The Top 10 Japanese Godzilla Movies, Ranked

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The giant monster movie subgenre contains a timeless selection of films whose popularity persists to this day. Of course, the one movie monster that reigns above them all has to be Godzilla. The Kaiju film genre has had worldwide success over the course of cinematic history, and Godzilla, AKA the King of Monsters, has proven to be as menacing and as timeless as it gets. Pop culture loves a good movie-monster, and the Godzilla franchise just feeds us more and more with each release.

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Although there have been some great American-made films in the Godzilla franchise, there is nothing that can beat Japanese Godzilla films. These films started it all. With the perfect mix of epic action and social/political commentary, Japan’s Godzilla film franchise has cemented itself as the movie-monster franchise to watch. From 1954’s Godzilla to this year’s release of Godzilla Minus One, here is our ranking of the 10 best Japanese Godzilla films.

10 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II

Release Date
December 11, 1993

Director
Takao Okawara

Cast
Masahiro Takashima , Ryoko Sano , Megumi Odaka , Yûsuke Kawazu , Kenji Sahara , Akira Nakao

Rating
PG

Starting off strong, we have Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, which came out in 1993. When the United Nations looks for a suitable weapon to bring down the infamous Godzilla, they come across a pteranodon egg in Japan that is guarded by Rodan, a grown Pteranodon. However, Godzilla himself also comes to stake his claim on the egg. This film brings together Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, and Rodan all in one film, and is a classic in Kaiju cinema.

What Makes It Great

Much like all the old Japanese Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II has a distinct vintage feel. It includes the practical special effects we love from this decade of filmmaking, explosive fight scenes between distinct Kaiju film monsters, and an overall chaotic plot that makes this film entertaining from start to finish. Stream on Pluto TV

9 Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

This 1965 Kaiju film was directed by Ishirō Honda. As the first Japanese/American production collaboration in the Godzilla franchise, it was bound to stand out. In Invasion of Astro-Monster, two astronauts are exploring Planet X when they find out that they are not the only life forms on it. The Xiliens, instead of being this film’s villains, turn out to be a species that needs some help. King Ghidorah (Monster Zero) is their biggest threat, and the Xiliens are looking to the humans to use Godzilla and Rodan to fight him.

What Makes It Great

One of the most impressive things about Godzilla as the face of an entire franchise is that the King of Monsters does not always have to be the center of attention to make a movie. Here, he plays more of a supporting role, allowing the franchise to effectively expand its scope and world beyond him. On a narrative level, Invasion of Astro-Monster places our favorite Kaiju movie monsters and puts them in a space setting, the first time in the franchise. This film is epic, the special effects are charming, and it’s in space. What could be better? Stream on Tubi

8 Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

A fan favorite, 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla is a fantastic watch. The film sees one of Mothra’s eggs washing up on a Japanese shore after a storm. Of course, humans have to put everyone at risk, as two men take possession of it. Naturally, taking the egg turns out to be a horrible idea because they are now the target of a raging Godzilla.

What Makes It Great

How the beloved monsters are portrayed on screen is a huge reason why Japanese Godzilla films work for most audiences. Indeed, in this film, both Godzilla and Mothra are given the time and space to develop as fully-realized characters. This forces audiences to pick their respective sides, culminating in a battle that goes beyond the screen. Epic, intentional, and visceral, Mothra vs. Godzilla set the tone for Godzilla clashing with other Kaiju monsters thereafter. Stream on Tubi

Related: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Will Feature Extended Monster Fights, According to Director

7 The Return of Godzilla (1984)

A close-up of Godzilla wrecking a steel pillar.
Toho Co.

1984’s The Return of Godzilla is the first film release in the Heisei Era of films, serving as a reboot of the franchise and effectively hitting the reset button on everything released after the original 1954 Gojira. After a fishing boat is left to nothing but one sole survivor, it is reported that the attacker is the infamous monster Godzilla. The Japanese government scrambles to avoid chaos and panic, but the return of the creature threatens humankind as they know it.

What Makes It Great

A reset in the franchise, The Return of Godzilla reminded fans of the darker themes and undertones of the original series of films. The film showcases Godzilla as a true villain in the eyes of humankind, re-establishing just how terrifying a giant monster can really be. Placing him as the antagonist ultimately allowed the films that followed in this era to trace a more cohesive character arc for Godzilla. Not Currently Available to Stream or Purchase

6 Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla Minus One

Release Date
December 1, 2023

Director
Takashi Yamazaki

Cast
Ryûnosuke Kamiki , Takayuki Yamada , Sakura Andou

Read Our Review

Godzilla Minus One came out in December 2023, and breathed new life into the Japanese franchise. The film is set in Japan during the end of WWII, when people begin to see signs that the monster Godzilla is emerging from the sea, ready to wreak havoc on the world.

What Makes It Great

After the string of American-made modern Godzilla films, this Japanese Kaiju film reminds all of us that, when it comes to the King of Monsters, no one does it like Japan. The film is so incredibly well done on every technical level. The cinematography and special effects are gorgeous, and the monster’s design is classic and modern at the same time. All that paired with some great acting performances, Godzilla Minus One is set to be one of the best releases of this year. Watch in theaters now

Related: Exclusive: Composer Leopold Ross on Creating the Epic Score for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

5 Destroy All Monsters (1968)

A tableau of giant movie monsters, including Godzilla
Toho Co.

By the time Destroy All Monsters takes place, every giant monster in the franchise has been safely contained in a special facility in the Ogasawara Islands. However, aliens called Kilaaks come to Earth and unleash them all on the world.

What Makes It Great

Destroy All Monsters is the Avengers equivalent of the Godzilla films; prior to this film’s release, an entire universe full of Toho monsters appearing in individual films had been building up to one movie starring them all. This is now a common aspect of franchise filmmaking, but, here, it was rare, which made Destroy All Monsters all the more momentous. That it followed through with a gripping story and intense battle sequences is icing on the cake. Stream on Tubi

4 Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

It’s safe to say that Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah are huge forces in the Japanese franchise. Lucky for fans, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack has them all facing off against each other. In this film, Professor Hirotoshi Isayama (Hideyo Amamoto) is forced to call upon Japan’s three Guardians, Baragon, Mothra, and Ghidorah, in order to stop a raging Godzilla from taking revenge upon the country.

What Makes It Great

The monsters showcased in this movie are the most iconic figures in classic Japanese Kaiju films. Similarly to Destroy All Monsters, this film brought together previously solo creatures, making for an on-screen clash like no other. What’s more, this film offered a different side of Godzilla as a character, hurt and enraged all at the same time. Stream on Pluto TV

3 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

Godzilla fights a three-headed monster
Toho Co.

Even Godzilla needs a nemesis. In this case, he gets to face off against a three-headed monster called Ghidorah. In Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, a sort of prophecy predicts the fall of Earth. After a meteor hits land on the planet, Rodan emerges along with an angry Godzilla. With the two occupied with fighting each other, Ghidora, a three-headed dragon-looking creature, comes out from the meteor and starts destroying everything in its path.

What Makes It Great

When introducing a new monster into an already established franchise like this one, filmmakers need to make sure that they live up to high standards as far as movie-monsters go. This stand-alone debut film about the monster Ghidora is a must-watch in this franchise, effectively expanding the Godzilla lore and offering a new spectacle to hold. On a design level, Ghidora was next-level for its time, harkening to classic fantasy literature but with a Kaiju twist. Stream on Tubi

2 Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995)

Godzilla fights Destoroyah amidst an island's cityscape
Toho Co.

As a character, Godzilla himself is rarely tampered with; he is a movie-monster that never has to evolve. However, in Godzilla vs Destoroyah, he’s quite literally on fire. After a huge uranium explosion, Burning Godzilla was born. With the state of Burning Godzilla’s nuclear core becoming increasingly unstable, he is now forced to face a new monster made up of merged crustaceans named Destoroyah. Destoroyah is humanity’s only hope to defeat Godzilla before his demise takes the whole world with it.

What Makes It Great

Introducing monster after monster to fight Godzilla is fun and all, but a level-up for the King of Monsters was unprecedented before this film. Godzilla vs Destoroyah showcases a whole new Godzilla that, visually, will take your breath away. What’s more, the design of Destoroyah is also terrifying, matching his menacing presence in this film. This is easily one of the best films in the entire Japanese franchise for taking a risk on deviating from the Godzilla formula, and it certainly paid off. Stream on Pluto TV

1 Godzilla (1954)

At the top of the list, we have to have the one that started it all: 1954’s Godzilla. Unintentionally awakened by bomb tests in the ocean, an ancient beast known as Godzilla emerges from the depths to bestow terror upon Tokyo. There is one glimmer of hope when a single scientist has possession of the Oxygen Destroyer, the one weapon that could stop the monster.

What Makes It Great

Since the monster’s debut in 1954, Godzilla has stood the test of time. This film is credited with jump-starting the Kaiju film genre and setting the foundation for movie monsters to come. Everything we love about Godzilla movies — destruction, terror, social commentary, etc. — started with this film, which makes it as much an entertaining piece of cinema as a historical document. Stream on Max

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