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Top 5 Most Influential Kaiju Films

The most important films in giant monsterdom

By Chuck Francisco     July 10, 2013
Source: Mania.com

Japanese Kaiju films are many in number and quite diverse in their naming. Entire volumes are dedicated to cataloging the various eras spanning their entire chronology. Yet among all the crazy monster throw downs there are a number of films that introduced critical elements which we then took for granted. While I can't claim to be an absolute expert on all Kaiju films, I do have a road map clearly marking the major intersections key to their development (true story- I found it on the back of a menu at The Dragon House in Wildwood, NJ). Obviously these are the five staggeringly important films as glimpsed through the reflection of my Kaiju experiences as a kid, having grown up in the 80's watching all of these classics on my knob equipped television. Your mileage may vary based on age and exposure.
 
5. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)
 
GASP! A 90's Godzilla film?! I may just be out of my zombie pickled brain. Or am I? Godzilla vs King Ghidorah features copious time travel shenanigans, the mythical World War II origins of the big G, submarine hijinx, and two versions of Ghidorah! After Godzilla blasts off his nemesis' center head, the lead human character travels to the future and returns with the reconstructed cyborg version of Ghidorah: Mecha-King Ghidorah. There are so many reasons why you should seek out this more modern Kaiju experience, but the reason it earned the number five spot on this list has to do with its hand in revitalizing interest in the series, leading into the modern era of giant monster flicks. Yearly sequels would stomp all over the box office for the next half decade. They finally make their way to American video stores as the millennium came to a close, planting the seeds of the current burst of Kaiju blossoming now. 

4. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
 
Can you believe that this was supposed to be the final Godzilla film? In 1968! Somethings are simply too deliciously indulged upon to be put away in a junk drawer, never to be enjoyed again. Nevertheless Toho's plans to end the series there means they lavished an absurdly large budget (for a Kaiju film) on Destroy All Monsters, and they cleared the benches for one of the all time epic show downs of monsterdom. Eleven Kaiju in all make an appearance in the film, including: Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Minilla, Baragon, Varan, Kumonga, Anguirus, and Manda. The film sees a number of cities around the world succumb to attack in a way we'd really only seen inflicted upon Japan, with Moscow, London, Paris, and New York City suffering nearly as much property damage as the man of steel carelessly doled out in his latest screen incarnation. More importantly, Destroy All Monsters introduced Monster Island as the locale where all the cool Kaiju hung out until it was time to wreck whole cities and each other. 

3. Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)
 
Godzilla was certainly a runaway success upon its 1954 release in Japan, but it would take another two years before American audiences caught Kaiju fever. Their mania would be served by a dubbed version, retitled and with newly filmed scenes inserting Raymond Burr into the plot, Godzilla, King of the Monsters was nevertheless a critical step in Japanese-American relations, depicting positive heroes from a country we'd recently been at war with. And that it was a-ok for us to work together. More importantly, it established that Americans had an insatiable love of giant monsters who stomp on buildings and engage in epic battle. It's a love affair which I hope is about to be rekindled.

2. Mothra vs Godzilla
 
Believe it or not, with out the gains made this this film all of the epic Kaiju on Kaiju action which we enjoy so much may never have come to pass. Mothra vs Godzilla represents the first time Toho brought one monster into the film of another. Truly! And remember that at this point Godzilla is still the bad guy and Mothra is controlled by singing. 'Zilla vanquishes Mothra, killing her, but her egg hatches and the two Mothra which emerge manage to trap the king in a cocoon and drop him into the sea. It isn't the most spectacular of Kaiju battles, but it blazed a trail which would become well trod in its aftermath.

1. Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)
 
Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster is the most important film in the Godzilla mythos, and potentially the most important Kaiju film of all time. Beyond a doubt the world of giant monsters would be critically different if not for the concepts introduced in this film. This is the first incarnation of Godzilla as a protector of Earth. It highlights a marked change in big G's behavior, allowing him to switch teams and become the savior of Japan. Then in the same stroke, in introducing Godzilla's greatest foe, King Ghidorah (who would become a neigh unstoppable beast), Toho also introduced the idea of their Kaiju teaming up to take down a greater threat then they posed to each other. These themes were so popular that they became part and parcel to nearly all of the films to follow. If that's not the height of influence then maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot (hint: I'm not).
 
 
There you have it Maniacs, the most influential and important Kaiju films. Have you seen them all? Do you think Del Toro's contribution will crack lists like this in the future?

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 23
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marcd30319 7/10/2013 4:28:08 AM

 "as the man of steel carelessly doled out in his latest screen incarnation."

Gee, I thought General Zod and his Kryptonian minions did all that damage.  I guess the arthor of this article in the the Blame America First school of thought.

DarthBob 7/10/2013 5:01:03 AM

What about the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man kaiju?  He proved that just about anything can be terrifying when it's larger than 100 feet tall.

goirish83 7/10/2013 5:09:01 AM

The 1991 Godzilla vs. King Ghidora was released during the Heisei series, which to me was the best series of all the Godzilla movies.  It started with Godzilla vs. Biollante.  The look Godzilla had the second half if Godzilla vs. King Ghidora through Godzilla vs, Destroyah was my favorite look for him.  All of these movies are classics and I love watching them every once in a while and relive my youth.

Eldogg42 7/10/2013 5:55:48 AM

markd30319: have you seen MOS? the fight alone between SM and Zod caused billions of dollars in damage. 

blankczech 7/10/2013 6:26:39 AM

 In my opinion articles like this are Mania at it's best.  I'm revelling in the utter geekiness of it all.  I didn't get caught up in the Kaiju experience (though I did watch several of the movies) but as John Travolta said in Saturday Night Fever "I know the type."

Sometimes I wonder if kids growing up now have stuff like this to get into.  What will they look back fondly on when they grow up. 

This is why I hate big budget blockbuster flicks and the Tomato-meter on Rotten Tomatoes.  Many, many of the movies I've loved over the years were bombs...both critically and economically...but they were incredible fun and are tied to precious memories.  I'd still take The Blob (with Steve McQueen) or Invasion of the Saucer Men over Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia...every day of the week (and twice on sunday).

CyanideRush 7/10/2013 6:54:47 AM

 @Darthbob - I completely didn't consider Mr. Staypuft. Now I'm really sad that I didn't. lol

@Blankczech - Thanks man! I very much agree with you that people just disregard many "bad" movies beause of things like the tomato-meter, and that it's a huge mistake. Speaking of 'The Blob", this weekend is Blobfest in Phoenixville, PA- with showings of The Blob, The Deadly Mantis, THEM!, and Tarantula. I know where I'll be!

monkeyfoot 7/10/2013 7:05:11 AM

When I was a kid, one of the big movie events was the airing of Ghidrah, The Three Headed Monster on local TV. (also Godzilla vs. King Kong to a lesser degree). Every kid gathered with friends that night and watched it and discussed it endlessly in school the day after. I'm not heavily into all aspects of Kaiju so I had no idea it was actually a real seminal moment in the movie genre, too.

Blankczech, I agree with you. Nowadays geek culture especially online is so devoted to cruel and mean criticism of everything. Everything sucks and its an absolute truth. If you disagree you suck as well. They lose the part about this all being just great fun. The fun you had when you were a kid in you pajamas on a Saturday morning eating your bowl of cereal in front of the TV enjoying The Blob/Godzilla/Monster Squad/GI Joe cartoons, or reading your comics.There was no need for mean, sniping debates on it all. It was all just fun!

On another fun side note, Hollywood Insider worked with a damage consulting firm and said the amount of damage caused in The Avengers came to about $175 billion. Buzzfeed did the same for Man Of Steel and the estimate was $700 billion. I expect your average Kaiju attack would be even more than that.

mike10 7/10/2013 7:32:53 AM

 Monkeyfoot I agree with 100%. People are so quick to criticize and run somebody down if they don't agree with their point of view. Sadly one of my friends was like this growing up in the 1980's and if you didn't like what he liked something was wrong with you. The internet just magnifies the problem.

 

joelr 7/10/2013 8:54:14 AM

@marcd Chuck is right, Supes let Metropolis become a smoking crater in MoS, instead of taking the fight elsehere. In fact, he has very little regrd for human life other than lois. It's an extreme misunderstanding of the character, and a definite failure of the filmmakers.

redhairs99 7/10/2013 9:05:00 AM

Okay, gotta weigh-in on the Man of Steel "damage" argument.

Has no one ever opened a Superman comic before or watched the animated series from the 90's?  Whenever there's a big super-power foe a la Zod (in the movie) or Doomsday or Darkseid there's shit tons of damage to Metropolis and other locations, so way does everyone have such a big problem with it in Man of Steel.  In Man of Steel, it was Zod and his minions or equipment that did most of the damage.  When Supes would punch Zod directly, he wasn't punching him through building after building.  He punched him in the mid-air.  It was Zod who threw Supes in buildings and such.  And don't give me the Superman would've lured him out of town to some isolated location BS.  Zod acted purposely to cause as much damage and carnage to Metropolis and the Earth as possible.  The poer crawl up the side of the building is a prime example.  He could have just lept up the side fo the building and met Superman mid-air for a power punch, but he didn't.  He power crawled his way up the sid eof the building causing as much damage as possible.

Okay, end rant.

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