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A History of the GODZILLA Movies (in America)

May 12, 2014

Godzilla (2014)By Hoff Matthews

After sushi, creepy fetishes and decades of economic stagnation caused by the bursting of a speculative asset price bubble, Godzilla is the most stereotypically Japanese thing there is. But since the United States is one of the world’s biggest markets for film, this monster from the Land of the Rising Sun has frequently been altered or re-created to appeal more to American audiences across the Pacific. With this Friday marking the release of another American-produced Godzilla reboot, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the many ways this iconic creature has been presented to us gaijins in the U.S.

1954: Gojira/Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The first Godzilla film was markedly more serious in tone than those that would follow. Heavily influenced by the works of Ingmar Bergman, Gojira (as the monster was originally called in Japan) presented the giant reptile as a metaphor not just for the dangers of nuclear power but also for humankind’s helplessness in the face of our own mortality. The film’s coda, in which a herpetological physicist cradles the charred corpse of his wife while raging at the silence of God, is said to be the only scene in cinematic history to have reduced Werner Herzog to tears.


However, American audiences were introduced to the iconic monster through a heavily recut version of Gojira called Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in which the Japanese protagonist was replaced with a wisecracking American journalist and his bumbling dwarf sidekick, Eg Fu Yung.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

1962: King Kong Vs. Godzilla

Godzilla’s popularity in the States was soon exploited with a crossover effort featuring America’s own giant monstrosity, King Kong. King Kong Vs. Godzilla of course provided plenty of crowd-pleasing monster-fighting action, but it was also a subtle commentary on the evolving relationship between Japan and the U.S.: Kong wins in the end, but Godzilla befriends him and even manages to sell him a Toyota Publica.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla

Officially this article’s dumbest Photoshop

The commercial success of this venture led to a variety of similar projects, such as Godzilla Vs. Mothra, Godzilla Vs. Super Fly, Godzilla Vs. Gay Godzilla and Godzilla Vs. Zabriskie Point.

1985: The Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985

After the franchise’s slide into camp in the ’60s and 70s, its Japanese stewards attempted to bring Godzilla back to his darker roots with 1985’s The Return of Godzilla, which, like the first film, was re-edited into an alternate version for American audiences. The Japanese edit was critically praised as a powerful allegorical commentary on the dangers of toxic waste, ozone depletion and unregulated financial markets.

The Return of Godzilla

The alternate American version, Godzilla 1985, starred Steve Guttenberg as a fun-loving VJ who helps Godzilla win a boxing match against a Soviet monster named Pink-O.

Godzilla 1985

1998: Godzilla

Hollywood eventually produced its very own version of the monster with the 1998 remake Godzilla, which starred Matthew Broderick and relocated the story from Japan to New York City. The film was a commercial success but received harsh reviews for its CGI reimagining of the titular creature and its crass sense of humor, as exemplified by the notorious scene in which Godzilla expels flames from his anus and then turns to the camera and says, “No more chili for me!”

Godzilla (1998)

2010: Valentine’s Day

Prior to this Friday’s reboot, Godzilla’s last appearance in American theaters was as part of the large ensemble cast of the romantic comedy Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day

If you enjoyed this article, check out some of my others:

The 6 Best Wu-Tang Clan Albums You’ve Never Heard

10 Pictures that Look Photoshopped–But Aren’t!

A History of the GODZILLA Movies (in North Korea)

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