When talking about Godzilla movies, especially with diehard monster movie devotees, it's easy to forget (and rarely talked about in the open) that most of them are boring. Like really, really boring. Even the installments that feature multiple monsters, alien visitors, and tiny, nymph-like fairies are sluggishly paced, full of limp characterization and questionable plotting, so much so that putting together a top ten list of movies featuring the fearsome King of the Monsters was somewhat difficult, even though there are nearly 30 movies in the series' official canon. Still, we were up to the challenge. So kick back, relax, and think about all the tiny model cities that were destroyed in Godzilla's wake.
These are what we consider the best, most memorable entries in the franchise, with particular emphasis given to what makes these installments different from the other films (since, at a certain point, they all do blur together). Your feelings on the matter will obviously vary due to varying levels of nostalgic love for the character and other factors, like how high you were while you initially watched the movies, or whether or not you're a weird fetishist who dresses up in Godzilla costumes for sexual purposes (a weird plot point from Warren Ellis' novel "Crooked Little Vein").
It should also be noted that we tried to sample from the varying "eras" of the monster—the Shōwa series (1954 – 1975), the Heisei series (1984 – 1995) and the Millennium series (1999 – 2004). Each of these periods offer a different mood and take on the character, and all are essential in the larger understand of how Godzilla works. Now, without further ado…
10.) Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
It's weird to think of a 50-year-old Godzilla movie as being "hotly contested," but amongst loyalists, that's exactly what "Invasion of Astro-Monster," released in America as "Monster Zero," is. There are some, like myself, who marvel at its nonsensical plot, and the fact that just six movies in, the franchise was already traveling into some delightfully loopy directions (the plot involves space exploration, a cure for cancer, and classic Godzilla foes like King Ghidorah, for no particular reason), while others find it all a bit much. At the very least "Invasion of Astro-Monster" is notable for being the first entry that was co-produced by an American studio (UPA, perhaps most notable for being responsible for the "Mr. Magoo" cartoons) and for the sequence where Godzilla appears to be doing the Riverdance. A happy moment, indeed.
9.) Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
The best Godzilla movies utilize the character for maximum metaphoric value, which is why "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" stands out from the crowd. The titular monster ("ninja monster Hedorah," according to the original Japanese trailer) is a microscopic critter from space that, after entering the earth's atmosphere near a power plant, begins to morph into a slippery creature made of pure pollution. (It's nebulous form means that it can travel in air, on land, and in the sea.) Godzilla appears not as a menace to mankind but as the planet's savior (an idea frequently revisited, including in the new movie), here to ward off the evil smog monster (to borrow from the movie's Americanized title). This entry is memorable for the monster's unique design, which combines Muppet-like googly eyes with a Lovecraft-ian body shape (the Beastie Boys borrowed heavily from this creature for their "Intergalactic" video), and the refreshingly psychedelic visuals that often borders on the downright hallucinogenic (that title sequence!). With its fiercely environmentalist message (inspired, in part, by director Yoshimitsu Banno's visit to a polluted Japanese beach) and hyper-stylized look, it's one of the more oddly overlooked entries, especially given its uniquely meta-textual tone (kids play with tiny toy versions of monsters from earlier films) that never becomes too knowingly self-aware.
8.) Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
The last film in the second series did the unthinkable—it killed him off. From the beginning, Godzilla seems to be on the way out: he's covered in glowing pockets of radiation and a scientist deems that he's about to overheat and explode. Once again, man's arrogance is the biggest villain of all, with humans designing a new version of the Oxygen Destroyer (the thing that killed Godzilla in the original 1954 film) that grows out of control and becomes a giant deadly monster. The ungainly design of the monster's foe is equal parts "Alien" and Stephen King's "It," and although the movie has some super goofy flourishes (like Godzilla reteaming with his son, this time dubbed Godzilla Junior), it's a pretty bleak movie, filled with melancholy and a number of shout-outs to the original film (including a brief appearance by Momoko Kochi, reprising her role). We still kind of wish they had gone with the concept they had developed originally, with Godzilla battling the ghost of the original 1954 Godzilla. Maybe one day…