Ahead of the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, I sat down to rank all of the live action Godzilla films. Note that this does not include the recent animated films, but the entire live action Japanese series, and the 3 American versions.
32 – All Monsters Attack (1969)
There are many issues with All Monsters Attack that make it an easy choice for the bottom of the list. First, it is easily the movie geared most towards kids. Secondly, it’s really nothing more than an extended montage of footage from previous films. And third, what little original story there is here is just not that interesting. The series had strayed way too far away from it’s roots to even be enjoyed anymore.
31 – Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Many of the early Godzilla movies could be accused of using Godzilla as an after thought. I believe none are more guilty of that than Godzilla vs Megalon. The effects, particularly the Jet Jaguar suit in the same shots as Megalon and Godzilla strips all of the monster sized scale from the action scenes. There is that famous flying dropkick though, which is worth sitting through everything else for.
30 – Son of Godzilla (1967)
This is the moment where the Godzilla series officially becomes geared towards the 10 year old and under crowd. The design of Minilla may be so bad that it’s good though. Son of Godzilla makes it a few notches higher on this list solely because there is some entertainment in all the bad that exists in this movie.
29 – Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
One of the strangest plots in Godzilla history, and some obvious budget issues are only the beginning of issues with Godzilla vs. Gigan. The bizarre shifting tone of this movie feels like Toho was trying to figure out how to move away from the goofy kid focus in earlier films into goofy teen and young adult focus, but the humor and action often comes across as juvenile and tasteless. The plus side is Gigan is a spectacular concept for a monster, and even with obvious budget cuts, the effects are enough to hold your interest.
28 – Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
The title Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, and the design of Ebirah itself would lead you to believe this would be a return to the scares of early Godzilla films. Unfortunately it may go down as the first Godzilla film that comes across as unintentionally funny. The island adventure setting is a nice change in pace, and the underwater fight is a highlight, but knowing the history that this was meant to be a Toho produced King Kong film helps to understand why everything in this movie feels so out of place for the series.
27 – Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Over the years Godzilla movies have featured some weird, weird stuff, but Godzilla vs Hedorah (or Godzilla vs The Smog Monster) probably has enough weirdness to equal every other movie in the series combined. Bizarre animated sequences, a villain that looks like a pile of diarrhea with eye balls, and Godzilla’s ability to fly could be viewed as conclusive fact that the Director and entire crew were high on acid during pre production, filming and post production. Even a fully sober viewer may question whether they were slipped something before the opening credits roll. This gains a higher spot than others on the list solely because you will NEVER forget what you saw.
26 – Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
Nobody can accuse the film makers of not doing something original in Godzilla vs Megaguirus. The second entry of the Millennium era is arguably the most science fiction entry since Invasion of the Astro Monster. Silly over the top Godzilla certainly has it’s place, but the main issue here is the level of effects were obviously too ambitious for the time. If you get past the effects and can accept the over the top plot it is entertaining enough to get by.
25 – Godzilla (2014)
The 2014 American Godzilla succeeds in creating a visual mood, and some of the action scenes are filmed in a unique way, but the human characters are so boring that the actors themselves seem too bored to even respond to the action around them. Having sat through bad dubbing and wooden delivery for long enough, it’s shocking to say that Aaron Taylor Johnson could have benefited from some bad dubbing. Yes Cranstomn is solid, but he’s gone way before Godzilla is even introduced. Gareth Edwards seemed far too interested in building the suspense for Godzilla’s first appearance that he underestimated at what point suspense leads to not caring anymore. When we finally do get Godzilla it’s too dark, murky, and dull to even enjoy. Edwards put a lot of effort into making this an authentic Godzilla experience, complete with Godzilla himself being an after thought like in so many of the classic films. There is the positive of Godzilla’s final kill being one of the best in the series.
24 – Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
The Heisei era is the best era of Godzilla, but this is definitely the weakest entry of that period. The 90s reinvention of Ghidorah felt fresh compared to Godzilla vs Mothra II, which is almost too much of a rehash down to the Mothra fairy sisters. Battra is an interesting new addition, and much needed since Mothra had evolved into more of a hero role. This update offered little more that was fresh other than an increased level of violence compared to the original.
23 – Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
This was the end of the original 15 Godzilla films, and I feel that’s how it has to be viewed to fully appreciate it. Terror of Mechagodzilla was one of the first Godzilla movies I ever saw, and at the time I thought it was painfully stupid. After watching the series through in order it’s easier to walk away slightly satisfied as there are several moments where the movie is presented as if it were the epic conclusion of a long running series.
22 – Godzilla (1998)
There are 3 explanations behind the criticism the 1998 Godzilla received over the years. 1) it was so heavily hyped that no movie could live up to the expectations. 2) It’s more of a stand alone monster movie and not so much a Godzilla movie 3) everyone has said it’s bad for so long that nobody truly has their own opinion anymore. Personally I see issues with the movie, and it’s not truly a Godzilla movie, but it’s way more entertaining than the 2014 remake. For the most part it’s mindless fun, and the general audience seemed to miss that Godzilla films are supposed to be mindless fun. Honestly, it’s not that bad.
21 – Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Yes, Godzilla Raids Again is clearly a rushed sequel to the original. Yes, it feels more low budget than the original. Yes, the darkness in tone has already started to get lost. What works about this movie is that it seems to stand alone as the one Godzilla sequel that still felt slightly similar to the original. More importantly, the series started to move forward with Godzilla fighting another monster for the first time, and one of the best in Anguirus. Far from a great Godzilla movie, it’s enjoyable for being a one of a kind sequel as the series would take a break for 7 years before evolving into what it would become.
20 – Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
This movie is typically one of the more popular of the Millennium era, and while there are elements to enjoy, overall I feel like Tokyo S.O.S. is the moment this series starts to feel a little tired. The human characters don’t really work, not that they’re ever very important, but in this movie in particular they seem to fall flat. The positives are the efforts to tie this together with the previous film, and the next one to follow. There was a continuity worked into the franchise that allowed all of the movies of this time period to be enjoyed as a whole as not just on an individual basis, something that was done years before Marvel was even conceived as a shared universe.
19 – Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
While the direction is more generic and chaotic than the 2014 American predecessor, King of the Monsters feels more like a traditional Godzilla movie, even if it is run of the mill. Better human characters, more of a plot, a better arsenal of villains and monster allies, and a stronger presence of Godzilla himself. This movie to me proves it’s not about how much screen time Godzilla has, but how he’s used in the story. The appearances of Ghidorah, Mothra, and particularly Rodan are all worth the wait.
18 – Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)
The only Godzilla movie that can compete with Hedorah in terms of being completely nuts and over the top. Invasion of the Astro-Monster may be viewed as too out of this world for even a Godzilla movie (literally as it actually takes place on another planet) it’s a pure guilty pleasure. Ghidorah may be the only other monster aside from Mothra that always delivers. If you struggle to accept the most outlandish aspects of a Godzilla movie, this definitely isn’t for you, but if you enjoy Godzilla enough to accept astronauts, aliens and battles on another world, there is a ton of enjoyment to be had.
17 – Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is the post 70s Godzilla movie that feels the most familiar to the 60s and 70s films. If the same script had been made with the same direction in 1976, it would feel right at home next to something like Terror of Mechagodzilla. That’s not a knock against it either. Godzilla’s son comes back, still looking goofy and childlike, the human built robot looks like an updated version of Jet Jaguar, and the plot involving a mutated space version of Godzilla should not work in 1994, but strangely they do. SpaceGodzilla is a spectacular creature design, and the battle scenes are some of the better ones produced in the 90s.
16 – Godzilla 2000 (1999)
The beginning of the 3rd era of Godzilla films doesn’t really feel that different from the ones that preceded it in the 90s before the series went on hold. The worst that can be said about Godzilla 2000 is that it’s a solid albeit generic Godzilla movie, much like 2019 King of the Monsters. What a few years advancement in technology delivers though is a great looking update top the Godzilla suit, and some filming techniques in the action scenes that elevate it beyond B-Grade monster movie. That and some genuine scares that come from the villain monster in the final scenes.
15 – Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
There was a 5 year break between the Return of Godzilla and the first sequel of the this era. Godzilla vs Biollante definitely doesn’t feel like a carefully developed movie, but it does hold up better than a lot of the rushed Godzilla sequels. This is a much better take on the environmental theme that failed so miserably with Hedorah in the 70s. Biollante is one of the better monster villains, with a unique design and unique powers that make this movie stand apart more than many of the other films of the time period featuring recycling villains.
14 – Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
On the surface Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla shouldn’t work. Putting Godzilla against a giant robot version of himself could have been a true jump-the-shark moment (even though the series had many of those up until this point) but in a weird way, it ends up being the gimmick that saves the franchise for a few more years. The way Mechagodzilla subtly goes from being a real Godzilla to a maybe imposter to a giant robot Godzilla works effectively enough. Introducing some mythological elements into the story also could failed, but again it’s handled subtly enough that the movie avoids becoming too campy or cheesy. The fight scenes with Mechgodzilla are dark and increase the carnage just enough to hold this movie above so many of the more forgettable ones of the late 60s/ early 70s.
13 – The Return of Godzilla (1984)
After a 9 year absence, The Return of Godzilla was the first official reboot of the series, ignoring all previous films with the exception of the original. It’s the only Godzilla movie that feels like a true sequel to the original, in both spirit and tone. One knock against it is that it’s a very one note movie, essentially just Godzilla destroying cities, but the production values are strong and the destruction scenes are some of the best the series ever had. One positive update is cold war setting which sets it apart from the 1954 original. Just to clarify, this ranking position is for the original Japanese version, and not the American version Godzilla 1985 that was recut and added Raymond Burr’s character from the American original into the plot.
12 – Destroy All Monsters (1968)
At the point Destroy All Monsters was made, it was basically intended to be the final Godzilla movie, so all efforts were made to make it the biggest movie in the series. This is essentially the Avengers: Endgame of Kaiju films. The near future setting is different, the alien control of monsters is not, but who cares about the story. The only real reason to watch this many monsters on screen at the same time, and as what could have been a finale, it is an epic one.
11 – Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
The title is confusing as this is not a proper sequel to the original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (that would have been Terror of Mechagodzilla). This is just a reboot of Mechagodzilla for a new era. While the Mechagodzilla suit looks a little too clean, the arsenal has been updated enough to make the fight and destruction scenes much more satisfying. On top of that the direction of the action scenes adds some real drama. Godzilla’s son even returns, which really shouldn’t work, but he’s not played as a joke, and the way he’s worked into the plot actually keeps you invested in the human stories for a change.
10 – King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Considering how long running the Godzilla series has been, and how quickly the movies were pushed out in the 60s and 70s, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time very early on where this was not a franchise. The fact is There was Gojira in 54 and Godzilla Raids Again in 55, then nothing for 7 years. The history behind how King Kong vs. Godzilla got made is arguably more interesting than the movie itself, but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable start to finish. Unlike the first 2 movies in the series, this one was almost a complete satire, which strangely works because the humor is bizarre and at times amusing. Kong is the real star here and Godzilla more of an after thought, but the final fight scene really does deliver. You must have an appreciation for the dated and cheesy effects, particularly the bad Kong mask, but there are enough unique moments in the fight that you feel like you’re seeing more than just typical boulder throwing and fire breathing, although there is plenty of that as well.
9 – Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
It’s harder than expected to articulate what works so well in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, as it’s essentially the same story that has been told 3 times already. For one thing we get some of the best human characters of any movie in this series, particularly Akane who is the lead. There’s a perfect balance between quirkiness and over the top drama. There was thought put into the story this time, and even attempts to set up future films without leaving this one feeling like a glorified prologue. Mechagodzilla is the one villain that never should have worked, and continually impresses. The new updates to the arsenal are enhanced by some decent effects for the time.
8 – Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Much like Destroy All Monsters decades earlier, this was presented as the ultimate climax of the Godzilla series, with the majority of classic monsters making appearances. Some of the movie looks dated visually, and I’m not referring to effects, but to the early 2000s Matrix style that was so over done, but the monster battles are exactly what they should be and more. This movie is absolutely insane in the best way possible, and the perfect greatest hits for the 50th anniversary of the character.
7 – Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)
The Millenium series is guilty of over using the classic villains and not including enough new monsters, but regardless of Giant Monsters All Out Attack being the ultimate offender, it actually turns out to be the best of the Millennium movies. A minor complaint is that the suits look more rubber and artificial than they had in recent films, but the greatest strength is the fights and scenes of destruction. Without a doubt these are the best city destruction scenes that were ever filmed for the Godzilla series. We see the destruction right up close, and not just your standard wide shots of buildings being destroyed. The mythology plots always work when they’re handled subtly as they are here. There’s a fine balance with human characters ranging from civilians to military. Godzilla himself is always at his best when he’s not a 100% hero, and in Giant Monsters All Out Attack he’s both a real threat and the hero of the monster battle.
6 – Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (1964)
Even though the previous two films in the series could be credited with jumop starting Godzilla as a franchise, Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster is the one that perfected the formula that would last for decades. Like the recent American King of the Monsters, this classic entry is special for featuring the 4 main Toho monsters of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and the introduction of Ghidorah. Yes, the effects are primitive, but I would argue that the series would never top the basic design of Ghidorah with any future monsters. This is easily the most rushed production Toho ever had, coming less than a year after the previous movie, but they managed to top themselves with the biggest battle scenes yet. I would argue these are maybe the biggest battle scenes we would get for years to come. The only sign that this was a rushed production is in the story itself, which hardly matters when there are action scenes as good as this.
5 – Shin Godzilla (2016)
The most recent reboot of the series in Japan turned out to be one of the all time best. While every previous reboot existed as a sequel to the 1954 original, for the first time we get a full reboot, which takes this movie in some new and exciting directions. For one we get a Godzilla that morphs physically throughout the course of the movie. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the theme of this movie as a subtle satire of politics and bureaucracy. From Godzilla’s first appearance until the end we’re treated to plenty of scenes of committees endlessly debating what to call the monster, who should study it, which scientists are qualified to recommend solutions to the problem, all the while Godzilla continues to destroy Japan as the higher ups are bogged down by endless debate and red tape. That theme could have been handled as a joke, but it ends up playing equally well as satire and drama. The decision to make Godzilla fully CG for the first time in Japan may be a controversial decision, but the finished look is fantastic, and still retains enough of the rubber suit charm to fit in with the classic movies. It’s fair to say that the only disappointment with Shin Godzilla is that 5 years later we have yet to have a live action follow up.
4 – Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)
Sometimes the most outlandish plots don’t work, and sometimes they do. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is the best example of outlandish plots actually working. The film makers basically turn Godzilla into Doctor Who or Back to the Future, with time travel galore. They even use time travel to rewrite the origin of Godzilla and Ghidorah, but again it really does work in this movie. The creature design of the pre mutated Godzilla and Ghidorah’s looks great, and the final look of the Ghidorah/Mechaghidorah hybrid is even better. While the time travel doesn’t always add up logically, the insanity it introduces to the plot is more than welcome.
3 – Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
After King Kong vs. Godzilla introduced the idea of monster battles and humor into the franchise, Mothra vs. Godzilla took it to the next level, and then the level after that. This is also where fantasy elements were introduced into the series. Yes, there are twin fairies, and yes they are amazing as bizarre as that may sound. The series was still new enough that the characters in this world could react with awe to what they’re witnessing, which is part of the appeal of the early movies. There’s a very good reason why this has always been considered one of the best Godzilla movies. It’s genuinely entertaining even when monsters are not on screen. I had seen the odd Godzilla movie before, but I remember clearly seeing Mothra vs. Godzilla for the first time, getting past the fairies, getting past the cheesy effects, and genuinely being glued to the screen during the final fight with Godzilla and the Mothras.
2- Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
If I ever get the urge to watch a Godzilla movie, I almost always go straight to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. This era of Godzilla was coming to an end, and it’s clear from early in the movie that the plan was to wrap things up. Destoroyah is not is most unique design for an original villain, but it is a scary one, as are the smaller creatures from earlier in the movie. The effects may be dated, but there is a genuinely scary look to them. The greatest strength of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is that it has thrills like no other Godzilla movie. Unlike Destroy All Monsters and Final Wars, this end was much smaller in scale in terms of characters, with focus only on Godzilla and Destoroyah, but the stakes of the story and presentation of the battles actually feels much bigger than in the other two “final” movies.
1 – Gojira (1954)
I wanted so badly to not make the obvious choice of putting the original Godzilla at the top of the list, but there is really no way not to. If it wasn’t for the Godzilla character, there would be almost no similarity to the later movies in the series. The main reason being that this is not a cheesy movie, and the scenes of destruction are treated very seriously. This could be because the movie was made by Japanese film makers less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so they were drawing parallels based on experiences that were still fresh in their own minds. A lot of the focus is on the recovery from Godzilla attacks, with plenty of scenes of injured people, something rarely seen in every other Godzilla movie. The human characters are also compelling. The debate over use of the Oxygen Destroyer weapon also feels even heavier when you consider the time period this was made in after World War II. The movie being in black and white definitely hides the cheap effects and suit better than in future colour films. The darkness and lack of colour add to the destruction scenes. While there are no monster villains for Godzilla to fight, the final sequence with Serizawa and the Oxygen Destroyer honestly will never be topped in the series, no matter how long it runs for. While the American edit did delete some scenes and add Raymond Burr into the story to cater for the American audiences, that version King of the Monsters doesn’t lose nearly as many points as Godzilla 1985 would when it butchered The Return of Godzilla. Honestly if this list was ranking the American King of the Monsters cut it might still be #1. But this being the original Japanese Gojira it was no contest.