They tower over city blocks, but if you're a kaiju fan who's just getting into the genre, the terror of not knowing where to start can be just as intimidating as a 20-story-tall beast.
Luckily, we're here to help. Here are some giant monster movies from around the world that will get you off to a good start on your quest to amass a kaiju-sized collection.
King Kong (1933)
A milestone in the history of American cinema, the original 1933 King Kong set the standards for movie monsters for generations to come. Though previous movies had shown giant creatures running amok in civilization, it was this timeless and very unique take on the "beauty and the beast" motif that struck a real nerve in pop culture. Not to mention the wizardly stop-motion effects by the great Willis O’Brien remain awe-inspiring to this day... and more fun to look at than the CGI of most modern blockbusters.
King Kong is a classic. Even people who have never seen this film know of it. And while its two remakes from 1976 and 2005 are worthy movies in their own right, there truly is no surpassing the original.
A few Godzilla movies
We’re going to cheat a little bit with Godzilla, because one cannot stop with just one movie from this (as of the present) 34-film franchise and consider themselves a connoisseur of this genre.
For starters, we recommend, of course, the original 1954 Godzilla. Director Ishiro Honda's masterpiece proved that giant monsters can not only be scary but also represent real-life events — in this case, the monster is a doppelganger for war and, most notably, atomic weapons.
We also recommend Honda's wonderfully entertaining Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), a blend of the giant monster movie and the alien invasion flick.
Next up is 1984's The Return of Godzilla, which updated Godzilla within the context of the Cold War while expanded the nuclear metaphor.
Finally, there's 2001's Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-out Attack, which offers a very unique take on Godzilla, this time using the monster to address Japan's struggle to come to terms with its militaristic past. (GMK, as it's known, was directed by the man behind the '90s Gamera trilogy. More on that in a moment).
There are plenty of other great Godzilla movies worth recommending, but these films make for a solid introduction.
The Heisei Gamera trilogy (1995-1999)
The giant fire-breathing turtle Gamera has starred in 12 movies — all from Japan — but most of the kaiju's early work are charmingly corny Godzilla ripoffs. That's not the case for the Gamera trilogy from director Shusuke Kaneko. These three films — Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996), and Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999) — are some of the best monster movies ever made, in any part of the world.
With outstanding visual effects, incredible music, and compelling human characters, this trilogy from one of Japan's finest modern directors is required viewing for anyone even remotely interested in the monster movie genre.
What if Godzilla, except in London? This flick wears its inspirations on its sleeve while making the whole endeavor very British. Gorgo is a smashingly entertaining spectacle that's worth owning, even if it doesn't reach the highs of some of his more famous American and Japanese kaiju counterparts.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
One cannot start their monster movie collection without the inclusion of a few Ray Harryhausen films. This 1953 gem helped popularize the idea of monsters awakened by atomic technology, and while it doesn't treat the nuclear theme as thoughtfully as Godzilla would the following year, it's still a wonderfully entertaining movie with Harryhausen's usually impressive stop-motion effects. Plus, there wouldn't be a Godzilla without Harryhausen's Beast, so this film has earned its place in any worthwhile collection.
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
Another Harryhausen classic. This movie, about an extraterrestrial organism stolen from its home world and brought to Earth, where it is frightened, tormented, and ultimately provoked into a destructive rampage, is one of the best films to not only deliver on spectacle but also create sympathy for the creature.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Several of the films listed above were inspiring to many children in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s who wanted to become filmmakers themselves one day. And having said that, there's no better final recommendation than a film made by one of those very same individuals. Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim ends with a dedication to Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda, and the man's passion for the monster movies of the past is all over this incessantly entertaining sci-fi spectacle. Fast-paced and funny, populated with simple but endearing characters, visually striking, and — above all — tons of fun, del Toro’s film set new a standard for modern Hollywood monster movies that, so far, hasn't been beat.