This week, Godzilla is back in theaters with Godzilla Minus One, the first Japanese film in the franchise since 2016’s Shin Godzilla. So far, the early box office projections have Godzilla Minus One finishing at No.3 this weekend with over $11 million. American audiences seem more conditioned to show up for Legendary’s MonsterVerse movies than the genuine article straight from Japan.
But if you have only ever watched the American Godzilla films, including the truly awful 1998 reboot, then you’re missing out on some of the best monster movies ever made. Japan has been producing Godzilla films since 1954, and while not all of them are great, the ones that get it right are the reason why Godzilla movies are still being made nearly seven decades after the King of the Monsters made his debut.
To celebrate the arrival of Godzilla Minus One, we’re looking back at the five best Godzilla movies, ranked from worst to first. And all of these films are easily available on digital outlets.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah marked the end of an era for the Japanese Godzilla films and one of the few stories that directly called back to the events of the original 1954 Godzilla movie. In this sequel, the Destoroyah creatures are revealed to have been created by the Oxygen Destroyer weapon that killed the original Godzilla decades earlier. Now, the current Godzilla is dying from a nuclear meltdown in his own heart, and when he dies, Godzilla may take the entire planet with him.
This movie also went a long way toward redeeming Godzilla Jr., the divisive adoptive offspring of Godzilla. Godzilla Jr. even falls in battle to Destoroyah’s combined form, forcing Godzilla to avenge his son and save the world one last time.
Hardcore fans of the Japanese Godzilla films tend to be dismissive of the MonsterVerse currently being made for American audiences. But the 2014 Godzilla has earned its place among the best in the franchise. Before directing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, director Gareth Edwards was tasked with bringing Godzilla back to the big screen in the first American remake since the disastrous 1998 film.
Edwards keeps Godzilla largely off-screen for almost half the movie, arguably making it even more memorable when Godzilla finally appears. The film does make the mistake of killing its best human character, Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, way too early, and his presence is clearly missed late in the movie. But for a modern monster mash, few films do it better than this one.
Watch Godzilla on Max.
While the design for Mechagodzilla may be considered cheesy by modern standards, he was one of the most memorable monsters to give Godzilla a real run for his money. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla begins with Godzilla seemingly on another vendetta against humanity before the real Godzilla finally appears and confronts his robotic doppelganger.
Mechagodzilla was created by aliens as the first stage of an invasion, and not even Godzilla can withstand its power alone. An ancient monster called King Caesar is called upon to team up with Godzilla against their mutual enemy. But this wouldn’t be the last time that Mechagodzilla appeared.
Watch Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla on Max.
One of the most memorable aspects of Shin Godzilla is that it’s not immediately clear that the monster at the beginning of the movie is Godzilla. The reveal comes when the creature begins mutating into a more familiar form of Godzilla, and it proves to be just as resilient against conventional weapons as the previous incarnations of the title character.
There is an element of political satire that gets a little worn out, as the Japanese government and military have meeting after meeting about how to deal with Godzilla while the creature’s threat becomes exponentially greater. By the time Godzilla emerges in his final form, he’s the most terrifying version of the character that we’ve seen to date.
The original Godzilla may not have the special effects wizardry of the modern films, but it’s truly a classic among monster films. Between the Japanese cut and the American re-edit, the former is clearly superior to the latter. Barely a decade after World War II, the unstoppable creature known as Godzilla heads toward Japan and leaves incredible devastation in its wake. This isn’t the heroic or noble Godzilla of the later films; this is an unrelenting monster that can not be killed by conventional weapons alone.
If anything, the black-and-white footage only lends Godzilla more authenticity as a threat. The monster footage looks better that way. This movie would have been a classic even if it hadn’t spawned the longest-running film franchise in history. It’s the best Godzilla movie and the gold standard for monster flicks of any era.
Watch Godzilla on Max.
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