5 Godzilla Movies to Watch Before the Monster Returns in May

Godzilla, the king of the monsters, returns to the big screen next month when the eponymously titled film directed by Gareth Edwards makes its debut in U.S. theaters on May 16.

Although the upcoming film will be the first major American Godzilla movie produced since the 1998 reboot directed by Roland Emmerich, the history of Godzilla films extends all the way back to 1954, when the original Japanese film Gojira was released. The Ishirō Honda-directed 1954 movie was filmed in black and white and featured a lumbering monster played by an actor in a rubber Godzilla suit. In contrast, the latest film is scheduled to be released in 3-D and features the latest in digital special effects.

In preparation for the return of everyone’s favorite movie monster, or “kaiju,” here is a list of some of the most popular Godzilla movies that everyone should see before the beast returns to theaters.

1. Godzilla (1954); original title: Gojira

When it comes to the Godzilla film franchise, it’s hard to top the original. Ishirō Honda’s ambitious “kaiju” film was ostensibly about a giant, mutated monster that attacks Tokyo. However, the original incarnation of Godzilla can also be viewed as a metaphor for the destructive power of the atomic bomb and an expression of Japan’s post-World War II anxiety about nuclear power.

The original Japanese film was later reworked and released for American audiences in 1956 under the title of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! The Americanized version included dubbed English-language dialogue and inserted footage of Raymond Burr. While Godzilla, King of the Monsters! has its own uniquely cheesy charms, film purists may prefer seeing the original version. The Japanese version was introduced to a new generation of Godzilla fans when it was reissued in 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the original film’s release.

The original, uncut film has a 93 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from critics at Rotten Tomatoes and a 78 Metascore rating (generally favorable reviews) from Metacritic.

2. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962); original title: Kingu Kongu tai Gojira

Made by the same studio and director responsible for the original Godzilla, this film pits two of the most famous movie monsters against one another. However, unlike the somewhat somber original film, King Kong vs. Godzilla marks a change in the evolution of the Godzilla character as the franchise began to be marketed toward children.

As noted by Rotten Tomatoes, “the two lovable beasts play ball with a large boulder and generally behave like professional wrestlers horsing around for the camera.” Although this campy film has a dismal 33 percent rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, King Kong vs. Godzilla is one of the best-known Toho Studios-produced Godzilla films besides the original.

3. Godzilla (1998)

This Roland Emmerich-directed film is the highest-grossing Godzilla movie to date, with $136.3 million in total domestic lifetime gross, or nearly $242.7 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation, according to Box Office Mojo.

Although it was commercially successful, many Godzilla purists criticized Emmerich’s redesigned version of the Godzilla monster, which was more lizard-like than the original. Godzilla was also widely panned by critics, and the film currently has a 32 Metascore rating (generally unfavorable reviews) from Metacritic. However, for fans who want to see Godzilla wreck Manhattan instead of Tokyo for a change, this film is a must-see.

4. Godzilla 2000 (1999); original title: Gojira ni-sen mireniamu

Although it’s a distant second place, this Toho Studios-produced film follows 1998’s Godzilla as the highest-grossing film in the franchise. Per Box Office Mojo, Godzilla 2000 pulled in approximately $10 million in total domestic lifetime gross, or $15.5 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation.

Like the original Godzilla film, Godzilla 2000 was also slightly reworked for American audiences, with dubbed dialogue and altered music and sound effects. Although Godzilla 2000 failed to approach the box office take of the previous year’s Godzilla film, it fared much better with the critics. Godzilla 2000 currently has a 41 Metascore rating (mixed or average reviews) from Metacritic.

5. Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn, aka The Return of Godzilla (1984); original title: Gojira

Intended as a sequel to 1954’s Godzilla, this movie takes place 30 years after the events in the original film. Godzilla 1985 attempted to return the Godzilla character to its original roots as a menacing monster, rather than the more playful character it had become in other Toho Studios productions.

Like the original, the American version of this film also included Raymond Burr reprising the same role he played in the re-edited 1956 version of Godzilla. Although Godzilla 1985 didn’t break any box office records, it pulled in a respectable $4 million in 1985, or almost $9.7 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation, reports Box Office Mojo.

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