Since his debut in 1954’s “Godzilla,” Toho Studios’ gargantuan star has been reinvented time and again on the big screen, on television and even, for a time, in the pages of Marvel Comics. If you’re a newcomer to the giant monster (“Kaiju”) genre, don’t worry. The current MonsterVerse continuity is relatively simple with, to date, just two entries taking place before the new “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Set in 1973, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts offers an “Apocalypse Now” influenced reimagining of 1933’s “King Kong,” setting the action on the early monster movie’s iconic Skull Island, home to all sorts of deadly beasts and, of course, Kong himself, a massive ape that is worshipped as a god by the island natives.
Although it’s the second film to be released, “Skull Island” takes place first in the MonsterVerse. It’s also not necessarily required viewing for “King of the Monsters,” either, as it only connects tangentially through the top secret scientific research organization, Monarch. It will be a lot more important next year, however, with “Godzilla vs. Kong” on the way from Adam Wingard, the director behind horror thrillers like “You’re Next,” “The Guest” and “Death Note”.
Directed by Gareth Edwards (“Monsters,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), “Godzilla” introduces the current version of the monster, but also pays homage to the franchise’s long history, hinting that the events of the 1954 original occurred in some form in the new continuity. There are even a few Easter egg hints about other Kaiju movie stars, many of which are set to appear in “King of Monsters”.
While those two films are all you need to be caught up on Legendary’s MonsterVerse, there is no shortage when it comes to Godzilla movies over the last half century. There are more than 30 films starring just Godzilla with even more featuring Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. In the original ("Shōwa") series, it took seven films and a full decade to bring all four monsters together. Here's the proper viewing order for the original run to help prepare you for the epic monster showdown on May 31 that will ultimately crown the new "King of the Monsters".
It all started with Ishirō Honda’s original film which offers a somber reflection on the threat of nuclear proliferation, arriving less than a decade after the catastrophic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaksi by Allied Forces during World War II. Godzilla, an ancient beast awakened by nuclear testing, stands as a powerful allegory for mankind’s tendency towards self destruction.
Released as “Gojira” in Japan, the film was heavily edited for its American release in 1956. Titled “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!”, the dubbed version inserts an American journalist character (played by Raymond Burr) as the story's human protagonist, excising much of the social commentary present in the original edit. Thankfully, both versions are available on the same Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, backed by special features that help place them in their proper historical context.
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
The first film was such an immediate hit that Toho Studios had a sequel ready to hit the big screen less than six months after the original. It's here that Godzilla does his first battle with another Kaiju, a prehistoric ankylosaurus called Anguirus.
As was the case with the first film, "Godzilla Raids Again" was completely reedited for its American release, even going so far as to remove "Godzilla" himself. Instead, American audiences were given a movie called "Gigantis the Fire Monster" when the sequel eventually made its way overseas in 1959.
Giving Godzilla a break, Toho decided to introduce a new monster star with Rodan, an enormous Pteranodon that, along with giant killer insects, is awakened after a mining accident in the fictional village of Kitamatsu. "Rodan" also marks the first Toho monster movie to be filmed in color.
A new version of Rodan is set to make an appearance in "King of Monsters".
Having made her debut in a serialized novel earlier that year, Mothra flew to the big screen in 1961. Unlike the Kaiju that preceded her, Mothra is a benevolent creature with a divine connection to nature. Like Kong, Mothra is worshipped on her native island where two miniature singing priestesses (the Shobijin, or "little beauties) serve as her link to humanity. In her debut movie, "Mothra" only winds up attacking because the Sobijin are abducted.
Hatched from an egg, Mothra appears in two different forms, first as a ginormous larva and, following a cocooning process, as a massive butterfly.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Titans clash as the Eighth Wonder of the World takes on the King of Monsters in a crossover epic that doesn't necessarily pay a lot of attention to the continuity of either of its monster leads, despite being helmed by original "Godzilla" director Ishirō Honda.
The plot finds a pharmaceutical company capturing King Kong and bringing him back to Japan, only to have him do battle with a recently reawakened Godzilla. Despite its silliness, "King Kong vs. Godzilla" is a lot of fun and even reveals a definitive champion. That is, until their rematch next year!
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
With the crossover floodgates open, Toho decided to pit Mothra against Godzilla, leaving mankind to hope that Mothra and her newly hatched young can save the day.
In the original films, "Mothra vs. Godzilla" marks the last time that Godzilla is seen as a threat. Afterwards, he starts being depicted as a protector of mankind, much more in line with Mothra's role.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
It's an attack from outer space when a meteorite containing the three-headed King Ghidorah crashes to Earth just as a Japanese Princess becomes possessed by a prophetic being from Venus, who foresees the return of both Godzilla and Rodan. Mankind's only hope lies in using the Shobijin to once more summon Mothra.
The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA was host to a monster-sized premiere with even Godzilla himself walking the red carpet.
There are big movie stars and there are BIG movie stars. It's in the latter category that you'll find Godzilla who, "King of the Monsters," celebrates his 35th leading role. In celebration of the new film, the gargantuan star dressed in his fanciest bow tie to join in premiere festivities alongside human costars Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, O'Shea Jackson Jr. and more.
"It was a good experience," says star Kyle Chandler. "It had a little bit of everything. It's such a big film... My part is to bring the heart to the story along with Vera [Farmiga] and Millie Bobby Brown. We get to play with our imaginations working with blue screens and tape and tennis balls."
In the film, Chandler plays Dr. Mark Russell, an anthrozoologist who specializes in animal sounds. He was married to a former scientist, Farmiga's Emma Russell, but the pair were divorced following a tragic loss that occurred during the events of the 2014 "Godzilla".
"I think it was so much fun," says Brown, who plays Mark and Emma's daughter, Madison. "We had so much fun off of set that it really shows on screen. We all gained a really tight friendship."
Returning from the 2014 film is Academy Award nominee Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa.
"I have confidence that this is a very good story to present to audiences," he says.
"King of the Monsters" reunites Watanabe with his "Memoirs of a Geisha" costar, Zhang Ziyi. The "House of Flying Daggers" star plays both Dr. Ilene Chen and her twin sister, Dr. Ling.
"I think [fans] will love it," says Ziyi. "It's something I've never seen before on the big screen. Audiences will see a lot of new stuff."
Kaiju lovers will be able to experience Godzilla on the biggest screen possible with the film also opening in IMAX theaters nationwide May 31st.