godzilla movies ranked

Take a minute to picture Godzilla in your head. What do you see?

For many, the image is elementary — men in elastic monster suits brawling with one-another amidst a shoddily built train set, stepping on miniature cars willy-nilly in the hopes of conveying a sense of obliteration on an apocalyptic scale. To the average moviegoer, King G is an icon of combative campiness; a monolithic figure akin to a green Hulk Hogan, wrestling other goofy kaiju for 90 minutes while tiny people point and scream “the monster is attacking the city!” 

Like most successful franchise front-men, the magnitude of Godzilla’s first appearance has been diluted by subsequent sequels, to the point that many now overlook the iconic monster’s original metaphorical meaning: a walking mushroom cloud, the otherworldly symbol of holocaust. Ishir? Honda’s colossal work of Japanese filmmaking still stands as one of the greatest filmic responses to the psychosomatic suffering caused by war, ranking with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove as a defining piece of pop art derived from the utter devastation of the nuclear bomb.

Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of enjoyment to be mined from the franchise. Just the opposite, in fact. Recently, the Criterion Collection bought the rights to many of Godzilla’s sillier franchise entries, and last year’s Shin Godzilla proved that there was still dramatic weight to be considered when bringing the big guy back to the big screen. So, with that in mind, it seemed like as good a time as ever to present you with the entire series, ranked from worst to best, acting as a guide to your kaiju viewing pleasure. Because there’s a lot of Godzilla out there to consume, and you’re gonna need some help deciding which chapters to devour first…

(Note: This is part one of a two-part series. The second chapter, the sequel if you will, will arrive tomorrow.)

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 31. Godzilla [1998, American Remake]

If it looks nothing like a Godzilla movie, sounds nothing like a Godzilla movie, and doesn’t really feature Godzilla himself, is it a Godzilla movie? Survey says “no”, but Roland Emmerich’s American remake of Godzilla still belongs on this list, as it’s a noble attempt to reboot the beast for American audiences, even if it gets just about everything wrong, from the titular monster on down. In fact, this movie’s Godzilla is so much weaker than the OG – from his gelatinous CGI shape to his lack of atomic breath – that Toho Studios doesn’t even recognize Emmerich’s iteration as the same animal, rebranding it “Zilla” in the creature’s motherland, as to avoid any confusion with the one true King.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Here’s how weak ‘Zilla’s onscreen presence is – his own death, in a different movie (Godzilla: Final Wars [‘04]), is his best moment. Six years after Emmerich’s movie was released, the American knock-off would be obliterated by Actual Godzilla™, his cameo fight not even lasting a whole minute. A total disappointment, but also a great “fuck you” from one country to another, as Japan demonstrated how they will not abide us jacking up one of their greatest pop icons.

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30. Son of Godzilla [1967] 

Oh, Minilla. The goofball son of Godzilla is a nightmare creature, with this tiny tennis ball head and a dopey voice (which he’ll eventually use to speak English in Godzilla’s Revenge [‘69]). But how can we blame him for being so terrible? His dad just lets him lumber about and get his ass kicked on a regular basis, never really paying his spawn any mind. It’s kind of hilarious, at times, as we receive a lesson in kaiju parenting, showing us that coming up in the shadow of the world’s greatest monster includes quite a few hard knocks. This one’s certainly “for the kids”, and your mileage will vary depending on how much patience you have for/humor you find in Godzilla’s abusive child-rearing.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Not so much “utter destruction”, but there’s a funny little moment where Godzilla is trying to teach his son how to use his atomic breath, only to get frustrated by his dummy kin. So, instead of being patient and understanding, King G throws a temper tantrum of his own and stomps on the boy’s tail. That’ll learn him.

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29. Godzilla Raids Again [1955] (AKA Gigantis, The Fire Monster)

America made a habit out of fucking up the King of the Monsters throughout the years – for starters, just look at the Raymond Burr-starring English redux of the original. Inexplicably renaming the movie Gigantis, The Fire Monster (we weren’t as into IP then as we are now, apparently) even though it was only the second Godzilla movie ever made, the initial sequel squares King G off against another big bad beast for the first time. Where Ishirô Honda was using the kaiju to make a social comment about post-war Japan and the hellish consequences of nuclear fallout, Godzilla Raids Again is pure schlock: going for the entertainment jugular with a fast, cheap, and out of control installment that would become a template for most of the episodes moving forward. Unfortunately, the kaiju on kaiju violence is clunky and poorly choreographed, never once resembling an all-out brawl, but rather two oversized cats pawing at one another. Like all tasty treats, the recipe would be perfected over time and many mistakes.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: The introduction of Anguirus, whose spiky shell and screeching yell sound like a record running in reverse on the wrong RPM setting. While he’s the antagonist in Godzilla Raids Again, Anguirus would go on to become one of Godzilla’s most trusted associates; a far cry from the nuisance he’s presented as here.

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28. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla [1994] 

Just like in any other long-running franchise, there are moments during Godzilla’s many iterations where it feels like everyone involved just sort of gave up trying (also referred to as the Diamonds Are Forever Scenario”). During the Heisei Era (’84 – ’95), villains were usually just offshoots of the monster himself – experiments performed with the King’s DNA, resulting in an opposing beast that’s essentially just Godzilla, But Not™. “SpaceGodzilla” is probably the best example of this – looking like Gary Glitter rolled out of bed and then tossed on a kaiju suit with some sparkly shoulders. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla also has the audacity of introducing M.O.G.U.E.R.A., who’s basically MechaGodzilla, But Not™. Many fans love the bright silly sheen that coat these ‘90s entries, but this episode is just sort of dull and uninspired to its core.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: To be fair, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has the best moment of “shoot ‘im again, dragon” in the whole series, as Godzilla ices SpaceGodzilla, and then keeps blasting him with atomic breath until he explodes into a gigantic fireball. Cool out, champ. You got this one.

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27. Godzilla’s Revenge [1969, AKA All Monsters Attack]

While it’s almost universally accepted that Godzilla’s Revenge is the “worst” Godzilla movie by enthusiasts, there’s an audacious “so bad it’s good” element to the proceedings that makes it endlessly watchable. Young Minilla now speaks English in an impaired accent, acting more like a child-friendly Muppet than a terrifying, city stomping monster beyond human comprehension. Minilla’s sidekick is his inventor, as the kaiju in Godzilla’s Revenge aren’t even technically “real”, but the creation of a daydreaming tot. To be fair, much of the Showa Series (‘54 – ‘75) was aimed at kids with their heads in the clouds, so the silly tone is easily explained (if still not justified). You just wonder why Toho wouldn’t gift children a new set of monster fights to go along with this weirdness, as most of the brawls are comprised of recycled footage from other films. Neglectful, really.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Any time Minilla talks, your face will be destroyed from laughing so hard. This writer usually despises any sort of “so bad its good” ironic consumption, but it’s difficult to judge anyone mining joy from something this ridiculous.

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26. The Return of Godzilla [1984, AKA Godzilla 1985

The Heisei Series of Godzilla pictures was introduced by this Return, which brought along better production value and SFX than its predecessors. It also acts as a kind of grim reboot for the franchise, redoing Honda’s original, only updating the political backdrop from post-WWII to the Cold War. While admirable in ambition (attempting to restore a more “serious” Godzilla), this movie isn’t really that fun to sit through, even though it’s probably the coolest Big G has looked since the B&W days.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: The way Godzilla is taken out here is powerful, as mournful orchestration is laid over the King of Monsters’ headfirst plummet into a massive volcano. Shadows surround the beast as he tumbles forward, screaming like a weeping child. While The Return of Godzilla may not be very fun, serious Godzilla fans will certainly feel a pang of sadness as this chapter comes to a close.

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