Ed note: Since this list was initially written, we’ve added the 2014 American
, the 2016 Toho-produced Shin Godzilla and the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters to the rankings, to keep them complete.
I love Godzilla, and on some level, I bet you probably do too. To hate Godzilla is to hate the idea of the “giant monster wrecks stuff/fights other monsters” movie concept, and to hate that concept is to hate mindless fun itself. Do you hate mindless fun? If so, I pity you, and I wish I could send a guy in a bulky rubber suit to your home to give you a hug, assuming he could operate the arms sufficiently.
With anticipation surging to unprecedented levels with both another American Godzilla movie on the way, and the American arrival of Toho’s Shin Godzilla, this is the perfect time to really dig into the history of this venerable series, which first kicked off with the black and white Japanese classic Gojira in 1954. What followed were 28 Japanese sequels and one ill-fated American remake in 1998, plus two more in the last decade. They make up one of the silliest, most colorful and consistently fun film libraries ever created.
Some of these films hold up well today as legitimate action/monster pictures. Others are appreciable as camp classics. Some were terrible from the moment they were released and have only gotten worse in the years that followed. But if you’re wondering which Godzilla movies you should watch in the weeks leading up to May’s Godzilla relaunch, this list of every Godzilla film from worst to best should provide the answer.
Kicking things off, the very worst Godzilla movie ever made!
32. Godzilla (1998, American remake)
I only include the American Godzilla film starring Matthew Broderick because if I didn’t, someone would ask in the comments why it wasn’t on the list. It’s the worst in so many conceivable ways, but chief among them is that the monster simply isn’t Godzilla. He’s much smaller, weaker, doesn’t have atomic breath and generally doesn’t have anything fans loved about the original Godzilla. The film was so reviled in Japan that Toho Studios, the original creators of Godzilla, don’t recognize it and refer to the monster as a separate creature called “Zilla.” He makes a brief cameo in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, only to get blown to bits by the real Godzilla in a fight that lasts about 15 seconds. Good riddance.
31. Godzilla’s Revenge (1969, alternatively All Monsters Attack)
There’s a near universal consensus that Godzilla’s Revenge is far and away the worst Japanese Godzilla movie, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s at the height of the original “Showa Series” (1954-1975) child-friendly period, and as such the main character is a young latchkey kid. The monsters aren’t even “real” in this one, but simple fantasies this kid has while daydreaming between regularly scheduled beatings from the school bullies. And when he does visit Monster Island in his dreams, he mostly hangs out with the supremely annoying Minilla, Godzilla’s son, who can speak English in a dopey voice that sounds like it was lifted directly from Davey and Goliath. Even when they do watch Godzilla fight, it’s mostly just stock footage from Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, which were already bad films on their own. He doesn’t even get “revenge” on anyone! Avoid at all costs.
30. Godzilla Raids Again (1955, alternatively Gigantis, the Fire Monster)
Stupidly renamed Gigantis, the Fire Monster for no reason in American releases, this was the second-ever Godzilla film, the first where he fights another monster, and the only other after Gojira to be in black and white. Unfortunately, it loses practically everything that made the first film notable: Gone already is the serious tone and social commentary, and gone is most of the atmospheric cinematography and sense of scale. It feels cheaper on all levels. The enemy monster is Anguirus, who eventually becomes Godzilla’s most trusted ally, but the art of kaiju vs. kaiju battles is completely in its infancy here. They fight not like pro wrestlers (which I consider fun) but like animals jockeying and shoving one another about with little choreography, which does not make for compelling cinema.
29. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966, alternatively Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster)
Godzilla fights a huge lobster! Not a well-conceived plot or monster, which makes slightly more sense when one finds out the script was originally intended for a Japanese King Kong adaptation. This one is very slow, with Godzilla not even showing up until almost an hour in. His fight with Ebirah is dull, and the Godzilla suit for this one looks particularly dopey and non-threatening. When you’ve got guys in rubber suits, a fight in waist-deep water is probably a pretty bad idea from a “fast-moving action” perspective. Mothra shows up briefly, but she can’t save this one. Even the MST3k version is a bore.
28. Son of Godzilla (1967)
Ah, just what we needed, more Minilla (also referred to as “Minya”). He’s only slightly less annoying here than in Godzilla’s Revenge, mostly due to the fact that he’s not speaking English with a voice that sounds mentally handicapped. Really though, your tolerance for Son of Godzilla will be entirely based on how much Japanese kiddie fun you can withstand. There are some chuckles to be had in observing Godzilla’s deadbeat dad demeanor, like when he allows Minilla to be hit in the face by a big rock or stomps on his son’s tail while teaching him to use his atomic breath, but you’re more likely to be taxed by the kid’s temper tantrums. It’s hardly a “real” Godzilla movie, and easily skipped.
27. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
It pains me to place this one so low, because it features two of the Godzilla series’ best monsters. It has the return of Ghidorah, the three-headed golden dragon typically considered Godzilla’s arch-enemy, and also the badass Gigan, the kaiju with scythe arms and a huge, spanning saw blade in the middle of his chest (seriously). Unfortunately though, despite the strong cast of characters, the movie is hamstrung by its own cheapness. It takes absolutely forever to get going and revolves around a bizarre plot involving a Godzilla-themed amusement park, and it also has one of the series’ most unnecessary moments as Godzilla and Anguirus actually speak to each other in garbled “monster English.” Then, once the fights eventually begin, it’s full of reused stock footage from the much better Destroy all Monsters—make a new movie!
26. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
In the Heisei series, the films often began creating villains cloned or somehow created from Godzilla’s DNA, and “SpaceGodzilla” is probably the weakest of these ideas. He’s basically Godzilla, except with some big crystals attached to his shoulders. This one also features a giant robot named M.O.G.U.E.R.A. who seems like an inferior version of the better Godzilla opponent, Mechagodzilla (keep reading), although technically he predates Mechagodzilla in other film. It’s also got the Heisei version of Minilla, here called Baby Godzilla or Godzilla Jr., which is not a mark in its favor by any means. Overall, it’s just one of the more forgettable Godzilla entries, especially next to some of the other Heisei series movies. Inexplicably, “SpaceGodzilla” seems to have a small but dedicated fan base, but who knows why.
25. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
These rankings are pretty subjective, and I’m sure plenty of people would have this film higher or lower on the list. This is the height of cartoonish ridiculousness in the Showa series, and honestly, Godzilla is practically a supporting character in this one. The bomb-spitting villain Megalon is goofy as hell, and Gigan makes a welcome return. The real “star” of the film is Jet Jaguar, a size-changing robotic superhero who was essentially ripping off the popular character of Ultraman. It’s incredibly silly, horrendous and simultaneously hilarious, which is only amplified by its appearance in a classic episode of MST3k. Highlight: The most ridiculous offensive maneuver in Godzilla history. So stupid, they had to show it twice.
24. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, alternatively Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster)
Possibly the weirdest Godzilla flick of them all, and certainly the ickiest. The villain this time is Hedorah/the smog monster, a living blob of toxic ooze. Godzilla, meanwhile, might as well be Captain Planet, because this is one of the only Godzilla films that ever tried to have an overt environmental message rather than a subtextual one. Of course, it’s difficult to even notice that message because this movie will have you assuming someone slipped a powerful narcotic into your beverage. Like an acid-fueled freakout, it’s filled with hallucinogenic nightmares, including a scene where all the revelers in a dance club transform into fish people like it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It would seem this was made during some sort of brief counterculture experimentation in Japan. It’s capped off by the strangest Godzilla moment ever, when the King of the Monsters is able to FLY AWAY by using his atomic breath to scoot himself gently across the sky. Really, it has to be seen to be believed.
23. The Return of Godzilla (1985, alternatively Godzilla 1985)
This was the first film of Toho’s second run of Godzilla movies, the “Heisei series” (1984-1995), which updated Godzilla with much better special effects and more serious plots. This being the first film, it’s essentially a straight retelling of the original Gojira theme, except set against the backdrop of the Cold War. It’s serious—dour, even—and has some pretty neat effects for the time, especially in its miniature sets, but it’s just not as fun to watch as Godzilla’s battles with other kaiju in the Heisei films that were to come. It ends with Godzilla being dropped into a volcano, but you know that can’t keep the King of the Monsters down.
22. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
This was the second film of the third and final Japanese series to date, the so-called “Millennium series” (1999-2004) of Godzilla movies. The practical effects are better than ever, but it also suffers from some really shoddy-looking CGI, which was a very bad choice in a film series totally committed to using a guy in a suit as Godzilla. The enemy kaiju, Megaguirus, is a flying, moth-like creature that’s a bit too close in execution to both Mothra and the earlier monster, Battra, and it comes one movie after another flying enemy. It lacks creativity, and I expect most fans would cite this as the worst of the Millennium series films.
21. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
This film served as the introduction for Godzilla’s greatest foe, the three-headed Ghidorah. It also introduced the concept of a group of kaiju brawling simultaneously, as Godzilla and Rodan (a giant pterodactyl) join forces with the larva of Mothra to take down the threat of Ghidorah. It’s classic stuff, but very cheap-looking and doesn’t stand up as well to the passage of time as some of the other Showa series films. It’s the first of the monsters from outer space to appear in the series, but Ghidorah would go on to much more compelling appearances in the future.
20. Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
We’re in a forgettable middle ground of Godzilla movies now, where they don’t particularly offend or stand out. This was the Heisei series’ attempt at reviving Mothra, but it’s mainly notable for the introduction of the enemy kaiju, Battra, which is essentially a vindictive version of Mothra come to punish the human race for infringing on “the Earth’s natural order.” He does this by blowing stuff up with purple lasers. Mothra, meanwhile, can’t seem to decide if she wants to fight for or against Godzilla in this flick, which makes it a little confusing. I think you know who wins out in the end.
19. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
This one is truly iconic, the “Batman vs. Superman” of the giant monster world. Kong, blown up to Godzilla’s size, is practically unrecognizable compared to the original American version of the giant ape. He feeds off electricity for no discernible reason and plays the hero role. This being the third film in the series, Godzilla is still in full villain mode and has yet to make his anti-hero transition. They have an absurd, drawn-out battle that ends in both crashing off a cliff and into the ocean, after which Kong swims away. A very persistent urban legend has maintained that there was a Japanese cut of the ending where “Godzilla wins,” but this was never the case. Regardless, the movie doesn’t truly reveal a victor, making it all the more surprising that there was never a sequel.
18. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
After a series of masterfully constructed trailers that emphasized the beauty and grandiosity of the kaiju, overlayed with portentous dialog from the leads, audiences could be forgiven if they went into Michael Dougherty’s King of the Monsters expecting a certain degree of dignity and gravitas. Alas, this is not that film—the 2019 KOTM has more of a Michael Bay sensibility, feeling more or less like last year’s cheesy-fun The Meg, except with kaiju. The human drama is ridiculous in the extreme—not automatically a bad thing, more an expected thing, in a Godzilla sequel—but it becomes infuriating when it fails to progress the plot (what little there is) in a way that makes any kind of sense. Indeed, any time a human character is on screen in KOTM, you typically find yourself dumbfounded by the things coming out of their mouths. On the other hand, the film also contains some of the most gorgeously rendered giant monster battling in the history of the big screen, so that certainly helps. In the same vein as Final Wars, but without quite as much action, this is an entry where spectacle and destruction are really the only features of note.
17. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
This is one of the films that is perfectly fine on its own, but looks worse in context of the full series and the films that surround it. It immediately followed 2002’s Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla as a direct sequel, but doesn’t have any of the same characters. Likewise, it doesn’t have much new to say or do, except for the inclusion of Mothra, who feels pretty played out in the series by this point. There’s some fun but uninspired destruction. Most of the Mechagodzilla movies are of nearly the same quality, so we’re just going to blow through them now. Prepare to be perplexed.
16. Godzilla (2014)
The rebooted American Godzilla by Gareth Edwards struggles between two aspirations, to channel the gravitas and meaning of the 1954 original and also satisfy a popcorn-crunching audience of American action movie fans who just want to see some stuff get blowed up real good. At its best, it gives in to the pulpy ridiculousness of being a film about giant monsters, simply stepping back for a second to let the beautifully rendered creatures become the stars. At its worst, it bogs down in endless human drama that is devoid of meaning, as the heroes struggle to rescue nameless children and the audience wonders why it should care. A number of awesome moments in the final 30 moments help propel it up the list, and the film benefits from its sense of scale and awe toward Godzilla in particular, but just as often it frustrates by teasing the audience with expected confrontations that don’t actually happen. It’s a mixed bag.