Godzilla may be the King of the Monsters, but there’s plenty of other great kaiju (Japanese for strange monster) movies out there to be enjoyed. The monster genre has always been popular – who can deny that watching giant monsters fighting each other and destroying cities is fun?
There have been thirty Godzilla movies, from the 1954 Japanese original to the most recent American reboot, and it would be easy to fill a list like this with just entries from that series, but instead this list is devoted to the best monster movies that do not feature Godzilla. These are the kaiju flicks that are worth your time that feature a number of other interesting monsters, as well as filmmaking styles and differing interpretations of the classic formula.
The great thing about this genre is how much experimenting can be done with it, and how different filmmakers can bring their monstrous visions and ideas both scary and fun to the screen in epic fashion – because what cinematic tradition is more epic in scale than this one?
Many people don’t know that one of the most popular and iconic Godzilla monsters was originally not even from the Godzilla universe. Mothra started out with her own film, directed by Ishirō Honda.
This monster movie may follow the genre formulas and clichés – it’s not the most original monster movie ever – but it’s worth watching for some great Mothra action and some good footage of the Mothra twins on the island where the monster is discovered. Though Honda never quite replicated the profundity and solemn tone of Godzilla, his other creature features such as this one prove that he was still great at making kaiju films, even if the titular kaiju wasn’t Gojira.
9. Gamera: The Giant Monster
Gamera has always lived in the shadow of Godzilla, and looking back on the two franchise’s history, it’s obvious that Gamera took many ques from his bigger green friend, and basically rode off of Godzilla’s success. However, that doesn’t make Gamera any less of an awesome kaiju, and as the years went by, Gamera has become a much more iconic movie monster, and one who does get his fair share of popularity nowadays.
The original 1965 Gamera is very much like the early Godzilla films in structure and look, but as the Showa Gamera series progressed, the films got more and more lazy, campy, and, like some of the later Showa Godzilla movies, way more kid friendly. At least Gamera had an excuse for this period though, as he is the friend of all children. The original Gamera is a standard, but entertaining and well-made monster movie that deserves a look. Now we just need a Godzilla vs. Gamera movie.
8. King Kong Escapes
In the 60’s, TOHO tried to make King Kong a popular kaiju like Godzilla, with King Kong vs. Godzilla followed by King Kong Escapes. Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was originally going to feature King Kong instead of Godzilla, but Godzilla was decided on due to marque value. But King Kong Escapes, which has no Godzilla to be found, is a pretty great monster movie with not only King Kong wreaking havoc, but also a mechanical mecha-King Kong!
Also thrown in the mix for a while is a third monster: Gorosaurus, who would later reappear briefly in Destroy all Monsters. King Kong Escapes is directed by Ishirō Honda, and while it’s much more a simple monster beat ‘em up than that Honda’s original Godzilla, it’s worth watching for the action and if you want more of King Kong vs. Godzilla’s Kong.
After the original Gojira, Ishirō Honda had his own big shoes to fill. Though he never really did top his masterpiece, the director did contribute several more great monster films to the pantheon of giant creature features. One of these was Rodan, a monster movie about giant Pterosaurs created by nuclear bombs (what else?) that come down to Japan to wreak some havoc.
Rodan does lacks the poignancy and important commentary of Godzilla 1954, but as a simple kaiju film that can be enjoyed on a rainy day, it’s a lot of fun, especially in the film’s last half in which a military vs. Rodan battle of epic scale takes place. Another notable thing about this film is its ending, which is surprising sad and pretty memorable.
6. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is an iconic and classic monster movie that is often cited as the inspiration for Godzilla. Featuring the special effects of stop-motion titan Ray Harryhausen, the film pioneers ground that has been heavy plodded by flicks of the genre in the years to come.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms comes off as a slightly route and through-the-motions kaiju film when watched today, but when remembered the film’s contribution and arguably even birth rights of a genre which has been endlessly experimented with and expanded in the years since, it’s undeniable that the film has been a direct inspiration and benchmark in the kaiju canon.