3. Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)
Yes, this is the one with Godzilla’s bouncy victory dance that looks a bit like an Irish jig.
You can’t say the creative team didn’t try something different with each instalment, this one being a pretty thoughtful pulp sci-fi featuring humanoid aliens living on a moon of Jupiter “borrowing” Godzilla and Rodan from Earth to fight Ghidorah on their home turf.
The effects are wobbly, but charmingly so, and they’re really no worse than other similar sci-fi of the era. What’s great about sci-fi movies and TV at this time (see also early ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Doctor Who’) is that your scripted concepts needed to stand on their own as they couldn’t hide behind the effects.
What really sets Toho’s productions apart is the sheer level of craft in evidence with the creation of all these dynamic monsters and detailed miniatures which still remain impressive today when they’re on their A-game.
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2. Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
Mothra vs Godzilla is a completely out-there early anti-nuclear environmentalist genre picture, and one of Ishiro Honda’s very best films in a productive 25 year career.
A huge egg washes up on a beach and some shady financiers plan to build an amusement park around it. The egg turns out to have been laid by the ancient and worshipped Kaiju Mothra and her guardian priestesses, a pair of inches-high fairy twins who sing to summon her, follow the egg and easily outfox the evil business types trying to exploit the wonders of the world.
Watching Godzilla getting his scaly butt well and truly kicked by a moth bigger than him, and her silk-spraying offspring, is the kind of wobbly spectacle that has kept fans so in love with this series. But Godzilla vs Mothra is also smart, politically revolutionary for the time, and still depressingly relevant today.
1. Godzilla (1954)
The original Godzilla (Gojira if you’re Japanese) is the big one, the important one, the one that processed the trauma of a nation and made monster movies truly be about big ideas beyond the surface level.
Godzilla is a great example of a lean, mean thriller. What every subsequent movie in the franchise (especially the American takes) seem to have failed to understand is that Godzilla doesn’t require over-explanation – he’s a walking, roaring, radioactive-fire-breathing metaphor to begin with, and as such stands for himself.
No film in the series since this first instalment has had the same purposeful build, the same level of palpable tension and suspense. The imagery of Godzilla looming over a Tokyo skyline on fire and the bleak matter-of-factness of the film’s dark ending still bowls you over today.
The original Godzilla also feels grounded and personal in a way that most of the sequels don’t. We see the experiences of ordinary people at ground level as well as Godzilla stomping on buildings and the army firing artillery at him.
Writer-director Ishiro Honda and co-screenwriter Takeo Murata – inspired by Honda’s wartime experiences, Japan’s collective trauma from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US, and the Lucky Dragon No 5 incident only a few months earlier in 1954 – created one of the most important, influential and resonant Japanese films of all time. Perhaps inevitably, it was a success that could never be topped, no matter how long the franchise would run for.
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Do you agree with our ranking of the first 15 instalments of the Godzilla franchise? What’s your favourite Kaiju and/or Godzilla movie? Let us know in the comments (try not to leave too much of a trail of destruction while you do it), and be sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter for many more lists like this.