Best Kaiju Movies: Top 5 Giant Japanese Monsters, According To Experts

Godzilla attacked Tokyo for the first time in 1954 and was an allegory for the horrors of nuclear war. Unbeknownst at the time, the film “Godzilla” would spawn an entire genre of giant monster films. Kaiju is a Japanese term that literally translates as “strange beast” but in the modern vernacular has come to mean colossal creatures the size of skyscrapers that terrorize cities worldwide. Our list of the top five best kaiju movies showcases some of the most memorable creatures to take over the genre.

Psychologically, kaiju are an extension of the childhood monsters that lurked under the bed or hidden in closets. These deep-seated fears also extend to the ocean’s darkest depths, where relics and fossil records await discovery. It is possible that fossils inspired tales of sea monsters. Paleontologists from the University of Portsmouth share their discovery after stumbling upon a collection of four enormous vertebrae, closely related to a species of Pliosaurus. This discovery suggests that these ancient creatures could have grown to a jaw-dropping length of up to 47 feet — twice the size of a killer whale!

The renowned BBC TV series “Walking with Dinosaurs” sparked heated debates over the size of Liopleurodon, a type of Pliosaur, more than two decades ago. Initially believed to be a colossal 82-foot creature, subsequent investigations proposed a more modest adult size of just over 19 feet. However, the recent fortuitous discovery has reignited the discussion, with the newfound evidence indicating that Pliosaurs could be significantly larger than previously thought.

Other field researchers have discovered similarly gigantic ocean fossils. A giant prehistoric sea monster found in one of the driest places on Earth shows how quickly the species evolved in size. An international team believes this gigantic creature lived 244 million years ago, when a vast ocean covered the United States.

Based on the size of its skull, the animal was at least 60 feet from nose to tail and weighed more than 40 tons — rivaling today’s biggest whales. The species, Cymbospondylus youngorum, belonged to a group of aquatic reptiles known as ichthyosaurs.

From sailor tales of ocean beasts to modern films like “Shin Godzilla” giant monsters have a place in the scariest stories in pop culture. Our list of the top five best kaiju movies may have you reaching for a bowl of popcorn. Let us know your favorite super-sized monster movies in the comments below!

Godzilla replica looming over the streets of Tokyo
Godzilla replica looming over the streets of Tokyo (Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash)

The List: Best Kaiju Movies, According to Experts

 

1. “Godzilla” (1954)

This is the movie that created a genre. “Gojira” means whale in Japanese and is a monster movie on the surface. The deeper meaning of this film has been revealed as an examination of fear of nuclear devastation. “The Japanese version is better than the American recut, which includes a lot of unnecessary exposition. On top of being action-packed, the film also explores themes of the dangers of nuclear weapons and the destruction of the natural world. Specifically, it has been interpreted as a response to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just nine years earlier. Thanks to the memorable monster design and its simple, powerful plot, ‘Godzilla’ quickly became a cultural touchstone,” raves Collider.

“The film that created one of the most powerful movie monsters of all time, Toho’s 1954 film ‘Godzilla’ paved the way for the kaiju genre. Conceived by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka on a flight to Japan, Godzilla is a creature metaphorically born of the fear surrounding nuclear weapons. Considering the effects that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan as a whole, a giant monster that represents those anxieties absolutely makes sense,” explains /Film.

“Aided by the essential special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, the unforgettable music of Akira Ifukube, and the other components which set this type of monster movie on the best possible path, Ishirō Honda directed a bleak masterpiece of humanity fully reconciling with the consequences of its ambitions. Even with dated special effects, the film’s depiction of Godzilla as a truly unflinching force of nature at its cruelest gives the film an atmosphere and energy which no other ‘Godzilla’ or kaiju has ever fully recreated,” details Cultured Vultures.

2. “Cloverfield” (2008)

This modern blockbuster shows the terror of a kaiju attack in NYC on the ground as we follow a group of terrified friends when they must flee a sudden attack from the titular giant beast. ‘“Cloverfield’ should be praised for a multitude of reasons. Besides the fact that it brought the found footage genre to Kaiju, it also made an attempt to create a purely American monster for the modern era. Throw in a personal character story as well as birthing an entire franchise of speculative fiction films, and ‘Cloverfield’ is deserving of more recognition than it sometimes gets,” offers Bounding Into Comics.

“While most movies alternate between shots from the perspective of fleeing civilians looking up at the approaching monster and top-down shots of the monster trampling them, ‘Cloverfield’ only ever lets us see what the protagonists see. There are no cutaways to scientists explaining what the monster is, no scenes where army generals come up with a master plan. It’s just some friends, having a party, and then a monster attacks. That, more than the shaky camera work, is the most disorienting and thrilling part of this kaiju classic,” adds SyFy.

“What is most unique about the monster from ‘Cloverfield’ is its ambiguity. The monster is rarely seen in full, only shown in glimpses via the shaky camera recording. The film has also spawned several sequels that indirectly continue the story of ‘Cloverfield,’ such as ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ and ‘The Cloverfield Paradox,”’ posits GameRant.

3. “The Host” (2006)

This Korean made film features a smaller kaiju that is no less terrifying in a very intimate story of a family vs. a kaiju. “Telling the story of a father attempting to rescue his daughter from a mutant creature, ‘The Host’ works as both clever satire and a genuinely entertaining example of a classic monster movie. And if the stunning effects work isn’t realistic enough for you, the film’s fish-like ‘Gwoemul’ is actually based on a real life incident, with [director] Joon-ho reportedly being inspired to make the movie after reading an article about a mutated fish found in the Han River,” states Bloody-Disgusting.

‘“The Host’ is a 2006 monster film that became the highest-grossing South-Korean film of all time. It follows the story of a monster that kidnaps a man’s daughter. The monster is said to be the product of illegal dumping of chemicals into the Han River. When the young girl is taken by the creature, her father must find a way to rescue her from the sewers where she is trapped with the beast. The film had a great multinational release as well as an award-winning run in the top film festivals. It is one of the most popular Kaiju films made outside of Japan, and was directed by the Oscar-winning director, Bong Joon-ho,” claims MovieWeb.

“‘The Host’ tells the story of a monster who emerges after an American military pathologist orders a chemical dump in South Korea’s Han River. The film then follows Park Gang-du (Song Kang-Ho), an offbeat local vendor whose daughter is captured by the creature. Now it is up to him (and whoever will join him in his quest) to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the film’s central monster,” according to /Film.

4. “Pacific Rim” (2013)

Kaijus vs. giant robots is the simple premise of this 2013 blockbuster. “The 2013 Guillermo del Toro film ‘Pacific Rim’ is a great modern Kaiju film. Set in the future, Earth is at war with the ginormous Kaiju that emerged from an interdimensional portal that opened at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. To have a fighting chance, humanity creates giant humanoid mechs that use pilots that are mind-linked to each other. The film was nominated for multiple awards and won a couple as well. Audiences and critics alike love this film and its beautiful modern take on the classic Kaiju films,” praises MovieWeb.

‘“Pacific Rim’ was Guillermo Del Toro’s love letter to the giant monster and mecha movies and anime from Japan. Following the moments at the end of a long [war] with giant extraterrestrial monsters, the remaining Jeager pilots launch an attack that will hopefully save humanity from extinction,” summarizes ScreenRant.

“Monsters, mechas, and mayhem. The big-budget epic ‘Pacific Rim’ was directed by Guillermo del Toro in 2013 and spawned a sequel a few years later. Mankind does battle against a race of colossal sea monsters that have emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Humans assemble, and psychically merge with, an army of Jaegers (or giant mechas) to fight these new visitors. Combat and destruction ensue,” adds Ranker.

5. “Colossal” (2016)

Another well-reviewed kaiju movie from our sources is 2016’s “Colossal” a film starring Anne Hathaway. “Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, ‘Colossal’ still seems to me like a movie that hasn’t found enough admirers. While the movie has been gradually building its audience for years, I don’t think it’s quite as known as it deserves to be. This is a clever variation on our expectations, offering a truly unique story of a self-destructive woman (Anne Hathaway, in one of her best performances to date) who inexplicably becomes tied, in more ways than one, to a giant creature, suddenly appearing in Seoul,” writes Cultured Vultures.

“Colossal” (2016)
“Colossal” (2016)

“It’s a dramatic, dark comedy with a kaiju-sized metaphor, in that for some reason Gloria manifests as a giant monster in Seoul whenever she drunkenly walks through a specific playground. The grounded, darkly funny drama between Gloria and Oscar [Sudeikis] is the real heart of the film, but the monster action is legitimately thrilling and gives the whole story an exciting twist,” says SyFy.

“With supporting roles featuring Jason Sudeikis and Tim Blake Nelson, the execution of this film is a marvel. It pays homage to monster films that came before it, especially ‘Godzilla,’ while also charting its own path. Ultimately, it survives by the charisma and power of its leading actress,” offers GameRant.

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Comments

  1. This is a joke seriously. Best Japan kaiju movies godzilla is the only 1 in this Where’s gamera the 2nd best kaiju to come from Japan lol do your homework

  2. “Gojira means whale in Japanese” is not correct.

    The name comes from a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira).

  3. There was a sound reason for “the American cut” in the film Godzilla. A little further research will on you part will make this clear…

  4. According to what experts? Obviously not experts in the Kaiju Genre.. This list too insulting to be a joke and too stupid to be taken seriously.

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