Godzilla is an icon.
Over 65 years and through 33 movies, the creature has come to define the kaiju subgenre, while mining potent metaphors from rubber-suited destruction. The big guy even earned himself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame along the way.
From his origins as a specter of the atom bomb to the lovable defender of Tokyo from hosts of malevolent monsters and everything in between, Godzilla is almost always at his most entertaining when the destruction ramps up and the fighting begins.
As Godzilla vs. Kong roars into theaters and living rooms to reunite the legend with his famous friends and foes, here’s how all of the live-action films stack up against one another.
33. All Monsters Attack (1969)
It turns out even Godzilla is not immune to the preposterous filler usually offered by the clip show episode of your favorite television sitcom. Ichiro is a young boy who’s frequently bullied by his classmates. To escape from this, he frequently imagines what life would be like hanging out on Monster Island with Godzilla’s son, Minilla, who also suffers from bullying from some of the island’s inhabitants. All Monsters Attack was made for the children, and for those who love stock footage.
32. Godzilla (1998)
How bad does your Godzilla movie have to be that even Toho has to turn its back on it? This bad. A Godzilla* surfaces from deep in the ocean before heading to New York to cause utter destruction. Lackluster performances from Ferris Bueller and Leon the Professional do nothing to aide this dumpster fire, which killed any notion of an American franchise until 2014. Try the animated TV series that spawned from it instead, and thank me later.
*It’s a T-Rex.
31. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
When will humans learn? Nuclear testing near Monster Island causes problems when two of Godzilla’s friends, Anguirus and Rodan, tumble into a fissure caused by the blast. The bomb also razes the capital of Seatopia, an underground civilization which sends the drillbit arm-bearing giant cockroach that is Megalon in retaliation to destroy those responsible. Jet Jaguar also appears. It speaks to a film’s quality when it makes an appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000 like this one did.
30. Son of Godzilla (1967)
Scientists try to build a weather-control device with the goal of improving the climates of harsh landscapes where crops could not previously grow, and hopefully end world hunger. Naturally, things go awry and their system causes some of the local praying mantises to become kaiju who stumble across an egg that contains Godzilla’s son, Minilla, in it. Godzilla is at his most paternal in this installment. Together, the two fight off more giant insects after Minilla’s abilities grow, thanks to the power of Godzilla’s corporal punishment.
29. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
Aliens from a dying planet come to Earth to rebuild their civilization, disguising themselves as humans. Their goal: to gain employment at a Japanese theme park and utilize its central radio tower to control Gigan and King Ghidorah, who will be instructed to destroy humanity. Godzilla and Anguirus get in the way, of course, and for some reason can kind of talk to each other in this one.
28. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
A group of five people who have stolen a yacht run into the giant lobster Ebirah while at sea, before eventually washing onto the shores of an island that happens to be the home of the terrorist group Red Bamboo. The terrorists have been manufacturing a radioactive form of water, utilizing slave labor from the denizens of Mothra’s home, Infant Island. Godzilla and Mothra team up to fight Red Bamboo and Ebirah, but not before making a movie poor enough to also appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
27. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
After the 1954 Godzilla left Tokyo in ruins, Japan embraced atomic and plasma energies to aide in its reconstruction. Each of these ultimately attracted Godzilla, who feeds off their reactors. In the present day, the anti-Godzilla task force has developed a satellite that can shoot miniature black holes meant to imprison Godzilla. Naturally, there’s the unintended side effect of opening a portal to another dimension that releases Megaguirus, a monstrously large dragonfly.
26. Godzilla 2000 (1999)
After the satisfying conclusion to the Heisei Series that ran from 1984-1995, Godzilla returns after a brief hiatus to serve as a metaphor for relentless forces of nature like weather and tsunamis. A UFO comes to Earth and happens across some pieces of Godzilla’s flesh that he lost in a battle with the Japanese Army. That flesh manifests into Orga, a lumpy, potato-like creature that has some of Godzilla’s abilities and a shoulder cannon capable of shooting a plasma ray.
25. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
File this one under the “so bad, it’s good” section; it’s utter insanity from start to finish. After Godzilla emerges from his ice prison in Godzilla Raids Again, the next logical step to take would be to fetch King Kong from a nearby island to fight him. The suits for both Godzilla and King Kong are hideous, but add to the wacky charm that has a surprisingly good score from the original film’s composer, Akira Ifukube.
24. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Toho sought to capitalize on the success of the original film, and quickly churned out this sequel that pits Godzilla against Anguirus. There’s a subplot about some Air Force pilots and a traffic controller they love for different reasons, but much of the film centers on the horrifying realization that kaiju are more common in the world than humanity once thought.
23. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Humanity is slowly destroying the planet through pollution and global warming. Eco-terrorists kidnap a scientist who’s created a mind-link device that can awaken the Earth’s titans and unleash them to restore the natural order. This Godzilla still suffers from the underdeveloped characters of its 2014 predecessor, but it ramps the monster action up to 11 while doing a service to deeper fans of the series with homages and references to the entire catalog of Godzilla titles.
22. Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (1994)
Cells from Godzilla have found their way into space. When they combined with cosmic energy, they created Spacegodzilla, who comes barreling toward Earth to destroy everything. He first encounters Regular Godzilla on arrival, and imprisons him in a jail of crystals he summons from the ground. They also act as a power source.) Being the good father he is, Godzilla sets off for revenge with the help of Mothra and the human-controlled robot M.O.G.U.E.R.A.
21. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Nothing speaks to the dangers of pollution quite like the ham-fisted metaphor of a monster made out of actual smog and sludge. A resilient foe, Hedorah is immune to many of Godzilla’s trademark powers. One of the more watchable entries from Godzilla’s campiest era, it’s notable for Godzilla using his heat ray to fly through the air like a jetpack.
20. Godzilla (2014)
The trailer for this one promised us Bryan Cranston, fresh off Breaking Bad, in what looked to be a return to the dramatic roots of the 1954 film. What we got instead was Aaron Taylor-Johnson running between locations. The themes return to the fears of atomic war, and even featured a timely reference to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but the film struggles with paper-thin characterizations and a lack of the monster fighting that audiences paid to see.
19. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
The bones of the first Godzilla are used as to construct a Mechagodzilla that will serve as humanity’s defense against the King of Monsters. Godzilla, being the more nefarious iteration of the Millennium Series, turns out to be able to communicate directly with the robot’s skeleton, which still harbors memories and rebels against its pilots. An allegory for the dangers of A.I., this one leads directly into Tokyo S.O.S..
18. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
With Mechagodzilla on the mend after the events of the previous feature, humanity is left to defend itself with half-tested weapons against Godzilla, before turning to Mothra and her tiny twin handlers for aid. Ideas about allowing the past to rest are laid out in conjunction with some good old-fashioned mech fighting in the tradition of Gundam Wing and Evangelion.
17. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Godzilla is at his most evil in this giant monster rumble. To combat the giant lizard, a tabloid reporter unleashes three titans of Earth: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, who have been resting for ages. Here Godzilla serves as a literal embodiment of Japanese atrocities committed during World War II, and only the titans can lay the collective souls lost to rest.
16. Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
A meteorite strikes the deepwater trench where Godzilla is resting, awakening him from his slumber. Meanwhile, humans discover a Mothra egg ready to hatch and learn of her oldest rival, Battra, a giant wasp who seeks to preserve the planet’s natural order. Godzilla and Mothra must team up to defeat this embodiment of Earth fighting back against a humanity which has vainly sought to shape the planet to its own needs.
15. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Godzilla, Rodan, Mechagodzilla, and Baby Godzilla all feature in this additional take on the dangers of artificial intelligence. To combat the permanent threat that is Godzilla, Japan develops a Mechagodzilla using the parts of Mecha-King Ghidorah. The film’s subplot about an egg hatching into Baby Godzilla, and its bonding to a woman with telekinetic powers from the G-Force, add some of the emotion that can often be left secondary in the franchise.
14. Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
Everyone wants to be the king, and this entry brings the world’s two most popular kaiju back together for a no-holds-barred rematch with a modern aesthetic and explosive fights. This is Legendary’s Monsterverse at the top of its game, and a fun thrill ride from start to finish.
13. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Aliens have come to Earth to take over, and in the process are rebuilding their fallen Mechagodzilla. Because they’ve saved his daughter’s life, and in return for financing his project, a scientist who’s developing mind control technology agrees to assist them. He implants the technology on Titanosaurus, whom the aliens unleash to destroy Godzilla and the world. Humanity and Godzilla must team up to defeat the aliens, Titanosaurus, and Mechagodzilla. Fears of real-world mind control projects like MKUltra and the Cold War resonate throughout this film.
12. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Aliens are back, and this time they mean business, pitting nearly every kaiju seen in Toho’s history against one another. Shades of The Matrix and Equilibrium are felt as the humans fight the aliens. Ultimately, this entry was meant to serve as a conclusive end-point to the series, and delivers major fan-service throughout. The inclusion of 1998’s American Godzilla as one of the monsters (dubbed Zilla) proves that Toho still knows how to play it tongue-in-cheek.
11. The Return of Godzilla (1984)
When the Showa Era of films ended in 1975, Godzilla had strayed far from his original purpose as a manifestation of the horrors of nuclear war and had practically developed into a WWE main-eventer. With his return here in the Heisei Series, Godzilla regained his darker tone and served as the looming threat of the Cold War and humanity’s use of nuclear energy.
10. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Humans (dubbed the Futurians) from the year 2204 travel back in time to then present-day 1991 to warn Japan that Godzilla will awaken and destroy it for good. Only by going back in time to 1944 to destroy the dinosaur that would later mutate into Godzilla from atomic testing can they save their home, or so they say. The message about the dangers of corrupt corporations still resonate today.
09. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
Japanese astronauts discover the existence of Planet X, located on the other side of Jupiter and home to the Xiliens. The Xiliens are constantly terrorized by King Ghidorah and must live underground to survive on their planet. They offer humans a miracle drug that will cure all disease if they send Godzilla to defeat him, but we’ve all learned by now that aliens in these films usually have ulterior motives. This is the first film to feature mind control and aliens as part of the plot, and would go on to heavily influence many that followed.
08. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
A creature appearing to be Godzilla arises from the rocks of Mt. Fuji, causing chaos and destruction on the town below, which is unusual in the era where he serves as Japan’s protector. After a brief battle with Anguirus and eventually Godzilla, the creature is revealed to be none other than Mechagodzilla, on a mission to enslave humanity for aliens. Featuring a great appearance from one of the lesser-known kaiju, King Caesar, the film explores themes of espionage and sleeper agents that add up to a redeeming work for director Jun Fukuda after several other middling titles. The jazzy score adds a slight bit of sexiness to one of the more unique films on this list.
07. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
After a terrible tsunami, a giant egg washes ashore on the beach. The locals see it bought by a shady businessman who seeks to make it the prime attraction of an amusement park. When Godzilla comes threatening, the egg’s mother Mothra and her smaller twin guards step in to protect it. This film furthers the lore explored in 1961’s Mothra, and establishes her as a fan favorite. Themes of corporate greed and environmental conservatism voice Japanese social concerns of the era.
06. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
A giant monster free-for-all set in futuristic 1999, humanity has learned to coexist with kaiju that now all live on Monster Island, which is set up with security to contain the monsters. When an accident occurs, the kaiju break free and their normally docile nature turns hostile when it’s revealed that aliens are controlling them for their own purposes. The premise takes some time to set up, but once it gets going, it’s everything a viewer could want from a monster movie.
05. Shin Godzilla (2016)
Godzilla returns to Japan after a 12-year hiatus in a modern take on the creature’s lore. Evolving through several stages from a giant tadpole of sorts to his final incarnation, this Godzilla has some new tricks up his sleeve. What really makes Shin Godzilla stand out is the human side of the plot, which focuses on the maddening comedy of bureaucracy and the pressures of managing a country in times of crisis. Shin Godzilla opts to substitute the atom bomb metaphors of earlier entries for the more modern undertones of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown incident.
04. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
A giant meteor lands in the mountains of Japan, setting off a chain reaction that awakens Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra. As they rampage, King Ghidorah appears in the series’ best-ever introduction of a kaiju. This film marks the turning point in the Showa Era, where Godzilla transitions from foe to friend after Mothra convinces Rodan and Godzilla to team up to fight the three-headed beast. The film’s themes of making allies out of previous enemies underscores Japan’s post-World War II diplomacy.
03. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
This finale to the Heisei Series goes out with a bang. Godzilla, whose body has been fueled by ingesting nuclear energy, is nearing the point of critical meltdown, transforming him into Burning Godzilla, a form with incredible power. His foe, Destoroyah, is a demonic horned bat born out of a mutation between the oxygen destroyer that defeated the original Godzilla and trilobites exposed to toxic waste. Destoroyah is his cruelest enemy, and a symbol of the worst sum of humanity’s negative effects on the planet.
02. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
After Godzilla kills a bioengineer’s daughter during an attack on a nuclear plant, he vows to honor her memory. Combining a rose spliced with some of his daughter’s DNA and some of Godzilla’s cells left from The Return of Godzilla, he inadvertently creates Biollante, a giant, mobile Venus Fly Trap.. The film’s notions of man playing God and the unexpected consequences of creating something outside of its control predates Jurassic Park and is emblematic of the fears born from the early years of bioengineering.
01. Godzilla (1954)
The granddaddy of them all, the original Godzilla has now stood tall for 65 years. The horrors of nuclear war and its fallout that befell Japan in a post-World War II rebuilding country informed the feature, as did their effects on Japanese citizens. From the raging fires Godzilla leaves in his wake invoking the fire bombings of Tokyo, to his heat ray melting all infrastructure, weaponry, and life in an instant, there is no greater entry than the very first. Director Ishirô Honda’s seminal work created an entire genre of film that has seen many imitators, but few have ever come close to the majesty that is Godzilla.