Since first appearing on the silver screen in 1954, the atomic-breathing, city-destroying, monster-battling phenomena of Godzilla has captured the hearts of generations of movie-goers.
The longest-running franchise ever produced, Godzilla and many other Godzilla monsters, appeared in no less than 35 films, with another American film set to be released this year.
While a worldwide phenomenon and an extremely successful franchise, not all Godzilla movies can be said to be masterpieces. Some, in fact, is downright laughable. But no matter the movie, you’ll always find a good deal of destruction, monster battles, atomic breath, and that classic Godzilla roar.
Whether you’re watching for cultural and historical significance, the epic battles, or just for a good laugh, there’s a Godzilla movie, or movies, out there you’re sure to enjoy.
Here are the 5 best and worst Godzilla movies so far.
5 Best Godzilla Movies
First, let’s start by talking about the 5 best Godzilla movies. While it was tough to narrow it down to just 5, these movies were picked for their cultural significance, storytelling, significance to the franchise, and their monster battles. All of our top 5 are Japanese films produced by Toho (sorry American films).
1. Godzilla (1954)
Of course, the best Godzilla movie is the one that started it all, the original Gojira.
The original Godzilla was significant for many reasons. Not only was it the first in the franchise, but it inspired the kaiju (or giant monster) genre and pioneered a form of special effects called suitmation. In fact, the older Godzilla movies are known for the suitmation style in which a stunt person in a suit interacts with miniature sets.
But beyond the special effects and birth of the monster genre, Godzilla is a significant cultural film for Japan. Created less than a decade after World War II, Godzilla served as a metaphor for nuclear weapons and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka even stated that “The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Humankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on humanity.”
Thus, Godzilla told the story of the nuclear bomb attacks and post-war Japan. Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo was filmed to mirror the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The pacific atomic bomb testing that awoke Godzilla did not subtly blame the United States for Japan’s struggles.
Although the themes are dark, some have suggested that Godzilla also served as a cultural coping method that helped Japan's people move on from the nuclear attacks.
So you see, Godzilla isn’t just a man in a suit destroying miniature buildings, but a significant cultural and historical figure for Japan's people. The original Godzilla is an extremely well-done film that means so much more than it seems on the surface, and therefore it is our number one Godzilla movie.
2. Shin Godzilla (2016)
Following the original, most Godzilla movies became more about thinking up increasingly fantastic and unusual monsters to battle Godzilla than masterful filmmaking. Shin Godzilla, produced by Toho in 2016, goes back to the franchise roots and takes spot number two on our list of best Godzilla movies for this reason.
Like the 1954 Godzilla, Shin Godzilla is a metaphor for another disastrous event in Japan’s history. This time, Godzilla was inspired by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that resulted from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Like the original, many of the scenes resemble the tsunami and fallout from the nuclear disaster. In fact, it has been said that many of the scenes look like they could have come directly from television footage of the disasters.
However, Shin Godzilla takes things a step further by using the film as a critique of the Japanese government seen as old, bureaucratic, and unable to act decisively in the face of disaster.
Aside from the metaphorical significance, Shin Godzilla is also notable for putting the scariest, largest, and most imposing Godzilla on screen. This was also the first time that a Japanese Godzilla film relied on computer-generated effects rather than suitmation. The name “Shin” was chosen due to the variety of meanings for the term, including “new,” “true,” and “God.”
Shin Godzilla was a huge success in Japan. It was the highest-grossing Japanese-produced Godzilla film and won seven Japan Academy Prizes, including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year.
3. Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
Godzilla vs. Destroyah appears at number three on this list mainly for its monster battle sequence, which is arguably the best of the Godzilla movies. It is also notable for being one of only four films in which Godzilla is killed.
In this installment in the franchise, Godzilla’s heart serves as a nuclear reactor that is nearing meltdown, threatening Earth. Simultaneously, a colony of nuclear mutated creatures called Destroyah emerged from the ocean and ultimately merged to form the monster Destroyah. There is also an appearance by Godzilla Junior (not the cheesy one either), a smaller but physically similar copy of the adult Godzilla.
The final battle, one of the best of the franchise, comes after Destroyah kills Godzilla Junior. Godzilla attempts to revive him without success but takes his revenge on Destroyah after his nuclear heart goes into meltdown. While the Japanese defense forces can save Earth using freeze weapons, the fallout will make Tokyo uninhabitable.
However, nuclear levels begin to fall, a familiar roar is heard, and Godzilla Junior absorbs his father's energy, reviving him and transforming him into a new Godzilla.
4. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, comes in at number four on this list for two reasons. The first was the introduction of King Ghidorah, a reoccurring antagonist for the Godzilla franchise. This was also the first Godzilla film that featured Rodan, a frequent ally.
More importantly, however, this film marks the transition of Godzilla from villain to hero. The change began to make Godzilla friendlier intentionally and the films more comedic to be accessible to children. In fact, much of what is known as the Showa era of Godzilla movies are targeted toward children and features Godzilla engaged in slapstick battles with other monsters (more on that in our 5 worst Godzilla movies section).
For its significance to the series and the development of the franchise, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster appears at number four on our list.
5. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
The final installment in our list of top Godzilla movies is Godzilla: Final Wars. The reason it makes a list is that it is 2 hours of monster mayhem.
This film has everything you want in a classic Godzilla film: monsters, aliens, and a plot with not a lot of rhyme or reason to it. In fact, this film features 14 different monsters, the most of any Godzilla movie if you don’t count the ones in newspaper clippings in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Of course, Godzilla is tasked with saving the world, with the movie culminating in a final battle between Godzilla and a new monster called Monster X.
If you like monsters, monster battles, mayhem, and not much else, then Godzilla: Final Wars is the perfect Godzilla movie for you.
5 Worst Godzilla Movies
Now that we’ve gone through the 5 best Godzilla movies let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum and take on the 5 worst Godzilla movies. This list features four films from the silliest part of the Showa era and the one American movie we’d rather forget.
Here are the 5 worst Godzilla movies ever made.
1. Godzilla (1998)
Topping our list as the worst Godzilla movie is the first American attempt at a Godzilla film. Godzilla (1998) stars Matthew Broderick in a role only surpassed in absurdity by his Inspector Gadget rendition.
Godzilla was a massive flop largely because it flew in the face of everything audiences had come to know and expect from a Godzilla film. This American version sought to completely rewrite Godzilla, giving it a new (but still related to nuclear testing) backstory, a new setting, and most tragically of all, a completely new look.
This Godzilla wasn’t Godzilla.
Roger Ebert said that “One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film. The movie makes no sense at all except as a careless pastiche of its betters.”
The film was so bad that it prompted the Japanese to bring Godzilla out of retirement for a new series of Japanese-directed films, even rebranding the American version as “Zilla” in Godzilla: Final Wars. This insertion into the Toho film is a clear slap in the face to the American version, showing that to the Japanese, it is just another monster and not deserving of the moniker Godzilla.
2. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1964)
The next four Godzilla moves represent the silliest films from the Showa era, which again had a primary target audience of children. Even so, these films generally make no sense and are purely for fun.
The first up is Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. This film can be summed up in one sentence: Godzilla battles a giant lobster and wins, the end.
Seriously, there isn’t much to note about this film. The small budget allotted to this film is on full display. The plot is bad, the acting is bad, and the monsters are bad.
3. All Monsters Attack (1969)
Next up on our worst Godzilla movies is All Monsters Attack and is undoubtedly the weirdest of the films in this franchise.
The film is centered around a lonely and bullied kid who dreams about visiting Monster Island to escape his loneliness. In his dreams, he befriends Minilla, the son of Godzilla, who faces bullies' problems. The kid eventually helps Minilla overcome his fears and defeat his bully enemies, helping the kid learn how to face his own fears.
The film is regarded as one of the worst in the franchise and is often painful to watch. It’s in the “so bad it’s good” category of Godzilla films but not one that you’ll want to watch more than once or twice.
4. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
The next film on our list is Godzilla vs. Megalon, which was shot in only three weeks and is a notorious film for a few reasons.
One, it’s just plain bad. The acting is bad, the plot is bad, and the special effects are bad. One of the most criticized aspects of the film is Godzilla's design, which looks like the original Godzilla and Kermit the Frog had a baby. This movie also features a stupid sidekick named Jet Jaguar, which resulted from a contest for children to design a new monster.
However, the battle scenes are quite comedic, with Megalon and Gigan mocking Godzilla and making “come at me, bro” gestures. The film also features one of the most famous (and so bad it’s good) scenes in the whole franchise: the Godzilla flying kick.
You know the one I’m talking about.
Godzilla vs. Megalon is good for a laugh and not much else.
5. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
The last Godzilla film to make our list of the worse is Godzilla vs. Gigan. This film makes the worst list for many of the same reasons as the films mentioned above: bad acting and cheesy costumes and fight sequences.
However, it is the overused, predictable plot that really puts this film into the category of bleh. Godzilla vs. Gigan follows the same storyline as Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and a host of other Godzilla movies: aliens come to Earth and try to take over using mind control of space monsters, Godzilla is called to save humankind, and after a hard-fought (and comedic battle) he sends the space monsters packing.
The world is saved again, yadda, yadda.
Aside from its super boring plot, another thing that makes this movie stand out is it’s the only time Godzilla talks other than with his roar. While the original Japanese version used thought bubbles to convey Godzilla’s thoughts, the American version actually had Godzilla and other monsters speaking English.
Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.
Godzilla is the most recognized movie monster of all time and stars in the longest-running film franchise. Like any series, some films are better than others, and some are downright hard to watch.
Despite the spectrum of Godzilla movies, the wide variety of plots and monsters ensures a Godzilla movie out there for everyone.
Once again, here are our 5 picks for the best and worst Godzilla movies.
Best Godzilla Movies
- Godzilla (1954)
- Shin Godzilla (2016)
- Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)
- Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
- Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Worst Godzilla Movies
- Godzilla (1998)
- Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1964)
- All Monsters Attack (1969)
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
- Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
What would your list of the best and worst Godzilla movies look like?