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Big G@70: Tracing the evolution from Gojira to Godzilla Minus One

The blockbuster Japanese movie Godzilla Minus One is finally available to audiences in India with an unannounced OTT debut. Here's a look at the Godzilla franchise over the last 70 years. 

Big G@70: Tracing the evolution from Gojira to Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla Minus One

Last Updated: 03.15 PM, Jun 01, 2024


It’s a sunny morning as you step out on the balcony of your upscale hotel room in Ginza district. As you take in the cool breeze you notice a commotion at Tokyo Harbor… the water seems to boil and you see at first a forest of spiky dorsal fins, then a Dinosaur like head and, finally, a creature like no other, standing at 50 .1-meter-high, as it stomps its way through shipping vessels and the ground shakes as it sets foot on land. It seems to shoot a baleful glare right at you and you notice the spikes beginning to glow bright blue one by one till it reaches the head… you hear an earth shattering roar and the last thing you see, before you evaporate is a ray of pure atomic energy ….

While this is just another Monday in Japan, the visceral pleasure of seeing whole cities and landmarks levelled by giant creatures or kaijus, has a thrill that makes our jaws drop, even more so when the King Of Monsters himself, Godzilla, makes his fearsome on screen appearance.

The latest installment in the longest continuously running film franchise (Guinness Book of World Records), Godzilla Minus One is finally in India, albeit not in theatres. It’s dropped on Netflix. The film had opened to great Box office results and stellar reviews in late 2023, with many calling it the best Godzilla movie after the original.


Let’s take a look as to how it all began

Inspired by King Kong (1933) and the abandoned idea of Radioactive breath from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), director Ishiro Honda came up with his own idea for a ‘giant monster on a rampage’ with Gojira (1954) under the banner of Toho Productions. Designed as a grim black and white movie serving as an allegory on the horror of atomic radiation in Japan after the detonation of the Hydrogen Bomb, the movie was a worldwide smash hit.

The American version spliced in scenes of Raymond Burr as news reporter Steve Martin along with a cheesy English dub for Godzilla King of Monsters (1956). Burr would reprise his role in Godzilla 1985 (Us version of Return of Godzilla), 30 years later.

Special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, introduced Tokusatsu or Suitmation, wherein stuntman Haruo Nakajima in a rubber monster suit would trash through carefully constructed miniature sets and a studio backlot water tank smashing toy boats. The unforgettable theme, as well as the iconic roar were all created by composer Akira Ifukube. 

The original Toho series is divided into 5 periods named after the respective Japanese Emperors of the time.

1. Showa Series (1954-1975)

Our Greyish green giant made his debut in Gojira, a stark and austere black and white production, now regarded as a classic. Deriving his name from Gorira (Gorilla) and Kujira (whale) and releasing less than a decade after WW2, the movie was a huge hit.

An extended English dubbed US version with Raymond Burr as news reporter Steve Martin was released as Godzilla, The King of Monsters. This was a worldwide smash hit and made the Kaiju a household name. A less popular sequel Godzilla Raids again followed.

The first colour movie in the series pitted two titans against each other in the blockbuster King Kong vs Godzilla (1962). Toho Studios then came up with the idea of having a clash of other kaijus from their stable, starting with Mothra vs Godzilla. The introduction scene, where Godzilla bursts through the ground was an absolute doozy.

The more kid-friendly approach was continued in Gidhora the 3 headed Monster (1964), introducing the fan favourite King Gidorah. This was also the first time that Godzilla was shown as heroic. Fiery Pterodactyl Rodan also joined the fray.

Son of Godzilla (1967) introduced the diminutive offspring Minilla and the series reached its pinnacle with Destroy All Monsters! pitting the King of Monsters against almost every Kaiju from Toho, besides evil aliens looking for world domination. Kaiju fatigue seemed to set in and the series suffered with subpar entries and lower budgets.

Still, we had nifty spots like the Introduction of another fan favorite in the shape of a Giant Space Chicken with a buzz saw in its chest in Godzilla vs Gigan (1973), the giant cockroach (dispatched by the infamous drop kick sequence) in Godzilla vs Megalon, and, of course, the evil Robot doppelgänger in Godzilla vs Mechagodizlla and its sequel Terror of Mechagodzilla, an idea that was reused from MechaniKong in King Kong Escapes! (1967).

The Smog Monster that feeds on pollution in Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971) was the favourite of late critic Roger Ebert. This is famous for the scene where Godzilla ‘flies’ with his atomic breath, plus some very trippy visuals and animation sequences.

Diminishing box office results led to Toho putting the franchise on a hiatus.

2. Heisei series (1984-1995)

Godzilla returned to his evil ways with Return of Godzilla (1984), the US version titled Godzilla 1985 featured Raymond Burr once again and served as a continuation to the original., ignoring all other sequels.

The new series with 7 entries offered battles with upgraded versions of classic foes like Mothra, Mechagodzilla and King Gidorah, but also introduced new threats like the giant Rose Biollante, Space Godzilla and, in the final entry, the ferocious Destroyah.

3. Godzilla (1998)

The series took another hiatus, during which we suffered through the US remake helmed by Roland Emmerich - Godzilla (1998), which was hated by fans and renamed as GINO (Godzilla in Name Only). The follow-up animated series was quite good, however.

4. Millennium Series (1999-2004)

Toho had big G turn evil again starting with Godzilla 2K: Millennium (1999), which used suitmation, as well as early CGI effects. Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000) followed. Both were rather lackluster. Shusuke Kaneko, who had the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Gamera Trilogy under his belt was brought in to revive the jaded series.

Kaneko approached the standalone subject from a spiritual side, making Godzilla a vessel for the souls lost in the pacific war. The ghostly effect was enhanced by giving him white eyes. Pitted against him were Mothra, Baragon and, in a rare heroic turn, King Gidorah, as the 3 ancient protectors of Japan. The movie was a smash hit and served as direct inspiration for Godzilla Minus One.

The series returned to basics, albeit with upgraded effects in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (2002) and its sequel Godzilla Tokyo SOS (2004). The series wrapped up in spectacular fashion with its 50th anniversary feature Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, it pitted the Big G and son Minilla against every previous foe, across the globe, including Zilla ‘98 in Sydney. Turns out, evil aliens, hell-bent (as usual) on conquering our world, controlled all of them, except Godzilla who is immune due to the secondary brain in his tail. When the Alien chief destroys this appendage, he finds out the very hard way that it also helped control the beast’s rage. All hell breaks loose thereafter. With back-to-back action scenes, this is the equivalent to John Wick.

However, the mixed response to Final Wars led to another hiatus.

5. Legendary Series (Monsterverse)

Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) took a shot at the subject with Godzilla (2014). Despite visible Monster action being obscured to by clouds of dust and human melodrama, the movie was a success. A sequel, Godzilla King of Monsters (2019), re- introduced Rodan and King Gidorah to western audiences. The film was memorable for some cool fights, hammy Millie Bobby Brown and Godzilla going nuclear.

After the events of Kong: Skull Island (2017), we had the epic cross-over in Godzilla Vs Kong (2021), which also reimagined Mechagodzilla. A follow-up series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has had a successful first season and has been renewed for a second, while the two behemoths then teamed up again for Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire (2024).

6. Reiwa Series: (2016-2023)

Toho rebooted the series once again with Shin Godzilla (2016). A grim feature with a constantly evolving monster, this featured some never seen before powers, the purple atomic breath that emerges from every wound in the body, along with the eye sheathing before each blast was phenomenal. While the initial form looked goofy, the final form with shades of Evangelion was stunning.

Godzilla made his anime debut on Netflix with the trilogy Planet of Monsters/City of the Edge of Battle and the Planet Eater. A slow pace and very little action made this a chore to sit through. Another standalone series followed, Godzilla: Singular Point, which had some great battles, but the prolonged human story was rather silly.

Some of the projects that were planned, but scrapped later were Godzilla vs Hedorah 2 (to be shot in Africa), Godzilla vs Ghost Godzilla (who is invisible), Godzilla vs Redwolf, Godzilla Vs Frankenstein, a US version called Godzilla 3D to the Max, and Godzilla vs THE DEVIL!

Big G returned to the silver screen with Godzilla Minus One, another reboot that ignores all other entries including the original. Another first is that it is a period piece set during and just after WW2 between 1945 and 1947. Reviews across the globe hailed Minus One as one of the best movies of 2023, as well as a highpoint in the long-running series.