With the kaiju inspired Pacific Rim set to make landfall, we here at Film Smash have cooked up a list of must see films for those looking for some films with city-wide destruction. The giant monster genre has had a storied history on film, but is often times dismissed as ‘kiddy stuff.’ While it is true that there have been a number of lamentably amateur creature features which enforce this stereotype, there are those films which rise above that stigma and make for some truly compelling cinema. Keep in mind this is just a primer so if your favorite kaiju film isn’t on here, it isn’t personal. We’ve tried to keep some of the more esoteric choices (couldn’t resist BMJ though!) out of here in favor of easing new fans into it rather than immediately scaring them off. So if you’re looking to go into Pacific Rim prepared, or it has left you wanting more, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Godzilla: All Out Monster Attack (2001)
This millennium entry in the storied franchise sees Godzilla returning, as he should, to the role of villain. En route to destroy Tokyo, The Big G is intercepted by a trio of monsters tasked with protecting the land of Japan. He’s tough, destructive, and there are enough ‘whoa’ moments to satisfy even the most stalwart kaiju fan. With solid effects and a bit of social commentary, this is a Godzilla film that goes beyond what the franchise had become (goofy) and set it back on the right track.
The Host (2005)
Somewhat an unorthodox choice, The Host is one of the most iconic of all modern Korean cinema. Using what is on the surface a simple monster storyline, director Bong Joon-ho created one of Korea’s most distinctive and accessible films. Imagine a mash-up of Little Miss Sunshine and Jaws, and you may have a general understanding of what the film has to offer, but upon viewing you will realize it has so much more. With fantastic effects work by the legendary WETA Studio and a pitch black but very funny script, The Host is probably one of the most entertaining South Korean films released in the past decade. With a sequel on the horizon, and a great pre-vis preview generating lots of positive buzz, there’s never been a better time to rewatch or experience for the first time, one of the smartest, most aware, and entertaining giant monster movies ever made.
This J.J. Abrams produced monster film was an attempt to create an American kaiju. Helmer Matt Reeves’ use of POV camerawork was divisive among viewers, but I felt it worked. The monster has a lot of screen time and there is a real human side to the film when encountering an unbelievable event. It is manic, well concieved and realized, and a story I hope continues in other pictures.
Gamera: Attack of Legion (2000)
Gamera, the legendary flying turtle, differs from others on this list in that he is a friendly monster, and serves to protect Earth. In this installment, he, with the assistance of a few plucky humans, take on a monstrous horde, bent on claiming the planet as their own. With blood, destruction, thrills, and a whole lot of fun, Gamera 2 also offers a solid moral lesson without being preachy. Terrifically entertaining, it is a better film than it had any right to be.
Big Man Japan (2007)
Comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s homage to kaiju is spot on, hilarious, and massively entertaining. Descending from a family of giant monsters who have historically protected Japan, the current guardian Daisato (Matsumoto) finds that despite his storied lineage, he is not as ‘together’ as one would expect. Mocked for his inability to live up to public expectations, he nonetheless defends Japan against the odd and hilarious monsters threatening the country seemingly on a regular basis.
Of course it’s here, the granddaddy of them all, the original. With iconic music and style, this picture introduced one of the biggest movie stars ever (haha). Socially conscious and thrilling in spades, this picture echoed an entire nation’s fear of the atomic age. As the only victims of nuclear weapons, Japan has developed an inherited conscience, personified in the giant known as Godzilla.
Oh, and in case you haven’t yet seen the amazing Wonder-Con footage of Pacific Rim, here it is for your viewing pleasure!
What are your favorite kaiju films and series? Comment below!