10. Shin Godzilla, aka Godzilla Resurgence (2016)
This brand new film from Toho, which is receiving a limited, subtitled release in the U.S., will hopefully be the start of an entire new Japanese Godzilla series, and if the early box office results are any indication, it’s shaping up to be a big hit in its native country. It was hard to know what to expect from yet another remake/reimagining of Big G’s first contact with the human race, but this film actually pulls off a tough task in fine style. It’s very dialog and politics-heavy, but these scenes are thankfully shot in a dynamically paced way, with quick edits that keep you engaged in endless discussion of how to deal with the threat of Godzilla. Most notable, though, is that Godzilla doesn’t look quite the same, especially when the audience first sees him. Rather, the iconic monster is in a completely different, more aquatically based form at first, before rapidly (and terrifyingly) evolving into something more akin to the Godzilla we know and love. His capabilities in this new movie are more fearsome than ever, and his wild, unpredictable nature is great fun to watch. Like any of the Japanese series, there are certainly lulls, but his on-screen destruction is some of the best of the entire series, and the ending opens up some very interesting, unique new pathways the series could take from here.
9. Gojira (1954, alternatively Godzilla, King of the Monsters)
This is by far the most difficult film to rank on a list. It would be cliché to award the original Godzilla film the #1 spot simply out of deference, but we all know that without this one there would be no others. Viewing it today, it’s easy to admire the film’s unexpected gravitas and poetic moments. It’s the most thoughtful Godzilla picture by far, and the cinematography wonderfully emphasizes Godzilla’s size and power as a destructive force of nature. Still, it’s not as purely entertaining as some of the sillier follow-ups, and I would bet that most Godzilla fans watch other entries in the series more often than they re-view Gojira. It’s the most important Godzilla movie without a doubt … but not the “best.”
8. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965, alternatively Invasion of Astro-Monster)
The direct follow-up to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster broke some serious new ground for the series by fully fusing it with science fiction and space travel for the first time. The plot has a pretty cool concept, as a new planet is discovered, and its resident aliens request the help of Godzilla and Rodan in fighting their tormentor, Ghidorah. The aliens, however, turn out to be evil (aren’t they always?), and mind-control Godzilla, Rodan and Ghidorah before unleashing them on Earth. It’s great Showa series fun with a better-than-average plot, and it remains the only time Godzilla has been to another planet. Also: The most out-of-character Godzilla moment ever. Really, what were they thinking?
7. Destroy all Monsters (1968)
This film was originally intended to be the final movie of the Showa series, and it received a larger budget to match. That extra money meant monsters—lots of monsters! A true battle royal, it features Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, Gorosaurus, Kumonga, Manda, Varan and Ghidorah. It takes a while to get going and features all the monsters separately in small cameos, but then ends in the scenario every kid dreamed of: A big brawl with all the monsters present. They ultimately team up to take out Ghidorah, always considered the biggest threat. Just classic stuff, a movie that would have been a fitting send-off to the original series—it’s shameful that this was followed by Godzilla’s Revenge.
6. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, alternatively Godzilla vs. The Thing)
One of the all-time classic pairings of two monsters, Mothra vs. Godzilla was the moment many kids became Godzilla fans for life. Still serious, before the Showa series transitioned into children’s entertainment, it features Godzilla as an unsympathetic monster who is completely impervious to earthly weapons. Mothra, on the other hand, is a perfect hero and protector of the Earth. For being a giant moth, she puts up a pretty great fight against Godzilla. In typical Mothra fashion she’s eventually bested, but her larvae are able to save the day. Each adult Mothra has a pretty short shelf life, as it turns out.
5. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
This is a truly unique Godzilla film from the Heisei series. The first movie to feature an enemy grown from Godzilla’s DNA, Biollante is a giant Venus flytrap-like monster that can hunt down people individually with its vines/tentacles. He is a legitimately terrifying spectacle, and the film is so dark and serious that it almost seems like Godzilla has been crossed with a horror flick. It’s so different from other Godzilla movies that it immediately stands out, and Biollante is memorable as one of Godzilla’s most vicious-looking opponents. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air at the time, and it’s still an underrated entry in the series.
4. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
The first-ever appearance of Mechagodzilla in the Showa series is still the best. I have such fond memories of this film, and it embodies the earlier Godzilla movies to me. Mechagodzilla is presented as an absolutely devastating opponent with abilities that outclass Godzilla in every way, and he beats Godzilla to within an inch of his life. My favorite bit though, is the inclusion of a Godzilla ally named “King Caesar,” some kind of bizarre lion-dog hybrid who needs to be woken from a long slumber by singing Japanese adult contemporary music. Then, after all that build-up, he immediately gets WRECKED by Mechagodzilla, which I’ve always found hilarious. And the aliens controlling Mechagodzilla are secretly ape people, for some reason! Seriously, this one is as nutty as it is entertaining.
3. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
This is easily the most emotionally affecting Godzilla movie ever made, and also one of the best. Godzilla immediately looks different—why is he glowing red, like he’s filled with molten lava? Well, it turns out that as a downside of being powered by nuclear radiation, Godzilla’s heart is a reactor that is literally beginning to melt down. This makes him stronger than ever, which is absolutely necessary against the demonic Destoroyah, easily one of the most powerful Godzilla enemies. “Godzilla Junior”—no longer Minilla—is also heavily involved, and finally he’s become a capable monster in his own right who resembles his father. In the end, after Destoroyah is defeated, Godzilla melts down and his powers pass to Godzilla Junior, making this the only real “death of Godzilla” besides the original Gojira. As the black-and-white footage of the series rolls, you almost want to shed a tear.
2. Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Ridiculous title, awesome movie. Godzilla is once again reimagined and redesigned as the bad guy, while Mothra, Ghidorah and Baragon are surprisingly reimagined as “Earth Guardians” who must defend Japan. Godzilla’s vendetta against Japan is much more personal this time, and he’s at the absolute height of his powers. Even combined, the military, Mothra, Baragon and Ghidorah stand little chance against this incarnation of the King of the Monsters. He is the biggest ass-kicker here that he’s ever been, and he has lots of opportunities to turn loose his destructive potential. There’s even a good human story wedged into this iteration. There’s really nothing you can even suggest to improve it.
1. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
This movie is absolutely ludicrous, in the best possible way. The Heisei series rebirth of Ghidorah once and for all establishes an origin story for Godzilla—turns out he’s a “Godzillasaurus” dinosaur that was mutated by atomic radiation. It also introduces another alien-fueled plot that involves time travel and gives us an origin story for Ghidorah, as well. But really, it’s just the perfect combination of absurd human plot and ramped-up kaiju fighting action. After being initially defeated by Godzilla, Ghidorah is rebuilt into the cyborg “Mecha-King Ghidorah,” and that monster design is the high point of the series as far as I’m concerned. It’s the coolest monster Godzilla ever fights, in his finest cinematic outing to date.