8 must-see Kaiju movies that don't feature Godzilla or King Kong

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8 must-see Kaiju movies that don't feature Godzilla or King Kong

In honor of Colossal's fifth anniversary, let's celebrate some other overlooked giant monsters. 

Collage with images from the films The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Colossal (2016), Pacific Rim Uprising (2018).

Godzilla and King Kong are the two biggest kaiju around. Sure, there are monsters who are physically larger than the King of the Monsters or the Eighth Wonder of the World, but no other kaiju comes close to casting as great a shadow in the giant monster genre. However, though they are the two most famous kaiju, they are hardly the only ones worth fleeing in terror from.

Colossal, an indie dark comedy that also so happens to feature a giant creature and huge robot duking it out in Seoul, turns five years old today. The anniversary seems as fitting an occasion as ever to celebrate some kaiju movies that don’t feature the big two. And, for the sake of variety, this list won’t include any kaiju who may have had their own solo movies but are famously associated with Godzilla. That means no Mothra or Rodan, though both of those movies are quite good.

1. Colossal (2017)

Colossal is, thankfully, not a straightforward kaiju movie. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an unemployed, essentially alcoholic writer who begrudgingly moves back to her hometown. Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso) plays her old childhood friend Oscar who welcomes her back — but is, perhaps, not the good influence she needs right now. (Or maybe he’s just not a good person.)

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 is the real heart of the film, but the monster action is legitimately thrilling and gives the whole story an exciting twist. 

2. Pacific Rim (2013)

A lot of the ingredients that make up Pacific Rim are, frankly, very stupid. Big robots punch big monsters and everybody has a name that sounds “cool” but also could’ve been thought up by an excited 8-year-old. And yet, because it was masterminded by Guillermo del Toro, all of the absurdity is so deftly handled and the earnest love and respect that del Toro has for the genre are clear in every shot. It’s the type of movie where an 11th-hour reveal of a giant sword or the line “Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!” are not just fist-pumpingly awesome moments, but cinema. 

3. Trollhunter (2010)

Norwegian director André Øvredal’s 2010 “found-footage” film tells the story of a group of journalists trying to make a documentary about a man who supposedly hunts trolls. While at first the documentarians think they’re really on the tail of a bear poacher, they soon find that the trolls of Norwegian folklore are very real. It’s a new approach to kaiju, turning fairytale creatures (these are classic trolls. They can smell Christians and they turn to stone when subjected to sunlight) into modern monsters, an effect that’s enhanced by the mockumentary format.   

4. Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

There’s a 1958 movie called Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the premise of which is pretty self-explanatory from the title. In DreamWorks’ 2009 movie Monsters vs. Aliens, the protagonist gets irradiated by a meteor and grows to be 49 feet 11 inches tall. If that simple, perfect joke doesn’t sell you on how lovingly indebted to the sci-fi movies of yore this delightful kids' movie is, I don’t know what to tell you. 

5. Cloverfield (2008)

The best part about Cloverfield, Matt Reeves' found-footage kaiju movie that got 2008 audiences extremely curious and then made them motion sick, is that it’s one of the only monster movies that’s about regular people.

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. 

6. Gamera Heisei Trilogy (1995 - 1999)

The Japanese studio Daiei Film created Gamera in the mid-'60s as a rival to Toho’s Godzilla. The initial run of Gamera movies are, even by the standards of the time, extremely cheap-looking and silly. However, in the ‘90s, Daiei rebooted the monster in a trilogy of films — Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris — that are among the finest that the kaiju genre has to offer. The special effects are arguably the pinnacle of what suitmation can do, and the plots bring together deep lore, spirituality, cool-looking creatures, and thrilling action. 

7. Gorgo (1961)

London isn’t exactly a big kaiju target the way Tokyo and New York City are, but it was the stomping ground for one of the better Godzilla knockoffs, Gorgo. What the 1961 movie lacks in interesting human characters (or, uh, any women), it makes up for with pretty surprisingly detailed miniatures, a great monster suit, and a cool design (those little ears!)

8. Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

This 1953 movie — featuring special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen — directly inspired Toho’s Gojira, which came out the following year. The stop-motion effects that brought Harryhausen’s ancient dinosaur, the Rhedosaurus to life, proved to be too time-consuming and costly, necessitating the suitmation that would go on to become Godzilla’s hallmark.

But, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is more than just a movie that would inspire other movies. The early atomic monster creature feature is a thrilling, tightly made film that both feels of its time and eminently watchable by today’s standards. 

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