Every “Godzilla” movie, ranked from worst to best

Ahead of "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," Entertainment Weekly looks back at the expansive franchise.

<p>Toho International/Courtesy Everett Collection; FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty; HBO Max/Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho International/Courtesy Everett Collection; FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty; HBO Max/Courtesy Everett Collection

Godzilla arguably created the blueprint for modern blockbusters. Toho’s giant monster movies weren’t the first example of characters from a series sharing the screen (see: Universal Monsters). But the Japanese film studio’s strategy of introducing new additions to its kaiju (translated to “strange beast”) universe in their own films, then teaming them up for group punch-em-outs later on, presaged the MCU’s tiered release strategy by decades. Godzilla is also among the longest-running franchises in cinema history, with 34 live-action and three animated installments since 1954. And it’s still alive and well, with Legendary Pictures releasing Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire in 2024.

Although sometimes dismissed as a bunch of guys in rubber suits pushing each other into balsa wood skyscrapers (and what’s wrong with that?!), the Godzilla series is a triumph of sci-fi world-building and practical effects. Yes, the “suitmation” technique SFX pioneer ​​Eiji Tsuburaya devised for the original 1954 film appears quaint now. But as the series continued to pump out installments across multiple decades, the artistry and imagination of Toho’s creative team brought the art of analog effects to exciting — and sometimes downright beautiful — heights.

Godzilla is also a monster of unusual metaphorical depth. He’s been used as a symbol both of Japan’s trauma over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a symbol of national guilt over atrocities committed by the Japanese army during WWII. More recently, he’s been a stand-in for the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and served as a warning against mankind’s destruction of the natural world. Toho’s Godzilla movies swing back and forth between silly fun and serious social commentary depending on the state of the Japanese economy, and the way that Japanese and American Godzilla movies borrow from one another says a lot about the cultural dynamics between the two countries.

With so many incarnations over so many decades, getting into Godzilla movies can be daunting. We’ve assembled a ranked list of every live-action film as a guide to the Atomic Age’s most famous monster.

35. Godzilla (1998)

<p>TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

No one seems to like the first American attempt at a Godzilla movie. Critics didn’t like it, comparing the movie unfavorably to Japanese Godzilla movies and contemporary Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters. Toho definitely didn’t like it, and worked a scene where the original Godzilla brutally wallops the redesigned “‘Zilla” into 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. And so, while the movie technically turned a profit, it’s still considered one of the more spectacular flops of its era because of its inability to live up to the massive hype that preceded its release. The bizarre casting and bad CGI don’t help, but the film’s biggest flaw is that director Roland Emmerich fails to understand what people do like about Godzilla, turning the concept into just another disaster movie with none of the monster mayhem fans love.

Where to watch Godzilla (1998): Max

34. All Monsters Attack (1969)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

This quick cash-in came out a year after Destroy All Monsters ostensibly ended the Godzilla series — and it shows. All Monsters Attack barely counts as a feature film: It’s basically a clip show, compiling the best monster fights from previous installments in the series and cobbling them together. These are combined with interstitial bits about a bullied boy who bonds with the similarly put-upon Minilla, who’s somehow made even more annoying by the movie’s persistent scale issues. All that being said, All Monsters Attack was the first Godzilla film made explicitly for children, so at least it comes by its shallowness honestly.

Where to watch All Monsters Attack: Tubi

33. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

<p>Toho Pictures</p>

Toho Pictures

Godzilla vs. Megaguirus is infamous for its crude computer graphics, which were dated the moment this film hit theaters at the turn of the millennium. And if that was the only thing wrong with the movie, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Sure, the scene where Godzilla unleashes his fire breath on a swarm of giant mutant insects looks like a deleted scene from Birdemic, but CGI wasn’t as good 20 years ago as it is now! That may be true, but the film’s practical effects are shoddy as well, which makes no sense given how superior the movies made immediately before and after this one are in that arena. The story is also underwhelming, consisting of two unrelated subplots about mutant insects growing to gigantic size after being exposed to a plasma energy experiment, and a cockeyed plot to kill Godzilla by sucking him into a portable black hole. The ending, a good old-fashioned pro-wrestling-style monster beatdown, almost makes the whole thing worth it.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Megaguirus: PlutoTV

32. Son of Godzilla (1967)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

It feels mean to pick on the only kaiju who’s an actual child, but Minilla, Godzilla’s smooth son, is the worst character to come out of the Showa era of the franchise, full stop. Even Godzilla doesn’t seem to enjoy his company very much, growling and furrowing his brow — the character was redesigned to be more expressive and friendly-looking for this film — as his irritating offspring jumps on his tail and whines while he’s trying to sleep. Son of Godzilla takes place on Monster Island and has a more consistently comedic tone than earlier films in the series. One might assume that means that this movie was made for kids, but it’s also full of traumatic elements, like giant spider marionettes and an ending that sees Godzilla and his son get frozen solid by a weather bomb. And so, much like Minilla, this film doesn’t really fit in anywhere.

Where to watch Son of Godzilla: Tubi

31. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

This black-and-white follow-up to 1954’s Godzilla was rushed into production after the original became a hit overseas — so much so that Toho didn’t wait for Ishiro Honda to finish the project he was working on at the time so he could return to the director’s chair. Toho journeyman Motoyoshi Oda stepped up in his place, and the result is a typical sci-fi sequel, the kind that tries to outdo its predecessor in terms of spectacle — here, Godzilla moves down the coast to trample Osaka — but doesn’t come close to matching it in impact. That being said, Godzilla Raids Again did introduce Anguirus, a recurring kaiju that looks like a cross between a horned herbivore dinosaur and a porcupine. It’s also notable for setting the precedent of throwing out precedent and using whatever backstory best suited the film’s writers at the time, another pattern that would repeat itself as G’s origin was rewritten over and over again.

Where to watch Godzilla Raids Again: Tubi

30. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

<p>courtesy Everett Collection</p>

courtesy Everett Collection

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II leans a little too hard into the cuteness factor of the series, sidelining kaiju action in favor of a sweet, mewling herbivore dinosaur — he’s a Godzillasaur, you see, which is like Godzilla but harmless — that’s miraculously survived into the present day (don’t ask how or why, the movie doesn’t care) and whose egg is discovered by a team of scientists on the fictional Adona Island. The puppetry on “Baby,” as his devoted human minder calls him, is excellent and full of expressive movement. But the film’s obsession with the character makes both Godzilla and Mechagodzilla minor players in their own movie, a disappointment that’s only enhanced by an underwhelming final battle.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II: PlutoTV

29. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

<p>LMPC via Getty</p>

LMPC via Getty

1966’s Ebirah, Horror of the Deep marked a changing of the guard as a second wave of Godzilla creatives took over the franchise. Chief among them was director Jun Fukuda, who would preside over the Showa era’s more light-hearted entries. Some of those are quite fun, but he hadn’t quite perfected the formula yet with Ebirah, which feels like a bunch of disparate ideas jammed together — because it is. The film was originally conceived as a King Kong movie, and Fukuda just swapped in Godzilla without making changes to the character. As a result, Godzilla acts more like King Kong, climbing buildings and romancing human women. Ebirah was also designed to cash in on the beach movie trend of its day, and while we don’t get to see Godzilla surf, we do get a giant shrimp irradiated by a secret nuclear reactor controlled by clandestine evil-doers The Red Bamboo. Shrimps are a beach thing, right?

Where to watch Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep: Tubi

28. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)



Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla has more in common with Neon Genesis Evangelion than it does any of the Godzilla movies that came before it, which automatically makes it a bit of a letdown for anyone who sits down to watch, well, a Godzilla movie. It also fails to live up to the anime masterpiece that inspired it — ironically, one thing that does carry over from other franchise installments is this film’s terminal inability to make viewers care about what happens to its human characters. In fact, the most interesting character in this film is Mechagodzilla, who’s renamed Kiryu (arguably a better tag) and given a sleek redesign for the Millennium era. Speaking of, like most of the Millennium movies, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla resets the series continuity. It’s a direct sequel to the original, in which Japan creates Kiryu out of the bones of the first Godzilla after a second monster spontaneously starts stomping Tokyo all over again.

Where to watch Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla: PlutoTV

27. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

<p>LMPC via Getty</p>

LMPC via Getty

Ishirō Honda returned to the directors’ chair for Terror of Mechagodzilla, the second of several attempts to kill off the series for good. (Like humanity’s attempts to kill Godzilla himself, none of them have stuck.) As usual, Honda approached the film from a place of seriousness, which made him an awkward fit at this point for the series that he created. (Ironic, no?) Compared to the lighter tone of Jun Fukuda’s movies, Terror of Mechagodzilla brings a darker tone to a story that still features such flights of fancy as an undersea kingdom, a mad scientist, and a brand-new kaiju, Titanosaurus, that’s best described as a bipedal seahorse. That’s in addition to Mechagodzilla, who plays a bigger role here than the fire-breathing atomic metaphor that inspired him. Well-intentioned but misbegotten, the series went into hibernation for almost a decade after this tonally confusing film flopped at the box office.

Where to watch Terror Of Mechagodzilla: Tubi

26. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024)

<p>Warner Bros. Pictures</p> 'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire'

Warner Bros. Pictures

'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire'

The fifth movie in the Monsterverse series sits firmly in the pile of campy, throw-every-monster-in-the-script style of Godzilla movies where you find gems like Destroy All Monsters. The human stories are as thin as tissue paper (returning players Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hottle, and Brian Tyree Henry can't save this script), but the movie isn't short on kaiju and monster-sized absurdity. An ancient, evil ape named Skar King has been angrily stewing with his army of giant apes in an uncharted depth of the Hollow Earth, waiting for the opportunity to rise to the surface with his enslaved ice-spewing mega titan, Shimo. While his goals are monstrous, the discovery is significant for the perpetually lonely Kong, who is the beating heart of this movie despite playing second fiddle to Godzilla in the title. Still, there’s plenty of radiation-rich meat on the bone for fans who simply want to see monsters punch each other.

Where to watch Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire: In theaters

25. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)

<p>TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla follows up the events of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, bringing the G-Force back with a wacky plot to tame Godzilla by fitting him with a telepathic transmitter that allows a team of psychics sitting in miniature pyramids to control his actions with their minds. That’s not the only New Age touch in this movie, either: Although the film begins in the jungle, it soon turns its eyes towards the skies, where “NASA footage” has revealed a kaiju threat hurtling towards the Earth. That would be SpaceGodzilla, who looks just like Godzilla, but with giant purple-tinged crystals growing from its back. Along with the return of Mothra and a plot that pits the more holistic women of G-Force against the aggressive gearhead men, this film has a feminine energy to it that unfortunately fails to bring anything new or interesting to the half-hearted monster action.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

24. Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

<p>HBO Max / Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

HBO Max / Courtesy Everett Collection

Godzilla vs. Kong was one of the first big theatrical events after COVID-19 shuttered movie theaters around the world. And it has a great sense of spectacle: Take the extended “Hollow Earth” sequence in the middle of the film, where the camera zooms around like a theme park ride. The climactic WWE-style three-way smackdown is also a treat, all choke slams and chest pounding. The issue is that this is more of a Kong movie than it is a Godzilla one, and the Godzilla scenes are divided between him and his mecha counterpart, leaving the original G with relatively little screen time. The human arcs are also a mixed bag: A subplot where conspiracy podcaster Brian Tyree Henry goes undercover with curious teens Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison has its moments, but the line “Godzilla is hurting people, and we don’t know why,” deserved its online ribbing.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Kong: Max

23. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

<p>FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty</p>

FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

Some very silly Godzilla movies are also quite good. Sadly, Godzilla vs. Megalon is not one of them. This film is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) among fans for the scene where Godzilla slides into a dropkick on his tail, punting the title villain in the gut — a real applause break moment for the kids who made up the majority of Godzilla’s audience by this point in the Showa series. And yet, despite having three kaijus, a giant robot, and that notorious stunt, the movie still manages to pack a pretty weak punch. In fact, the pro-wrestling antics are the only really memorable thing about the film, a condemnation of its kooky, overstuffed plot.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Megalon: Tubi

22. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)

<p>TriStar/Getty </p>


Godzilla only hibernated for four years between the Heisei period (1984–1995) and the Millennium period (1999–2004). But he still got a makeover (and a pretty badass one at that) for Godzilla 2000. Besides a redesign to make Big G look meaner and more reptilian, this film also features some CGI effects that are more tastefully applied than in its embarrassing follow-up, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000). That being said, the film’s human storylines — about a Godzilla hunter, his precocious daughter, and a photojournalist looking for the ultimate Godzilla shot — are a boilerplate extension of the Heisei era in structure and tone. A subplot that sees a UFO docking on top of a Shinjuku skyscraper also takes away precious Godzilla screen time, although the climactic battle is shot with an eye for drama, action, and monster spectacle that ends the film on a fist-pumping high note.

Where to watch Godzilla 2000: Millennium: Max

21. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

The original Japanese-language version of King Kong vs. Godzilla was relatively unavailable for some time — even the Criterion Collection’s massive Showa era box set only had the dubbed version — which helped cement its reputation as a knock-off. But while it’s undoubtedly ground zero for all of Godzilla’s goofiest attributes, the film is smarter than it seems. Its human elements are ahead of their time, satirizing mass media and advertising while bringing tongue-in-cheek meta-humor to the series decades before those themes came into fashion. If only the effects were up to director Ishirō Honda’s talent for monsterly metaphor (particularly in the final battle, which is too silly to produce anything but giggles).

Where to watch King Kong vs. Godzilla: Max

20. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

<p>Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

The major selling point for Trick ‘r Treat director Michael Dougherty’s entry into the Legendary series is the monster design, which is both beautiful and very painterly. (This is the Godzilla movie with a Rembrandt influence.) The film’s pairing of different kaiju with separate elements — Godzilla with fire, Rodan with earth, Mothra with air, and King Ghidorah with fire — is also inspired. And the movie doesn’t skimp on its monsters, debuting 17 different “Titans” throughout its sprawling 132-minute run time. The problems here are twofold: 1) sheets of pouring CGI rain make it difficult to make out what’s happening during the movie’s climactic showdown, and 2) the human acting here is even more lackluster than usual, making the time in between kaiju battles a real slog.

Where to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters: Max

19. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

<p>Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection</p>

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

Although it came out in 1991, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah just screams ‘80s fantasy action. (It’s the jumpsuits, for one.) Following, but unrelated to, Godzilla vs. Biollante, this particular installment re-writes Godzilla canon in a time-traveling adventure involving visitors from the year 2204. Their message, as usual, is a dire warning to humanity. That alert prompts a mission back to 1944 and the Pacific island of Lagos, where a Japanese WWII battalion once encountered a real-life dinosaur that would later transform into the Godzilla we all know and fear. That’s just the beginning of this movie’s convoluted but amusing plot, which also involves two King Ghidorahs (regular and Mecha-), Caucasian aliens jealous of Japan’s superior economic might, and bruised journalistic egos.

Where to watch Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah: Not available to stream

18. The Return of Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla 1985) (1984)

<p>Toho Co./Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Of the more serious Godzilla movies, The Return of Godzilla — the first film of the Heisei era — is the least inspired. Without Shin Godzilla’s cynical sense of humor, the film’s many parliamentary scenes play out like sci-fi C-SPAN, rehashing the common Cold War theme of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. playing atomic football with Japan caught in the middle. (Godzilla stands in for the atom bomb in that particular metaphor.) The disaster movie elements have a palpable sense of threat and danger, as do scenes where the Japan Self-Defense Force battles the monster towards the end. But these are undermined by slapstick comedy interludes and by the redesigned Godzilla himself, whose expressive, humanlike eyes don’t really fit the movie’s sober tone.

Where to watch The Return of Godzilla: Not available to stream

17. Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

<p>Toho/TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho/TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Mothra’s first appearance of the Heisei era is primarily a jungle adventure, opening with an Indiana Jones rip-off followed by a lot of bad slapstick as two formerly married scientists flirt/bicker His Girl Friday-style. The environmental messages common in Heisei films are especially prominent here, as Mothra returns to warn mankind about an impending kaiju-pocalypse spurred by humanity’s destruction of the forests and natural climate. One of the creatures spat out by the Earth in self-defense against us careless people is Battra, a dark version of Mothra with a kick-ass lightning bolt pattern on its wings and a horn that shoots electricity. Now, this film doesn’t have much in the way of pro-wrestling-style monster fighting (except for G’s humbling ultimate defeat). But Godzilla vs. Mothra makes up for it with moments of striking beauty, particularly the unforgettable scene where Mothra emerges from her gossamer cocoon.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Mothra: Not available to stream

16. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

<p>courtesy Everett Collection</p>

courtesy Everett Collection

King Ghidorah gets some serious competition in the coolest Godzilla villain department with the entrance of Mechagodzilla, a cyborg version of Big G introduced in the second-to-last Showa period film. By this point, the franchise had started to run out of steam, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla spawned several new monsters in hopes that one of them would take off. King Caesar, an Okinawan lion god whose mythology (and theme song) are clearly inspired by Mothra, turned out to be a one-trick pony. (Okay, two — he returns in Godzilla: Final Wars along with all the other kaiju.) Mechagodzilla, a metallic super-weapon beamed down from space by aliens who look like extras from Planet of the Apes, turned out to be more successful, and has been revived by both Toho and Legendary in subsequent films.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: Tubi

15. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

<p>LMPC via Getty </p>

LMPC via Getty

Godzilla vs. Gigan’s plot is weird to the point of being surreal, following childlike dream logic through the strange tale of a manga artist who’s hired for a peace-themed children’s theme park called World Children’s Land. Eventually, he finds out that his bosses are alien cockroaches (!) intent on conquering Earth with motivational tapes (?) encouraging King Ghidorah and a new kaiju, Gigan, to wreak havoc on the planet. The lighthearted “let's play pretend” feel is aided by Gigan, one of the all-time coolest Godzilla adversaries, who has an abdominal buzzsaw, long metal hooks for hands, and a laser visor. Gigan is so badass, in fact, that he returns for the next Showa series film: the inferior Godzilla vs. Megalon. 

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Gigan: Tubi

14. Godzilla (2014)

<p>Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Gareth EdwardsGodzilla reboot is notable for its approach to monsters, which is rooted in the same respect that motivated series creator Ishirō Honda. The film’s sense of scale — the moment when Godzilla stuns an airport terminal full of screaming civilians to silence is one of the most breathtaking in the entire franchise — and interest in the biological realities of how its kaiju work are both catnip for fans. Edwards packs the movie with eerie moments, whose ferocious terror is tempered by an artistic use of fire and smoke. (This is one of two Godzilla features that can credibly be compared to a Rembrandt painting.) But the downside of Edwards’ refined work is that it’s light on actual Godzilla content, which gets lost amid the film’s starry, human-centric storyline.

Where to watch Godzilla (2014): Netflix

13. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

<p>LMPC via Getty</p>

LMPC via Getty

The best thing about Invasion of Astro-Monster is its retro sci-fi aesthetic — that sleek, midcentury modern version of the future so beloved by vintage enthusiasts. It’s also notable in the Godzilla canon for moving the action to space, an essential setting for the series going forward. In this case, intergalactic cooperation looks like trapping a grumpy Godzilla in an iridescent bubble and launching him across the solar system to the mysterious Planet X, whose existence is exposed at the beginning of the film. That’s when the planet’s residents, a highly developed race of underground dwellers called the Xiliens, arrive on Earth asking if they can borrow Godzilla and Rodan to help with their King Ghidorah problem. The aliens turn out to have sinister ulterior motives, of course. But the story still leads to G stomping the three-headed jerk, which he does with aplomb.

Where to watch Invasion of Astro-Monster: Tubi

12. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

<p>Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Given how radically Final Wars deviates from the style of every previous installment, you could call Tokyo S.O.S. the last old-school Toho Godzilla movie. It’s a good one, too, combining elements from the previous (and inferior) Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla with a storyline about a scientist from the original Mothra (1961) and his grandkids, who are visited by the monster and her twin heralds with an urgent message for humankind. The kaiju in Tokyo S.O.S. have a lot of personality, and the film combines rousing military action with the fantasy vibes that always accompany Mothra’s big-screen appearances. In short, this movie has it all: beauty, beasts, glitter, gore, and big, brawling, badass monster fights!

Where to watch Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.: Hulu

11. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)



Another classic from the early '60s Godzilla films, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster is notable for seeing Godzilla help humanity for the very first time. The catalyst for his change of heart is the big bad of the Showa period (1954–1975): The three-headed extraterrestrial dragon King Ghidorah, who arrives on Earth in a fiery meteor crash midway through the film. His arrival is foretold by another out of this world visitor, namely a supposed Venusian princess whose warnings about imminent doom are dismissed as the ravings of a madwoman — until the monsters arrive, anyway. Despite Ghidorah’s clear apocalyptic potential, Mothra still has to talk the Big G into defending us puny mortals, which he does in a final showdown that’s quite violent for a Godzilla movie of this era.

Where to watch Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster: Tubi

10. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster) (1971)

<p>Mary Evans/TOHO/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection</p>

Mary Evans/TOHO/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

The franchise didn’t wade into trippy visuals and hippie environmentalism until 1971, when Toho released Godzilla vs. Hedorah, a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. Although later Godzilla movies would rehash its ecological ideas, the film stands out for its colorful animation, psychedelic theme song (complete with a surreal nightclub sequence where patrons’ heads turn into fish), and a monster that’s among the cruelest and most destructive in the canon. Godzilla vs. Hedora is so distinct because it was made under the studio’s nose: Series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in the hospital during filming, allowing director Yoshimitsu Banno to execute his radical vision for the project without interference from higher-ups.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Hedorah: Tubi

9. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

<p>Toho Co./Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Godzilla: Final Wars was conceived as a 50th birthday bash for everyone’s favorite radioactive threat turned fearsome protector of mankind. Director Ryuhei Kitamura invites nearly every character, trope, theme, and, most importantly, monster from Godzilla’s first half-century into this feverish explosion of early aughts action. The plot blends elements of 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster and 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, bringing back the warlike aliens from Planet X and embroiling them in a plot to kidnap all the kaiju on Earth. That leaves — who else? — Godzilla as humanity’s last hope. Pleather trench coats, manic camerawork, a thumping techno soundtrack, and the bizarre casting of an American MMA fighter as the head of Japan’s G-Force unit give Final Wars a sense of style that’s unlike anything else in the Godzilla series.

Where to watch Godzilla: Final Wars: PlutoTV

8. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

Among the early ’60s Godzilla movies, Mothra vs. Godzilla stands out for its storytelling, spectacle, color, and charm. The series’ core creative trio — director Ishirō Honda, effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, and composer Akira Ifukube — are all in top form on this project, which features beautiful, awe-inspiring visuals and a softer tone thanks to its second lead: the benevolent insect goddess Mothra. This is the most outdated Godzilla film, with depictions of “Polynesian culture” that absolutely would not fly today. But its impassioned plea for humans to reject corporate greed in favor of gentleness and care for the natural world would ripple across the series for decades. The plucky reporters at the story’s center are appealing as well, although they pale next to the magical, musical twin fairies who serve as Mothra’s ambassadors to mankind.

Where to watch Mothra vs. Godzilla: Tubi

7. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack (2001)

<p>Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Although it’s not a perfect comparison, the cynical, self-aware tone and mean-spirited humor make this film the Scream of the Godzilla series. It’s a highlight of the late-’90s/early-’00s Millennium period, combining commentary on tabloid TV and the lingering psychological effects of WWII with franchise meta-comedy and solid monster action. The plot follows a trashy paranormal docu-series host who’s intent on proving herself as a legitimate investigative journalist, and her discovery that Godzilla is actually a malevolent supernatural force possessed by the souls of everyone killed in the Pacific theater during the war. She also quickly realizes that Godzilla’s rampage has awakened a trio of ancient kaiju with a duty to protect Japan’s natural environment from destruction. Let the monster battle begin!

Where to watch Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack: PlutoTV

6. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Courtesy Everett Collection

The original monster mash, Destroy All Monsters brings together nearly every beast Toho introduced between 1954 and 1968 for a rubber-suit smackdown that remains a fan favorite over 50 years later. While not as rich as other Godzilla movies in terms of theme or character, this film gives viewers exactly what it promises: nonstop kaiju action, which begins the moment the opening credits finish rolling. Destroy All Monsters also speaks to the horror-loving kid inside all Godzilla fans by moving the action to Monster Island, a kaiju holding pen created by the United Nations. An alien invasion subsequently unleashes herds of kaiju upon the world, leading to a final battle where three-headed dragon/alien King Ghidorah gets memorably stomped into the dirt by Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and friends on behalf of planet Earth.

Where to watch Destroy All Monsters: Tubi

5. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

<p>Toho/Dimension Films/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho/Dimension Films/courtesy Everett Collection

The most successful Godzilla movies can balance big ideas with light-hearted fun. Godzilla vs. Biollante is a great example, translating an outrageous premise into an awesome sci-fi wonder. The second film in the Heisei series builds on the mad scientist premise of the original through Dr. Genshiro Shiragami, a grief-stricken biologist whose attempt to resurrect his dead daughter results in the title character. Part ‘zilla, part human, and part plant, Biollante really shouldn’t work, but it does. The movie’s serious-minded environmental themes are tempered by a Godzilla redesign that emphasizes the alien over the animal, as well as a very ‘80s action subplot where spies from Japan, America, and the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Saradia compete in an arms race to clone Big G.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Biollante: Not available to stream

4. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

<p>Toho International/Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Toho International/Courtesy Everett Collection

Toho’s Reiwa era winning streak continued with Godzilla Minus One. Director Takashi Yamazaki specializes in delivering outsized blockbuster thrills, and this sweeping blend of character-driven drama, maritime adventure, and kaiju mayhem is popcorn entertainment at its best. Godzilla returns to his Showa era dimensions for this story, set in the rubble of Tokyo in the immediate aftermath of WWII. But the film’s sense of scope is no smaller for it: Shots of aircraft carriers flying across the screen like toy boats and fishing boats dwarfed by the monster’s massive head create a sense of awe-inspiring scale. The monster VFX is top-notch, imbuing Godzilla with animalistic ferocity and mass. Its themes are weighty too, framing the character as a fearsome incarnation of atomic death and destruction in a way that recalls Ishirō Honda’s original film. Looking to the past to shape the franchise’s future, it’s one of the best Godzilla movies yet (and the first to win an Oscar).

Where to watch Godzilla Minus One: Not available to stream

3. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

<p>TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p>

TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

The last film in the Heisei period (the second major wave of Godzilla movies, lasting from 1984 to 1995) is also its best. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah takes the “oxygen destroyer” that (spoiler) defeated the monster in the first film and anthropomorphizes it as a horned purple dinosaur with batlike wings. This film takes Godzilla back to his nuclear origins, raising the stakes with a subplot where his heart, which functions like a reactor, threatens to overheat and cause a nuclear meltdown. With a compelling human storyline, expert creature design and “suitmation” performances, and plenty of ‘90s action gusto — if you’ve ever wanted a Godzilla movie where soldiers fire submachine guns at bat-spiders in an underground bunker, look no further — Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is top-tier sci-fi entertainment.

Where to watch Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: PlutoTV

2. Godzilla (1954)

<p>FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty</p>

FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

Inspired by the awesome power of the original King Kong, director Ishirō Honda and effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya created a monster with this game-changing creature feature, which also introduces series composer Akira Ifukube’s similarly iconic score. Honda wanted Godzilla to feel like a documentary, and the film is more serious than many of the future installments. It’s a sober sci-fi drama that engages with wartime destruction and fears about science gone amok, featuring scenes of soldiers tearfully saying goodbye to their families and civilians bracing themselves for the end as debris falls all around them. Made less than 10 years after the U.S. decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, the original Godzilla is a thoughtful, haunting film, and an outstanding example of how humans use storytelling to process trauma.

Where to watch Godzilla (1954): Tubi

1. Shin Godzilla (2016)

<p>Funimation Films/Courtesy Everett Collection</p>

Funimation Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

American and Japanese Godzilla movies are always in dialogue, not to mention competition, with one another. And when U.S. movie studio Legendary Pictures brought back Big G after a decade of silence via 2014’s Godzilla, Japan just had to do them one better. The result is Shin Godzilla, a bone-dry satire of government impotence and self-important bureaucrats that’s the most realistic installment in the series since the original. That doesn’t mean it skimps on giant monster action, however; co-directors Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (a longtime Toho SFX artist) also effectively convey Godzilla’s incredible size and unstoppable power. Combined with a redesign that reimagines the creature’s life cycle and biology, it’s an intelligent and entertaining film rich with lore and subtext.

Where to watch Shin Godzilla: Crunchyroll

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