An Essential Guide To All The Godzilla Movies

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An atomic-era beastie who has been eating cities for 60 years now and is still going strong (and scaly), Godzilla is the pride of Japanese movie studio Toho. In 30 movies the killer kaiju has been set against mutant monsters great, deadly and, in King Caesar's case, strangely canine, emerging missile-worn but ready to wreak havoc again. In the next instalment in Empire's Kaiju Week ahead of the release of Gareth Edwards' film on Thursday (not included here yet to avoid spoilers), we chart the highs and lows of the 'Zilla cannon. Don your protective headware, gather your largest mothballs and take the plunge...


US title: Godzilla, King Of The Monsters
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: The disappearance of some fishing boats revives the legend of an ancient sea monster, and heralds the arrival of Godzilla himself for the first time. Unleashed by an atomic explosion, he emerges from Tokyo Bay to wreak destruction. Kurosawa favourite Takashi Shimura is among the scientists on the case trying to figure out a way to combat the massive menace. A clear anti-nuclear fable, the original film has a serious agenda, but that was largely lost in the western world for years since we mostly only knew the American re-edit, King Of The Monsters. Raymond Burr was dropped into that version as a documentary journalist.

First series appearance of... Godzilla! He was designed as a cross between a Tyrannosaurus, a Stegosaurus, an Iguanodon and an alligator. His Japanese name, Gojira, is a portmanteau of the words for ‘whale’ and ‘gorilla’. He has “atomic breath”, the ability to regenerate (in the Wolverine rather than the Doctor Who sense) and is impervious to conventional weapons.


US title: Gigantis, The Fire Monster
Director: Motoyoshi Oda

Plot: Crash-landing on Iwato Island, two pilots stumble upon Godzilla fighting the Stegosaurus-thing Anguirus. The two monsters then arrive on mainland Osaka and continue to throw down. Shimura is on hand once again to explain that this is actually a different Godzilla to last time, likely awakened, along with his age-old dino-foe, by the same atomic experiments. The US cut didn’t even call him Godzilla, renaming him Gigantis.

First series appearance of... Anguirus, a dinosaur thing with wrestling ability.


US title: The original title worked well enough
: Ishiro Honda

Plot: Godzilla, frozen at the end of the last film, thaws out, sinks a submarine and, having been prevented from entering Tokyo, heads for Mt. Fuji. Meanwhile, a TV mogul heads to Faro Island in search of a monster to boost ratings. He finds King Kong, who in his Japanese incarnation can suck up electricity and zap things. Regretting their decision to transport the uncontrollable Kong to Tokyo, the authorities manage to knock him out and balloon him to Mt. Fuji for Godzilla to deal with.

First series appearance of... King Kong (at least as far as the Godzilla franchise goes)


US title: Godzilla Vs. The Thing
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: Scientists discover a big egg in some typhoon wreckage, and learn that it comes from Infant Island, where lives the lepidopterous god Mothra. Initially buried by the same typhoon, Godzilla then emerges from some mud to recommence smashing, and the Japanese petition Infant Island (which is led by tiny fairy priestesses - just go with it) for a loan of their senior kaiju. Mothra is eventually killed, but Godzilla wanders off anyway, leaving the egg to hatch and release two larvae, which then spray Godzilla with silk and sink him in the ocean before returning home. Yes, in this story Mothra and family are the goodies and Godzilla's the big bad.

First series appearance of... Mothra, a big moth.


US title: Ghidra, The Three-Headed Monster
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: Following his debut in his own film, Rodan emerges from the crater of Mt. Aso, while Godzilla emerges from the deep once again. Princess Selina, who is possessed by a Martian (!), predicts these events, and for her next prophecy warns of the arrival of tri-bonced dragon Ghidorah, previously the destructor of Martian society. And lo! a recently-landed meteorite turns out to be an egg, and Ghidorah is hatched on Earth. Mothra tries to persuade Godzilla and Rodan to team up against Ghidora, but initially fails. When she takes a beating from Ghidorah, however, Godzilla and Rodan are impressed enough for a détente, and join Mothra in sending Ghidorah back to space with extreme prejudice.

First series appearance of... Rodan (spiky mutant Pterosaur) and King Ghidorah (three-headed space dragon).


US title: Monster Zero
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: A joint Japanese / American space mission rocks up behind Jupiter at a newly discovered planet the Earth has dubbed ‘Planet X’. It turns out its inhabitants call it Planet X, too. What are the odds? The Planet Xians then ask for Earth’s help against a recent King Ghidorah problem. We ship them Godzilla and Rodan for a rematch which the pair win, and all appears well until Planet X tries to take over the Earth by releasing its newly acquired kaiju triumvirate back onto our own soil. As the military battles the monsters while they wreck Tokyo again, our Earth boffins find a way to defeat the Xians with science. Their mind-control broken, Godzilla and Rodan turn on King Ghidorah, and all three disappear into the sea.

First series appearance of... N/A


US title: Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (1966)
Director: Jun Fukuda

Plot: Terrorist ne’er-do-wells The Red Bamboo are manufacturing heavy water on a secret island, employing slave labour shipped in from Infant Island, the home of Mothra. When a ship’s crew wash up on the island after an encounter with giant lobster Ebirah, they attempt to escape The Red Bamboo, but accidentally wake Godzilla in the process. Godzilla then fights Ebirah and giant bird Ookondoru, before Mothra shows up to rescue her congregation.

First series appearance of... Ebirah (a giant lobster) and Ookondoru (a giant condor).


US title: Son Of Godzilla
Director: Jun Fukuda

Plot: Scientists working on a weather control system are hampered by the Kamacuras, two giant praying mantises. Inconvenient. An egg is then uncovered which hatches a baby Godzilla, who sends out telepathic distress signals until the full-sized version arrives to claim him. Named ‘Minilla’ (not Godzooky), he grows to half the size of Godzilla and learns some tricks from his adoptive pops, which come in useful against the sudden attack of giant spider Kumonga.

First series appearance of... Minilla (adopted son of Godzilla); Kamacuras (giant praying mantises); and Kumonga (giant spider with web and stinger action).


US title: Unnecessary
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: Toho’s twentieth kaiju film was a celebratory affair, intended to mark Godzilla’s final appearance. That didn’t work. Set at the end of the 20th century, the premise is that all the kaiju have been rounded up on a research centre dubbed ‘Monster Island’. This set-up is fine until the alien Kilaaks throw a spanner in the works, setting all the kaiju on Earth’s major cities to force our subjugation. After some stomping of New York, London, Beijing and Moscow, Earth gets the kaiju back under control and sets them on the Kilaak base at Mt. Fuji. But the Kilaaks still have King Ghidorah up their (presumably rather large) sleeve.

First series appearance of... Gorosaurus (a dinosaur); Manda (a sea monster); Baragon (a smaller, horned dinosaur than Gorosaurus); and Varan (a giant flying lizard).


US title: Godzilla’s Revenge
Director: Ishiro Honda

The tenth Godzilla film was the first to be aimed specifically at children. It involves the young Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki), neglected by his working parents and bullied by his peers, learning to cope with life through frequent dream visits to Monster Island. While asleep he sees Godzilla fighting Kamacuras, Kumonga and Ebirah, and is rescued from a fall into a cave by Minilla, who reveals he’s also having bully problems. Ichiro helps Minilla defeat the ogre Gabara, gaining the courage to defeat his own tormentors – and a gang of robbers – in the waking world.

First series appearance of: Gabara, an ogre who exists only in Ichiro’s dreams. He doesn’t appear again.


US title: Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster
Director: Yoshimitsu Banno

Plot: Hedorah is a poisonous sea monster that, it turns out, evolved from a microscopic alien life form thanks to Earth’s pollution. The shape-shifting creature causes such destruction and is so invincible that humankind actually throws a party to mark the end of days. Bleak. But then we figure out that dehydration is the key, and Godzilla helps us desiccate Hedorah with electrodes. Win!

First series appearance of... Hedorah, a pollution-powered sea monster that spews acid.


US title: Godzilla On Monster Island
Director: Jun Fukuda

Plot: Haruo Nakajima, who had played Godzilla since the beginning, made his final appearance in the suit here, once again fighting King Ghidorah and some giant space insects from Nebula-M. Said aliens, somehow disguised as humans, are planning to destroy all Earthlings by employing Ghidorah and Gigan, a giant alien cyborg. Godzilla and Anguirus have other ideas.

First series appearance of... Gigan, a cyborg-biped-dragon thing with a buzzsaw in his stomach.


US title: None deemed necessary
Director: Jun Fukuda

Plot: The result of a design competition for Japanese schoolchildren, this wasn’t initially intended as a Godzilla film at all, which is why he plays second fiddle to giant robot superhero Jet Jaguar. The story sees aquatic Earth race the Seatopians annoyed by decades of nuclear testing and planning to unleash Megalon, their undersea god. Jet Jaguar’s inventors initially lose control of him to the Seatopians, but regain the upper hand with a useful secondary control system, and send their roboto to Monster Island to fetch Godzilla. Faced with alarmingly turned tables, the Seatopians send a distress call to Nebula-M asking for Gigan...

First series appearance of... Jet Jaguar (giant robot designed by competition winners) and Megalon (a sort of giant cockroach / beetle).


US title: Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster
Director: Jun Fukuda

Plot: Godzilla, who we thought was our ally these days, bursts from Mt. Fuji and starts his old stomping tricks again. Anguirus has a word, but is defeated, though not before inflicting a wound on the creature that exposes a shiny metal endoskeleton. It’s not Godzilla at all! It’s... you’re way ahead of us. The real Godzilla then shows up, and Mechagodzilla is revealed to be an alien super-weapon wielded by the ape-like Simians, from the Third Planet Of The Black Hole. They have taken a dislike to King Caesar, who joins Godzilla in pulling Mechagodzilla's head off.

First series appearance of... Mechagodzilla (giant robot Godzilla from space) and King Caesar (giant mythological lion/dog creature).


US title: Terror Of Godzilla
Director: Ishiro Honda

Plot: The last of the original slew of Godzilla films, this one starts with Interpol agents looking for the wreckage of Mechagodzilla at the bottom of the ocean. Fools! They’re soon under attack from the undersea Titanosaurus, who turns out to have been invented by a mad Japanese scientist who wants to destroy mankind and is in cahoots with the Black Hole Planet 3 aliens. Titanosaurus and a newly rebuilt Mechagodzilla are soon laying waste to Yokosuka, and Godzilla struggles to cope with their joint assault. But Interpol’s discovery that Titanosaurus is vulnerable to “sonic waves” leaves Mechagodzilla alone as Godzilla’s sole focus. The organic version triumphs, with a little help from Mechagodzilla’s human / cyborg controller, who has a change of heart.

First series appearance of... Titanosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur with a tail that can cause maelstroms and hurricanes.


US title: Er, Godzilla
Director: Produced by Hanna-Barbera

Plot: For those of us of a certain age, this was the first Godzilla we encountered and remains an indelible memory. The format had a group of American marine scientists on board a hydrofoil called Calico. When in danger from sea monsters and the like, they could call Godzilla by pressing a big red button. This being a US cartoon, there’s also the cute factor, in the form of Godzilla’s more useless younger “cousin” Godzooky, who has some traits borrowed from Minilla, such as only being able to puff smoke rings. This wasn’t Godzilla’s first TV incarnation: he’d previously appeared on the Japanese live-action Zone Fighter series in the ‘70s. There would also be the short-lived Godzilla Island (Japan, live-action) in 1997, and another American cartoon series following the Roland Emmerich film in 1998.

First series appearance of... (Sing!) “And Godzoooooookyyyyyy…


US title: The Return Of Godzilla
Director: Koji Hashimoto

Plot: After a decade’s retirement (not counting the cartoon) Godzilla was back for the first of a new series, celebrating his 30th anniversary. This reboot was a direct sequel to the original film from 1954, ignoring every film from Godzilla Raids Again onwards. Following years in which he’d gradually become a friend to humanity, this sees the big G back in antagonist mode, rising from a volcano on Daikoku Island, feeding off nuclear power plants and prompting the mass evacuation of Tokyo. Mankind’s initial volley in defence is the Super-X military warplane, but when Godzilla drops a building on that, plan B is to lure him into another volcano. As well as a guy in a suit (Kenpachiro Satsuma; previously Hedorah and Gigan), this film utilised a 20ft animatronic Godzilla. The American edit brought back Raymond Burr, in the same role as in 1954.

First series appearance of... The Super-X plane.


US title: The same
Director: Kazuki Omori

Plot: Five years on from his Return, Godzilla’s reboot cycle kicks off in earnest. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was reluctant to reuse any of the kaiju from the series’ heyday, so here we get Biollante, a Frankensteinian lab-created triffid / octopus thing combining the DNA of Godzilla, roses, and a scientist’s dead daughter. Because why not? Mankind tries a new version of the Super-X against the double threat, along with an experimental anti-nuclear bacteria. But it’s basically down to Godzilla and Biollante to take each other down. Godzilla once again returns to the sea, and Biollante ends up orbiting the Earth in the form of a giant flower.

First series appearance of... Biollante. She was the result of another public design competition, which was won by a dentist.


US title: N/A
Director: Kazuki Omori

Plot: Following the Biollante farrago, Tanaka capitulated on his “no classic monsters” rule and allowed the return of Godzilla’s greatest foe. This one’s got time travel in it. It’s complicated. A UFO arrives on Mt. Fuji and unloads its pilots, who have come back to 1991 from the year 2204. They call themselves ‘The Futurians’, claim that Japan has been completely destroyed in the future, and hatch a plan to take present-day scientists back to the 1940s to stop Godzilla’s creation in the first place. So they do that, but also deliberately create King Ghidorah in the process, who they plan to use to subjugate Japan. Because it turns out the Japan of the future isn’t destroyed, but is the number one world superpower and the Futurians want it smashed. But it turns out that rather than stop Godzilla’s creation, the Futurians accidentally created the second Godzilla (the first one having genuinely been killed in the 1954 film). Godzilla then fights Ghidorah and wins, so the Futurians go back to the future and fetch Mecha-King Ghidorah, a cyborg created from the remains of the organic version. Godzilla then defeats Mecha-King Ghidorah at the bottom of the sea.

First series appearance of... Mecha-King Ghidorah, a cyborg Ghidorah from the future


US title: Godzilla And Mothra: The Battle For Earth
Director: Takao Okawara

Plot: The previous film was a massive success, so it was decided that classic kaiju were the way to go. This turned out to be the right plan, since this film is officially the most financially successful of the whole series, coming second only to Jurassic Park in Japan’s 1993 box office (it was a good year for giant lizards, apparently). Various natural disasters cause the awakening not only of Godzilla, but also of Mothra and Battra, another moth thing (some translations claim it as “Black Mothra”). The climactic battle takes place in a fairground.

First series appearance of... Battra, originally conceived as Mothra’s evil twin, but reaching the screen as something slightly different.


US title: Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II
Director: Takao Okawara

Plot: Not a remake as the Japanese title suggests, nor a sequel as the Americans would have it, this is just… what it is. The UN salvages what’s left of Mecha-King Ghidorah to build both a flying gunship called Garuda and a Mechagodzilla for Earth’s defence. Godzilla and Rodan are attracted by a telepathic signal being given off by a mysterious egg. After a bit of a rumble, Godzilla defeats Rodan, and the egg hatches a new Baby Godzilla, which is squirreled away by a research team. As Godzilla flails around searching for the baby, Mechagodzilla is sent in, to disappointing effect. Then Rodan shows up again, the UN has to deploy Mechagodzilla against him instead, and Godzilla arrives in the aftermath to take down the weakened mecha. Finally united with the baby, Godzilla heads out to sea with his new adopted son.

First series appearance of... Baby Godzilla, not to be confused with Minilla (or Godzooky).


US title: N/A
Director: Kensho Yamashita

Plot: A new Godzilla is spontaneously created in space, thanks to some cells taken off-world by Biollante and Mothra, and the fission effect of a black hole. SpaceGodzilla destroys a NASA space station, and as it gets nearer to Earth, Japan sends Moguera, a giant mecha penguin, to intercept. Surprisingly this gambit is unsuccessful. SpaceGodzilla lands and attacks Baby Godzilla. Godzilla fights SpaceGodzilla, but loses, leaving SpaceGodzilla to build a crystal fortress of solitude in the middle of Fukuoka and siphon off energy from the Earth’s core. Godzilla and Moguera team up for some stomping.

First series appearance of... SpaceGodzilla (a Godzilla from space, with big crystals on his shoulders) and Moguera (a 160ft mecha penguin that can separate into a tank and a flying battleship).


US title: Godzilla Vs. Destroyah
Director: Takao Okawara

Plot: The final film of the second wave, this one picked up publicity for supposedly being the film that would finally kill Godzilla (as Toho cleared the decks for the Roland Emmerich film). Godzilla develops a rash-like illness and attacks Hong Kong in his delirium. Turns out his reactor-like core is approaching meltdown: a problem, since he’ll likely take the world with him when he goes. Japan deploys another new Super-X with cold weapons to try to stop this. Meanwhile a separate plan, using the “oxygen destroyer” that took down the original Godzilla in 1954, instead mutates some Precambrian organisms into giant crabs called Destoroyah. Baby Godzilla, now grown into Godzilla Jr., is sent in to intervene under telepathic human control. Godzilla does ultimately perish, but he doesn’t destroy the Earth in the process, and his atomic energy is channelled into Godzilla Jr., who grows to full size to replace his adoptive father as King Of The Monsters.

First series appearance of... Destoroyah, massive insect-bat-crab things accidentally force-evolved from crustacea.


Japanese title: Gojira
: Roland Emmerich

Plot: Ahh, here’s that dubious word: “reimagining”. Post-Jurassic Park, a CG Godzilla was a Hollywood no-brainer, leading to this... effort, from Roland Emmerich and Sony. Nuclear tests in French Polynesia irradiate an iguana’s nest. Decades later, the result shows up in New York to bother Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. Helicopter pilots fail to twig that they can escape the beast by gaining altitude. This Godzilla appears to be female because it lays eggs. She ends up fatally tangled in the Brooklyn Bridge, but there are a whole mess of eggs left to deal with - and one is overlooked...

First series appearance of... Toho folded this iguana-like monster into its own continuity as 'Zilla'.


US title: Godzilla 2000
: Takao Okawara

Plot: Toho Phase III once again ignores everything that’s ever happened in the Godzilla-verse, bar the original 1954 movie. This film posits that there’s now a Godzilla Prediction Network, formed to anticipate his movements like weather-based natural disasters. A mysterious million-year-old UFO emerges from the Pacific and begins harvesting computer files about Godzilla, looking to replicate the kaiju’s regenerative DNA. The giant jellyfish-ish Millennian they create/become then, because of Earth’s unfamiliar atmosphere, mutates into the 200ft gorilla/snake/shark Orga. He bears the brunt of Godzilla’s nuclear pulse.

First series appearance of... Orga, who can open his snake-like jaws to swallow opponents and morph into their form. He also has a death ray on his shoulder.


US title: Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus Director*: Masaaki Tezuka

Plot: Mankind has now replaced nuclear power with clean “plasma energy”, but Godzilla still hasn’t gone away. Pesky scientists working on a weapon that creates small black holes accidentally open a wormhole through which a prehistoric dragonfly emerges and lays an egg. The egg then splits into hundreds more and, when it comes into contact with water, hatches larvae called Meganula, which cause some degree of havoc in Tokyo. Godzilla crushes them, but some of them manage to extract some of his life force and inject it into a mega-larva that becomes Megaguirus, a giant dragonfly gremlin, and the Meganulas’ queen. Queenie then goes after Godzilla...

First appearance of... Megaguirus, who can fly superfast and drain energy from opponents with a big stinger.


US title: GMK
Director: Shusuke Kaneko

Plot: Following the Emmerich attack on New York, Japan prepares for the return of Godzilla. Godzilla destroys a nuclear submarine. Baragon causes an earthquake. Mothra attacks some teenagers. Researchers discover that Godzilla is possessed by the dead Japanese soldiers of WWII, angry that Japan has forgotten their sacrifice. Godzilla fights Baragon. Mothra fights Godzilla. Ghidorah fights Mothra and Godzilla. The Japan Self-Defence Force gets Godzilla to eat a missile.

First series appearance of... Nobody, but Mothra, King Ghidora and Baragon are significantly altered to make Godzilla seem more powerful.


US title: Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
Director: Masaaki Tezuka

Plot: Scientists assemble to create a cyborg Godzilla from the dead 1954 version’s skeleton. And lo! Mechagodzilla is born – again! – and given the name Kiryu. Supposed to be remote-controlled, Kiryu is then essentially possessed by 1954 Godzilla, thanks to its organic remnants, when it hears the current Godzilla’s roar. It then goes on the rampage. Oops. Brought back under human control, at first remotely and then with an on-board pilot, the fight with Godzilla is properly on, creating the opportunity for the deployment of the awesome Absolute Zero Cannon. Boom!

First series appearance of... Kiryu, a new Mechagodzilla.


US title: Godzilla: Tokyo SOS
Director: Masaaki Tezuka

Plot: Kiryu is under repair, and Mothra’s fairy representatives advise the Japanese government that it’s possibly worth returning Kiryu’s Godzilla skeleton to the bottom of the ocean. Mothra says she’ll fight in Kiryu’s place if this happens. Godzilla duly arrives, but Mothra struggles to defeat him. Kiryu has a crack, but is also beaten. A repaired Kiryu later does succeed in wounding Godzilla, but his roar awakens 1954 Godzilla’s soul within Kiryu again, and the mecha carries Godzilla to safety, accompanying him to the sea bed.

First series appearance of... Kamoeba, a rock turtle kaiju, albeit in cameo form. It previously appeared solo in 1970’s Space Amoeba.


US title: N/A
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Plot: In 2044, kaiju begin appearing all over the world. Anguirus shows up in Shanghai; Rodan takes New York; King Ceasar goes for Okinawa; Kamacuras takes Paris; Kumonga arrives in Arizona; Ebirah stomps into Tokyo; and Sydney draws the short straw with Zilla (the Emmerich Godzilla). After much destruction, the Earth is apparently rescued by the timely intervention of the alien Xiliens, but it turns out they actually want to harvest us for food. Balls. When we resist, they set the kaiju on us again. Luckily, Godzilla was frozen at the South Pole in 2004 and so isn’t under the Xiliens’ kaiju mind control. We thaw him out, and he defeats all the kaiju sent against him, sparing only Anguirus, Rodan and King Caesar, and breaking their mind control. Gigan, King Ghidorah and Mothra also show up, as does Minilla, who persuades the eventually triumphant Godzilla not to petulantly stomp the whole of mankind for good measure.

First series appearance of... CGI versions of Manda, Mothra and Kamacuras, plus Zilla's only appearance in a Japanese film. She’s smashed into Sydney Opera House in the quickest battle in the entire franchise. That’s what you might call “short shrift”.