By Gary Dowell
Godzilla easily is the greatest cinematic creation ever. Consider the facts in evidence: He’s the size of a skyscraper, breathes atomic fire, has alternately stomped on and/or protected many of the world’s major cities, is the subject of a song by the Blue Öyster Cult, and has appeared in 29 feature films, with a new one hitting theaters this month.
That last detail has us geeking out over here at Movie Night. Like many of you, we came of age in the 80s, a time when many Godzilla flicks popped up like weeds in the hinterlands of UHF creature features. Big G’s return to the screen after a 10-year hiatus has us giddy with anticipation; if, like us, you’re planning on re-watching some of the earlier movies, here’s a few of the classics, as well as a few of the duds:
Gojira/Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954/1956)
Not only is Big G’s first feature film essential viewing for the series, it’s also one of the finest monster movies of the 1950s Atomic Era. This daikaiju classic introduced Godzilla as a force of nature, a walking, pitiless natural disaster, and an unsubtle allegory for Japan’s scarred post-war psyche. It holds up quite well after 60 years, thanks to its surprising gravitas. Footage of Raymond Burr as a reporter was edited into the Americanized version released in 1956. The Angelika will screen a restored print of the original beginning May 9; do yourself a favor and see it if you haven’t already.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
This was the Foreman vs. Ali of giant monster throwdowns, a dream come true for geeky adolescents and often the Godzilla flick that hooked many viewers for life. This being only the third entry in the series (and the first filmed in color), Godzilla is still portrayed in a villainous light, with Kong as the hero expanded in proportion to stop his rampage. A ridiculous, lengthy battle ensues. The persistent rumor of an alternate “Godzilla wins” ending is, alas, merely an urban legend.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
One of the last great entries in Japan’s Showa-era series before it made an ill-fated shift into kid-oriented fare in the late 60s/early 70s, this classic put the Not-So-Jolly Grey Giant against Mothra, a popular character in her own right (she even gets top billing!) in a confrontation that was the Toho Company’s first series crossover film. Still, the only aspect anyone seems to remember are the tiny singing twin fairy chicks.
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
A big-budget battle royale intended to cap the original series, this allout battle royale featured fan favorites Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah, and several others in an epic brawl – first against each other, then as mind-controlled slaves trashing the world’s major cities, then as heroes ganging up on the perennially evil Ghidorah. Throw in world-conquering alien spacewomen from the moon and “classic” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Godzilla met his most dangerous opponent ever – and very nearly his demise— in this entry, in the form of an evil twin with a twist: a giant robot version of himself that was a walking arsenal. An early giant monster vs. giant robot flick that prefigures Pacific Rim by four decades, it’s loopy fun with sci-fi/espionage action. There’s even a Planet of the Apes-inspired plot twist.
Son of Godzilla (1967)
If there’s one thing we learned from Superman Returns it’s that nobody wants to see a mega-powerful hero tied down by snot-nosed kids. It is almost fascinating (and sad) to see Godzilla portrayed as the kaiju equivalent of a deadbeat dad, but ultimately this crapfest is a mind-numbing bore. Strictly for kids under 5 years of age with bad taste.
The worst Godzilla movie ever made barely counts as a Godzilla movie at all. Created by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (Stargate, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012), it featured a smaller, weaker Godzilla doing battle with Matthew Broderick (seriously). Loud, stupid, and dull, it was so reviled that when Toho gave the creature a cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) it was given roughly 10 seconds of screen time before being vaporized by the one, true Big G.