So for anyone new to the fandom, the word “kaiju” can seem a bit strange and definitely niche. Nothing could be farther from the truth actually, as most of us have seen a movie with a strange beast in it, “strange beast” being the meaning of kaiju after all. But suppose that this really isn’t your thing, suppose you have a friend who is obsessed with this cinema genre or perhaps you are the parent of a kid who just couldn’t be more into giant monsters – well, have I got a list for you.
The following films are a collection of the best plots, most iconic monsters, and are generally considered kaiju classics. These are in no real specific order and while every kaiju fan has their own tastes and favourites, this is my review and just my recommendation of where to get started. So without further adieu, here we go…..
The first film on my list is perhaps one of the most iconic of all time and no doubt you have heard of it: KING KONG. This could be considered the classic that started it all and even though it was released in 1933, it holds up very well due to its timeless story and the spectacular special effects work done by Willis O’Brien. This film has it all: romance, adventure, a prehistoric island, and an iconic climax. It has been copied, but never duplicated.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Gojira)
Once you start with King Kong, one of the most iconic films of all time, you need to follow up with arguably the most iconic monster of all time….
Gojira is the film that started the Godzilla franchise, which now spans more than 30 films, and Godzilla itself has become such an iconic monster that it has inspired other monster as well. A note of caution though, despite later films having more linear plot lines, Gojira is actual a complex film with an interesting story behind it let alone the actual plot of the film itself. If you are going to learn about kaiju, you are going to encounter the king of the monsters. His original outing has two cuts, Gojira, the original Japanese version, and the re-cut American version titled: Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Gamora: The Invincible
There are some film franchises that are created to compete. The DC to Godzilla’s Marvel is the monster Gamera. Gamera is a mix bag of awesome monster action and goofy antics throughout the full monster’s career, similar to Godzilla. However, monster’s first film, unlike Godzilla’s, has no undertone. It is just a fun monster movie. As Gamera is considered one of the “Big Three” (Godzilla and Kong being the others) it is definitely worth seeing his original outing Gamera: The Invincible.
The next film on our list is neither Japanese or American, but British! Gorgo is just a great popcorn film and it actually has pretty decent effects which have helped it hold up pretty well over the years; it is also the first colour film on this list. The plot is simple: if you get between a big mamma monster and her baby….you are in for a world of hurt. As a fun bit of trivia, Gorgo’s mother Ogra was actually the inspiration behind our mascot Georgie.
Rodan is a personal favourite. When I first saw Rodan it was on television and I had not seen the cover art. Let’s just say that it starts with a different premise than is advertised and builds from there. It features romance, a surprisingly practical story with horror undertones, and a fantastic climax that is echoed in the American cut of The Return of Godzilla. Rodan became part of Toho’s multiverse and in the Showa timeline is one of the few monsters that could give Godzilla a run for his money.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
Kaiju means “strange beast” and even if to you it means “giant monster”, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is packed full of strange, wonderful, and giant creatures. Featuring some of the legendary Ray Harryhausen’s best work, this adventure film has everything you could want in a great popcorn flick. The film is also child friendly as villain and adventurer deaths are very Disney-esque. So crucially this film is acceptable to watch around younger audiences and serves as a great gateway film for children of kaiju loving parents.
Godzilla vs Destroyah
I am trying to limit the number of iconic Godzilla films, and while Destroy All Monsters, Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, and Shin Godzilla are all awesome, Godzilla’s canonical death is something to behold. Multiple monsters, a striking Godzilla design, moving and nostalgic music as well as a plot that ties back to the original film (with a returning cast member) make this a very memorable outing for the big guy.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is not as otherworldly as the name may make it out to be, but the film is certainly out of this world awesome. A re-imagining of Gamera’s origin and pitting him against his greatest Showa era villain Gaos made for great cinema. The special effects, story, acting, and film progression are all first rate and as silly as a fire breathing, flying, giant, sentient turtle is….this film pulls it off. It is just that good.
Monsters is a thinking person’s film. The monsters themselves are a backdrop; the real core of the movie is about two people making it through a habitat filled with giant extraterrestrial creatures that are both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. It is a film about love, passion, trust, immigration, corruption, and it is very well executed. Perhaps the most indie film on this list, it is certainly worth a watch and demonstrates how the kaiju genre can be more than what the average film viewer gives it credit for.
Cloverfield does what no other kaiju film to date has done. It puts you among the screaming masses. This is one of a sub-genre of “found footage” films, but don’t let that put you off it. It is layered and very well done. In my opinion there need to be more films like Cloverfield, maybe perhaps not from the perspective of a handheld. The scale that this medium provides is sorely lacking in the genre – Gareth Edwards went so far as to shoot his 2014 Godzilla film from a different perspective to give his titular monster star more scale and give the audience a since of awe. In this film, the scale of the damage and the monster itself instill a sense of dread, which is both refreshing and unique all thanks to the filming technique.
So there you have it, a list to get someone started. There are many films in this genre, and as I stated earlier, there are enough out there to suit any taste – but the list I have provided here give a good base to springboard from. Eight of these films have sequels or are part of a larger film universe, so if you enjoy them – you are certainly in for a treat.
As always, thanks for reading and keep it kaiju! Joe out.