Godzilla Returns Again and Again: A Look Back At These Memorable Monster Movies

Monster Love
We pay homage to the king of all monsters, Godzilla.


(Above photo: Scene from Gojira, 1954)

He’s baa-ack,and bigger than ever, literally—there’s been much chatter about the Godzilla of 2014 packing on a few extra pounds, er, tons. And while this new oversized, made-in-America reboot continues to take a bite out of the box office, KoreAm thought it would be fun to take a look back at the iconic monster that made up such a huge part of many of our childhoods.

There were plenty of films to watch. Godzilla, or “Gojira” as he’s called in Japanese, has been back 30 times, not counting the original, 1954 black-and-white film that spawned the series. (The films made by Toho, the production company that created Godzilla, are divided into three categories: those released from 1954 to 1975 are part of the Showa series; from 1984 to 1995 are the Heisei series; and films in 1999 and 2004 compose the Millennium series.)

He was an allegory for the atomic age, Godzilla as mankind’s comeuppance for our nuclear ambitions. And upon first release, the reception was mostly negative because many Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with Godzilla representing the deep anxiety that many Japanese grappled with after those bombings and their fear that it might reoccur. However, as time went on, Godzilla gained more respect and popularity in Japan. And, soon, the U.S. and the rest of the world would also embrace the movie monster.

For the older Korean American folks, the earlier Godzilla movies marked the rare times we’d see Asian faces, played by Asian actors in largely sympathetic roles, on our TV screens— dubbed in English, of course. And when Godzilla turned into a “good guy” in later films, we actually had an Asian-born hero to root for, so to speak.

However, Godzilla, to most, is a menacing figure, the king of kaiju, the term for the monster genre. We picture skyscrapers crumbling and people fleeing, with cameras zoomed into terror-stricken faces while crying out his name in manic frenzy. He is also the ultimate survivor, with no weapon able to defeat him, not even the atomic bomb. He possesses an almost immortal quality. Perhaps, that’s why, 60 years later, audiences still get excited for this giant lizard.

Here’s a look back at 10 noteworthy Godzilla films.

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Gojira (1954)

In the one that started it all, a 164-foot-tall reptilian monster, mutated by nuclear radiation, is unleashed and ravages Japan with his massive body as well as his radioactive breath. A group of Japanese scientists and citizens band together to put an end to the monster before it destroys all of Japan and the rest of the world. According to IMDB, this is one of the first Japanese movies to be released in Korea, following the tension (caused by Japanese occupation of Korea) between the two countries.

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Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

This American remake incorporates most of the footage from the original Japanese film and is dubbed into English, while also inserting new footage of an American reporter, Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr), who witnesses the menace of Godzilla. Because this is the first film to introduce many audiences outside of Japan to the monster, Godzilla becomes internationally recognized as the “King of the Monsters.”

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King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

In the third film produced by Toho, the discovery of special berries on Faro Island brings together the giant ape and Godzilla, and a rumble of epic proportions follow. To tone down Godzilla’s darkness from the first two films, the producers at Toho decided to give Godzilla’s roar a much higher pitch. This remains his signature sound for the rest of the Shōwa series.

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Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

On Infant Island, Mothra is worshipped as a god. When a hurricane blows Mothra’s egg all the way to Japan, Mothra’s twin fairy priestesses appear and warn that the larva will cause great destruction in search of food. Meanwhile, Godzilla reawakens and begins another rampage. As the ferocious lizard approaches the egg, Mothra shows up and a long battle between the two gigantic creatures ensue. This is the final film in the Shōwa series that depicts Godzilla as a malevolent figure.

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Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

The world is becoming more polluted. A microscopic alien life form named Hedorah feeds on Earth’s pollution and grows into a sea monster, and eventually it begins to consume the muck on land, until he is confronted by Godzilla. This is the first film in the series since Mothra vs. Godzilla to have a strong message. And it’s the only one in which Godzilla demonstrates his ability to fly by firing his atomic breath towards the ground and propelling himself backwards.

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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

Ape-like aliens plan to take over Earth with a mechanized superweapon in the shape of Godzilla, and an archaeologist translates a prophecy that will reveal a legendary monster known as King Caesar, who comes to aid Godzilla during an epic battle against MechaGodzilla. According to IMDB, this film was produced to commemorate Godzilla’s 20th anniversary.

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Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Time-travelers come to warn the citizens of the downfall of Japan if Godzilla cannot be terminated. They also reveal Godzilla’s origin: a dinosaur who survived into the 20th century, only to be mutated by the atomic testing on his island home. These time travelers create a plan to remove the dinosaur from the timeline, but in doing so, they create a new monster—the three-headed King Ghidorah. This film was controversial when released because of its seemingly anti-American sentiment.

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Godzilla (1998)

The first American attempt to create an original Godzilla story features Matthew Broderick as a scientist trying to figure out a way to stop the monster from destroying New York. According to IMDB, director Roland Emmerich admitted that he was not a fan of the original Godzilla movies; he only agreed to the project after being promised that he could do whatever he wanted with what was planned to be a trilogy. That idea was shelved when his Jurassic Park rip-off flopped. Ken- pachiro Satsuma, the man in the Godzilla suit from 1985 to 1995, said of this film: “It’s not Godzilla. It doesn’t have the spirit.”

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Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

In the first film since Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) to portray the titular monster as truly evil, Admiral Tachibana is driven to find and destroy Godzilla because his parents died from one of its destructive rampages. His daughter, Yuri, is a reporter who learns of Godzilla’s true nature. The Three Sacred Guardian Beasts of Yamato—King Ghidorah, Mothra and Baragon—are awakened and fight Godzilla. Ultimately, it is Tachibana who kills Godzilla, but the creature’s heart still beats at the end. In the opening scene, Tachibana, while lecturing his troops, notes that “a monster similar to Godzilla ravaged New York,” which is a jab at Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film.

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Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

In the most recent Toho production, environmental pollution and warfare has resulted in kaiju appearing on Earth, and the Earth Defense Force is created to protect the planet from these enormous monsters. When it’s discovered that an alien race called the Xiliens are behind these kaiju attacks, Godzilla is released and defeats all of them, with Mothra’s aid. This is the first time that Mothra is portrayed as Godzilla’s ally, and Mothra is shown flying back to Infant Island during the end credits.

Still didn’t get enough Godzilla? Here’s a complete list of the other 21 Godzilla films, with an interesting tidbit about each one:

Godzilla Raids Again (1955): The Godzilla suit that actor Haruo Nakajima wore in this film is similar to the one worn in the original film, but was apparently slimmed down to better fit Nakajima’s physique.

Ghidorah, the Three-headed Monster (1964): In this film, Mothra’s twin fairy priestesses attempt to convince Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting and unite to fight Ghidorah, a three-headed monster.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965): Even though Godzilla still causes destruction, this film clearly depicts Godzilla as a hero for earthlings.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966): Red Bamboo squadrons and a giant condor come to attack Godzilla in this flick.

Son of Godzilla (1967): This is the first film to depict Godzilla as a parent, who teaches his offspring, Minilla, to become the new King of Monsters.

Destroy All Monsters (1968): All the giant monsters from the previous films fight in an epic battle.

All Monsters Attack (1969): This film carries an anti-bullying theme, as a lonely child named Ichiro Miki sleeps to have his dreams carry him away to Monster Island, where he meets both Godzilla and Minilla. Godzilla trains Minilla in self-defense and fighting techniques because the latter also confronts bullying issues thanks to a monstrous ogre known as Gabara.

Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972): This is the first film where we see Godzilla drawing blood from attacks.

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973): After Seatopia, the undersea civilization, is affected by nuclear testing, the Seatopians plan to unleash their god, Megalon, to destroy the world. Guess who swoops in to save the day?

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975): This film marks the last time that Godzilla is portrayed as a hero until Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004.

The Return of Godzilla (1984): The whole world goes on red alert and waits for Godzilla to start his rampage.

Godzilla 1985 (1985): This is the American production of the 1984 film. New scenes were shot in the United States and with actor Raymond Burr. The premise is almost the same, but many political overtones and nuclear themes were removed from the English version.

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989): A scientist, who has recently witnessed his daughter’s death, combines Godzilla’s genes with those of a rose and his deceased daughter. As a result, he creates a monster named Biollante. The shots of Godzilla in the ocean were filmed in a large pool.

Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992): When an archaeological research team visits Infant Island, they discover two tiny women, who reveal that earth will retaliate for all the harm that humans have done. Earth sends out Battra, an enormous moth, to destroy us. The women offer their help by sending Mothra to battle the creature. Godzilla appears, and a three-way battle ensues, threatening Japan.

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994): Space Godzilla is introduced in this film, and this new creature heads to earth to confront Godzilla, Junior Godzilla and a G-Force robot named Moguera.

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995): According to IMDB, this was intended to be the last Godzilla film. This allowed TriStar to make a trilogy, but because of the poor critical response to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film, TriStar abandoned the trilogy plan. This prompted Toho to revitalize Gojira sooner than anticipated with Godzilla 2000 (1999).

Godzilla 2000 (1999): This film ignores all the other Godzilla movies previously made. This film features a strong fiery breath from Godzilla that is stronger than previously depicted on film.

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000): Japan has two new weapons to defend themselves against Godzilla: the first is a high-tech ship, The Gyphon, and the second is a device that creates artificial black holes, the Dimension Tide.

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002): Scientists are gathered to build a bio-mechanical robot from the original Godzilla’s skeleton. The cyborg Mechagodzilla, named Kiryu, is finished and is used to fight Godzilla.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003): Mothra’s fairy twins warn the Japanese government of impending doom because the latter used the original bones of Godzilla when creating Mechagodzilla (Kiryu). Godzilla battles Mothra and Kiryu in this one, and something shocking happens deep in the ocean. Don’t forget to watch the post-credits scene!

Godzilla (2014): Directed by Gareth Edwards, as a co-production of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, this is the second Godzilla movie to be fully filmed by an American movie studio, according to Wikipedia. Though it is set in contemporary times, this film, starring Bryan Cranston and Greg Watanabe, is said to be done in a style faithful to the Toho series of Godzilla films.

A shorter version of this article was published in the June 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).