The Godzilla franchise is a global pop culture institution. Ever since it debuted in 1954, Toho’s giant kaiju has delighted audiences all around the world. Godzilla, often hailed as a metaphor for nuclear destruction, brings about awe and fear in viewers alike as the giant monster ravages Japan and battles against its titanic opponents.
The Godzilla franchise hasn’t been static. Over the past 70 years, the series has gone through many different changes, going from metaphorical horror films to kids’ movies and then back again. But which of the Godzilla franchise’s 36 films is the best? Here’s our top ten picks.
10. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Released in 1973, Godzilla vs. Megalon is an infamous cult classic for introducing the fan-favorite character Jet Jaguar. This towering robot was made by a child as part of a design competition. However, Toho massively refined the character’s appearance before the film was released, giving him a sleek figure and more humanoid face.
When a race of undersea people called the Seatopians are disturbed by nuclear testing, they decide to unleash the gigantic insectoid Megalon and have it destroy the world. To do this, they take control of the newly made Jet Jaguar, hoping to use it to guide Megalon. What follows is silly, child-friendly Godzilla at its best. Jet Jaguar’s fight song is worth the price of entry alone.
9. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Produced quickly due to Toho’s 1965 drama film Red Beard falling behind schedule, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is the debut for series regular King Ghidorah. It also marks the point where Godzilla made the switch from villain to full-on hero.
When meteors hit Japan, chaos quickly ensues. This disaster is only made worse when a lady claiming to be from Venus correctly predicts the resurgence of Rodan, an enormous pteranodon kaiju. She also foretells the arrival of King Ghidorah, the creature that allegedly destroyed her home on Venus. This new threat will require Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan to join forces if they hope to stop it.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster laid down the foundation for the new family-friendly Godzilla that many of the later Showa films would build on, making this a must-watch for Godzilla fans.
8. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
A rather unique film within the Godzilla franchise, Godzilla vs. Biollante sees Godzilla face off against a monster made from his own cells. On top of this, Godzilla’s cells are in high demand, with both American and Japanese companies trying to acquire and use them for their own ends. Like the original Godzilla, this 1989 classic brings the series back to its metaphorical political and socioeconomic roots.
The titular Biollante is also a sight to behold. This Venus Flytrap-inspired kaiju is a hulking mass of tendrils, tentacles, and throbbing organic material that looks like something out of a horror film. Mixed with the film’s more serious tone, darker color palette, and tragic secondary plot, this helps Godzilla vs. Biollante stand out from the far more light-hearted Godzilla installments of the era.
7. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (also called Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster in America) features the debut of Godzilla’s robotic counterpart. Rather than being a government superweapon, this version of Mechagodzilla comes from space.
Despite Mechagodzilla’s robotic premise, this pure slice of ’70s Godzilla action features some of the most impressive suit work of the Showa era. While over the top, it is hard to not be enamored with the strange story of priestesses, ancient prophecies, and apes from space that marks this ’74 classic—mainly because the film effortlessly intertwines these seemingly disparate elements into one cohesive package.
6. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Released in 2003, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (or Godzilla × Mothra × Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS as it was titled in some versions) sees Godzilla face off against Mechagodzilla once more.
Mothra’s twin priestesses, the Shobijin, warn the Japanese government that Godzilla will continue to attack Tokyo as Mechagodzilla is built from the bones of the original Godzilla. They say that Mothra will replace Mechagodzilla if the government returns the first Godzilla’s bones to the sea. However, when the government refuses, a three-way fight breaks out between Mothra, Godzilla, and Mechagodzilla.
Chaotic and action-packed, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is a unique twist on the Mechagodzilla character. The supernatural element added by Godzilla’s bones gives this film an otherworldly feel, and it raises some interesting questions about the nature of kaiju within the franchise.
5. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
1968’s Destroy All Monsters is a carnival of kaiju that remains a visual treat to this day. Written by Takeshi Kimura and directed by Godzilla regular Ishirō Honda, the film was planned as the final Godzilla film. But it ended up being so popular that it kept the Godzilla franchise going for several more years.
Destroy All Monsters is set in an alternate 1999, where all kaiju live on an island called Monsterland. Peace is soon shattered on Monster Island when a race of feminine aliens called the Kilaaks take control of its monsters and their protectors. Unless humanity surrenders, the Kilaaks vow to destroy the world with the island’s rampaging kaiju. This leads to massive battles across the world featuring all of the Showa-era monsters, including Godzilla, Gorosaurus, Rodan, and Kumonga.
Toho was throwing everything they had at this film, and it is still amazing to see all of the kaiju, including older and overlooked monsters, fighting alongside one another.
4. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
The 18th film in the Godzilla franchise, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah stands out due to its creative and intricate time travel plot. The film also presents a new backstory for Godzilla, suggesting that the creature used to be Godzillasaurus—a dinosaur that happily lived on Lagos Island until it was mutated by atomic testing.
A group of aliens calling themselves the Futurians travel back in time from 2204, saying that they plan to travel to thee past to stop Godzillasaurus from mutating. They hope that by removing Godzilla from history, they can prevent him from destroying Japan in the future. But the Futurians are not truthful and quickly reveal that their real aim is to prevent Japan from becoming an economic powerhouse in the future by creating King Ghidorah in the past.
This unique storyline presents a fascinating twist on the Godzilla formula while also featuring all of the drama, action, and monster fights expected from the legendary franchise.
3. Shin Godzilla (2016)
When the visionary behind the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise is involved in a project, you know to expect great things. Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla was Toho’s attempt to reboot the Godzilla franchise for the modern age.
When the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is flooded, citizens start to suspect that a creature is responsible. This is soon proven correct as Godzilla emerges from the sea and causes havoc and destruction. To make matters worse, this new Godzilla seems to be evolving and growing stronger, easily decimating enormous skyscrapers and advanced military units with its newfound power and colossal strength. A tense race against time soon follows, as the United Nations warns Japan that if it fails to quickly contain Godzilla, it will launch a nuclear strike to destroy the beast.
Returning the franchise to its disaster movie roots was a brave choice, but Anno pulls it off effortlessly, leading to a harrowing film about the dangers of science and man’s hubris.
2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Mothra vs. Godzilla (or Godzilla vs. the Thing as it was called in America) represents a unique moment in the history of the Godzilla franchise. This film still has some of Godzilla’s early-Showa era seriousness, but Mothra mixes the franchise’s drama with what would later become the series’ more child-friendly style.
When a strange egg is found on the shore, Kumayama, a man working for Happy Enterprises, buys it, hoping to exploit its money-making potential. However, two small girls called the Shobijin arrive and warn that the egg belongs to Mothra. If it hatches, the Shoijin explain, the larvae inside will cause great destruction as they look for food. But when Godzilla returns, it seems that the egg and Mothra herself will be crucial to saving the world.
A fun mix of human drama and kaiju fights, Mothra vs. Godzilla is Toho at its best and most confident. This film is often credited for making a whole new generation of Godzilla fans, and it is easy to see why as it remains an excellent action-packed experience to this day.
1. Godzilla (1954)
The original Godzilla broke new ground when it was released in 1954. Directed by Ishirō Honda, Godzilla still holds up as a very effective horror film, showing the devastation caused by man’s unchecked hubris and destructive military capabilities.
When the civilians of Odo Island request aid from the Japanese government, paleontologist Kyohei Yamane is sent to investigate. On Odo Island, Yamane learns that the villagers are being tormented by a giant dinosaur-like monster: Godzilla. When Godzilla starts to rampage, the government must quickly find a way to stop the destruction while debating the human cost of fighting and stopping the creature.
At its time, Godzilla amazed audiences for its realistic depictions of urban destruction. Much of the film’s success must be credited to Eiji Tsuburaya, whose mastery of special effects helped bring the hulking Godzilla to life.
Godzilla spawned a whole genre of monster movies and left a lasting mark on cinema, and it is easy to see why. Godzilla is still as impactful and politically relevant today as when it first hit screens in 1954.