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 for Gareth Edwards’ upcoming Godzilla remake hitting American theaters on May 16, 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 27 Japanese sequels and one ill-fated American remake in 1998. 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. (Ed. note: We’ve added Gareth Edwards’ new film to the list.)
Kicking things off, the very worst Godzilla movie ever made!
30. 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.
29. 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.
28. 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.
27. 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.
26. 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.
25. 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 a political message. 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.
24. 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!
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. 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.