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Ranked: The Top 10 Greatest 'Godzilla' Movies

by Drew Taylor
May 13, 2014 2:20 PM
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Best Godzilla Movies Ranked

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… 

Invasion of Astro-Monster

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.

Godzilla vs Hedorah

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.

Godzilla vs Destroyah

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…  

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  • Row | July 31, 2014 2:12 AMReply

    I'm not going to whine too much because there are a lot of films in the franchise and for whatever reason, people like what they like, BUT... Godzilla Vs. Biollante should've been on the list, absolutely. Hugely underrated entry in the franchise and I think the reason is because maybe a lot of people haven't even seen it since it got a later release in the US than many of the other ones.

    I also happen to think Godzilla 1984 (Return of Godzilla) should be higher up on the list--top three.

    that is all

  • Zac | May 28, 2014 6:19 AMReply

    Godzilla vs. Gigan

    right there.. Godzilla vs Gigan doesn't get any kind of recognition? It was my introduction to the series and the only one I could really sit through and enjoy. C'mon, giant overly evolved cockroaches that take over cadavers creating a Godzilla theme park with the ultimate goal of calling down Gigan and King Ghidorah to destroy humanity only Godzilla finds out about the plans because of a secret tape and drives the other two away with the help of turtle/hedgehog combo Anguirus.

    Also a manga artist and lots of explosives save the day. Please. Shoulda been at least number 4 on this list

  • Séamus | May 22, 2014 7:17 PMReply

    Biollante definitely deserves a place on this. Its stylish and beautiful in ways that most of the other films aren't, and ballsy in its plot and romanticism.

  • walter stevenson | May 22, 2014 12:45 PMReply

    Hold up-where is Godzilla 2000? Apart from being slowly paced in the beginning, Godzilla was at his top form and looked more badass than ever. When that alien swallowed Godzilla's head into his mouth and Godzilla turned lava red, blew the alien's head to pieces and began roaring, it made me cry...

  • mzwt | May 21, 2014 6:39 PMReply

    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.

    It's not Riverdance.

  • CArlos | May 17, 2014 4:32 PMReply

    I totally disagree with the inclusion of Godzilla (2014) in this list. It´s not a bad movie, at least the last 30 minutes doesn´t it, but i see the same mistakes commited by Emmerich in his disastrous film. Like Bay´s Transformers, the inclusion of USA army as a main axis of the plot was, in my point of view, unnecesary.
    I can imagine the writers:
    -Ok, the scientist make a bad move trying to study MUTO and put in great danger the entire world. Let´s make him Japanese.
    -The kid will grow up with a trauma, let´s make him join the army (even if they used to live in Japan)!!
    The good thing? The roar and the nuclear breathe (and the "walk to the ocean" classic victory pose), finally i can hear it-saw it on the big screen.

    Sorry about my bad english...

  • spidervenom1992 | May 17, 2014 1:31 AMReply

    I hate pretentious art snobs like the jackass that wrote this article that act like it's some sort of "fact" that the Godzilla franchise is garbage and all of the fans "know" it but like it anyway. The first film did what it could with what it had; the special effects are impressive in design if not execution by modern standards. Only with the sequels did the series begin to get ridiculous and start to earn it's reputation for goofy stories and even dumber special effects and monster embellishments. Unfortunately the series never has and likely never will outgrow this reputation, so internet critics sit behind their keyboards and take pot shots at the longest running film franchise in history just because they can. What a load of crap. The premise is silly, but then again so was King Kong, Batman, Superman, The Matrix, Star Wars and pretty much anything else that has ingrained itself into popular culture. But you won't hear any dumbass statements about how all of those films are "boring" unless your under the influence of some drug, because they're respected for some reason when Godzilla isn't. What a load of bullshit.

    On another note, I've not met a single SERIOUS fan of Godzilla that thinks "Final Wars" is very good, much less one of the "top ten." But I guess when the writer of the article thinks they're all trash and is just picking the ones that stink the least, it makes sense.

  • Snotnose | July 21, 2014 7:20 PM

    Well, i hate to ruin your little bitch parade, but im a VERY serious fan of the series and i LOVE Final Wars. but what you did right there? that is EXACTLY what the idiot who wrote this article did. you took it upon yourself to judge every fan of the franchise under how YOU feel. because YOU dont like Final Wars suddenly anyone who DOES isnt a "True Fan" you are about as HIPSTER AS THEY COME. you have no right to judge anyone else when you act EXACTLY like the rest of the Hipster douche bags.
    i dont like the Blatant, Over used CGI in the 2014 movie, i think it shits on MUCH of the franchise. its the ONLY film in the series to use CGI 100% of the time instead of Suitmation, but do you see me screaming about how anyone who likes that movie more than the original 1954 is somehow "Not a True Fan"? get out of our Franchise Fanbase. you dont belong, i wouldn't doubt for an instant that you're a newbie and you only jumped on because of the hype of the 2014 movie.

  • Gerry | May 16, 2014 5:37 PMReply

    Why do most seem to hate Godzilla 1985? When I was a kid I loved it. Grant it, I haven't seen it since age 11, but I feel like the movie has a stigma that the other Godzilla flicks don't.

  • Tom | May 14, 2014 1:31 PMReply

    Glad to see Godzilla vs The Smog Monster made it to the top 10. One of my favorite Godzilla movies along with Godzilla vs Mothra. Shares similar themes of the first and recent Godzilla movies. It's so dark and probably the bizzarest Godzilla movie to date.

  • flailx | May 14, 2014 1:04 PMReply

    How, in God(zilla)'s name did GMK NOT make this list? I expected it at number 2.

  • Piete | May 14, 2014 9:16 AMReply

    "Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" is suprisingly bleak and grim, with Godzilla in an ultra-villainy role. Highly recommended.

  • Darren | May 14, 2014 2:05 AMReply

    Agree with Xian. Destroy All Monsters deserves to be on this list.

  • Xian | May 13, 2014 3:20 PMReply

    Where is "Destroy All Monsters?" ("Charge of the Monsters" in Japan). It's the 1968 super throw-down between Godzilla, Minilla (Baby G'), Rodan, Mothra, Manda and others, including villain, King Ghidorah (guided by aliens, of course) and it deserves to be on any Best-of Godzilla list. It features Monsterland (also known as Monster Island) where all the Toho monsters are collected, confined and researched. One of the coolest kaiju monster movies of all time.

  • Adrian | May 14, 2014 7:02 PM

    Destroy All Monsters is an incredibly overrated entry in the series. The plot is essentially a rehash of Invasion of Astro-Monster without the retro-atmosphere or interesting characters. It's claim to fame is the final battle and the sheer number of monsters which can't hold up the fact that the film is slowly paced and somewhat boring.

    My personal gripe is the fact that Godzilla vs. Biollante doesn't even rate an honorable mention. It's got what might be the best special effects work of the series, an intriguing plot involving genetic engineering, and memorable human characters. I am happy to see Hedorah and Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster represented though even if I think Final Wars is way too high.

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