In 1954, out of nuclear fire an icon was born. From his very first appearance, gargantuan radioactive dinosaur Godzilla was a hit with audiences in the homeland he stomped his way over. Monster movies are usually about something beyond the massive spectacle that was a given with the horror/sci-fi sub-genre, and the first instalment of a franchise based around the biggest and scariest of metaphors to ever be visualised couldn’t have hit any harder with a Japan still reeling from the horrors of war.
Godzilla would go on to headline 32 Kaiju (Giant Monster) movies for Tokyo-based Toho Studios, battling a variety of titanic creatures in increasingly silly scenarios, causing untold collateral damage along the way but more often than not fighting to save the Planet Earth from whatever would seek to do it harm (including humanity).
English-language dubs and re-edits, a Hana-Barbera cartoon and several American blockbuster remakes of varying quality followed, but Godzilla’s status as King of the Monsters has endured into its eighth decade.
The Godzilla film franchise is the longest-running in history, as well as one of the most profitable horror and sci-fi series of all time – not bad for a brand that remained popular in its early days largely thanks to children’s love of watching guys in rubber monster suits wrestling and wrecking stuff.
In this edition of Ranked, we here at The Film Magazine are ordering Toho Studios’ first cycle of Godzilla movies, known as the Shōwa Era, from worst to best in terms of quality, contextual significance and long-lasting appeal. 15 movies, 15 conflicts between the King of the Monsters and his rogues gallery of colossal mutated animals, aliens, titanic prehistoric creatures, more aliens and a certain very famous ape monarch. Who will emerge victorious, who will cause the most destruction and who will come out on the other side of wearing a sweaty rubber monster suit with their dignity intact?
Let them fight.
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15. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
This a boring, cheap, hacked-out-quick sequel to the hugely successful original film.
Throughout Godzilla Raids Again, military types keep warning of an incoming Godzilla-like object, but what else is Godzilla-like apart from Godzilla? Said Godzilla-like object is of course a different creature to the original as the first one wasn’t coming back for… spoilery reasons.
The action, particularly Godzilla’s fight against the spiny Anguirus – whose poor suit performer had to portray him on all-fours – is uninspired, the story is basic and the humans struggle to reach even a single dimension. There’s even a highlights reel from the first film disguised as a mission briefing to kill five extra minutes of runtime.
Amusingly, it looks an awful lot like Godzilla is stuck in a gin and tonic glass when fighter pilots are trying to bury him in an avalanche for the film’s finale, perfectly formed ice cubes tumbling around the massive lizard as he tries to claw at his airborne tormentors as they pass him by.
There may be worse Godzilla films on a purely technical level out there, but Raids Again is at the bottom of this list by the “virtue” of being the most boring movie in the series by far.
14. All Monsters Attack (1969)
Cute framing device and a worthwhile anti-bullying message aside, All Monsters Attack is a cheap, truncated clip show of a movie.
A little “latchkey” kid tired of running from his tormentors, and left at home alone by busy working parents, imagines a visit to Monster Island and hanging out with Godzilla’s son Minilla, who is also being hunted by bigger, meaner monster Gabara (an old repainted Godzilla costume with the tail removed and a new head). Meanwhile, a heist has gone down in the city and the gang responsible are looking for somewhere to hide from the pursuing cops.
Thankfully this is the shortest of the Godzillas, because the repetitive use of stock footage and the thoroughly disconnected-feeling action scenes are tiresome in the extreme and completely uninspiring.
A small bright spot in the film is little Ichiro fighting back against the incompetent criminal gang in an abandoned warehouse, Home Alone-style (perhaps this inspired John Hughes?), but there is very little else to recommend here.
Recommended for you: Home Alone Movies Ranked
13. King Kong vs Godzilla (1962/1963)
One of the first major franchise crossovers, made duplicitously behind the back of one of the title monsters’ creators (King Kong’s mastermind Willis O’Brien) – the behind-the-scenes story of the making of King Kong vs Godzilla is in many ways more interesting than the final film ended up being.
The American cut of this has some of the least convincing English dubbing of all time, and the frequent and jarring cuts to newscasters and experts in tweed jackets works purely to dumb down an already stupid film further, none of which helps you to stay engaged with the story.
The original Japanese version is much better, more energetic and a worthy entry in the series, but still some distance from being genuinely good. Both versions have a creepy taxidermy zombie-looking Kong and a distressing amount of Japanese actors in blackface (though no version of King Kong has managed to avoid offense in the native islander scenes).
Any satire of lowbrow TV programming that might have felt relevant in the early 1960s feels rather tame now, and the film as a whole lacks bite for all its surface-level entertainment value.