By Nicholas Barham
Godzilla is one of my favourite foreign film franchises. The films are essentially giant monster mash-ups with lots of action, interesting characters, and amazing destruction set-pieces. Each film pits at least two giant monsters (known as “kaiju” in Japan) against each other; with the fate of cities, and sometimes the world, hanging in the balance. There are a total of 32 Japanese films; and three great American adaptions in the form of Godzilla (2014), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
On a side note, most Godzilla fans (myself included) absolutely loathe the 1998 American adaption and its ridiculous characterisation of Godzilla as a mutated iguana (I kid you not!).
With a lot of movies and adaptions out there, I thought I would search through the long history of the Godzilla franchise and pick just ten kaiju which stand out as all-time greats.
You can’t have a list of the best Godzilla kaiju without including the giant lizard himself. The 1954 film introduced Godzilla as a prehistoric creature that has been mutated by hydrogen bomb tests, and while the origin story has been altered throughout his history on the big screen, the basics of his origin have remained essentially the same. He is a being of immense power, capable of super strength and the ability to absorb radiation and shoot it out of his mouth in a so-called “atomic breath”.
As you can see, Godzilla’s size has shifted over the various eras. Standing as short as 50 metres tall, to the absolutely gigantic height of 150 metres within the American MonsterVerse saga.
But it is not simply his physical makeup that has changed over the years, as his characterization and allegiances have also constantly shifted through the decades. He sometimes appears as a malevolent and destructive creature, other times he appears as Earth’s last line of defence against a cataclysmic foe. Occasionally he is seen as a mere force of nature.
Originally conceived as a metaphor for the atomic bomb and its destructive potential, Godzilla has become a defining pop-culture icon and the success of the character has been cited as a main cause for the kaiju craze that would spread far beyond Japan’s borders all the way to Hollywood.
This kaiju may just seem like Godzilla’s mechanical twin, but he is so much more. First appearing in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) as a robotic kaiju created by invading aliens for the express purpose of world domination. Later on, in the Heisei era, his origin story was changed and he became a creation of humans.
During the Millennium era, the character reached its full potential as Kiryu, a Mechagodzilla created using the skeleton of the original 1954 Godzilla as a frame.
Little did they know, the consciousness of the original Godzilla still lived in the remains, which later caused the ghost in the machine to possess the robot and run amok.
Mechagodzilla was also recreated for the MonsterVerse saga, making an appearance in Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), where he faces off against both Godzilla and King Kong.
A mainstay of the Godzilla series, Mechagodzilla is a fan favourite, and for good reason too. Mechagodzilla has an array of interesting weapons and gadgets to cause mayhem and carnage with, so any movie featuring him is bound to be brimming with exciting action and destruction set-pieces. Mechagodzilla is also quite appropriate from a thematic standpoint as his character plays into many interesting philosophical and ethical concepts: mankind playing God, the reckless creation of destructive technologies, etc.
I will be honest though, Mechagodzilla is a giant fricken’ robot which is awesome in itself, and when you think about it there is nothing more Japanese than a giant fricken’ robot!
Probably the most “mystical” kaiju on this list. Mothra is a benevolent kaiju who is frequently called upon to defend Japan, and humanity at large, against other kaiju-related threats. Mothra originates from Infant Island; a small land mass populated by miniature fairy-like people and two priestesses known as the “shobijin”, who worship Mothra as a goddess.
Like its smaller real-life counterpart, Mothra has two forms: a larval form, and its final form. In her larval form, she can only really bite and shoot silk. It’s when she reaches her final form after hatching that this kaiju reaches her full potential. Telepathy, poison-powder, antennae lasers, poison darts, and she can even shoot lightning. The point is, that although this kaiju may seem weak and bug-like, she can hold her own in a fight.
Mothra also makes an appearance in the MonsterVerse, although the shobijin do not appear alongside her. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Mothra fights King Ghidorah alongside Godzilla. This version of Mothra is quite well done with CGI effects, and the strange bioluminescence really adds to the idea of a mystical earth protector. The iconic Mothra soundtrack also gets a full orchestra re-make which simply enhances the experience.
Being one of the most common appearing kaiju (second only to Godzilla himself), Mothra is always dependable to swoop in and save the day. With an in-depth backstory, brilliant design, and impressive abilities, Mothra is an amazing addition to the Godzilla franchise.
4: King Ghidorah
First appearing in the 1964 film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster; King Ghidorah has been a mainstay villain of the franchise throughout the various iterations of Godzilla.
In the Shōwa era, King Ghidorah originates from space and is almost always under the control of some alien species intent on causing destruction.
The Heisei era has its own interesting and convoluted mythos surrounding King Ghidorah. One of my favourite Heisei era outings, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) involves time-travellers; genetically-engineered creatures; and pits not only King Ghidorah against Godzilla, but the finale involves a resurrection of King Ghidorah as Mecha-King Ghidorah!
If King Ghidorah sounds like a great kaiju to you then I highly recommend you check this film out.
In 2019 MonsterVerse got its own version of King Ghidorah. In this version, King Ghidorah is a frozen super-species, a survivor of a mass extinction of titans that is unearthed by a group of eco-terrorists.
As a giant hydra-like kaiju King Ghidorah has lots of interesting and destructive abilities. He can fly, obviously, he can shoot gravity beams out of his mouths, he has super strength, and can create extreme wind, and much more. He is one of Godzilla’s most formidable opponents.
Rodan was a prominent kaiju during the Shōwa era of the franchise and a dependable ally to Godzilla, apart from a brief conflict with him in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). During the Heisei and Millennium era, he kind of dropped off the map, appearing in only one movie in each of these eras.
First appearing in his own standalone film titled Rodan (1956), Rodan is an irradiated Pteranodon. The folly of man is once again to blame, as nuclear radiation contaminated Rodan’s resting place. Awakened and mutated, Rodan initially arrived to wreak havoc until he later put aside his hatred of man and allied himself with Godzilla.
Being a flying dinosaur, many of Rodan’s abilities derive from his massive wings. Capable of supersonic flight he leaves large shockwaves in the wake of his flight path. His strong beak is capable of devastating melee attacks, and during his appearance as Fire Rodan in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) he can even shoot a uranium heat beam from his mouth.
Rodan’s origins are similar in the MonsterVerse movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). He is again awoken from a volcano, only this time he is a member of an extinct titan species and has no need for radiation to awaken his abilities. The movie does an amazing job of showcasing his flight-based abilities as he levels city blocks by the mere act of low-altitude flight. We also see him engage in a brutal dogfight against a pack of jet-fighters, which are easily dispatched.
The weapon known as the oxygen destroyer, which destroyed the original Godzilla in 1954, unearthed and mutated an ancient colony of micro-organisms which started to evolve unnaturally. In 1995 a science experiment gone wrong exposed these organisms to micro-oxygen which in turn caused them to grow rapidly. This is the origin story of one of Godzilla’s most powerful enemies’, Destoroyah, who provided the ultimate final foe for the Heisei era Godzilla. Destoroyah’s unique origin brings the Heisei era full circle, tying it back to the original Godzilla film.
Destoroyah’s appearance looks almost demonic, and the fact that Destoroyah has a total of three forms makes it even more of an epic foe and a fitting kaiju to end the Heisei series. In its original form, Destoroyah is seen as a pack of smaller monsters that run amok causing a trail of destruction and death. In its final two forms, Destoroyah merges itself together into one entity, each form bigger and more terrifying than the last.
After the events of The Return of Godzilla (1984), Godzilla’s cells were harvested and used in genetic research. One doctor in particular, driven by grief and a twisted sense of scientific progress, merged a Godzilla cell with that of a rose and his dead daughter. The result was the creation of a kaiju unique to the Heisei era, Biollante, which is the primary antagonist of 1989s Godzilla vs. Biollante.
Biollante’s appearance is unique and plant-like. It has two forms; beginning first as a giant rosebud, it later develops tendrils and vines with terrifying mouths. When it reaches its second form it develops a large primary crocodile-like mouth.
Unlike a regular plant, Biollante is not immobile, as in her final form she can cover ground rather quickly! Her tendrils and vines can easily tie up Godzilla, and her radioactive sap comes in handy when fighting Godzilla. Despite being a mutated plant Biollante cuts quite the imposing figure, her final form appearing even larger than Godzilla, who at the time stood at around 80 metres. A unique kaiju with a terrifying final form reminiscent of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, Biollante is a unique addition to the Godzilla franchise.
8: King Kong
The only character on this list that does not originate from Japan, King Kong originally appeared in the American movie King Kong (1933). King Kong is a giant simian that originates from Skull Island where he is worshipped by the human inhabitants. In King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) King Kong makes his debut in the Godzilla franchise as he faces off against his reptilian counterpart.
King Kong makes his way into the MonsterVerse series in 2017s Kong: Skull Island. Here his origins are more fleshed out and tied into a wider universe of “titans”. Kong is a survivor of a prehistoric species of giant apes that once lived in the Hollow Earth. Emerging onto Skull Island the apes were at constant war with Skullcrawlers; a reptilian titan species that dominated the land. After hundreds of years of conflict, Kong emerged as the sole survivor of his race. After defeating the Skull Devil in Kong: Skull Island, Kong would later fight against both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla in Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
As a giant ape he has a massive amount of strength to draw upon in his fight against Godzilla, not to mention a mean set of sharp teeth. He also has great stamina, durability, and even a keen sense of intelligence which he shows in his ability to utilise weapons like his axe. King Kong is a worthy addition to the Godzilla franchise.
Gigan is a cybernetic kaiju that arrives from deep space, controlled by a villainous alien species intent on wiping out humankind. He looks kind of like a giant chicken with devastating sharp metal limbs, wings and a tail. Above his birdlike mouth is a red neon eye, and running down his stomach is a brutal circular saw that is capable of slashing through Godzilla’s tough armour.
His design looks awesome, but I do have one gripe in that although it looks like he can shoot laser beams from his eye. It is not until his appearance in Godzilla Final Wars (2004) that he does so. This seems like a strange oversight to me. But nevertheless, he is one of the more unique minor kaiju, I wish he showed up more often.
A kaiju exclusive to the Millennium era, Megaguirus is the result of an experiment gone wrong. In Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) a weapon was created with the hope of destroying Godzilla once and for all: The Dimension Tide, which could create miniature black holes. On first testing the weapon an interdimensional tear was unwittingly created, out of which emerged a new threat.
Megaguirus is a giant prehistoric dragonfly. Upon emerging into our world, she creates a colony of thousands of smaller creatures, called Meganulons. They feed off Godzilla and transferred the resulting energy to their queen, Megaguirus.
The energy allowed Megaguirus to grow, and upon emerging from her cocoon she immediately set her sights upon Godzilla. She is capable of fast flight, and her wings can also generate high frequencies that can destroy anything in its wake. Her imposing claws are well utilised against Godzilla, and she can easily grab and lift Godzilla off the ground. Her stinger is capable of not only puncturing Godzilla’s tough amour but can also drain his energy and project it back to him in a massive energy wave.
Megaguirus is a unique addition to the Godzilla franchise, with a design that looks like a twisted evil version of Mothra, and awesome abilities to go along with it.