A Kaiju is any creature that stands over 65 feet tall (the largest size of a real-world animal to date — which was a dinosaur). But, of course, they usually come a size or two larger than that.
What this means is that American monster movies such as Tremors, which are debatable on the Kaiju front, will not be included in this list of the best American Kaiju flicks (a Graboid is about 30 ft long when fully grown, and not very tall). The same goes for the mega snake in Anaconda, which is also “only” 30 ft.
There have been quite a few American films over the years that have embraced the Kaiju subgenre. And, sometimes, that direction has proved profitable. More often than not, it hasn’t, but suffice it to say that American cinema is as capable of Kaiju films as it is capable of comedies and dramas. Even small monster movies like The Relic have their merits. But these are the 20 best in American Kaiju films, ranked — so expect big things.
22 Monster Hunter (2020)
Paul W.S. Anderson wasn’t done with video game adaptations after Resident Evil. And, like the first Resident Evil, Monster Hunter is a good bit of unassuming fun. And, of course, Milla Jovovich is in her action heroine comfort zone in the lead role.
An Unexpected Monster Delight
Video game adaptations never seem to work out well. Like the first Resident Evil, Monster Hunter is one of the best, though it’s still not what you’d call high art. But, as far as check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment goes, it’s quite solid.
21 Meg 2: The Trench (2023)
While The Meg 2: The Trench doesn’t quite have the breezy watchability of the first film (there are some pacing issues), it does a good job of standing apart as a sequel.
Ben Wheatley’s movie knows that the first one already threw not one but two gigantic prehistoric sharks and a mega octopus at Jason Statham (And the audience), so it can’t provide just that level of bombast again. So, now, the Meg has some equally-destructive company.
A Worthy Sequel, for a Creature Feature
This includes a giant squid, not to mention some mega-lizards (though the latter are only Kaiju when compared to the little scaled fellas that created them). But, of course, there are Megs. And, while Megs are still debatable as kaiju, let’s be honest: any bigger and the sharks would strain credibility, even for a silly blockbuster.
20 Aquaman (2018)
- Release Date
- July 6, 2018
- James Wan
James Wan’s Aquaman was one of the DCEU’s biggest successes, if not its very biggest (Wonder Woman is as worthy of the title). It’s entertaining, visually stunning, and even has a few solid performances in it.
Sea Monsters Make This a Superhero Kaiju Flick
For the most part, Aquaman is a straight superhero origin story. But, in the third act, it changes gears. Specifically, it becomes a Kaiju movie once Karathen the sea monster comes in. And, suffice it to say, Aquaman‘s the one Kaiju movie where the monster is voiced by The Sound of Music‘s Julie Andrews.
19 The Meg (2018)
The Meg was an unexpected box office smash. And, by being that, it also served as proof that Jason Statham could lead movies far bigger than Parker or The Mechanic. And, frankly, there wasn’t a better, silly-as-can-be IP to hop onto than The Meg.
The Meg Was Better Than Anyone Expected
The Meg is a movie that knows what its audience wants. It also knows how not to take itself so seriously. And by merging monster mayhem with Statham ass-kickery, Hollywood found a winning combo.
18 Rampage (2018)
- Release Date
- April 12, 2018
There’s an argument to be made that Rampage is the most thoroughly enjoyable video game film thus far. Though, of course, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has a fair claim to that title, too.
The key is its playing with the source material. Rampage was an arcade game — it basically didn’t have a narrative. So making it a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson? A brilliant compromise.
A Solid Kaiju Film, and an Even Better Video Game Adaptation
As far as monster action goes, Rampage hits the mark. The destruction sequences consistently evoke the best of the Godzilla films.
As far as video game adaptations go, again, Rampage‘s toying with the DNA of the source material was both necessary and well done. Why not have Johnson go up against a big wolf and bigger crocodile (with a big gorilla by his side)?
17 Clash of the Titans (2010)
Two years after he delivered the MCU’s second installment with The Incredible Hulk, Louis Letterier produced another (somewhat) successful blockbuster with Clash of the Titans.
And, like The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans is underrated. Every bit as cheesy as the original but with a bit more cash behind it, Letterier’s film is entertaining from front to back.
An Underrated Period-Piece Kaiju Film
Clash of the Titans fully embraces Greek mythology throughout. So, naturally, there are plenty of monsters. But, as far as Kaiju go, it has some massive scorpions… not to mention a certain Kraken that had to be released.
16 Godzilla (1998)
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla is not a good G film. But, it’s a more than fine Kaiju film. In fact, it’s an outright underappreciated one. The key is to cognitively separate it entirely from established Godzilla lore.
Godzilla Aside, It Works on Its Own as a Kaiju Film
The New York locale of the film is pushed to the forefront so much that it’s hard to imagine Manhattan without Emmerich’s Zilla. That is, if you’re a ’90s kid. Furthermore, while the altered design of the big G is a mess, it does help him stand on his own.
It’s a good thing Godzilla never got its intended sequel. It’s better left as a late one-time ’90s creature feature timepiece like Anaconda.
15 King Kong (1976)
The 1933 King Kong is the best. Everyone knows this. Not just in terms of its franchise, but in terms of American Kaiju films, it’s the winner, flat-out. But what about the others? Particularly the oft-chastised 1976 remake by Dino De Laurentiis?
An Underrated Kaiju Movie
In short, the ’76 version of King Kong is ridiculously underappreciated. Some of the complaints were fully legitimate, particularly when it came to the script and Jessica Lange’s performance (which still made her a star, but she took some time in between this and her next project to bump up her skills).
But for the most part, the reason it’s such a great film is that it’s a nostalgic treat. The animatronic Kong is flat-out dynamite, even to this day (and, man, did they nail that roar).
14 Deep Rising (1998)
Before Stephen Sommers broke big with The Mummy, he gave audiences a film nearly as entertaining in Deep Rising. Well-cast and shocking when it wants to be, it’s an underappreciated high-budget creature feature. Plus, at no point was the late, ever-wonderful Treat Williams put to better use as a leading man.
RELATED: 10 Underrated Action Horror Movies Full of Thrills and Chills
A Super-Bloody Kaiju Film on a Boat
If there’s an award for bloodiest Kaiju film, just give it to the giant squid-focused Deep Rising. The beast in this thing doesn’t play games. In fact, it has no qualms with disintegrating half of an individual’s face.
13 The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
There’s one major asset that 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms has in its corner, and that’s the practical effects work by Ray Harryhausen. Well, also, it came out a year before the ultimate nuclear monster movie: Gojira. In other words, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was a major trendsetter.
What Makes It a Trendsetting Kaiju Flick
It’s truly odd that America basically did Godzilla before Japan did — but that is the case. Now, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is no Gojira. It’s not nearly deep enough to hold a candle, but it’s quite important nonetheless. The effects are well-aged, but they’re not the only asset. It’s also a film that’s capable of drawing almost realistic characters (for a ’50s monster flick).
12 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
Another benefactor of Ray Harryhausen’s special touch, 20 Million Miles to Earth is an impressive genre-blender that’s remarkably well-aged. The narrative follows the crew of astronauts from Venus transporting a monster. But, when the ship crashes in the Mediterranean, Earth gets itself a new resident.
What Makes It a Classic Kaiju Movie
The Giant Ymir, as this film’s monster is called, is quite the creation. Harryhausen crafted any number of memorable beasties, but there’s a real solid argument to be made that this, even over Clash of the Titans, is his most impressive work.
11 Ready Player One (2018)
Ready Player One is the most pop culture-obsessed piece of media ever created (be it book or film). And, while there are just as many appearances from the likes of Chucky and a Gundam Suit as there are Kaiju (technically, more, a lot more), there’s still a Kaiju in Spielberg’s film. And it’s a pretty darn recognizable one, as well as part of the plot.
When Does It Become A Kaiju Film?
Pretty early on, and then pretty consistently throughout. The first real Kaiju in the film is none other than King Kong in the first act’s big race sequence.
Then, the beloved Iron Giant has not one but quite a few appearances in the film (is he a Kaiju? That depends on the answer to the question, “Is Mechagodzilla a Kaiju?”) And, in the third act, speaking of Mechagodzilla, guess who shows up.
9 The Mist (2007)
The Mist is mostly known for one thing: its ending. Its terribly gut-wrenching ending. This horror film focuses on the inner workings of a small town. It’s not really about the aliens lurking within the mist, it’s about the animosity humans have towards anyone who isn’t just like them.
A Lower-Budget Kaiju Horror Film
Having a horror-fueled narrative take place in a grocery store is so sublime. Where better to see middle-class people bumping into one another without an apology? But then the movie’s third act somewhat shows what was attacking that grocery store.
And it wasn’t the winged terrors the residents had seen before. The head of the whole thing was a giant — well, considering the audience never sees anything besides its legs, a giant something.
8 Kong: Skull Island (2017)
The second installment of the MonsterVerse, Kong: Skull Island, is far more in line tonally with the films that followed than Godzilla.
It’s also more fun than that 2014 film, with a few action sequences that really stick out (e.g. the helicopter scene). Plus, while not every cast member gets something worthwhile to do, this is a film stacked with recognizable (and very talented) faces.
A Solid and Visually Great Kaiju Flick
The special effects in Skull Island are, of course, top-notch. But, the effects would mean nothing if there wasn’t a compelling narrative behind them, and this MonsterVerse installment has the best plot of the bunch. Not to mention, Kong looks pretty darn great.
7 Cloverfield (2008)
January is what’s known as a “Dumping Ground Month” in box office speak. It’s the span of time when the studio projects with the least faith behind them get tossed onto screens, with bigwigs hoping against hope to gain the slimmest profit from them (just look at Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. for a big budget example). But, sometimes, one of those risky projects strikes gold, like Cloverfield.
One of the Definitive American Kaiju Films
The origin of the Cloverfield monster is a mystery throughout the entirety of the film. Of course, the IP would be expanded from here, but as The Cloverfield Paradox blatantly showed, some questions are better left unanswered.
6 King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson’s ultra-ambitious take on the King Kong narrative is arguably a little too focused on big monsters and action sequences. But, with that, it ends up being one of the breeziest three-hour movies ever released.
A Mega-Budget Kaiju Film
Like the original film, Jackson’s is character-focused. It’s not about Kong the beast so much as Kong’s caring for a solitary individual. It’s that bond that fuels the film, and it’s that bond that makes the third act so devastating.
5 Pacific Rim (2013)
If there’s a reason American audience members know the term Kaiju, it’s because of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. A visually stunning movie that certainly has its fans, del Toro’s monster venture was both distinctly him and entirely different from the rest of his filmography.
A Worthy Mega-Budget Film That Introduced the Concept of Kaiju to Americans
While the human characters in Pacific Rim are quite lackluster (save for two, not including Charlie Hunnam’s), it’s a noteworthy film. The action sequences are enveloping, but what’s even more exciting is the build towards those action sequences.
4 Colossal (2016)
- Release Date
- April 6, 2017
- Nacho Vigalondo
An utterly unique genre-fueled look at alcoholism, Colossal is absolutely a one-of-a-kind Kaiju film. Anne Hathaway stars as heavy-drinking, recently-unemployed writer Gloria.
When she reunites with her old friend Oscar, the drinking gets taken up a notch, and before Gloria can even grasp the situation, her drunken self (consistently) produces a Kaiju across the world.
A Delightfully Unique Kaiju Monster
Is there a Kaiju in Colossal? Absolutely. Is it the real villain? Absolutely not. Gloria is being gaslit, and that’s not being done by a beast, but rather by a man whose soul is far more monster than a Kaiju could ever hope to be.