Yes you read the title right, Godzilla turns 60 today!
The King of Monsters had his first outing 60 years ago, 1954, and has been the star of 29 films since, one of which came out just this year! Godzilla is a pop culture icon, everyone knows the name. It’s embedded not only in Japan, but in the States and all over the world. If you were to ask a random person, “So what’s the longest running film series?” One might say Star Wars, and many would say 007. But they pale in comparison to G, which is the longest running film franchise of all time. Why has this kaiju (Japanese for giant monster!) lasted this long, what makes it so endearing? Come and follow me as we take a look at the 60 year history of what is one of the world’s greatest characters.
On November 3rd, 1954, TOHO Studios released the classic ‘Gojira.’ It was much more than the simple giant monster tales of its time however. Godzilla himself was a metaphor for the atomic bomb, and the film itself which was directed by Ishiro Honda (easily one of the greatest directors that ever lived) used the terrors of a post World War 2 Japan to create an intense atmosphere. It’s easily a classic and should be added to the National Film Registry. Godzilla was a menace, and he died in the end. The film was a “monster” hit in Japan, (think of how amazing The Avengers did here in the States) and what’s something a movie studio does when a film makes an astounding amount of money? Make a sequel! In this case, the next one was released just 5 months later!
Godzilla Raids Again is mainly monumental because it was the first movie to have two monsters fighting each other as the main attraction. Aside from that, the film itself is easily one of the worst of the franchise. It’s basically what you would define as a rushed sequel to capitalize on the success of the first movie. This Godzilla was a different creature than the one featured in the 1954 movie. He would go in to be in 13 movies and become the Showa Godzilla we all know & love. The creature he fought, Anguirus, would too go from brutal monster to someone the kids can root for. It wouldn’t be until for seven years before the next -and one of the most popular- installments came out.
King Kong vs. Godzilla is easily one of the most notable films of the series. I mean, it’s King Kong vs. Godzilla! The battle of the century! It’s easily one of the greatest crossovers out there. Sadly the American cut, while not bad, pales in comparison to the original Japanese version. Still, the battles remain the same, and they are truly spectacular. This was the first film to uniquely identify Japanese monster fights, which many other companies would emulate, such as Tsuburaya with Ultraman and Daiei with Gamera. Even if it’s just the American cut, King Kong vs. Godzilla is a blast.
It would be two years until Godzilla reappeared, when he was pit against another TOHO monster known as Mothra. Mothra vs. Godzilla is renowned by Godzilla fans as one of the best films in the series, and some say it’s the best. It definitely could be, it has everything you could want: Quality acting, great story, and intense monster action. In the very same year Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was released, which changed the game for the franchise forever. First off it introduced King Ghidorah, who would go on to appear in many more films and become Godzilla’s greatest adversary, earning the title “King of Terror.” But even more notable was Godzilla’s new leaf. Up until this point he had always been portrayed as an antagonist, destroying Tokyo and much of Japan. Near the end of the film Mothra tries to get him and Rodan (another TOHO creation) to team up and fight Ghidorah. While at first she couldn’t convince the two, eventually they decided to help and the three of them united for what was the greatest movie fight in history at the time. (After all, the Japanese title was ‘The Greatest Battle on Earth!’)
From 1964 to 1975 Godzilla was the protagonist, even working alongside the humans! It was in this era that the greatest films of the series were produced. We had the classic DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, whose climax still excites to this day, MONSTER ZERO, which is one of the finest science fiction films ever created, and quite a few more. The final film of this era, Terror of Mechagodzilla, ended the Showa days and Godzilla being a hero. The character wouldn’t stay dormant for long however, because nine years later he was brought back in what was one of the first reboots in film history.
The Heisei era made Godzilla an antagonist again. For many this was a good thing, and the series started off strong with two very good films. Sadly after that the movies turned average. The fun and whimsical fights of the early days were replaced with beam wars and most of the creatures were so heavy to the point of being immobile. The stories, while engaging in concept, were dull. The films just didn’t have that touch the Showa ones had. Still, it was in this era where one of the greatest and most emotional film of the series was released: Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. In it Godzilla was in a melting state, and the antagonist he fought was easily the most terrifying yet. (He could give Ghidorah a run for greatest G adversary.) The emotional part however, which many people have professed to shedding a tear to, was the actual death of the character. It was done brilliantly well, and while I don’t remember when I first saw it, I can say I was most likely one of those people. That was it for the King, until 1998…
Hollywood loves to remake Japanese properties, or license them for use. Sony TriStar licensed the character from TOHO to make their own movie. It was definitely an exciting time, and marketing was brilliant. It hid the design and made going to the theater very ominous. Sadly after all the hype the film was a flop. The character called Godzilla in it was a giant mutated iguana, and actually ran away from helicopters. If that wasn’t enough, he died because a bridge fell on him. It’s easy to see why fans were upset, TriStar had ruined the character. Not only that, but everything else about the film was mediocre too. The writing was terrible, and the characters were very un-engaging. Basically this ruined any chances for Godzilla to have a continued presence in the States with Hollywood.
Legend has it that TOHO, to show TriStar how to properly make a Godzilla film, got to to work right away to counterattack the Roland Emmerich-directed 98 monstrosity. Or it could have been just to capitalize on it all, but really all that matters is that the company released a brand new movie, another reboot, which started the ‘Millennium’ era the following year. GODZILLA 2000 is easily one of the most recognizable of the films. Interestingly, the American cut -which TriStar licensed for release in the states- is actually a more engaging watch than the Japanese version. The film itself is most known for introducing the most radical Godzilla look yet, and many consider it to be his best appearance to this day.
From then to 2004 TOHO released a film every year. What made the Millennium era different from other eras was that each film (with the exception of the Kiryu duology) was a standalone. The final film in this era, and the final Japanese Godzilla film to date, was Final Wars. As a basically modern Destroy All Monsters, much hype was held. It had the record for most monsters in a movie, clocking at 15! (A record which was broken by the Ultraman movie Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legend, which had 100 monsters!!) Sadly the film didn’t live up for a lot of fans and ended up being a flop. While definitely having quite a few negative things, there was no denying that it had one of the best portrayals of the title character yet. After a final roar and the end credits roll, Godzilla hasn’t been seen since from the company in the film landscape. But the character lived on in the form of video games, comics, and of course, a new American movie…
When Warner Bros. and Legendary Studios announced in 2010 that they had acquired the rights to make a new American adaption of the character, there were cheers of great hype, and of caution. Many feared it would be a retread of the 1998 disaster. While taking four years to finally see release, the film satisfied on many levels for the most part. While definitely lacking Godzilla scenes and overall monster action, what we got was a quality film and a fantastic rendition of the character. Despite marketing making him out to be some sort of horrific antagonist, he actually ended up being the protagonist, with a news bulletin at the end of the movie saying, “King of the Monsters…Savior of our city?” This was an unexpected factor, and was disappointing for many and exciting for others. Nonetheless, despite being mixed on different things, almost every fan can agree that the Gareth Edwards-directed feature was a solid comeback for the King of Monsters.
So here we are today! Godzilla has endeared 60 years of film outings and many different forms of media. He has made many appearance changes, but the character always remain the same. He has been a destroyer, a defender, a hero, and an evil entity; he has played each role exceptionally well. He will continue to be an icon in both Japan and the world. Even if the films stop, no one will forget him, because as Yuji Shinoda says at the end of GODZILLA 2000, “Godzilla is inside each one of us.”