When you hear the name Godzilla, it’s easy to think the worst. Goofy rubber monster suits, atrocious Americanized dubbing, mindless destruction of miniature cities – and to be honest, there’s a lot of that. It’s kinda what makes the enduring franchise such a guilty pleasure.
But beyond the cheesy chaos, Godzilla doesn’t get enough credit for its historic origins – a monstrous metaphor for the evils of nuclear weapons – and it’s nearly 70-year legacy. Its 35 films (32 from Japan and three stateside) make it the longest-running franchise in cinematic history and single handedly birthed the kaiju genre, aka, monster movies.
Before Godzilla vs Kong hits screens in a couple of weeks, let’s look back at the ENTIRE franchise, ranking all the movies from bottom to top.
It’s been a LONG month putting this one together, y’all.
A little backstory – the Japanese side of this genre is broken up into four “eras” – the original Showa era; the Heisei era of the 1990s; the Millennium era that ran from 1999 to 2004; and the current Reiwa era that launched in 2016. There is sometimes continuity between films in each era, but they bend the rules a lot. Stateside, the 1998 film stands alone, and then the films following the 2014 reboot have their own continuity. Bet you never knew keeping track of seven decades of monsters could be so confusing.
Oh, and also, there will be light spoilers below – but if you haven’t watched a movie from 1964 yet that’s your own fault, playa.
33. All Monsters Attack (1969)
Good lord, let’s get this one out of the way immediately. In the late 60s, Japan decided to transform the city-smashing Godzilla into a more kid-friendly hero. And what do studios do whenever they want to make their properties more relatable to the kiddies? Add a character with the mental capacity of a 6-year-old! So we’re stuck with Minilla, Godzilla’s annoying and useless offspring. But All Monsters Attack’s biggest sin, shockingly, isn’t Minilla. The film revolves around a kid who spends his time daydreaming of Godzilla and envisioning the school bully as a kaiju – essentially half this film takes place in the kid’s head with scenes from the previous film. Between all the reused stock footage and pointless side plot with robbers, it feels more like a clip show than a proper film. AVOID.
32. Godzilla (1998)
The 98 Americanized Godzilla remake certainly has a horrid reputation but the most offensive thing here is that terrible Puff Daddy theme song. Despite its placement on this list Godzilla 98 isn’t as bad as you’d think and is quite watchable in spots. The effects specifically have aged well. It’s just very long, very much a product of the 90s, and more of a Jurassic Park clone than a Godzilla film. It’s an OK-ish late-90s blockbuster but it ain’t Godzilla.
31. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
And this is the moment where the Godzilla stans flood my inbox with death threats. I know many hardcore Godzilla fans adore this one … but I’m not one of them. Serving as the finale to the Millennium Era films, Final Wars aimed to serve as a giant love letter to the series. Nearly every kaiju that came before it makes an appearance here (yes, even the 1998 Zilla) for one last battle royale. Problem is, it feels too much like fan fiction – the plot is all over the place, the CGI is suspect and the Matrix-inspired battles feel like PlayStation 1 cutscenes. I get they were going for the craziness of the 70s films but it comes off more like a giant-sized version of Mortal Kombat Annihilation.
30. Son of Godzilla (1967)
The debut of Minila. Yay. What I assume is supposed to serve as a coming of age story (I guess????) for Godzilla’s brat winds up being a very tedious experience. Watching Kaiju Urkel stumble around while being berated and abused by his father is boring at best and uncomfortable at worst. Even the villains – Kumonga, the giant spider and a bunch of Kamacuras mantises – are uninspired. Minila is almost always a hard pass.
29. Godzilla Netflix Series (2017-2018)
I’m lumping all three of these films into this one entry because lord knows this post is gonna be long enough. This Netflix anime saga starts out very promising: Godzilla has run humanity off the planet and now they’re back to reclaim their home. But once things drag out into secret societies and space religions it gets convoluted fast, but I guess that’s anime for you. Condense these three movies into one feature length film and you might have a winner. As a trilogy, though, it quickly loses itself. Also Ghidorah looks like Ramen noodles.
28. Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla (1994)
You know they’re running of ideas when we get “Godzilla … but from space!” That’s the 90s for you. Be glad we didn’t XTREME Godzilla with a mohawk and teen angst. Oh wait, we did. It was called Denver, the Last Dinosaur. Anyway, the concept here is strange but simple – Godzilla’s cells wind up in space (long story) and are mutated into the SpaceGodzilla clone. Monster shows up, beats up Godzilla, monster comes back, Godzilla gets revenge. SpaceGodzilla looks cool but there’s just not much to the story here.
27. Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)
As I mentioned earlier, things got REALLY weird in the 70s. Proof: Alien roaches disguise themselves as humans, hang out in a kaiju theme park and summon Godzilla’s arch-nemesis King Ghidorah and new baddie Gigan to conquer the world. Godzilla and his buddy Anguirus step in to save the day and that’s about it. Gigan proves to be a pretty formidable foe, which is cool. What’s not cool is that Godzilla now speaks in comic-book panel thought bubbles. It’s a watchable but goofy experience.
26. Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)
Here’s another weird one from the tail end of the Showa film era: Some underwater king in a bedsheet and his harem of Saran-wrapped Klanswomen swear vengeance against the surface world. Basically he’s Namor dressed for a college toga party. Their weapon is Megalon – a weird beetle thing. You’d think the sea kingdom would unleash, you know, a sea monster but nope, they just send out a giant bedbug. This also features the only appearance of Ultraman clone Jet Jaguar, who actually isn’t bad but feels extremely out of place in the franchise. The film comes off like a Saturday morning cartoon, but an entertaining one. Also, if you’ve seen that sliding Godzilla dropkick gif, thank this movie.
25. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)
The beginning of the Millennium film era started pretty auspiciously with this one. Shapeless aliens in a ship that looks like a hollowed-out avocado plan to conquer Earth with Godzilla as their host – and it’s not quite as epic as it seems. The big bad Orga starts out looking like silly villain from Earthbound on Super Nintendo before turning into something much more acceptable. The final battle is actually a good time, it just takes a good long time to get there.
24. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Ah, our first Mechagodzilla sighting on this list. Just a warning, for some reason all the Mechagodzilla films have very confusing titles. For instance, this one is called Mechagodzilla II, even though it’s the FIRST Mechagodzilla film in the Heisi era and the THIRD Mechagodzilla film overall. There’s even a character named Mechagodzilla II, but that one isn’t featured in this movie! And trust me, the plot of this one is almost as confusing as the Mechagodzilla timeline. Scientists steal an egg from the nest of Godzilla frenemy Rodan, which hatches into a Baby Godzilla (but thank the lord not Minilla). Meanwhile the humans build Mechagodzilla to take care of their kaiju problem, using Baby as Godzilla bait, and of course their new toy gets wrecked. Honestly, if the scientists left Baby alone Godzilla wouldn’t have come for their necks in the first place. Key lesson here – mind your business and your city won’t get smashed.
23. Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000)
If it feels like all the Millennium films are lumped together there’s a reason for that – they’re all pretty middle-of-the-road in this franchise. This one is no exception, even though the premise is interesting. Scientists propose creating a man-made black hole to suck up Godzilla for good, which makes as much sense as anything else in this insane franchise. But when a dragonfly thing winds up in the experimentation process it eventually mutates into the titular Megaguirus. Again, like most of the films in this era, it’s watchable but unremarkable. Also, this film really needed Mothra to battle Dragonfly Jones.
22. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
Reviews are pretty mixed on this one. I’ve seen it listed among the worst and best of the franchise but the truth often lies in the middle. The plot isn’t terribly exciting – some goofy guys run around on an island and get help from a beautiful maiden, standard stuff for the era. Mothra’s here too but she’s basically a glorified flying uber for the heroes’ big escape. However, I’m a fan of Ebirah, who seems lame at first until you see it smashing boasts and IMPALING HUMAN VICTIMS. A fun underwater battle also helps this one stand out a bit.
21. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
This one is often celebrated as the crown jewel of the Millennium era but that’s not exactly high praise in my book. However, credit where it’s due, it’s certainly one of the more solid entries of that bunch. There’s a nice role reversal here as Godzilla is at his most ruthless and reckless, with lots of collateral damage. We see people getting crushed by landslides, a girl with a broken leg getting smashed in a hospital – Godzilla doesn’t care at all about your life. Mothra and, gasp, King Ghidorah serve as the protectors in this one, which is like Joker trying to calm down a raging Batman. The big battle, as always, is interesting but there’s not enough meat leading up to it. And shout out to poor Baragon, who doesn’t even get top billing with his other kaiju buddies. #Justice4Baragon
20. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
So remember the original Godzilla? I know we haven’t gotten to that movie yet, just roll with me. Anyway, in this film there’s a NEW Godzilla on the prowl and to combat him, Mechagodzilla is created from the bones of the original kaiju who was killed back in the 50s. It kinda reminds me of the classic Neon Genesis Evangelion anime, with the mysterious machine built from old body parts and going rogue. The human plotline can get REALLY heavy at times – a kid with mommy issues whose best friend is a potted plant, a loner solider atoning for getting her comrades killed – but things tie together well by the end.
19. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
The Return of Godzilla is the first of MANY series reboots and serves as the launch of the Heisei era. In many ways it feels like a retelling of the 1954 original film, except this time with a Cold War aesthetic. Like the original, it’s light on big kaiju battles and heavy on exposition. In some ways the back to basics approach works but it lacks the intrigue of the original. It’s almost too dark and joyless at times. It’s a solid watch, just not always a very fun one.
18. Shin Godzilla (2016)
I really struggled on where to place this one. The most recent live action film from Japan sure feels different, in a good way. The tight shots give it a really claustrophobic feel and Godzilla’s constantly evolving look – which starts out looking like a crazed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float and ends up as sort of a giant gila monster – can be a little off-putting at first but work in the long run. Shin’s fatal flaw though is its abysmal pacing. I liked the idea of addressing what is essentially a force of nature through a bureaucratic lens but the dull exposition and endless array of boring suits just kill the momentum. I felt like I was watching West Wing Tokyo. This has the makings to be a top 10 entry, and I know some people consider it to be that good, but it’s frustratingly uneven.
17. Godzilla vs Biollante (1989)
This is another of those “love it or hate it” entries and it’s easy to see why. If you ever wondered what would happen if Godzilla married a rose bush, this answers all your questions. Biollante aka Garden Godzilla’s final form is an impressive sight, though. The film garnered praise for its environmental messages (often a recurring theme in this series) but the plot drags in spots and the bizarre Biollante concept (from gross vegan monster to spiritual pollen lady) wasn’t explained very well.
16. Godzilla (2014)
The most recent reboot of the Godzilla franchise ain’t bad at all! I’ve seen critics complain that the monster action took a backseat to human battle here but I don’t mind it as long as the story keeps moving (*glares at Shin*). For the most part that’s the case here. That said, the film does wear out its welcome – almost any Godzilla flick that goes more than 90 minutes is pushing its luck, and this one hits two hours. Still, it’s a solid re-entry into the series thanks to a decent cast and stellar effects.
15. Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (1964)
Here it is, the debut of Godzilla’s chief rival Ghidorah and a film often hailed as one of the best of the series. Admittedly I loved this one as a kid but without the nostalgia goggles it’s not quite as flawless as I remembered. That’s probably because the plot is OUT THERE, with a spirit from the planet Venus resurrecting in a princess and an assassination plot and amnesia – but it all winds up feeling like filler before the big battle with Ghidorah against Mothra, Rodan and Godzilla. Venus lady is basically there to dump exposition and be a damsel in distress, that’s it. It’s also the debut of the (somewhat) heroic Godzilla that would set the tone for the rest of this era.
14. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Yeah, I’m surprised this one is this high too but it earned this spot. The most recent installment of the franchise gets props for showing love to the lore instead of trying to totally rewrite it like the 98 version. The kaiju-on-kaiju violence is top notch, the human characters do their part to carry the load and even the early twist caught me off guard during my initial viewing. It’s not as fun as the higher installments on this list but it’s a step in the right direction for this new Monster Cinematic Universe.
13. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)
Here’s another of my childhood faves. Once again we get another insane plot, with time travelers from 23rd century heading to the 90s to “save” Japan from Godzilla. You can see the plot coming from a mile away but that doesn’t make the experience any less fun. Plus, we get the debut of MECHA-KING GHIDORAH. Well, they don’t call him that on screen but that’s his name in my heart.
12. Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003)
I’ve beat up on the Millennium series a bit but this one by far is the best of the bunch. Remember, in this timeline Mechagodzilla is made from the bones of the original. Mothra’s fairy protectors – the Chloe X Halle of the kaiju world – warn the heroes to stop messing around with OG Godzilla’s corpse or Current Godzilla will come through and let the choppa spray. It all leads up to a pretty awesome fight between Mecha and Regular Godzilla. Also, Tokyo SOS has to be my favorite title of the series. Sounds like a Lupe Fiasco mixtape.
11. Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
Also known as Godzilla vs the SMOG MONSTER, as I remember from my childhood. The plot is pretty simple – a bunch of pollutants create a goop monster and Godzilla has to take it out. It’s a much more palatable take on the kid-friendly kaiju series than the abominable All Monsters Attack. There are even animated spots! Hedorah also proves to be one of Godzilla’s most formidable foes, despite literally looking like a pile of crap. If you’re gonna make a lighthearted Godzilla film with a message, this is how you do it.
10. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Here we get the only appearance of Titanosaurus, one of the most underrated kaiju in the series. This film has a little of everything – two antagonists teaming up (both of the kaiju and humanoid variety) to take out our radioactive hero, spy stuff, cyborgs, and an ill-fated love story. I wish we could have seen a little more monster action but it’s a lot of fun and a great way to end the beloved Showa film era.
9. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
The second film in franchise has a LOT to live up to and does its best to fight off the sophomore jinx. It’s nowhere near the level of the debut, of course, but it’s still quaint. Most notably, we get our very first monster vs monster battle. The fight between Godzilla and his future buddy Anguirus is ULTRA cheesy, hilariously so, in fact, but what really holds this one together is the friendship between the film’s fighter pilots. The human-based action (which includes a random jail break) feature some of my favorite moments of the franchise.
8. Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
Another iconic entry in the Godzilla franchise, we get our first meeting between the big guy and kaiju mainstay Mothra. Of course, that also means we get our first look at Mothra’s fairy godmothers here, who are EXTRA fancy, dressed like my grandmother on Women’s Day. The plot is pretty standard for the time – trick new monster into taking care of our old monster problem. It’s not the definitive Mothra story for me but it’s very memorable.
7. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)
Another debut, this time it’s Mechagodzilla’s coming out party. When “Godzilla” mauls his buddy Anguirus and starts tearing up Japan old-school style, the real Godzilla shows up and reveals his evil twin to be an alien-controlled robo-clone. I always preferred Mechagodzilla as an alien android destroyer to the metal kaiju deterrent he became in later films. King Caesar being awakened by a catchy pop song was weird but, besides that, this showcases one of the better plots in the entire series.
6. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
My man Ghidorah has reared his three heads many times on this list, but this is one of his best outings. When a bunch of aliens stop by Earth asking to borrow Godzilla and Rodan to run King Ghidorah off their planet in exchange for THE CURE TO CANCER you know something fishy is up. Of course, Earth’s leaders are morons and fall for this trap so it’s up to a couple of meathead heroes to save the world. The plot feels likes something my little brother and I made up while playing with action figures on a Saturday afternoon, but in all the best ways. This is also around the time the series starts getting extra silly, with Godzilla’s weird victory dance hop living on today in gif form.
5. Godzilla vs Mothra (1992)
This might be a controversial pick for the Godzilla stans out there but I stand by it. Mothra-centric movies are typically solid (Mothra has always felt like the conscience of this franchise) but this one exceeds all others. We get the debut of Battra aka EVIL MOTHRA who is no joke, resulting in one of the best final battles in franchise history. It features lots of twists and turns with Battra and Mothra using THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP to turn back Godzilla in the end. It might be the most underrated Godzilla film to date.
4. King Kong vs Godzilla (1962)
No, not the one that drops in a few weeks, we’re talking about the 1962 original. Lord knows that between the natives in blackface and giving kids cigarettes for LOLs there’s enough outrage fuel here to set Twitter ablaze for weeks. This one is definitely a product of its time. But look beyond that and you’ll find an epic clash of titans. It mostly feels like a Kong movie as the big ape gets brought to Japan, goes nuts, kidnaps a lady and stands on a large building – you know, the usual. But the big battle lives up to the hype. I really hope the new film remakes the scene where Kong tries to shove a tree down Godzilla’s throat. Sure it’s dated (in many embarrassing ways) but it’s still a blast.
3. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Destroy All Monsters is the Avengers: Endgame of the Godzilla franchise, a formula many later entries attempted to duplicate and never came close to matching. All the monsters we’ve met at this point (plus a couple new faces) are confined on the isolated Monster Island, and I don’t know why it took Japan so long to corral these walking weapons in the first place. But speaking of weapons, aliens called the Kilaaks brainwash the kaiju crew into being their slaves for world domination. Once the good guys get the monsters under control, the Kilaaks unleash their big gun – good ol’ King Ghidorah – and things get REALLY fun. Watching Godzilla call the shots while his kaiju compadres stomp Ghidorah into gold-plated goo and take out the aliens is so satisfying.
2. Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995)
The finale of the Heisei feels like the most epic film to date. At this point Godzilla is bursting at the seams with radiation and is quickly nearing a nuclear meltdown (which, at his size, would reduce Earth to ashes). Godzilla actually looks like Lavazilla here and it’s pretty terrifying. But even more terrifying is Destoroyah, the most horrific kaiju in the entire franchise. A bunch of sea mutants eventually combine into a creature that dwarfs Godzilla and kinda looks like an optional boss from a Final Fantasy game. The heroes not only have to keep Godzilla from exploding like an overcooked Hot Pocket, they also have to, you know, stop the giant demon thing from killing everyone too. Also Godzilla Junior (all grown up from Mechagodzilla II and SpaceGodzilla films) shows up but as usual doesn’t add much besides getting victimized by Destoroyah. There’s a lot going on but there’s genuine tension the entire time, without the lulls most other films on this list struggle with. Godzilla’s finale is particularly moving too. It’s an incredible roller-coaster ride.
1. Godzilla (1954)
Realistically speaking, no other film on this list comes close to this one, both in storytelling and lasting historic appeal. The original Godzilla feels less like the big-budget monster battles that would be its namesake and more like a disaster movie. Godzilla has always served as an allegory for the evils of nuclear weapons and you can feel the sheer terror here, from the slow reveal to the unbridled chaos left in his wake. Sure it’s pretty quaint by today’s standards but the narrative and performances absolutely hold up. Before he became a hero, it was the terror showcased here that made Godzilla a groundbreaking film icon.
Which Godzilla films are your favorite? Which ones did I shortchange? Yell like a kaiju in the comments.