Compiling a list of the top 10 Godzilla monsters to grace the big screen. The list excludes the King of the Monsters himself, focusing on co-stars to create this list of the top Godzilla kaiju. The top ten is a mixture of use in the movies, appearance, powers and personality. It is not necessarily one based on how powerful a character is unless this helped to make the monster stand out or become a more interesting opponent/ally for Godzilla. The top monsters are a mixture of all their appearances in deciding the criteria.
A lame name and a visual appearance that is sometimes summed up as “Godzilla with crystals on his shoulders”.
In reality, the design is a bit more creative as a twisted version of the King of the Monsters. His long list of powers, ranging from the standard beam weapon to his psychic based feats, make him stand out among Godzilla’s rogue gallery. His motives are also different. While often times monsters will fight by circumstance, SpaceGodzilla is driven by hatred for his terrestrial twin: seeking out Godzilla and his offspring to attack them. The conflict was more personal for the space monster, something that really hadn’t been seen since Biollante some years earlier.
While this list is mostly based on their film appearances, it does help that in recent years SpaceGodzilla has been a center piece in ancillary media. Featured as the big bad in two Godzilla video games (Godzilla: Save the Earth and Godzilla: Unleashed) and a key adversary in IDW Publishing’s “adjectiveless” Godzilla comic run, the character is able to fit in the mastermind roll the way other Godzilla monsters simply can’t.
Starting as Godzilla’s first opponent, Anguirus squared off against the King of the Monsters in Godzilla Raids Again (1955). Dispatched half way through the film, the quadruped would have ended up being one of Godzilla’s most forgettable monsters if that was the end of the story.
However, on a stroke of luck, Toho decided to revisit the kaiju with an all new suit for Destroy All Monsters (1968). This turn of events meant that Toho had a good condition Anguirus suit by the time the budget conscious 1970’s rolled around. Rather than craft new suits for Rodan or Varan, the company made Anguirus a starring player and ally for Godzilla. It was an odd twist for Godzilla’s first adversary, but the spiked monster really made a mark in this roll.
With a more down to earth appearance, the kaiju faced off against lavish monsters like Gigan and Mechagodzilla. What made him endearing was his determination and loyalty to Godzilla, giving the franchise a needed underdog for Godzilla to work alongside.
In hindsight, when it came time to retire the Heisei Godzilla series it’s surprising that Toho didn’t whip up another “Ghidorah” for the task. This became their go to strategy for the years to follow, ending both the Rebirth of Mothra series and the Millennium Godzilla series with the introduction of a three-headed adversary.
Instead, Toho created a character with a tie into the original oxygen destroyer from Godzilla (1954). Sounds great on paper, but in the movie the connection is fairly weak and at times the film feels like its bringing up the legendary device to meet a quota rather than for story purposes.
What’s great, though, is that at the end of the day none of that matters. Destoroyah is a demonic, wicked looking opponent for the King of the Monsters. The red kaiju would have excelled even if he was just yet another alien monster. The fact that he ties into the device that killed the original Godzilla is interesting, but the design and actions of the monster elevate it to the point where the origin is unimportant. His multi-form evolution is a great dynamic, his powers interesting and powerful enough to give the supercharged Burning Godzilla trouble. His true claim to fame, though, is killing Godzilla Junior, making his battle very personal for the King of the Monsters.
Before the 1970’s, the Godzilla franchise had only two real menacing opponents for Godzilla: King Ghidorah and, oddly, Kumonga.
That all changed in 1971. Director Yoshimitsu Banno, looking to make a strong environmental message, helped to pen one of the more powerful Godzilla characters in the franchise. Touted for his power even in the initial trailer, Hedorah proved to be a difficult and brutal opponent for the Monster King. Stripping his hand to the bone and taking out one of his eyes, Godzilla had never been through a struggle with an opponent this lethal before.
Power is not why Hedorah is on this list, although it certainly helps. The Smog Monster is on this list for being one of Godzilla’s most threatening opponents. Not just for kaiju, but the human casualties in the film were gruesome and unlike anything the franchise had seen before. While the design is a little odd, and often criticized outside of his very creepy vagina inspired eyes (if only I was making that up), Banno succeeded in crafting a kaiju that was a true world threat and pushed Godzilla to his limits to overcome him.
One of the more outlandish monsters in Godzilla’s rogue gallery, Gigan battled the King of the Monsters more with wit than raw strength. Able to order around and instruct both King Ghidorah and Megalon, the cyborg kaiju acted as a general on the battlefield.
You don’t have to be powerful to be memorable. One of Gigan’s more endearing qualities is his personality. Celebrating when King Ghidorah hits Godzilla or the manner in which he is quick to flee when the odds turn against him, the alien monster showed more character than most of the Toho monsters.
The character’s design is also part of the charm. The original Showa concept is great, while he got a solid redesign for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). As time grows on, both designs are standing on their own legs and have really raised the stock of the monster in terms of merchandise being created around everyone’s favorite cyborg.
For the first opponent of the Heisei era, Biollante shook things up with a radical design. Most of Godzilla’s enemies had been winged monsters or humanoid at this point. This plant monster was not only new ground, but its massive final form made an instant impression. Towering over the King of the Monsters, the creature had relatively small screen time in this form but every minute counted. Showing off a good range of powers, the genetic kaiju was one of the few to claim a win against Godzilla, even if it was thanks to the ANB coursing through his veins.
As a character, Biollante is also one of the very few female creatures in the franchise, with her human element bringing a new twist. Early drafts had the monster being more sinister, attacking soldiers and generally being more aggressive. The final draft had Biollante in an anti-hero roll, just attacking the military at Wakasa and otherwise focused on Godzilla’s defeat. That spiced things up from the normal rampaging monster theme that sums up much of Toho’s kaijus.
While her final form gets most of the credit, her initial form was visually interesting as well. Taking a silly design like a giant rose and making it credible is quite a feat.
Once considered one of the top four Toho monsters, Rodan has slipped a lot in popularity since his glory days where he was the first ally of Godzilla.
The third kaiju Toho created, the flying monster debuted in Rodan (1956) a couple years after Godzilla. It took eight years before he would square off with the King of the Monsters, proving to be an equal in strength to the nuclear menace. Their bout was interrupted, though, and an uneasy alliance formed between the two instead against a common foe: King Ghidorah. The two would team up again in Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) and Destroy All Monsters (1968) to tackle the space menace before Rodan was relegated to stock footage cameos for three of the six remaining Showa series films.
When the franchise was rebooted in the 1980’s, Rodan returned as a secondary character and never really recovered from the bump down in status. Regardless, the “samurai of the sky” is a simplistic design done right. Furthermore, his unlikely alliance with Godzilla proved an interesting dynamic compared to the partners the King of the Monsters has had since.
#3. King Ghidorah
One of the most iconic Godzilla characters, featuring a simple but great design.
King Ghidorah was the first big bad the franchise had, taking the combined might of Godzilla and Rodan to defeat him from an alliance forged by Mothra’s efforts. A cackling, chaotic space monster, King Ghidorah didn’t have a lot of personality, but was brutally efficient at leveling cities and proving a large foil to the hero and anti-hero monsters of the series.
After the Showa era, Toho was well aware of the character’s popularity and made him the first returning Godzilla adversary to the Heisei series. The creature also closed out the Rebirth of Mothra series with a powerful new incarnation, and turned hero to face a larger King of the Monsters in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001).
Although reinvented since his debut, the character’s shining portrayal still remains his first two films as the destroyer of worlds. He is in many ways seen as the chief rival of Godzilla, having never teamed up with the character in any medium.
The last Godzilla character to enter mainstream pop culture.
Mechagodzilla was introduced into the franchise late in the Showa series, but did so with a splash. Debuting with an interesting concept of impersonating Godzilla, the mech then proved to be one of the most difficult adversaries the King of the Monsters had faced. Giving both Godzilla and King Caesar trouble, Mechagodzilla made a huge stamp on the franchise and was an instant fan favorite.
Since his debut, Mechagodzilla has been given a bigger push by Toho than almost their entire character line up (save #1 on this list). When it came time to reintroduce the character, Toho gave the mech a radically new origin for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). Now an instrument of humanity, the character became a protagonist with only vaguely questionable morals raised. This idea continued and was explored again nine years later for Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) with Kiryu being another human based construct.
In the end, the Showa and Heisei/Millennium versions are interesting enough characters that either on their own would make this list. The varying concepts applied as one character makes Mechagodzilla an easy second showing in the top ten.
Toho’s second most popular character, and the only Toho monster outside of Godzilla with enough appeal to headline her own franchise.
Mothra has been the most reoccurring Godzilla character since the closure of the Showa era. Although she started off in her debut film as a slight antagonist due to circumstances, the sometimes enemy, sometimes ally to the nuclear menace has grown into a benevolent force. She has developed into a sense of good in a franchise dominated by rampaging monsters.
What makes the character number one on the list? At her best, she excels as a deity, a representative to a nation of people who can call upon her to intervene in kaiju affairs. It’s not just this status and story elements that she brings, though. Mothra is also the first and best underdog that the franchise has had. Many people scoff at the concept of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) on the grounds that the insect god is out matched by Godzilla… and that’s really what makes her great. She is hopelessly underpowered against Godzilla, yet her determination and self sacrifice make the character endearing.
While the monster has been debatably overused after the immense box office success of Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), her character is still universally loved and appeals to causal moviegoers in a way the others simply don’t. The best and somewhat touching example of this was during promotion for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). When the first full trailer of the movie made its debut on a morning show, one of the talk hosts uttered out in surprised excitement for only one monster. It wasn’t Godzilla. It wasn’t Rodan. It wasn’t the long awaited return of Anguirus, Gigan or any of the others. No, it was for Mothra, who had appeared just a year before in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).
Honorable Mention: Gaira
More than any other monster since Godzilla in Japan, Gaira continues to inspire those who enter the film industry. His debut movie, The War of the Gargantuas (1966), was nightmare fodder for children in Japan, showing off a smaller kaiju that hunted and ate humans. His attack at the airport and assault on the fisherman from below their boat was enough to ingrain the monster in kids’ memories. As those kids grew, they began to shape the genre itself. The monster appeared, although briefly and through stock footage, in both Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Outside of the series, he also most recently showed up in Go! Godman (2008).
It takes more than being terrifying to be remembered, though. His sibling struggle with Sanda in his debut film gave him that edge, being featured in a conflict that had a different angle to it.
So why did Gaira not making the list? Having appeared in two Godzilla films, not counting stock footage goofs, the character is a constant reference in the series… even though he has yet to leave his mark on Toho’s mainline franchise. It would be difficult to consider Gaira a Godzilla monster at this point in his career, although he continues to play his part in the franchise, having even battled the King of the Monsters in IDW’s Godzilla: Rulers of Earth #10 comic.