Originally, this genre was called ‘Monster on the loose’ films before changing to giant monster movies and finally embracing the Japanese phase Dai Kaiju, or just Kaiju. There have been great ones and terrible ones. We’ll look at the terrible ones at another time. Today, let’s check out the 12 best.
12. GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH (1995): Who’d ever have thought a Godzilla film could be so touching? This is the film that killed off the Heisei version of the king of monsters. His death is surprisingly sad for long-time fans. The big guy is already dying from the moment the movie starts, since his nuclear heart is melting down. Along the way, his home island is destroyed, his son is fatally wounded and Godzilla himself melts into kaiju history. The film cleverly links this (supposedly) “final” Godzilla movie to the 1954 original, by having Godzilla meet a monster created by the oxygen destroyer which slew the first Godzilla. I dare any real Godzilla fan not to get a lump in their throat watching Godzilla’s poignant demise.
11. PACIFIC RIM (2013): This film helped revive the kaiju genre, and set the mood for the upcoming Legendary Monster-Verse. It’s loaded with lots of exciting monster-vs-robot fights, and imaginative kaiju creature designs. This film is not only a homage to the Japanese monster movies, it also pays tribute to the popular giant robot anime of the past, like Gigantor, Voltron, Macross, Dancouger, Fight Iczer 1, and so many others. It’s fun and there’s a sequel on the way.
10. SHIN GODZILLA (2016): The most recent Godzilla is the first one since the original to revamp the king of monsters. Every other Godzilla movie since 1954 has connected back to the first. This one gives us a new origin, introducing a rebooted version of the creature. This incarnation is bigger than past versions and goes on a lot of fantastic city-stomping rampages. The mutating aspect of the monster is a new wrinkle but it works. The film has some clever social commentary subtext about how government gridlock and passing-the-buck makes it harder for our leaders to get anything down. The top-down view is a surprising but effective change from the worms-eye view of previous movies. This film won Best Picture and Best Director at the Japanese Academy Prize ceremony (their equivalent of the Oscars), something no other kaiju movie has ever done.
9. 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957): What list of monster movies would be complete with something from the great Ray Harryhausen, master of stop-motion SFX? From the 50’s through the 70s, Harryhausen was the benchmark for cinematic FX excellence. This film introduces us to Ymir, the space creatures who comes to Earth aboard a space ship as a tiny being, only a few inches tall. As the movies progresses, Ymir begins to grow rapidly, and ends up slapping an elephant around in the climax. Classic Harryhausen magic.