Godzilla is the King of the Monsters in more ways than one. However, there are a lot of fantastic kaiju movies without Godzilla in them. Even narrowly defined as giant monster movies specifically from Japan, the kaiju genre has a lot of fantastic films on offer. If that definition is broadened out and made less rigorous, there is truly a motherload of terrific, city-stomping action from around the globe.
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.
For the true kaiju fan, there's way too much robot/mecha stuff in this film. But it's still got some great-looking creatures - and a budget that allows for some beautiful destruction.
Actors: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, + more
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Merian C. Cooper's King Kong introduced the world to the giant ape who would take on New York City after being seized by evil opportunists from his tropical island home. The famous showdown atop the Empire State Building leaves viewers heartbroken after the great beast perishes.
True, he's not from Japan, and he wasn't awakened by an atomic device. But the fact that he later reappeared in Toho's 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla makes it hard to argue against King Kong's kaiju credentials. More importantly, King Kong is one of the most well-developed and tragic creatures ever to hit the silver screen. Decades after Kong's film debut, his demise still brings tears to viewers' eyes.
Actors: Fay Wray, Merian C. Cooper, Bruce Cabot, James Flavin, Frank Reicher, + more
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
This 1995 film is considered by many kaiju fans to be the best film of the genre during that decade. It features a rebooted, angrier Gamera as he defends the Earth against the Gyaos. The Gyaos are nasty, giant, Pterodactyl-like creatures. One of the many great scenes in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe involves an epic showdown over the Fukuoka Dome baseball stadium.
This film shows that Gamera isn't just a cute, lovable turtle. He can be as mean as anyone out there. He can also out-fight even the most fearsome of kaiju rivals.
Actors: Tsuyoshi Ihara, Hirotaro Honda, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijirô Hotaru, Shinobu Nakayama, + more
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
When Mothra was introduced in 1961, it was only to make things right. The "Shobijin" had been abducted. The Shobijin are, of course, the 1-foot-tall, telepathic, singing female twins from Infant Island who were snatched and forced into show business.
Mothra is having none of it. Although usually the most benevolent of all the kaiju, she goes on a rampage in Tokyo and even manages to build a cocoon on the famed Tokyo Tower. The combination of peace-and-love weirdness and classic Godzilla style has rarely been topped.
Actors: Takashi Shimura, Kyōko Kagawa, Akihiko Hirata, Peter Fernandez, Frankie Sakai, + more
Directed by: Ishirō Honda