Last week, two of cinema’s biggest boys finally got their ultimate rematch, 60 years in the making. In one corner: Kong, the hairy brainchild of American filmmakers Edgar Wallace, Merian C. Cooper, and Willis O’Brien — a consistently tragic figure, not a creation of man but a victim of man’s fear. In the other: Godzilla, an atomic leviathan borne of man’s hubris, from the minds of Japanese creators Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, and Eiji Tsubaraya — able to be a superhero for children in one film and a horrific, rotting mass of radioactive flesh in another.
In anticipation of this kaiju ruckus, I decided back in December to watch every single Godzilla and Kong film in chronological order, plus those of their pals Mothra and Rodan, who both appear in the previous entry, 2019’s Godzilla: King of The Monsters. And I’m glad I did, because as it turns out, Godzilla vs. Kong is an effusive love letter to all of these films, blending the grand adventure feel of Kong with a wild sci-fi story that would feel right at home amongst Godzilla’s 60’s and 70’s adventures, with a side dish of the whiz-bang comic book tech that informed Godzilla’s 90’s and 2000’s films.
So, here they are: all 36 Godzilla films, all 8 Kong films, 4 Mothra films, all… 1 Rodan film, plus a documentary; ranked from my least to most favorite.
50. The Mighty Kong (dir. Art Scott, 1998)
An animated musical remake of King Kong, made on the cheap, boasting the vocal talents of Dudley Moore and Jodi Benson, and original songs by the Sherman Brothers. Unclear why anyone involved thought this might be a good idea. Hopefully everyone’s paychecks cleared.
49. Godzilla: City On The Edge of Battle (dir. Kōbun Shizuno & Hiroyuki Seshita, 2018)
The middle part of a three-part trilogy that I honestly do not care to recite the plot points of, because it is all hardcore sci-fi nonsense. Godzilla’s in this movie for a total of like four minutes and basically all he does is wander into a pit and get stuck.
48. Godzilla (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1998)
It’s hard to think of something to say about this film that hasn’t already been said. There’s a bar scene that prominently features an extremely butt rock cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” by The Wallflowers. Don’t let Roland Emmerich near your preexisting IPs, kids.
47. King Kong Lives (dir. John Guillermin, 1986)
This movie takes itself way too seriously for a film where a giant ape gets a heart transplant and spends much more of the runtime than you’d expect fighting off a bunch of cartoonish hillbilly stereotypes. Very funny that they had ten years to do a sequel for this and this is what they came up with.
46. Godzilla: Planet of The Monsters (dir. Kōbun Shizuno & Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017)
You know those scenes in movies where characters are just exposition dumping at each other, reiterating information that both characters should be fully aware of? Those scenes drive me crazy. This movie is 75% those kinds of scenes.
45. Son of Kong (dir. Ernest B. Shoedsack, 1933)
Carl Denham gets another giant gorilla killed in his dogged determination to never learn a lesson or take even the barest of responsibility for his actions. For shame.
44. Rebirth of Mothra II (dir. Kunio Miyoshi, 1997)
It’s the continuing adventures of Mothra Jr.! Truly no idea was considered too outlandish for this franchise, up to and including our heroes befriending a Mogwai-like being with magic piss. His piss is magic. It heals wounds. At one point there’s a POV shot of being pissed on by this thing. This was a movie for children.
43. King Kong (dir. John Guillermin, 1976)
A weird mix of too cynical and embarrassingly silly. Kong is a leering creep, his one fight is with the worst-looking snake of all time, and there’s a joke about him looking like a guy in an ape suit in a movie where he’s largely played by a guy in an ape suit. Great cast, though.
42. Godzilla: The Planet Eater (dir. Kōbun Shizuno & Hiroyuki Seshita, 2018)
This movie just goes buck wild in the final stretch, with Godzilla attacking, dethroning, and becoming God in the end. God, by the way, is King Ghidorah, not a benevolent creator but an unfathomable horror from beyond the stars. HOT TIP: if you’re planning a trilogy maybe don’t save your best ideas for the last 25 minutes of the final film.
41. King Kong Escapes (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1967)
A not-particularly-exciting retelling of the classic King Kong tale, which takes some goofy sci-fi narrative turns apparently inspired by the Kong animated series which was airing at the time. Its most enduring contribution is the idea of our hero kaiju having a robotic doppelgänger, beating Mechagodzilla to the punch by a good 7 years.
40. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (dir. Masaaki Tezuka, 2000)
The “Millennium” series of Godzilla films rebooted the continuity with almost every entry, to mixed results. Here, a very paint-by-numbers kaiju battle affair, hampered by some of the roughest-looking special effects in the entire series (there is some seriously Birdemic-level stuff in here), where Godzilla fights a giant dragonfly who looks like she came right off a Dio album cover.
39. Godzilla vs. Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Original Godzilla actor Haruo Nakajima’s swan song, this one comes from the “bigger is better but for god’s sake do it cheaper” era of Toho’s Godzilla films. The story is nonsense (something about cockroach aliens creating a theme park to… take over Earth? But are then thwarted by, of all people, a slacker cartoonist), but ends in a four-way kaiju brawl with way more blood spray than you might expect (most of it coming from poor Anguirus).
38. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (dir. Kazuki Ōmori, 1991)
By far the strangest entry in Godzilla’s comic book-y, continuity-driven Heisei series, involving time travel, World War II, and a robot from the future who kind of looks like Dave Coulier. One thing about Toho’s Godzilla movies that I really have come to dig is how they would frequently cast the same actors in different roles — this one in particular is the final appearance of the always entertaining Yoshio Tsuchiya, as a wealthy businessman who just happens to own a nuclear submarine (no-one finds this strange) and shares a tender moment with Godzilla just before getting blown to bits. Also contains the single most bizarre Steven Spielberg homage(?) ever filmed.
37. Godzilla: King of The Monsters (dir. Michael Dougherty, 2019)
While it’s fun to see Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Rodan mix it up again, the movie is too ponderous by half and just slathered in the drabbest possible aesthetic. The smartest decision made here was composer Bear McCreary’s call to incorporate Akira Ifukube’s and Yuji Koseki’s original themes for Godzilla and Mothra, respectively. And the bad guys are eco-terrorists? What year is it, 1996?
36. Rebirth of Mothra (dir. Okihiro Yoneda, 1996)
The kiddie tone of this movie is offset by some real shit: the family who serve as our human protagonists can barely stand to be in a room together, and Mothra drowns to death while looking her child in the eyes. Said child must then avenge her mother’s murder. Like, goddamn.
35. Rebirth of Mothra III (dir. Okihiro Yoneda, 1998)
The Rebirth of Mothra trilogy ends with its strongest entry, which sees King Ghidorah kidnap Japan’s children and keep them in a fleshy Terrordome, where he tries to drown them in goop. So Mothra Jr.’s solution is to go back in time to try to murder him as a child in a sequence that features some adorably doofy-looking dinosaurs. Also contains a legitimately encouraging message for introverted, nervous children.
34. Godzilla vs. Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
Really sort of a backdoor pilot for Jet Jaguar, a robot who looks like a cross between Ultraman and Willem Dafoe, Godzilla mostly kind of just shows up near the end to help mop up. Taking a break from space aliens, this film’s antagonists are the Seatopians, a race of toga-wearing dudes with extreme divorced dad energy and their large beetle son with severe ADHD, Megalon. Also Gigan’s there. For some reason.
33. Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Godzilla’s first sequel pulls a complete 180 in tone from the original. The main characters all like each other so much it’s almost just a hangout movie. The movie also ends with what is essentially a Death Star trench run against Godzilla. Fun! The slapdash nature of this one is evidenced by some very basic mistakes, like whole sections of the monster fight having been shot at the wrong film speed.
32. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (dir. Masaaki Tezuka, 2003)
The only movie in Godzilla’s Millennium series to share continuity with another film in that series (2002’s Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla), Tokyo S.O.S. earns points for bringing Mothra into the fold, but loses them for casting the previous film’s best and most interesting character, Mechagodzilla pilot Akane Yashiro, off to the side (more on her later), instead focusing on a mechanic who is… in love? With Mechagodzilla? And it turns out Mechagodzilla kind of knows? And I found that reveal kind of touching? I’ve been inside too long.
31. King Kong (dir. Peter Jackson, 2005)
Honestly, big ups to Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis as actors for being able to completely sell the relationship between depressive doe-eyed weirdo Ann Darrow and #1 big sad boi Kong; him through layers and layers of motion capture and CGI fur, and her through the fact that she was emoting off a tennis ball stuck to a stick. Interesting that Peter Jackson can take a sprawling, dense text like The Lord of The Rings and so skillfully shape it into a tightly-plotted, exciting film trilogy with little-to-no gristle or wasted air (the theatrical cut of Fellowship of The Ring, especially), but with the lean, simple narrative of King Kong he bloats it into a three-hour marathon loaded with too many characters, too many winking references to the source material, too many quotations from Heart of Darkness, too much whatever is supposed to be going on with those natives… just too much, man.
30. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
The second-to-last entry in the series and you can tell everyone was starting to run out of gas a little bit. The ideas are fun (Ape aliens! International espionage! Space titanium!) but the story starts to sag a bit after a while, and there’s a musical sequence that is clearly just padding for time (at least twice, right when it seems like it’s ramping up to the end, it just goes into another verse). Mechagodzilla disguises itself as Godzilla for no reason other than to reveal itself dramatically (with a banger of a theme song), which I honestly completely respect.
29. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (dir. Takao Okawara, 1999)
Spurred into production by Toho executives’ collective horror at Roland Emmerich’s vision, Godzilla’s antagonist here is an alien who, after drawing more than one comparison to Independence Day, attempts to transform into Godzilla, fails, and immediately gets its head blown off by Godzilla’s atomic ray (subtle!). The alien also at one point uploads a Powerpoint presentation about why it wants to take over the world to every computer in Tokyo, which is actually quite charming.
28. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (dir. Kensho Yamashita, 1994)
This movie’s interpretation of “Space” is “like some sort of evil wizard who’s really into crystals, I guess”. Actor Akira Emoto turns in one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in one of these movies, to the point where I looked up what else he’d been in because I want to see him in something else. Also to date the only actor to ever show his full naked butt in a Godzilla movie. Good on ya, guy.
27. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (dir. Takao Okawara, 1993)
The first and maybe only Godzilla movie where the human protagonist can be described as a himbo. He is presumably some sort of flight engineer, which you think would preclude his himbo-ness, but then he shows up with a flying Pteranodon-shaped bicycle that he built and you realize a himbo with an advanced aeronautics degree is still a himbo.
26. Godzilla (dir. Gareth Edwards, 2014)
Alright, nerds, here’s where I tell you your complaints about this one are all bullshit. “There’s not enough Godzilla!” Every shot of Godzilla in this film is framed and blocked for maximum impact, to emphasize his majesty and the sheer surreality of seeing something like Godzilla in real life. “They keep cutting away from monster fights!” You’re being offered a seven-course meal and you want to start with the entree?? “Aaron Taylor-Johnson is boring and charmless, and you know who actually would’ve been great in this role is Wyatt Russell!” Wait, actually, that one’s one of mine.
25. All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1969)
I know, shockingly high, right? Well, hear me out. The overreliance on stock footage notwithstanding, this is a tender film about a lonely child and an empathetic portrait of working families in Japan at this time. Also, I love how the kid protagonist takes the entirely wrong message from his encounter with Godzilla and Minilla in imaginationland and goes full Florida Project. No moral!
24. Godzilla: Final Wars (dir. Ryuhei Kitamura, 2004)
This movie is like drinking a whole 32-oz Slurpee. The sugar rush is exhilarating at first, but then you start drinking too fast and brain freeze sets in, and by the end you’re poking the straw around and just getting little glibs and globs of Slurpee here and there. Also the worst prog rock band you’ve ever heard is just blaring ass the entire time.
23. Ebirah, Horror of The Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
Another one I seem to like better than other people do! Jun Fukuda’s first Godzilla feature sees the cast of a teenage Robinson Crusoe-style adventure film happen upon a paramilitary junta operating in the South Seas and enlist Godzilla to stomp them and the giant crayfish they rode in on. Mothra shows up with a cigarette stuck to her head. It’s great.
22. The Return of Godzilla (dir. Koji Hashimoto, 1984)
There’s an entire sequence in this movie dedicated to diplomats from the U.S. and U.S.S.R. teaming up to browbeat and bully the Prime Minister of Japan into letting them drop a nuclear bomb on Tokyo to get rid of Godzilla, and the Prime Minister of Japan not only telling them off but lecturing them about how much better and more evolved Japan is for having a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy. Fuck yeah! Some great Godzilla stuff in this one, including a POV shot of him zeroing in on a nuclear power plant like a lion stalking a gazelle.
21. Godzilla vs. Mothra (dir. Takao Okawara, 1992)
Mothra’s dick brother Battra called from jail and needs a place to crash for a few days. Meanwhile, her therapy patient Godzilla is having trouble controlling his anger issues. Who is the hero the world needs at this moment? None other than Divorced Indiana Jones. The scene where Mothra emerges from her cocoon while her Shobijin fairy twins harmonize is wonderful and made my Mothra-loving heart sing.
20. Rodan (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1956)
A working-class melodrama at a mining camp is interrupted by murderous giant bugs. This movie pulls a fun move where just as our heroes think they’ve vanquished their giant centipede/beetle/crab thing problem, a second problem rears its head: a giant Pterodactyl born from a volcano. And then a second one! Has an impressively downbeat ending.
19. Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1965)
A pretty thin alien invasion story, but our handsome, overconfident astronaut heroes (played by Toho mainstay Akira Takarada and troubled American cowboy actor Nick Adams) are fun as they egg on each other’s rashest impulses, and Yoshio Tsuchiya is clearly having fun playing the head of the infamous “Devo aliens”, the Xiliens. The outer space setting is a refreshing change of pace even if I get the sense it was done to save money on model buildings.
18. King Kong vs. Godzilla (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1962)
The version of this movie I saw as a kid — the American cut, with additional scenes of white guys explaining what’s going on directed by Thomas Montgomery — is a snooze, so I wanted to watch the original version this time around. Much better! Director Honda indulges himself in some fun satire of the Japanese television industry (our protagonists, a pair of television producers, have no qualms against giving children cigarettes if it gets them in the good graces of Skull Island’s natives, and their boss dreams of signing Kong to a commercial contract to hock dodgy pharmaceuticals), and the final bout between Godzilla and Kong plays out like a professional wrestling match.
17. Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
Minilla is a polarizing figure. A lot of people think he sucks and is an ugly little potato lump. I think Minilla rules because he sucks and is an ugly little potato lump, and the movie that introduces him knows it. There is zero sympathy for Minilla here. Dude gets hit in the face with rocks minutes after being born, he’s constantly bullied by giant praying mantises, Godzilla can barely stand to be near him (the Big G has a heavy-lidded “Really?” expression on his face for the whole movie), and then he and Godzilla get trapped in a blizzard at the end. This movie earns extra points for an explicitly climate change-themed plot (in 1967!), Yoshio Tsuchiya playing a guy suffering from ISLAND MADNESS, and the giant spider Kumonga, who is one of the most impressive feats of marionette puppetry in the whole series.
16. Godzilla vs. Biollante (dir. Kazuki Ōmori, 1989)
Absolutely daffy. One half of this movie is the best-worst direct-to-video action movie you’ve ever seen (including a chase scene set to this incredible music cue), the other half is a tragedy-driven Frankenstein’s monster story where a grieving scientist seeks to resurrect his dead daughter by fusing her DNA with that of a rose and Godzilla, thus creating the acid-spraying, vine-whipping plant monster Biollante. There’s really no other Godzilla film quite like it.
15. Bringing Godzilla Down To Size: The Art of Japanese Special Effects (dir. Norman England, 2008)
Okay, so this one is not technically part of the series, but I wanted to bring the number of movies up to an even 50. The bargain-bin production values notwithstanding, this documentary is an earnest love letter to the Godzilla films and Toho special-effects extravaganzas of old, interviewing set builders, suit makers, production designers, and — in a special highlight — three Godzilla suit actors from three different generations (Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma, Tsutomi “Tom” Kitagawa) discussing their approaches to playing the character. This documentary is loaded with fantastic stories and really deepened my sense of wonder at these films. Also, actor Yoshio Tsuchiya (love this guy) says something in his interview that gets at the heart of making movies: “‘Real’ and ‘reality’ are two different concepts.” (You can watch the full documentary for free here.)
14. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (dir. Takao Okawara, 1995)
Godzilla dies in this one. That’s not a spoiler. They let you know up top that Godzilla is dying — his body is covered in glowing orange patches as the nuclear material in his organs goes into meltdown. And Godzilla’s death scene is legitimately emotional, accompanied by a haunting theme from composer Akira Ifukube and gorgeously framed special effects photography from Koichi Kawakita. Fare thee well, Godzilla. Until we meet again.
13. Godzilla vs. Kong (dir. Adam Wingard, 2021)
Finally one of these Legendary Studios joints has the good sense to be hot nonsense in the best way. A full-on throwback to the days of Godzilla’s wild Showa-era sci-fi romps (and King Kong Escapes), but updated with wonderfully stupid modern technology (like a little Star Wars droid that beeble-bobbles out to take a sample of a mineral and then uploads it to the cloud). The human story is as perfunctory as you could probably guess, but both Godzilla and Kong are treated with real love here, and cast in a quasi-meta angle as two giant professional wrestlers reigniting a longstanding feud.
12. Kong: Skull Island (dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017)
Thank you, first of all, to Jordan Vogt-Roberts for understanding that when you’re making a big honkin’ blockbuster film you cast at most three movie stars and fill out the rest with beloved character actors (Shea Whigham!). I’m less enthusiastic about the Vietnam War backdrop, which only serves as an excuse to cop Apocalypse Now’s whole aesthetic. Let this be the last movie made about or adjacent to the Vietnam War and not have a single Vietnamese character, okay??
11. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
The first Godzilla movie I ever saw as a kid, and I truly did not know what to make of it when Godzilla mutilates Hedorah’s corpse at the end (the image of the baby stuck in sludge also really lodged itself in my mind). First-time (and last-time, because Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka hated this one) director Yoshimitsu Banno really throws everything at the wall in this one. Not all of it sticks, but this is a singularly dark, bizarre entry in the franchise that confidently marches to the beat of its own weird drum.
10. Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1975)
Ishirō Honda’s swan song within the Godzilla franchise — and the film industry as a whole, though he later came back to work as an assistant director and co-writer to his good friend Akira Kurosawa — his directorial verve gives this film exactly the shot in the arm it needs. The story and production design are very much of a pace with the 70’s kitsch of Jun Fukuda’s Godzilla films, but Honda’s signature humanism shines through, giving the human story some more weight. A relatively fast-paced entry in the series, it features one of Godzilla’s most badass entrances and a gleefully manic performance from the normally called-upon-to-be-stoic Akihiko Hirata.
9. Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1968)
Any film that ends with a massive monster dogpile on King Ghidorah, who shows up thinking he’s hot shit and is very quickly overwhelmed and utterly stomped by 10 other monsters, is a very good one indeed. A better Earth-as-underdogs alien invasion movie than Independence Day.
8. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1964)
Such a fun entry in the series, featuring espionage shenanigans from a fictional country where everyone dresses like they’re in a Shakespeare festival, Venusian mind control, Godzilla and Rodan immediately attacking each other like two drunks in a bar, and sweet, brave baby Mothra. Extremely good shit.
7. Mothra vs. Godzilla (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1964)
A classic Godzilla film with a humanist heart. Director Honda this time turns his scorn on a pair of greedy real estate developers, and the film serves as a cautionary tale against seeing everything in the world in terms of transactions and dollar signs. Includes the depressingly realistic detail that Mothra’s home of Infant Island has been transformed from a lush, green paradise into a blighted, rocky husk by years of atomic bomb testing.
6. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (dir. Masaaki Tezuka, 2002)
Despite one painfully clunky exposition scene, this movie very quickly gets off to the races, focusing on one of the best characters in the entire Godzilla canon: Akane Yashiro, a Mechagodzilla pilot battling feelings of depression and worthlessness, who finds her purpose in battling Godzilla. This Mechagodzilla, by the way, is literally built on the bones of the original Godzilla from 1954, and at one point is possessed by that Godzilla’s soul and goes on a rampage. A little bit Neon Genesis Evangelion, a little bit The Iron Giant. It’s fantastic.
5. Mothra (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1961)
Ishirō Honda’s Mothra is a high watermark of the kaiju genre, blending comedy, adventure, and a lush, colorful visual style in an anti-imperialist fable about a giant moth goddess and her tiny fairy twins. One of the best casts ever assembled for a kaiju flick here, including the always-dependable Hiroshi Koizumi, High and Low’s Kyōko Kagawa, comic actor Frankie Sakai, and the great Takashi Shimura, playing slightly against type here as a gruff newspaperman. Honda takes the opportunity here for both pathos (the sight of the villain’s goons gunning down Infant Island’s natives in the wake of their fairy-napping is jarring and tragic) and sly, playful satire (after the villain escapes with the stolen fairies to his U.S.A.-coded home country of “Rolisica,” the Roliscan government refuses to cooperate with the Japanese government’s efforts to extradite him, citing “his inalienable right to own property”). Very of-its-time in that all the South Seas natives are played by Japanese actors in brownface, but still a classic film with a message that resonates today.
4. Shin Godzilla (dir. Hideki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016)
This entry on the list (and the next one) are both great examples of how to wildly reinterpret Godzilla while still keeping the essence of the character intact. Much of this film takes the shape of a bone-dry, cerebral comedy of manners navigating the labyrinthine process of government bureaucracy while attempting to respond not only to the threat of Godzilla, but the looming possibility of the United States taking nuclear action if Japan fails to get the problem under control. Godzilla himself is a terrifying, gnarled nuclear flesh golem, evolving over the course of the film from an aimless, radioactive-blood-spewing tadpole to a towering, cunning monstrosity able to quickly formulate responses to new threats. One of the few Godzilla sequels/reboots to come close to capturing the somber, elegaic tone of the original film.
3. Godzilla, Mothra, & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (dir. Shusuke Kaneko, 2001)
A fascinating, exciting entry in the series from director Shusuke Kaneko, fresh off of revitalizing Daiei’s rival giant-monster franchise character, Gamera. Where Shin Godzilla celebrates Japan’s ingenuity and indefatigable spirit, GMKG:GMAOA (lol) excoriates Japan for its past sins, casting Godzilla as a vengeful spirit acting on the will of all the people who suffered atrocities at Japan’s hand during its Imperial era. Even the Guardian Monsters who rise up to defend Japan from Godzilla are explicitly there not to defend the people or the nation of Japan, but simply the land — more than one of them rack up a body count in the process, most notably Mothra, who emerges to lethally punish some teenage hooligans for torturing a dog. Add in a plot about a journalist at a sensationalist TV news show aggressively kicking against the glass ceiling of her male-dominated workplace, and you’ve got an unabashedly left-wing Godzilla film that serves as a fascinating counterpoint to the series’ usual streak of Japanese patriotism. Also, Godzilla vs. Baragon in this film: one of the best monster fights in the whole series.
2. King Kong (dir. Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Shoedsack, 1933)
There’s a reason why almost every King Kong film is either a remake of the original or lifts most of its story beats from it, and that’s because the original pretty much nailed it from the word go. Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion work still dazzles, and once our doomed crew sets foot on Skull Island, the non-stop action never lets up, making for a fast-paced adventure film that’s still exciting and fun to watch. That the core of Kong as a character was so firmly established here with just a wire-and-rabbit-fur armature and an eight-foot-tall head pulled by wooden levers and pulleys is a massive achievement. That the tragedy of Kong’s ultimate fate is so emotionally gripping is doubly so. Still one of the best examples of grand, special effects-driven filmmaking. Required viewing for anyone who makes or loves movies.
1. Godzilla (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1954)
Look, I can’t deny it: at the end of the day, I’m a Godzilla boy. In the way that King Kong is a quintessentially an American product, in all that entails, Godzilla is quintessentially Japanese. Made at a time when the nation was processing its role as both victimizer and victim, this film, helmed by a Buddhist, environmentalist, and staunchly anti-war filmmaker, is a fascinating study of the painful contradictions Japan faced at the time: mourning its dead (military and civilian alike) while recognizing they were on the wrong side of the war, a loss of national identity while finding the will to rebuild — even the fact that, despite America’s heavy military presence in Japan at the time, no American forces join the fight against Godzilla belies a contradiction inherent in the national mood: pride in the newly-formed Japanese Self-Defense Forces, but also worry that if push came to shove, Japan would be left by its adversaries-turned-occupiers to fend for itself. It is a stark, somber tale, punctuated by Akira Ifukube’s sparse, sludgy score, which captures the slow-moving terror of some primordial beast emerging from the ocean’s depths to lay waste to all that you hold dear. A powerful film that emphasizes the human cost of both war and the hubris of technological progress.
You’ve made it this far, so I’m not going to torture you with a drawn-out conclusion, but I hope this list inspires you to check out at least one of these films and/or tell me I’m completely off-base somewhere here. I love the big boys, and I love you all.