Which Godzilla do you remember? Were you a “monster kid” who grew up watching his old movies on TV on weekend afternoons and his new movies at the drive-in? Or were you a “VHS kid” who grew up watching his old movies after your parents drove you to the video store, while at the same time watching a reboot of the franchise in movie theaters? Or were you a hardcore “G-fan” who had to find his latest adventures in their original Japanese presentations online or with bootleg convention copies?
Whichever it is, just don’t tell me you’re a Millennial who remembers Godzilla from the 1998 American bastardization. On the other hand, if you are, please continue reading. Seriously. Keep reading, you might learn something about the real Godzilla.
Beginning with the very first Godzilla movie (Gojira, 1954), the series spans nearly 30 movies and is generally categorized into three distinct eras, based upon style, and named after the Japanese emperor during the time of production (except for the third era). If you were a “monster kid”, you are familiar with the Showa era Godzilla (1954-1975). If you were a “VHS kid”, you are familiar with the Heisei era (1984-1995). And if you were… excuse me, are… a hardcore “G-fan”, you are familiar with the Millennium era (and, of course, the other two as well).
The Showa era produced the most voluminous number of Godzilla movies, 15. From the original Gojira to Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), the monster evolved (devolved?) into less an enemy and more an ally. Introduced as a terrifying result of underwater H-bomb testing that rose from the water in Tokyo Bay and stormed his way inland in search of food, Godzilla eventually became somewhat of a superhero who would be called upon to help protect the earth from other horrifying creatures more dangerous than him.
Many of the Showa era movies were even aimed at children. In Son of Godzilla (1967), he was depicted as a good guy, playing with newly-hatched Manilla during an island adventure. And in Destroy All Monsters (1968) and All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla was just one part of a giant tag team including Anguirus, Baragon, Gabara, Gorosaurus, King Ghidorah, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla Maneater, Mothra, Rodan and Varan. These movies were perhaps fun for kids, but had little to do with the cautionary tale of Gojira that began a decade earlier.
I was undoubtedly a monster kid who grew to know Godzilla during the Showa era. I saw Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) at the Trail Drive-In in Enid, Oklahoma. They were awful movies then and I can barely watch them today. Why then am I a G-fan? I think it’s the anticipation I felt for each new movie that I remember most fondly. Seeing the trailers and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the actual movies is, in retrospect, the Godzilla experience I cherish most. No movie, regardless how bad, can eradicate the nostalgia.
As a young adult, I watched the reboot of the series in the Heisei era with Godzilla 1985 (1984). At the time, it was another disappointment. I have no evidence of this fact; however, it’s the only Godzilla movie of the era I recall being shown in United States theaters. I discovered the other movies of the Heisei era on home video. And I really liked them! Maybe it was the thrill of having to work so hard to find them, but with a darker tone and more advanced special effects, this was a Godzilla with true menace.
I also liked the continuity of the seven movies in the Heisei era. Godzilla 1985 began as a direct sequel to the original Gojira and the stories were better-connected between it and the final movie of the Heisei era, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). There was still a revolving door of guest stars, but they were as dark and menacing as Godzilla himself. Even though Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) sounds a little far-fetched, even for a Godzilla movie, with creatures such as Fairy Mothra, Little Godzilla and MOGUERA, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Millennium era began in 1999 with Godzilla 2000 and ran until Godzilla’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2004 with Godzilla: Final Wars. This era also began as a direct sequel to the original Gojira. However, each of the subsequent six movies in the series used Gojira as its jumping-off point, so there was no direct continuity between movies. This means that the movies in the Millennium era stand alone and can be enjoyed in any order. Some of them are quite entertaining, but I prefer the connection between movies of the Heisei era.
Visually, I don’t find a lot of distinction between the styles of the Heisei and Millennium era Godzillas. While the special effects may improve incrementally, they’re not as noticeable between these eras as they are between the Showa and Heisei eras. It remains confusing for me to remember what movie belongs in what era, especially when Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) is actually part of the Heisei era while Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) is actually part of the Millennium era.
For this feature, I watched three random movies from each era of Godzilla, excluding the first movies of each era, Gojira (1954), Godzilla 1985 (1984) and Godzilla 2000 (1999). I rated the total of nine movies using our Creepy Kids scale of 1 to 5 and then combined the ratings to determine the ranking of each era. The results may sound a little contradictory to what I’ve just written, but the more I think about it, they make sense. In decreasing order beginning with the best, I rank them Millennium, Showa and Heisei:
MILLENNIUM ERA = 3.67
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) = 3.5
Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack = 3.5
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla = 4
SHOWA Era = 3.17
Godzilla Raids Again (1955) = 3
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) = 2.5
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) = 4
HEISEI ERA = 2.50
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) = 2
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) = 2.4
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) = 3
For me, the Millennium Era provides the most consistent quality, even though my favorite Godzilla movie (so far; I haven’t seen them all) is Mothra vs. Godzilla from the Showa era. (Who would think a giant moth could be so entertaining, but Mothra vs. Godzilla is the most creative, energetic and fun of them all.) Godzilla vs. Biollante really brings down the Heisei era, although I enjoy its movies as a complete body of work. It’s basically Godzilla vs. a plant and it’s about as exciting as it sounds.
With an average of more than one Godzilla movie every two years, there’s probably one for everybody. Even if you didn’t grow up during one of the three eras, there’s likely a distinct spirit of one of them that appeals to you. Fun, goofy, silly? Check out the Showa era. Dark, biological, scientific? Check out the Heisei era. Original, sprawling, explosive? Check out the Millennium era. Whatever you do though, check out at least one of them.