-in plot involving random civilians.
That said, the human elements are polarizing, heavily emphasizing how scientists and politicians react and plan to destroy Godzilla. Though they offer some perspective on how a government might handle such a unique threat, they tend to drag behind layer upon layer of bureaucracy. But despite its flaws, it's a unique endeavor with questionable setups that nonetheless lead to big payoffs in the action scenes.
9. Godzilla vs Mothra
Year Released: 1992
Other Kaiju: Mothra, Battra
Sometimes called Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth to differentiate it from prior film Mothra vs Godzilla (more on that later), here's one of the lighter movies featuring an "evil" Godzilla.
The film shows Godzilla, Mothra, and Battra engaged in a three-way contest to battle/protect Earth. Despite questionable pacing, the battles are strong (an underwater fight offers a unique setting), with lengthy clashes that utilize each monster's strengths. Battra also remains a popular addition to the franchise who many hope reappears in other films.
8. King Kong vs. Godzilla
Year Released: 1962
Other Kaiju: King Kong
Prior to this film, no movie had shown King Kong or Godzilla in color, let alone battling each other, making it a titanic ordeal that flocked audiences to the big screen. And there are several triumphs within; both monsters are done well, with neither dominating the other in battle or screentime, and we get a surprisingly entertaining human character in Mr. Tako. Even the outcome of the final battle is questionable; some say Kong won, some say it's a draw, and others maintain Godzilla should have won (because of Kong's odd lightning power-up).
There is some awkward dialogue, and the movie's special effects show their age, but despite some imperfections, the concept here is so good that it's definitely worth a watch. And its spirit lives on in the upcoming (as of this writing) 2020 film Kong vs. Godzilla.
7. The Return of Godzilla
Year Released: 1984
Other Kaiju: N/A
Dubbed Godzilla 1985 in its American release, this film offers both a sequel and a revamp of the original, ignoring other events from the Shōwa era. Godzilla returns to his roots of terrorizing Tokyo, as the military scrambles to destroy him using their "Super X" flying fortress.
At the time, this was the biggest and scariest Godzilla yet, fitting the film's tone and the miniatures well. That said, the human characters aren't memorable, and the film suffered poor edits between its Japanese and American version, so opt for a subtitled Return over a dubbed 1985 where possible.
6. Godzilla: Tokyo SOS
Year Released: 2003
Other Kaiju: Mechagodzilla (Kiryu), Mothra
The sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (more on that soon) again features a heroic man-made Mechagodzilla called Kiryu defending Tokyo from Godzilla's wrath.
The biggest issue with the film is how it shelves its predecessor's likable human cast, who either appear briefly or are written out completely, replacing them with less interesting protagonists. But aside from that, it's a worthy sequel to one of the best Godzilla movies ever made, featuring great action, music, and three of the most popular Godzilla kaiju.
5. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
Year Released: 2001
Other Kaiju: King Ghidorah, Mothra, Baragon
Often shorted to Godzilla GMK, this movie has an interesting premise that, like the original, emphasizes the consequences of World War 2, with Godzilla being possessed by the spirits of WW2's victims. Godzilla here is a beast, probably the scariest ever, wiping the floor with Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon. It takes the combined efforts of multiple kaiju and the military to down him, and even then, he's implied to survive. And just look at his movie poster!
Some fans criticize Ghidorah being heroic, but I find it an interesting reversal, not atypical for the series; Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, and other kaiju often "switch sides" between continuities. The story is mediocre, but if you just want to see a terrifying Godzilla trounce his desperate opponents, this is the movie for you.
4. Godzilla (Original)
Year Released: 1954
Other Kaiju: N/A
Alternatively called Gojira, this is the one that started it all. No campy kaiju opponent, no annoying kid character, just a dangerous and thought-provoking allegory for the ramifications of nuclear weapons. We often see Godzilla and other monsters destroy cities, but rarely do we feel it like we do here, getting an uncensored look at the lives destroyed in the process.
3. Godzilla vs. Biollante
Year Released: 1989
Other Kaiju: Biollante
Biollante seems much lesser-known than many Godzilla kaiju, which is surprising considering the quality of both her movie and design. She's way bigger than Godzilla, can spew corrosive sap, and can regenerate, making her one of his strongest opponents yet. She's also got an interesting connection to other characters in the movie, being genetically-engineered from Godzilla, human, and rose DNA, and her female status sets her apart from many kaiju.
Throw in good music, an engaging secret agent villain, and a great Godzilla costume for easily one of the best movies in the franchise.
2. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
Year Released: 2002
Other Kaiju: Mechagodzilla (Kiryu)
The name of this one cracks me up, substituting "against" since "vs" was taken years before. But it's vastly different from the earlier Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, as now Mecha is good and Godzilla evil. We also get a rare female protagonist, Akane, and she's a strong character, tough but guilt-wracked over a past accident that led to innocent deaths.
Stifling her inner demons, Akane eventually becomes the pilot for Kiryu (think Neon Genesis Evangelion), the mech constructed to battle Godzilla. Some of the best fights in the franchise ensue, with this being my favorite Mechagodzilla yet (no easy feat since the original was also devastating).
1. Mothra vs. Godzilla
Year Released: 1964
Other Kaiju: Mothra
After Godzilla battled King Kong in his last appearance, he emerges for another crossover, now facing Mothra (who stems from her 1961 film of the same name). Like Godzilla's last monster mash, the movie triumphs with its action scenes, with Mothra holding her own against the King of Monsters (watching her drag Godzilla by his tail is always fun). She's also bigger here than in most movies, which helps explain her ability to challenge the King of Monsters.
The action is fast, both monster suits impress, the English translation is surprisingly good, and the effects are greatly upgraded from Godzilla's fight with Kong, making it a much better-looking movie.
More of the Best Godzilla Movies
Today we highlighted Godzilla's best antagonistic roles, but there's also many films where he's heroic (or at least neutral) that deserve mention, like Godzilla 2014. He's also the antagonist of the widely-panned Godzilla 1998, which I admittedly believe redeeming qualities, especially if viewed as more of a Jurassic Park film than a Godzilla one. It also spawned a well-received animated series where "Zilla" becomes a protagonist.
Godzilla's success as both a guardian and harbinger of death showcase the character's power, and I'm eager to see his future projects, but for now, vote for your preferred Godzilla role and I'll see you at our next kaiju countdown!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill