Godzilla has made HBO Max its new home. Since the 1950s, Godzilla has been rampaging around Tokyo, Japan, and the rest of the planet, brawling all who come in its path. However, with multiple timelines, franchises, and continuities, as well as changes to the style and focus of each film, Godzilla has had a tumultuous history over the years.
HBO Max’s collection is incomplete, but it does have most of the Showa Era available alongside 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. So which films are the best or worst?
Destroy All Monsters is widely remembered for its admittedly amazing final battle where every monster gangs up on Ghidorah, but this fight lacks tension. It’s fun to watch all the monsters on-screen, but it gets sad watching everyone beat-down Ghidorah without the dragon getting in any good shots. The rest of the film is a rip-off of the superior Invasion of Astro-Monster. You get snippets of kaiju at the start and a brawl at the end. In-between, it’s humans talking and humanoid aliens in labs talking.
The introduction to Ghidorah features the first major team-up between kaiju. Godzilla and Rodan fight for the majority of this movie, with the awakened Ghirorah causing pandemonium. It’s essentially up to Mothra to make things work. The film has a bizarre human subplot that’s more distracting than interesting, but when the monsters show up, all of them play off one another’s strength. The final fight is particularly creative with how every monster feels necessary to the resolution of the battle.
This film has some of the best monsters, yet some of the dullest sequences ever put on film. Megalon is an evil space cockroach sent by underground people who are sick of their upstairs neighbors causing such a racket. They ask the alien Gigan to help them out, which forces Godzilla to stop the two of them with the Ultraman knock-off Jet Jaguar. All three guest monsters in this film, including Jaguar, are some of the most distinct and memorable monsters in the franchise. Yet the film, outside the monster fights, is kind of boring. What makes this film so memorable is one scene, however, where Godzilla drop-kicks Megalon while Jet Jaguar holds him in place. It’s absurd and silly, which could be exactly what you’re looking for.
It might be seen as blasphemous putting the new Legendary film this high. However, it must be understood that this is a ranking of just the films available at launch for HBO Max. Without competition like Shin Godzilla or Godzilla vs. Ghidorah, Godzilla: King of the Monsters easily breaks the Top 5 films. It’s an excellent brawl film featuring some of the most entertaining and insane monster fights ever. It’s not great cinema, but at no point is it ever boring. There is something happening in every second of this film, really elevating Godzilla and his lore to a mythic status come the finale. Long live the King.
The second Godzilla film is also the introduction to the popular monster Anguirus. It should, in theory, have been the closest to the original in terms of quality, since this film came out before Godzilla became a monster-brawl saga. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The film is incredibly dull and features very stiff, very dull monster fights. While it’s a novelty to see another film in the franchise in black-and-white, it also feels incredibly weak, especially following the amazing original film.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla are two incredibly similar films that were released back-to-back, closing off the Showa Period of Godzilla. They are also among the best films in the franchise, but due to them being so similar, it’s best to just group them together. While the films introduce several iconic monsters, from King Caesar to Titanosaurus, the real star is Mechagodzilla, a mechanical counter-part to Godzilla that’s even stronger than the King of the Monsters. These films rank among the most violent of the Showa Era Godzilla films, with many fights featuring blood and brutal beat-downs.
Many regard Godzilla’s son Minilla to be one of the worst characters in the entire franchise. This is primarily thanks to Minilla’s later, talking appearance in Godzilla’s Revenge, but Son of Godzilla isn’t exactly a fun watch, either. The film focuses on Godzilla raising Minilla on Monster Island, with their father-son relationship being the core of the film. There is very little destruction or combat throughout the film. Most of the comedy hones in on two things: Minilla is a terrible monster and Godzilla is a terrible father. While the film does have somewhat heartwarming sequences of growth between the two, it’s ultimately a very strange, less-than-stellar film in the franchise.
The fourth film in the franchise remains even decades later among the greatest in the franchise. The seemingly lopsided competition between Mothra and Godzilla features some of the most creative monster brawls in the entire Showa Era. Because Mothra and her larva are comparatively squishy monsters, they fight using strategy rather than strength, making things interesting. There is a mythic quality to Mothra, with her being framed as a positive representative of nature. The film has some of the most breathtaking sequences of kaiju in the entire franchise, including the unforgettable scene where Godzilla literally emerges from the Earth itself.
Godzilla vs. Gigan introduces one of the coolest Godzilla villains, the terrifying Gigan. And while it also features Godzilla teaming up with Anguirus and Gigan teaming up with Ghidorah, it never stops feeling painfully generic. Worse still, the English dub of the film features plenty of absurd scenes where we hear translated versions of what Godzilla and Anguirus are saying, which makes scenes featuring the two so absurd it’s hard to take seriously. While it’s far from the worst this franchise has to offer, it’s the worst one you’ll find on HBO Max.
No Godzilla film has ever surpassed the original. This genuinely haunting depiction of the terrors of nuclear war reflects the pain and fear many Japanese people felt in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film depicts Godzilla as a cosmic force of nature, striking down mankind for its hubris. There are multiple disturbing scenes of people dying in hospitals. Fans more familiar with monster brawls and battles might not be prepared for this film’s somber tone. People forget that Godzilla is not just a great film in the series: it’s a great film.
HBO has the Showa Collection among its films. What are the best classic Godzilla films — and which are the worst?