The biggest monster grudge match has arrived! When Godzilla and King Kong square off in the very aptly titled forthcoming 2021 blockbuster Godzilla vs. Kong on Wednesday, March 31, it will mark the first matchup between the two OG movie monsters since 1963. With the movie is hitting HBO Max, there’s a lot of Godzilla flicks to catch-up on, right?
Much has happened with Godzilla over the course of six decades, with the radioactive Japanese kaiju keeping especially busy. Godzilla vs. Kong will be the 33rd Godzilla produced after his last meeting with the massive ape from Skull Island. That’s a lot of Godzilla movies to keep straight? So, how many Godzilla movies are there? In what order should you watch Godzilla movies? Where can you watch the first Godzilla movie? Are all the Godzilla movies on HBO Max?
Here’s everything you need to know. And then some.
The new movie, produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Bros., is a bit different than a majority of Godzilla films. Most of those movies have been made by Toho Studios, the Japanese studio that has pioneered the genre, but this new release is actually a part of Legendary’s MonsterVerse series. The three prior MonsterVerse movies — Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island(2017), and Godzilla: King of Monsters(2019)— have all been building up to this one, so you’ll absolutely want to watch those flicks to make sure you’re adequately prepped for this giant new chapter.
Maybe “adequately” is overselling it — if you watch just the MonsterVerse films, you’ll understand the storyline of the new one, but you’ll miss a whole lot of context, a metric ton of old school references, and sly Easter eggs. While officially licensed by Toho, the MonsterVerse presents Americanized iterations of kaiju movies. Toho itself has produced 29 live-action Godzilla movies of its own in Japan, and if you want to really want to be kaiju conversant by March 26th, you’ll want to watch at least a select number of those installations.
Where should you start? Which ones should you make sure to watch? Well, Baragon and (sometimes) Mothra, we’re here to help you tackle this very big task.
What is the first Godzilla movie?
It’s easy to remember this one: The first Godzilla movie was simply titled “Godzilla.” Well, kind of — in Japan, it was titled “Gojira,” the Japanese name for the monster, which in turn was a combination of the words for gorilla and whale. Anyway, that movie came out in 1954, while an American recut of the film, which included dubbed dialogue and added in a newscaster to explain the events, was released as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” in 1956.
Both versions of the movie are available on HBO Max, and despite the exuberance of the American recut’s title, I’d recommend watching the Japanese original. It was made less than a decade after the United States dropped nuclear warheads on the country and just shortly after the exit of American troops, which had occupied it and oversaw a strict rebuilding plan after World War II.
The technology of the time necessitated that it was shot in black and white, but it’s hard to imagine this one being in color; it’s a stark, urgent, and tragic film that probes the destruction, chaos, emotional scarring, and regret that hovered above Japanese society even as it rebuilt. It’s an absolute must-watch, not just as a Godzilla movie, but as a historic film more generally.
How many Godzilla movies are there?
With “Godzilla vs. Kong,” there are now 36 Godzilla movies in total. A total 33 of them were produced after his last meeting with the massive ape from Skull Island. Aside from the Toho movies and the Legendary MonsterVerse films, there is a recent trilogy of animated films (all available on Netflix) and the… not-so-well-regarded American movie that came out in 1998.
Fun fact: Whenever Toho has to reference that movie, they present a monster named Zilla. It has the exact same Jurassic Park-esque design as the Godzilla in the 1998 movie, though it’s technically its own character due to weird copyright laws. The point is that the company likes to ensure people don’t think of the mutated iguana as the same thing as their Godzilla.
What’s the best order to watch Godzilla movies?
Obviously, before the new Godzilla vs Kong you’ll want to watch the three prior MonsterVerse movies; Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island(2017), and Godzilla: King of Monsters(2019). But I’d recommend watching them after getting your education from the Toho flicks. Those movies are informed by the Toho movies, so to get full enjoyment of those (especially 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), you’ll need some prior education.
The Japanese Godzilla movies are broken up into three blocks. In chronological order, they are the Showa Era, Heisei Era, and Millennium Era. Every Godzilla movie is a masterpiece, but some are more must-watch than others, especially as it pertains to the new one out in March. To get a taste of their first matchup, you should watch 1963’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, which has some pretty epic fights and works as a media satire, too.
That movie kicked off an incredible run that introduced the big guy to a slew of new monster friends and enemies, many of whom play key roles in “King of the Monsters.” You’ll want to watch “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and “Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster,” at the very least. Then you can skip ahead to 1968’s battle royal flick “Destroy All Monsters,” then round out your Showa viewing with 1973’s “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla,” which may or may not be very pertinent to the next movie.
The Heisei era has some classics, too. The 1984 film that restarted the series, “The Return of Godzilla,” is a solo monster show with great destruction scenes and some very interesting geopolitics, as does the more science fiction-tinged “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” which was made at the tail end of Japan’s dominant decade. And in terms of sheer emotional impact, few movies beat “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” which finished out the Heisei series in 1995.
The Millennium series doesn’t necessarily have movies you have to see for “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but “Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” is as fun as it sounds, and “Godzilla: Final Wars” is a “Destroy All Monsters”-style romp across the world.
Finally, the most recent Japanese Godzilla movie, “Shin Godzilla,” is a fast, funny, and very kickass monster flick that satirizes the government and bureaucracy in some pretty savage ways, with allusions to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It was co-directed by Hideaki Anno, the creator of the legendary “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series, in case you needed some more incentive to watch it.
Which Godzilla movies are streaming on HBO Max?
HBO Max carries nine movies from the Showa era, though that includes the Americanized “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” Of the Showa movies listed above, they offer “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” for streaming. I didn’t include “Godzilla vs. Hedorah” or Son of Godzilla” on my list, but HBO Max has them and they’re worth watching, too. “Son of Godzilla” is one of two movies in which Godzilla is joined by his lovable scamp of a kid, Minilla. It was made in large part for children and it’s fascinating to watch now.
I’m also not going to tell you not to watch the rest of the Showa movies that HBO Max offers — go for it! This was just about getting a rounded education and saving time. They’re all fun!
The service also carries the MonsterVerse movies “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Kong: Skull Island,” which was King Kong’s debut in that series.
Where are other Godzilla movies streaming?
The rest of the Showa period is available on Criterion’s streaming platform — minus King Kong vs. Godzilla, which isn’t available anywhere to stream. (Ironic!) The entire Heisei period (minus 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, which is a seriously touching movie about a Godzilla fighting a giant mutant flower-girl hybrid created by a mad scientist) is available to rent on Amazon, as is the entire Millennium period.
Godzilla Vs. Kong hits theatres AND HBO Max streaming on March 31, 2021.