This week, a certain scale-covered gentleman named Godzilla returns to the big screen, promising the joys of giant monster destruction for a whole new generation. As anyone with a pulse knows, one of the greatest joys in all of cinema is the sight of a ginormous monster beating the crap out of a city. It’s what the movies were made for and thankfully the giant robots vs. giant monsters smash em’ up Pacific Rim helped usher the genre back into the mainstream. So, if you can’t wait to see the big guy flatten out New York this weekend or come home from the flick desperate for more of the same, we thought we’d present a top five list of the Greatest Giant Monster Movies ever made for you to sample. Now, I’ll be honest and admit that I cheated and included more than five movies on this list. But hey, when you’re talking about giant monster movies, you can never have too many. Let’s dive in, shall we?
5) Big Man Japan (2007)
If nothing else, Big Man Japan is easily the weirdest giant monstermovie ever made and in this genre, that’s really saying something. Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto writes, directs, and stars in this deeply strange comedy about a boring middle aged man in Japan whose job is to grow super-sized and fight monsters when required. Shot as a mock-documentary style, the movie combines deadpan banal comedy with giant CGI monster battles in a manner that simply has to be seen to be believed. The film is pitched somewhere between The Office and Cloverfield, but somehow works perfectly. Though he’s barely known outside of Japan, Matsumoto has one of the most wonderfully cracked creative minds in comedy right now and his movies desperately deserve a wider audience. Treat yourself to Big Man Japan, I guarantee you won’t regret it.
4) The Host (2006)
Back in 2006, Joon-ho Bong was an art house darling who scored critical accolades worldwide for his debut Memories Of A Murder. So, it’s safe to say that audiences were a bit confused when the Korean writer/director decided to follow it up with a giant monster movie. At least that was true until audiences finally saw The Host. Though the movie is one hell of a monster romp filled with wonderful effects and creature design from Peter Jackson’s team at Weta, it’s also a very clever satire of American imperialism and industrial pollution as well as a genuinely touching family drama. Equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and heart-warming, The Host is a giant monster movie that makes the genre look good. For once the filmmaker seemed to care about crafting his human characters even more than his thrilling monster set pieces and the result was an instant monster movie classic.
3) Destroy All Monsters (1968)/Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Let’s face it, if you’re going to watch a giant monster movie, the only thing that could possibly make it better is the presence of multiple giant monsters duking it out together rather than a single, solitary monster. Thankfully, there are many such movies and these are the very best. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was one of the many attempts at a final Godzilla movie; however, much like James Bond the guy just keeps coming back. Led by director Isiro Honda, the entire original Godzilla team came together for this flat out battle royale that saw the big guy take on no less than 11 monsters in the biggest budgeted Godzilla movie of the time (which, in the world of rubber suited monster movies from the 60s, doesn’t really mean much to be honest). There’s not much in the way of plot, but there’s no denying that the nonstop monster-mashing offers probably the most purely enjoyable kaiju movie of the 60s.
Almost 40 years later, the folks at Toho decided to do another big budget Godzilla finale and this time hired kaiju-superfan and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura to supervise. Kitamura went out of his way to include every single damn kaiju that Toho ever created and even infused the human plot with gunfights and wire-fu to ensure not a second of screen time past without some element of ridiculous entertainment. There’s no denying that Godzilla: Final Wars is overkill, but there’s also no denying that the monster-movie geek inside you will cheer throughout in slack-jawed disbelief that someone made a Godzilla movie this completely insane. Plus, Final Wars has a scene where the original Godzilla blows up the 1998 Hollywood Godzilla and if that’s not worth the price of admission alone, then I don’t know what is!
2) Jurassic Park (1993)
It’s Jurassic Park. You know it. You love it. There’s nothing more to be said about these clever girls.
1)King Kong (1933)/Godzilla (1954)
Look, I know it’s cheating but there’s no way to choose between the two and you can’t make me. The original King Kong and Godzilla aren’t just the most important giant monster movies ever made, they also continue to be the best. The 1933 King Kong offers a giddy rush of entertainment. It’s the first summer blockbuster and in many ways Hollywood is still trying to match King Kong’s perfect mix of showboating effects entertainment and heart. The film is defined by Willis O’Brien’s astounding stop motion animation of Kong. Not only did O’Brien guide Kong through a spectacular fight with a T-Rex, but he also injected the puppet with a surprising amount of character. There’s something tragic and perverted about the original King Kong that few monster movies since can match. The film has also aged exquisitely, with all of the old-timey acting and dialogue adding delightful campy comedy to what is undeniably one of the most entertaining movies ever made.
Then there’s the original Godzilla, a movie that is far different from the reputation it spawned. Godzilla is not a cultural mascot here, but a creature spawned from nuclear radiation. He’s a big walking metaphor for Japan’s post-WWII nuclear scars and paranoia. Watched in the original Japanese Gojira cut, the film plays out as a surprisingly thoughtful piece of work, with as much screen time dedicated to scientists contemplating the nature and effects of nuclear war as there is city stomping. The rubber suit effects also hold up surprisingly well, delivering a handful of genuinely frightening sequences. Then there’s the American cut (Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!) that is filled with horrible dubbing, an awkwardly inserted Raymond Burr playing a new American protagonist, and endless unintentional laughs. So, thanks to there being two versions of the 1954 Godzilla, it is somehow both the most serious and unsettling Godzilla movie ever made and the beginning of badly dubbed Japanese monster movie camp. That’s quite a legacy. Let’s just hope that the new Hollywood version honors the Japanese cut and not the Americanized version.