When he’s good he’s bad, and when he’s bad he’s badass. For over 60 years, Japan’s favorite monster star has fought the human race, equally giant kaiju rivals, and alien menaces, leaving devastation (and lucrative urban renewal deals) in his wake. What has not always been apparent is exactly whose side he is on. When he first emerged to terrify Tokyo and other Japanese cities in the 1950s, he represented the horror of the atomic bomb and the consequences of man’s destructive actions. But by the mid-1960s, in order to compete with increasingly kid-friendly competitor Gamera, he became a good guy, even nurturing a son. Then he turned bad again. And at times he was just doing his own thing, even getting a little weird on us.
To celebrate the release of the 29th and latest Japanese entry in the series Shin Godzilla-which plays like an odd cross between a city stomping kaiju film and a satire on bureaucratic impotency—Playboy.com looks back at the many faces of the Big G to decide which one we like best. The supremely powered Shin Godzilla roars through American cineplexes across the country for a week starting October 11.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)
A massive three-headed dragon menace is scorching Japan, and Godzilla needs to team up with Mothra and Rodan to stop it—if they can just all get along. After a ridiculous sequence in which baby Mothra gets everyone to concur on whose ass needs to be kicked—during which they air their grievances about being bullied by humans—we get down to action. Perhaps the resolution is more of a tolerant truce with the world, but it a truce nonetheless.
GODZILLA 2000 (1999)
Perhaps he’s not so good here—most of his “good guy” roles from the ‘60s through '70s are rather weak—but he saves our ass. Although he first emerges to wreak more havoc on the long suffering Japanese populace, the Big G turns his attention to a UFO that attacks him. Aliens with Earth-conquering ambitions seek the DNA secret to Godzilla’s regenerative properties. After initially defeating him, the craft lands atop Tokyo Opera City Tower and soon reveals a large, nasty alien named Orga. Our alleged savior returns and the two titans duke it out, crushing many buildings in the process. He does save us…although he still scorches part of the city anyway to show us who’s still boss.
GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004)
After aliens come to earth under benevolent pretense, we soon learn that they want to use us for food. So they capture and they unleash a maelstrom of monsters upon the planet–basically all the gargantuan creatures from the Toho series, from Ebirah to Megaguirus–to bring us to our knees. Thankfully Godzilla emerges to save the Earth, even if people still irk him. It’s like WWE and MMA done up kaiju style. No mercy. And it’s an eye-popping smackdown that manages to integrate elements of V, Independence Day and The Matrix into its human storyline.
The original Godzilla movie (under his Japanese name) is still one of the best in the series, even given its dated effects. At times, it’s almost like watching some weird documentary from the past. Spare yourself the Raymond Burr commentary from the American edit and simply enjoy the Japanese original, which truly comes off as an allegory about mankind’s penchant for self-annihilation. In this case, the atomic bomb, which was still a raw memory for the people of Japan. (The U.S. version conveniently excised references to our obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Either way, despite knowing that Godzilla is a menace, you might find it hard not to lament over this manmade terror facing extinction in the film’s final act.
GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)
One of the best Godzilla movies has him going up against a giant plant, which is an unintended merger of the monster’s cells with those of a rose. Thanks to an accidental mutation, it grows to ginormous size and becomes a threat. That may sound a little farfetched, but don’t worry: Biollante has a further shape-shifting surprise in store for everyone. That’s why it’s better to have a pissed-off giant lizard as your adversary, especially one that survived a fall into a volcano in the previous installment.
GODZILLA, MOTHRA and KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)
With the big G on another rampage across the Land of the Rising Sun, a mystical old man foretells the return of the Guardian Monsters to protect them—the benevolent Mothra, the chaotic King Ghidorah, and the feisty Baragon. Naturally that breeds a lot of destruction in the process, and this time out our giant lizard has albino eyes and is particularly vicious; possibly the most vicious ever as he now represents dead and forgotten Japanese souls from WWII. What makes this one so fun is its dark sense of humor: Early on, an alleged sighting of Godzilla in New York is doubted for its authenticity (just as Roland Emmerich’s botched 1998 film was); tourists wanting a photo with Baragon get crushed by Godzilla coming over the mountain behind them; and a woman in a hospital ward sighs at relief as Godzilla’s rumbles by…then gets smashed by his swinging tail. Silly humans.
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)
This grudge match between two cinematic titans sounds way cooler than it turned out. Godzilla rises from the ocean depths to wreak more havoc on Japan, while Kong breaks loose from the captivity of a pharmaceutical company that wants to exploit him. The two behemoths sense each other’s presence and seek each other out for a rumble in the urban jungle. Sadly, both Godzilla and Kong look lumpy, with the gorilla’s breastplates akin to coconut shells, and they only mix it up for about 10 minutes at the end, culminating in a “you decide” type stalemate. A Godzilla Vs. Kong reboot is planned for 2020, but answer me this: How do you fend off nuclear breath?
GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971)
Originally known as Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster over here, this is the trippiest G-flick ever. Hedorah is an ominous, shapeshifting creature born from sludge and garbage that sucks down smog from smokestacks and chokes citizens with toxic emissions during flight. Godzilla has to take him down before he bites the dust too. He’s on our side by default, but an early rampage indicates he’s pissed off about how we pollute the oceans. The nighttime scenes slightly obscure the rubber suits, the animated sequences are wonderfully weird, and the psychedelic rock club scene is fun until a real cat gets covered in Hedorah’s muck. This was the first film since the original to really hammer home its environmental message. It’s surprising that this entry has never been rebooted.
RANDOM EMBARRASSING MOMENTS (1964-1974)
Godzilla getting his butt zapped by Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, then dancing in the follow-up Invasion Of Astro Monster. Teaching his adopted son how to breathe fire (only smoke rings come out initially) in Son Of Godzilla. Teaming up with the spunky, size-altering Jet Jaguar (essentially an Ultraman rip-off) in Godzilla Vs. Megalon. Those moments don’t look heroic or badass, just lame.
FINAL ANALYSIS: BAD GODZILLA IS THE BOMB.
In the 1991 movie Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah, we got a backstory that showed Godzilla was a dinosaur on Lagos Island, who, left for dead after American soldiers attacked him in WWII, survived to later be transformed by H-Bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean. No wonder he’s a bit cantankerous. But he has always worked best when he represents man’s apocalyptic nature. We enjoy watching him go nuclear on us in the same way we enjoy being terrified by horror movies. In the newest film, he is a raging, barreling force of nature, a living laser on legs that will not be stopped.
Playboy contributor Bryan Reesman is a lifelong Godzilla fan who reportedly used to scare the other kids in kindergarten by imitating the Big G in class. And he’s glad he did.