EJ Moreno looks at the must-see Godzilla movies from Toho…
Fans of the Godzilla universe are eating quite well these days, with Godzilla Minus One a certified smash hit, the Apple TV+ series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters [read our review here], a new Godzilla vs. Kong movie on the horizon, and who knows what else.
There’s an overabundance of things, and this is the perfect time for classic fans and newcomers to look back at how we got here. For this list, we’ll look at nine of the most influential and essential Godzilla films to be released from Toho. That means none of the Legendary films will be included, and we will not look at any animated Godzilla installment here.
Toho has released 32 Godzilla films with one on the way, so narrowing it down to just nine was no easy task. Make sure to reach out to Flickering Myth via social media to let us know your favorite movie from the kaiju…
The Return of Godzilla (1984)
Everyone loves a good comeback, which is precisely what The Return of Godzilla served as. After over a decade away from the cinemas, it was time for Godzilla to be reintroduced to audiences and begin a new era.
The Return of Godzilla begins the Heisei era, which would usher new stories and ideas for the long-running series. With The Return of Godzilla, we ignore all the previous besides the iconic 1954 original while refocusing the story on what worked the best: Godzilla vs. humanity.
Putting the kaiju in a more modern setting for the time kept things fresh, and we can count this as a significant reason for the extended longevity. Audiences got a Cold War-era Godzilla with new skyscrapers and newer tech, making it feel like a brand-new franchise.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Even the most casual Godzilla fan knows how iconic the idea of Mechagodzilla is and what he means to the legacy. While introducing the iconic villain doesn’t come with one of the best films, it’s still memorable.
1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was a massive improvement over the film that came before it, but it still couldn’t match the high standards set by the franchise. What this one does achieve is being ambiguous, introducing more mythos to a universe that felt so black and white.
Along with Mechagodzilla, this film also introduced fans to King Caesar, a deity that would ally with our titular hero a few more times. The impact this film had on the franchise is immense, and thankfully, we’ll see Mechagodzilla done better in later entries.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Nowadays, every major franchise wants their version of Avengers: Endgame; the massive blockbuster brought together decades of story into one epic battle. Wildly, Godzilla did that years before with Final Wars.
As the 50th anniversary of the franchise, Toho took it upon themselves to give fans an all-out monster brawl featuring 15 of Godzilla’s most memorable foes and friends. Watching back is a joyous experience filled with the perfect fan service and great kaiju battles.
The franchise would go into a long hiatus after Final Wars, showing how impactful the project was to the studio and fans. Unlike the MCU, Toho knew they ended things memorably and made us crave any Godzilla content for decades.
Godzilla vs. Biollante
You’d think that one of Godzilla’s best films would feature one of these villains even casual fans would know, but you’d be sorely mistaken if you overlook Godzilla vs. Biollante.
Widely considered the best of the Heisei era and one of the best overall, Godzilla faces off against such a unique foe, causing the battles and story to feel far more thrilling than many of its peers. You get more from this than many of the Showa era put together.
Also, Godzilla vs. Biollante introduced us to Miki Saegusa, the emotional core to the remaining five Heisei Era films and the best human story you’ll ever get from any Godzilla movie, a quality often overlooked and something we need badly these days.
As stated, Toho put Godzilla to rest for over a decade after Final Wars. What more could they do with the kaiju going forward outside the American films? Well, Shin Godzilla proved there are more stories to tell.
The Reiwa era began and gave us a complete reinvention of everything we’ve come to know from Godzilla. The film took us on a wild ride, showing an evolution of the monster much like we got with Biollante, but the result was the scariest Godzilla yet.
This is more than just a strange disaster film. We also got one of the better human stories for any Godzilla outing, adding a darkly hilarious political commentary that was often far more subtle in other entries. Shin Godzilla is so unique and refreshing, making it one of the best to rewatch.
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
With a title as long and wild as that, you know you are getting quite the viewing experience. It stands next to some of the best in the franchise, even with some fans citing it as the best Godzilla film ever.
Where Giant Monsters All-Out Attack thrives is diving more into folklore and mythology, harkening back to what made Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla work. We explore the most iconic kaiju in different ways, allowing longtime fans to see different sides of the characters we adore.
Also, points for the best use of “Godzilla as the antagonist” since the original, putting tortured souls behind the monster’s madness. Also, there’s another solid human story that ties it all together. A Godzilla film works best when it presents new ideas and gives us reasons to care.
Godzilla Minus One
When Toho first began to tease the latest Godzilla entry, no one could’ve predicted where this would go in terms of fan reception and overall box office success. We saw a true smash hit with Godzilla Minua One.
It’s rare to have a kaiju film with this much of an impactful human story. The time building up Kōichi Shikishima as our hero pays off perfectly in such an enthralling final act. Every moment spent getting us emotionally invested made the Godzilla moments that much stronger.
And there’s no denying that our wonderful kaiju king is in top shape in Godzilla Minus One. The boat sequence in the second act will go down as one of the most terrifying kaiju moments ever crafted by Toho, giving us aquatic scares that brought us back to another classic, Jaws.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah
From a personal standpoint, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is, without a doubt, my favorite kaiju film. The dark and menacing tone finally puts the horror back into what originally started as a horror franchise.
The incredible Heisei Era came to a close with this film, but it also served as a send-off to the original movie. Destoroyah is a direct result of the Oxygen Destroyer used to kill Godzilla in 1954, and we feel that long-standing beef with some of the most intense kaiju warfare.
As Godzilla is literally melting down, the stake never felt higher, and the tension was never more impactful. The narrative works so well that longtime fans often feel personally attached to the film, and some aren’t afraid to admit they get emotional as this film comes to a close.
When you say essential, you can’t go wrong with throwing it back to the original that started it all. But 1954’s Godzilla is more than just an OG; it’s a compelling horror film made at a crucial time.
For its time, there’s nothing quite like this. There were plenty of monster movies in the 1950s, but none came with the emotional package and real-life connections. Japan was saying so much with this film, putting their pain and emotions into the most epic monster tale.
In many ways, the modern era of blockbusters would’ve never happened without Godzilla; this is heavy emotion mixed with large-scale action. It shaped the way for classics like Jaws and Jurassic Park and launched a franchise many studios would dream of having a quarter of its impact.
What are your favourite Godzilla movies from Toho? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…