Rank All Godzillas! – A Definitive Ranking Of The King of Monsters' Movies [Part One]

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 "f*** 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 f***ing 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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25. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep [1966, AKA Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster]

Look, as kids we all know that we peered into lobster tanks whenever our parents took us out to fancy restaurants and wondered "what would it look like if Godzilla just jumped in here and started pummeling these lobstrosities?" Wait, why are you looking at me like that? You're saying not every kid dreamed of Godzilla fighting crustaceans? I find that hard to believe. Anyway, while Ebirah is kind of dopey looking, its still a blast to watch Godzilla wade into waist deep water and start throwing down with the clawed creature. Sure, these fights may not move the fastest, but f***ing with the environment was a nice change of pace. It makes sense that this was originally intended to be Godzilla vs. King Kong at the script level, but watching Toho toss every beastie idea they had at the wall makes for silly fun.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction:Mothra shows up at one point and tries to get in on these shenanigans, turning Ebirah, Horror of the Deep into a "by land, or sea, or air" cavalcade of devastation. Thank God for this momentary air raid, as Godzilla also fights an oversized bird at one point, which may actually be the very worst kaiju battle the series has ever seen (though the jury's still out on that one).

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24. Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle For Earth [1992] 

To be frank, the '90s were a dark period in Godzilla's life that the big green guy probably wants to forget altogether (much like anyone else who survived the Friends epoch). By this point, Toho was putting out a Godzilla picture per year, and though it's nowhere near as bad as SpaceGodzilla, this Battle For Earth is one of the most forgettable entries in the entire franchise, popping with garish colors and monster design that's slathered in gaudy plasticity. While this was the Heisei Series' stab at reviving the iconic flying moth, the main baddie kaiju is Battra, who's a shittier version of Mothra that punishes humans for f***ing with the planet's natural order via purple laser beams. While it sounds wholly dismissive, you could totally skip The Battle For Earth and not miss a single beat.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Battra's descent on Tokyo, shooting laser beams and generally wreaking havoc on the miniature replica of Japan's urban society. Buildings are blasted, along with a bridge. It's beautiful to behold, as the color of Battra's weapon of choice adds a surreal feel to its catastrophic siege. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie lacks this poppy wonder.

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23. Godzilla vs. Hedorah [1971, AKA Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster] 

Godzilla vs. Hedorah almost plays like the kaiju approximation of The Blob, as Godzilla battles a giant mound of grey, toxic ooze, which becomes sentient and starts overrunning the city with its icky slime tentacles. Hedorah is arguably the strangest creature ever introduced into the franchise, which honestly made this writer consider placing it higher. But the overt politicization of the Godzilla series (you guessed it: this is an environmentalist movie) is kind of ham-fisted, and sucks a bunch of the fun out of watching this gooey mound of death take no prisoners, until it meets up with our scaly antihero. Nobody wants to be lectured while they watch their kaiju movies, no matter how odd the new opponent is. That's proven by simple science, Jack.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Godzilla flies! That's right, Big G devises a way to hop across the clouds using his atomic breath. It's not the most graceful act the kaiju King has ever pulled off, but then again, we're not taking ballet lessons here. Technically, he's not destroying anything (so it might be a cheat to include it here), yet it allows Godzilla to keep fighting another day, which would ultimately lead to more devastation. So, let's call it even.

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22. Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster [1964] 

Ghidorah is arguably the worthiest adversary Godzilla ever squared off against, but like many introductions of a legend, the kaiju foe would be significantly improved upon by future entries. So, while it pains this writer to rank this movie so low, it's good to remember that history must have a starting point, and just because a thing is first doesn't necessarily mean it's best. Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster looks cheap, and the fights don't hold up as well as some of the other entries in the Showa Series, but it also introduced the notion of multiple kaijus brawling at once. So, this '60s milestone delivered many wrinkles in the Godzilla formula that would be toyed with from here on out, marking it as more important than solid.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction:To take down Ghidorah down, Godzilla teams with the larvae of Mothra, as well as Rodan, to rid the world of this new tri-domed threat. The result is a rather raucous royal rumble, shaking the heavens as these four legends all get to share the frame together, inflicting damage and taking their own licks simultaneously. You know who wins out in the end, but the fight is totally worth it.

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21. Godzilla vs. Megalon [1972] 

This is arguably the strangest entry in the Showa Series, as Godzilla is essentially relegated to a supporting player by Jet Jaguar, Megalon and Gigan. Jaguar is the stand out bit of awesomeness; ripping off the super popular (and equally weird) Ultraman character, he prances around in orange and grey robot tights and throws punches like an effeminate boxer. Godzilla vs. Megalon is also notable for being so utterly bizarre (and, frankly, bad) that MST3K did not one, but two episodes mercilessly riffing on its cartoonish beat downs. The Godzilla series would never really reach this level of laughable idiocy again, and that's both a good and bad thing.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Godzilla goes completely horizontal at one point, propelling himself forward through a cloud of dust to land a two-footed kick in the middle of his opponent's chest. Then, he throws a tantrum (as if not satisfied with pulling the insane move off the first time) and does it again. Easily one of the craziest maneuvers we've ever seen in these early kaiju brawls.

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20. Godzilla [2014] 

I am here to court controversy. But seriously, while many praised Gareth Edwards' gritty, grim '14 reboot of Godzilla, the fact is: it's kind of a boring kaiju movie. The decision to keep Godzilla offscreen for most of the film is ambitious but somewhat baffling, paying homage to the original but also ignoring the fact that hardcore fans of this series have already sat through twenty-nine of these things. Sure, there are heady themes to consider – revolving around human self-centeredness in the face of annihilation – but just get to the goddamn good parts already. Furthermore, the MUTOs Godzilla battles are completely unmemorable streaks of CGI nothingness. This is the Godzilla movie for people who don't actually like Godzilla movies, full of lifeless human drama and a dearth of pulpy violence. Pass.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: When Godzilla "makes out" with one of the MUTOs, it's a sight to behold. Grabbing the near lifeless monster after pummeling it into oblivion, the King of Monsters tears its jaws open and then fires a beam of atomic breath into its maw, all while trumpets triumphantly blare. It's as badass a finishing move as any iteration of our most iconic kaiju has pulled off.

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19. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S [2003] 

Tokyo S.O.S is a tough movie to rate, as it works perfectly fine as a standalone Godzilla picture, but is a totally unsatisfying sequel to '02's Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla. Not only does the film omit all the characters from the installment immediately preceding it, it also delivers nothing but another battle against Mothra. Look, Mothra is cool and all, but this is the 27th entry into the franchise. At this point, we've seen enough Mothra to last us a lifetime. To wit, Tokyo S.O.S is totally serviceable, but also totally tired; a slog for anyone who's sat through a bunch of these things, expecting a surprise and only getting more of the same.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction:Man, this one's even tough to pick out a defining moment from. If anything, its most notable for its overall level of chaos, as MechaGodzilla fires numerous rockets, Mothra creates numerous windstorms with its wings, and Godzilla tumbles through several buildings. This is one of the most IDGAF entries on the filmmakers' part, which sounds great on paper, but is still somehow difficult to behold.

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18. Godzilla: Final Wars [2004] 

Placing this picture so low on the list may upset many Godzilla enthusiasts, but there's a method behind this madness, I assure you. The biggest gripe this writer has is that the human action set pieces outweigh the kaiju battles, in terms of overall screen-time. While it's totally admirable to watch Toho try and combine both martial arts spectacle with creature feature madness, they never discover the right balance of both. That said, when we finally get Godzilla taking down Anguirus, Ebirah and Gigan, it's a total treat, as Final Wars leans into an over-the-top visual aesthetic that may be the most outrageous in the entire franchise. When combined with the driving alt-metal soundtrack (that's amped up for the American release), you have an entry that's never 100% in step with itself, but still pretty entertaining.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Watching Godzilla get owned by Ghidorah never gets old, and Final Wars delivers a near fatality that's totally mesmerizing (if you can get past the cheesy CGI). Not only does the famous foe out-blast Godzilla's atomic breath, it also levitates him with its own fiery lungful, smashing the King of Monsters through a city block and even toppling an empty skyscraper on King G's head. Now that's impressive.

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17. Godzilla vs. Gigan [1973] 

If you just want to see nothing more than Godzilla squaring off against two of the baddest mothers this series has ever introduced, then Godzilla vs. Gigan is totally your bag. It showcases both the return of Ghidorah – who's probably at his most golden-hued in this installment – and the totally baller Gigan, who comes at the King of Monsters with dual scythe limbs and a spinning saw blade square in the middle of its torso. Plus, you get a seriously bonkers plot (which revolves around a kaiju-themed amusement park) and a heap of rubbery weirdness; nothing but pure kaiju bliss to be had. Only drawback: the final battle contains an Ed Wood-level of stock footage, recycled from Destroy All Monsters. Kind of a bummer, but still pretty badass nonetheless.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: Godzilla and Anguirus talk to one another! Sure, it's a mush-mouthed version of monster speak, but the damage done to your mind will be immeasurable. The usage of cartoon speech bubbles has never been more outlandish.

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16. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus [2000]

Probably the worst entry into the Millenium Series ('99 – ' 04), there's really not much to write about this one, besides the production values being some of the best in the entire franchise. These are still relatively low-budget affairs, but Godzilla vs. Megaguirus has some amazing practical SFX that offset the janky, early aughts CGI. The main problem here is that the movie's just not very original, giving us another version of a Mothra-type flying beast that's basically a newfangled Battra. At its best, this is a diverting "cheap thrills" installment, delivering more of what fans have seen before, updated with tech from a new age.

Best Instance of Utter Destruction: During their skirmish, Megaguirus dive bombs Godzilla, and he ducks, cutting one of the flying monster's claws off. Trying to use some shifty maneuvering, the new moth beast zooms off, confusing the shit out of the King. It swoops in again, attempting to utilize its massive stinger, but Godzilla is too quick, wrapping his tail around the weapon and tossing Megaguirus into a nearby building. Bonus points for the pissed off look on Godzilla's face when his enemy immediately emerges from the rubble.

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Part two of the ranking, with the 15 best Godzilla movies of the series, will arrive tomorrow.