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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

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He’s back, he’s big and bad, and he kicks some major butt in the newest iteration of Godzilla.

The Japanese pop-culture icon breathes fire into his sixth decade

The franchise around the giant reptilian monster was launched by film company Toho in 1954 with the black-and-white Japanese classic Gojira, followed by an Americanized version in 1956, starring Canadian actor Raymond Burr. After 27 Japanese sequels and the first exclusively American remake in 1998, the latest Godzilla, which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ken Watanabe, is an exciting, big-budget addition to what is considered one of the most fun film libraries ever made. Overall, you have a plethora of options to watch, from camp classics, to ones that stand up well, to others that are so cheesy — like Godzilla fighting a big lobster or paternally showing the way to Minilla, his “mini-me” son — that they’re ridiculously hilarious.

Gojira (1954)

Storyline: U.S. testing of nuclear weapons creates a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.

What to look for: The black-and-white cinematography gives it gravitas and Gojira is one bad, ugly monster in size and destructive powers.

Bottom line: The original film set Japanese box-office records and it still rocks. Without Gojira, there would be no sequels, remakes, or rip-offs. In the 2014 film, Dr. Serizawa refers to the monster as Gojira.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Storyline: A big pharma company ensnares King Kong and brings him to Japan, where he escapes from captivity to battle Godzilla.

What to look for: The “Thor vs. Loki” of the daikaiju (giant monster) world. Godzilla is still at his destructive, villainous best while Kong plays the heroic role.

Bottom line: The battle of the century: Let’s get ready to rumble!

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Storyline: While Godzilla strikes Japan yet again, a greedy developer wants to turn a giant moth egg into a tourist attraction.

What to look for: This was the flick that made lifelong fans of many people, with a seemingly indestructible Godzilla duking it out with a game Mothra as our protector. When Mothra fails, her two giant larvae chase Godzilla back into the sea. Phew!

Bottom line: This was the first time Toho added monsters from its other productions. In 1992’s Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, Toho brought back its second-most attractive daikaiju creation. It was the second-highest-grossing film in 1993 in Japan, behind Jurassic Park.

...this one may be the cheesiest Godzilla movie ever!

Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

Storyline: A bullied schoolboy fantasizes about travelling to Monster Island, where he befriends Godzilla’s son — yeah, the mini-me monster — who’s having bully problems of his own.

What to look for: Cheaply using fight footage from other movies, this is often ranked as the lamest movie in the franchise — but that’s the point.

Bottom line: Mindless, silly fun. Leave all intelligence at the door, because this one may be the cheesiest Godzilla movie ever!

Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971)

Storyline: Hedorah, a smog monster spawned by pollution, is hell-bent on destroying Japan.

What to look for: With a sort of political message, Godzilla segues from destructive monster to a quasi Captain Planet antihero who saves Earth from a toxic blob.

Bottom line: If you’re into getting slimed, this yucky ooze-fest will whet your whistle.

Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

Storyline: Giant insectoid aliens from a dying planet scheme to colonize Earth, while Godzilla faces off against two deadly foes.

What to look for: It features ginormous Gigan, the daikaiju with scythe arms, and the return of Godzilla’s greatest foe, King Ghidorah — the three-headed golden dragon. Includes such “classic” soundtrack songs as “Go! Go! Godzilla” and “Defeat Gigan!”

Bottom line: The producers returned the franchise to the more traditional path of having beloved and badass monsters challenge Godzilla, along with an alien-invasion plot. 

Godzilla (1998)

Storyline: Our now radioactively mutated lizard runs rampant in New York.

What to look for: An SFX monster that looks like an enlarged iguana. It doesn’t look like Godzilla, doesn’t spew his atomic breath, and doesn’t feel threatening.

Bottom line: Roland Emmerich’s re-imagined film was a passable hit but was reviled by both critics and fans, winning multiple Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Remake or Sequel.

“Godzilla is inside each one of us.”

Godzilla (2014)

Storyline: The monster is back as a prehistoric alpha predator, as he faces off against two badass MUTO beasts that, reinforced by our own scientific arrogance, threaten Earth’s existence.

What to look for: Shot primarily in British Columbia, which monsters like Sasquatch are reported to frequent, Godzilla is awesomely monstrous in this take. Luckily for humanity, he turns out to be a protagonist whom the media proclaim as, “King of the Monsters: Saviour of our City!”

Bottom line: Sixty years after his birth, Godzilla is back to his towering, lumbering, radioactive-breath-spewing best. As for why this fearsome monster resonates with us, the last word goes to Professor Shinoda in Godzilla 2000: “Godzilla is inside each one of us.”

Ashley Jude Collie is a Canadian entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.