When it comes to giant kaiju movie monsters, there’s one king, and his last name isn’t Kong. Sure, the giant ape was the star of a 1933 movie that changed cinema forever. But it was the debut of Godzilla that made the cinematic world really shake. For his oversized impact on movies and other media, Godzilla is an inductee into the Pop Culture Hall of Fame for 2023.
The first Godzilla movie was released in Japan in 1954, and then in the United States in 1956. The U.S. version was not subtitled, not dubbed, but incorporated added scenes of Raymond Burr as a journalist describing the action and occasionally saying “My Japanese is a little rusty… what did he say?”
Godzilla (Or Gojira in a more accurate translation from his original name) was created as an allegory for nuclear war and humankind’s inability to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. This wasn’t even a decade after Japan was hit with two atomic bombs at the end of World War II. That’s right, Godzilla began as a horror/fairy tale of sorts, wringing terror from real events that were still fresh in the audience’s mind.
Haruo Nakajima was the original actor to play the big lizard, appearing in a dozen films. His particular take on the movement of the monster, showing the gravitas of his enormous size as well as the monster’s simultaneously random and calculated destruction made him a legend. The kind of legend who could show up at comic cons and such and have a huge queue for his autograph until he died in 2017.
Toho Studios had a monster-sized hit on their hands, and it wasn’t long before there were sequels. Of course, if one giant monster is awesome, two (or more!) are even better. By the 1960s, not only did another spate of kaiju join the fray, but Godzilla started to become a sympathetic figure. As if to say, “Hey, you can’t destroy Tokyo! That’s my city to crush!” He is officially described as not liking humans, but willing to join their side against a common enemy. Godzilla became something of a frenemy to Japan.
By the late ’60s, Godzilla was firmly planted as the protagonist in the monster equation. And then the movies got… campy. Things peaked (or cratered) with Godzilla vs. Megalon in 1973 when the big guy took a running start and did a tail slide not once but twice to kick the bad guy in the gut. Nevertheless, we fondly remember his robot partner Jet Jaguar from that film, not all bad.
Since then, however, there have been numerous attempts to bring Godzilla back to his terrifying roots. And for the most part, it has worked. He even recently got to square off in a rematch with King Kong again, settling once and for all who is King of the Monsters. Until next time, of course.
The hype surrounding December’s Godzilla Minus One suggests a very emotional and exciting movie with human characters who come with complex, deep backstories. It’s a post-WWII movie with Japanese survivor guilt and angst and heartfelt plotlines. Also, lots of Big G smashing stuff. The reviews are promising!
See, Godzilla never really dies. He usually just goes back into the ocean, waiting to cause havoc again. For his neverending, gigantic wave of destruction, Godzilla is now a member of the Pop Culture Hall of Fame.