11. Godzilla Raids Again

Godzilla Raids Again was made only one year after the original Godzilla, and yet it feels totally different. Gone is the tragedy and horror of a man-made walking disaster. In its place we have a simple fight movie. But what a fight movie it is! Godzilla and Anguirus spend most of their movies as pals. Here they’re vicious enemies, fighting simply because the other is near. This first Godzilla sequel introduces the series’ “vs” aspect, but does so in a way that would not last. Godzilla looks rough, and his battles with Anguirus are undercranked to feel violent and fast and unique to the series.

10. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

We’re in the super classics now. And I think it’s fair to say no Godzilla movie has a plot as bizarre as Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, to the extent that a mere synopsis would not do it justice. Let’s just say there is a lot of time travel involved. And a robot who looks like your dad. And we might even witness the origins of Steven Spielberg’s fervent imagination. Meanwhile, the film is not too wrapped up in its story to deliver amazing action (this is a Heisei film, after all).

9. Godzilla: Final Wars

The last Godzilla entry until 2016’s Shin Godzilla, Ryuhei Kitamura’s live-action anime is absolutely bonkers, a solid attempt at delivering a modern update to Destroy All Monsters’ excess. And that’s exactly what it does. There are monsters galore – including deep cuts like King Caesar and deep gouges like the 1998 American Godzilla. They all get their little moments as Godzilla quickly (for real, he moves very fast here) takes them apart one by one. Even Gigan shows up, with some much appreciated upgrades. The film also features a return of the series’ greatest antagonists, the Xiliens, and throws mutant, superpowered humans into the mix because… well at this point, why not?

8. Godzilla (2014)

This film tends to divide people. I get it. The humans are on the boring side, and it’s not exactly a slugfest. Instead, Gareth Edwards’ film goes the Jaws route, playing with audiences’ expectations and building toward a grand reveal of our new Godzilla design. Even if you don’t like the film, you have to admit our boy looks good here, especially when blowing atomic breath into a Muto’s open mouth. For some, putting this in the top ten will seem blasphemous. But I have to go with my heart, and my heart adores this special film.

7. Godzilla vs. Biollante

Toho bounced back from the pedestrian and conservative Return of Godzilla with a real wild one. Biollante is remarkable from pretty much every angle. The story of a botanist who creates a monster by mixing Godzilla’s DNA – and the DNA of his dead daughter – with a rose is truly inspired, but not quite as inspired as the monster itself. A kind of Audrey II on steroids, Biollante is utterly unique when it comes to Toho monsters and watching her fight Godzilla is a true joy. Also a true joy: the wacky assassin character running around this whole film causing mischief. It’s perfect.

6. Godzilla vs. Hedorah

Sometimes Toho hires directors who put their own spin on the franchise. At no point is that spin more outside the lines than in Yoshimitsu Banno’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Godzilla’s first foray into the 1970s is an acid trip of a film, featuring a kid who plays with Godzilla toys, animated sequences, a musical number and an ever-changing monster who will never be topped in terms of sheer disgust. For real, this movie will upset your stomach. Godzilla vs. Hedorah never entered the Paris Climate Agreement and it shows.

5. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack

Another director who got to put their own spin on Godzilla was Gamera series genius Shusuke Kaneko, who took his penchant for great kaiju storytelling featuring great kaiju fights to the big leagues with this amazing entry. Reversing things a bit, All-Out Attack features a straight-up malevolent Godzilla. Only three ancient warriors can save us from his terror: Baragon, Mothra and the big dog himself – King Ghidorah. This film just feels heightened and special from beginning to end, with human characters that manage to improve the story rather than punctuate it.

4. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah

If you define a Godzilla film by its fights, story, and monsters, this might actually count as the series’ best entry. Godzilla – steamy and glowing red due to his heart’s impending nuclear meltdown – looks so amazing here. As does his foe, Destoroyah, a monster made from the one thing to ever kill Godzilla, the Oxygen Destroyer from the original film. Destoroyah is a big boy, and the idea that Godzilla must fight him while suffering the worst heartburn you can imagine makes you really feel for the poor guy. Destoroyah marks the end of the Heisei series and Toho made extra sure Godzilla went out in suitably grand style…

3. Invasion of Astro Monster

…But the thing is, when we think of Godzilla films, we tend to imagine stuff from the Showa era, films with pulpy, b-movie plots and cheesy effects. With that in mind, the number three spot has to go to Invasion of Astro Monster, which brings Ghidorah back in a major way while also bringing Godzilla and Rodan to a distant planet, all in service of those dastardly aliens, the Xiliens. This is by far the best example of how fun the Showa era can be. The film is so silly that it somehow comes around to being actually cool.

2. Godzilla (1954)

The top two spots go to films that exist on a wholly different quality level. They’re not b-movies, they’re not cheesy, they’re not even fun. Everything else in this series, you kind of need to be open to the silliness of it all to enjoy. You can’t just sit a non-fan in front of Destoroyah and expect them to have the same amount of enjoyment as you.

Godzilla is different. Obviously the original film has history and an amazing legacy on its side. And it should. This is a truly amazing achievement, required viewing for all film fans. Not just for what it says about Japan at the time it was released, but because it uses the same techniques as other Showa films and yet terrifies without effort, while the rest of the series never comes close. The tonal gulf between this and Godzilla Raids Again is truly remarkable, as if they knew Godzilla’s visceral attack on Tokyo could never be recreated at this level, so there’s no reason even trying.

1. Shin Godzilla

Except somehow they managed to pull this off. It’s bold, I know, to place Shin Godzilla above the original, but for a Godzilla film to play at this level in 2016 is absolutely incredible, so incredible that the film went completely over my head when I first saw it. And while everyone should definitely see the 1954 Godzilla, this very worthy update has greater potential to move modern audiences.

Shin Godzilla takes Godzilla back to its roots not by having the scariest monster (though it by far has the scariest monster – Godzilla is almost Lovecraftian here in terms of existing beyond our comprehension), but by using Godzilla as catalyst for an honest reaction to real-world disaster. So instead of focusing on Godzilla, the film zeroes in on the silliness, the cravenness, and ultimately the flawed greatness of government bureaucracy, one of the least Godzilla-worthy subjects imaginable. The film isn’t fun, exactly, but it is funny, while also offering genuine terror as well as a hard-won optimism for the human race.

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