Five Godzilla films that introduce newcomers to the franchise

Fletcher Elsholz, Twitter Team

 Godzilla is an iconic Japanese monster spawned as a metaphor to the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. His design and name were both based off of a gorilla and a whale. The original name for Godzilla is Gojira, a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira). 

Godzilla has appeared in 36 films in total and has existed for 67 years and has made close to two billion dollars from worldwide releases. His strength and dominance are almost unrivaled by any monster in cinema history.

  For some context, the names of the three Japanese Godzilla eras are Showa, Heisei and Millenium, with Showa and Heisei coinciding with the eras of the same names in Japan. Showa took place from 1954 to 1989. The first Godzilla movie, entitled simply “Godzilla,” was released in 1954, while the last movie released during the Showa era was released in 1984. 

.The first movie released during the Heisei time period was “The Return of Godzilla” in 1985 and the last in 1995. 

Continuing the trend of confusing era names, the Millenium era’s first film was “Godzilla 2000,” released in 1999 and the final film of the era was released in 2004.

The American Godzilla era doesn’t have a chosen name yet but is usually referred to as the “Legendary era” because the American company Legendary Entertainment made their films  from 2014 to 2021. 

Each of the eras seems to have their own distinctive style with the Showa films being more goofy and comical with a lot more wacky monsters. The Heisei era seems more serious and has more 80’s action movie tropes in it such as tension between American and Russian and lone-wolf protagonists who save the day in the end. 

The Millenium era has a more powerful Godzilla and has similar plot structures as the Heisei era. It does exhibit more wacky ideas like the Showa era does though. The Legendary era is made iconic by its serious plot lines and its high tech CGI along with distinctive color pallets for each film.

The first Godzilla movie by an American company was entitled “Godzilla” and was released in 1998 by Tristar Pictures. It was barely a commercial success but was critically slammed because it featured a weak Godzilla who was easily taken down by the American military rather than just being annoyed at the military like he usually would be. 

The best movie to begin watching Godzilla movies would be “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” of the Legendary era (which serves as an homage to the first Godzilla movie) because it features some of the main returning monsters such as Rodan, a supersized pterodactyl that comes from a volcano. It also features Mothra, a gigantic moth, and one of Godzilla’s most formidable enemies, the three-headed space dragon, King Ghidorah. 

Another reason for newcomers to watch “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is because it has up-to-date CGI which is more accommodating to the tastes of the modern viewer who might not be open to the ideas of watching someone in a rubber suit dance, acting like a 150 foot monster. 

This film also appeals more to typical American tastes because it includes better scenes of humans interacting with each other where the characters are more fleshed-out and have actual emotions and realistic reactions to situations; whereas, in the Japanese made films, the human scenes can at times feel more like an unwanted break from the monsters.

  The next film I recommend from the Millennium Era: “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” also referred to as “Godzilla GMK.” I recommend this one because it features the monster Baragon, a big reptile-like monster with a glowing horn. King Ghidorah and Mothra, team up to protect the humans against an ancient, vengeful, evil Godzilla whose hatred for the Japanese people comes from being infused with the souls of American soldiers killed by the Japanese during the second world war. King Ghidorah and Mothra team up because they are both called “The Guardian Monsters” by an old folklore legend. 

The reason for such an out of the ordinary and interesting plot is because the film was directed by Shusuke Kaneko, the man responsible for directing the modern “Gamera Trilogy” which changes the formula up a little bit from every other Godzilla film. I really recommend this one because of the change of the classic Godzilla formula and because it features some of the coolest monsters in the entirety of the Godzilla franchise.

Another must watch is the original 1954 “Godzilla.” It serves as required viewing for any fan of cinema, let alone fans of Godzilla because it’s the original movie in the franchise. It takes a more serious, grim approach to the concept of a skyscraper-height monster destroying Japan. 

The design of the original Godzilla suit was based off of the two atomic bombs that hit Japan only nine years earlier with his head shaped like the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb and his scales modeled after the burns inflicted by the bombs. Unsurprisingly, he harnesses nuclear energy as his main source of power. The whole film serves as an analogy for the destruction caused by nuclear weaponry, with the third act of the film progressing to a scientist named Dr. Serizawa who has developed an extremely powerful bomb called the “Oxygen Destroyer” which will kill Godzilla but will also devastate the local life where the bomb has been detonated. 

There are two versions of this film released: one released for Japanese audiences in 1954 and the other released in 1956 entitled “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” The Japanese version does a better job of staying grim and bleak, which is why I recommend watching that version.

If you didn’t notice, the Heisei era was missing a spot on this list and the second film in the era, “Godzilla Vs. Biollante,” gets the number 2 pick because it is a good example of Heisei era tropes and themes except this time it was written Godzilla fan,  Shinichirô Kobayashi, who won a contest held by Toho in 1989 and also worked on an episode for “The Return of Ultraman” show in 1971. 

In this version, The plot follows a biologist, Dr. Genshiro Shiragami, who loses his daughter Erika, and out of desperation to preserve a part of her, combines the D.N.A. of a rose, Godzilla and his daughter. The creature slowly mutates and grows stronger throughout the film, a recurring idea in the Heisei era and in a lot of other Godzilla movies. This film was also voted the best Godzilla film by Japanese fans in a 2014 poll which is even more reason to watch this one.

The final film for everyone to watch is the 2016 film “Shin Godzilla,” a standalone film directed by Hideaki Anno, who also directed the critically acclaimed anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” The plot of this film follows the evolution of Shin Godzilla starting as a weird, clumsy, shark-like creature who can barely walk on land to a 150 foot tall lizard. 

At the climax of the film, Godzilla’s truly destructive powers make for one of the most stunning city-destruction scenes in any Godzilla movie, with intense fire-breath and wickedly powerful laser beams. 

The plot also spends more time with the human characters, who seem like real people rather than just punching bags for Godzilla. With the citizens being real people, it more easily covers the ethical dilemmas the scientists have about how they’re going to deal with Godzilla and the consequences of what these scientists choose to use against Godzilla. This way, the film also serves as a critique of bureaucracy with government officials taking an unnecessary amount of time to approve the suggestions on how to deal with Godzilla. 

Some people claim that it’s the best Godzilla ever made, but I don’t really agree with them because it might feel a bit slow at some points and was directed by someone who isn’t very experienced with kaiju movies. 

Godzilla movies have entertained millions of people throughout many decades and have value in them that has carried into our modern era that should not be ignored even if some of the special effects look goofy and if the English voice-overs are really out of sync.