5 best Godzilla movies of all time
Godzilla -- or "Gojira" as he's known in Japan -- has been delighting moviegoers and destroying Tokyo for five decades now. The sum total of his screen appearances is 28 films plus one very bad Hollywood outing, with another U.S. remake set for 2012. But which of his films truly stand apart from the pack of men-in-rubber-suits that make up the kaiju eiga (monster movie) genre? Here's the short list of my personal favorites.
Premise: A giant dinosaur mutated and awakened by atomic testing wreaks havoc until super-science finds a way to stop the rampage.
Why it's good: Director Ishiro Honda approached the 'monster on the loose' material as if he were making a documentary on Atom Age gloom and anxiety. The result is a classic of Japanese post-war cinema.
Godzilla, the monster: Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya depicts Gojira/Godzilla as a terrifying walking H-bomb incarnate and a merchandise-ready movie star.
Trivia: "Gojira" was the most expensive Japanese movie of its time to produce, budgeted at around US$1 million -- an amount double that of "The Seven Samurai."
"Mothra vs. Godzilla" (1964)
Premise: When a giant egg washes up on the shores of Japan, a greedy businessman tries to exploit it for profit. Unfortunately, it belongs to a giant insect named Mothra, who is involved in a dispute with a very grumpy Godzilla.
Why it's good: Ten years and four films into the Godzilla series, Toho Studios nails the format, filling the proceedings with epic monster thrills, colorful cinematography and a fairy tale-like quality that's stayed with the series ever since.
Godzilla, the monster: Lean and mean, a thorough villain all around. Hardcore fans consider this to be the definitive portrayal.
Trivia: The film was released to U.S. theaters as "Godzilla Vs. the Thing." Patrons were lured to the theater with posters showing a giant lizard battling an even bigger question mark.
"Invasion of Astro Monster" (1965)
Premise: 'Friendly' aliens want to 'borrow' Godzilla and Rodan, the flying monster to help them rid their world of a colossal three-headed pest named King Ghidorah. War between the planets soon breaks out.
Why it's good: The addition of rocket ships and ray guns to the Godzilla franchise creates new opportunities for pulpy thrills. A love story between an American astronaut (Nick Adams) and an alien woman (Kumi Mizuno) plays like "Madame Butterfly" by way of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
Godzilla, the monster: Refusing to be diminished by all the SF machinery around him, the Big G throws lots of kicks and punches.
Trivia: Nick Adams tried to woo co-star Kumi Mizuno off-screen and would call her up in the middle of the night confessing his love while she fumbled with an English dictionary.
"Godzilla vs. Hedorah" (1971)
Premise: A monster named Hedorah spawned from pollution covers Tokyo in muck and Godzilla must go on clean-up duty.
Why it's good: Director and experimental filmmaker Yoshimitsu Banno gives Godzilla an avant-garde makeover via psychedelic freak-outs and multi-screen effects, creating a mind-blowing environmental movie in the process.
Godzilla, the monster: He flies! He tucks his tail between his legs, cuts loose the radioactive breath, and takes to the skies (the film's producer was not amused).
Trivia: Director Banno told a Japanese interviewer, "Hedorah's eyes were modeled on female genitalia…well, come on, vaginas are scary!"
"Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004)
Premise: Aliens take over the Earth with an army of mind-controlled giant monsters. A handful of soldiers must use flying battleships, samurai swords and kung fu to save the day.
Why it's good: Toho Studios gave the honor of making the 50th anniversary Godzilla film to action specialist Ryuhei Kitamura (of "Versus" fame) who used the opportunity to rip off -- or make fun of (it's hard to tell) -- every genre film he could beginning with "The Matrix" and "X-Men." The result is an epoch defining bad movie that is deliriously fun to watch.
Godzilla, the monster: The big boy is barely in this movie at all, a fact likely to upset some viewers.
Trivia: When "Final Wars" premiered at Grauman Chinese Theatre, Godzilla received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.