The Visual Evolution Of Godzilla

Godzilla is easily one of the most recognizable movie monsters of all time, and there's a good reason for that. He's been terrorizing people all over the world for more than 65 years.

In the many decades since his first appearance in 1954, the titan has appeared in just about every form of media imaginable - from movies to television shows to comics, and from video games to lunchboxes. There aren't many people who can't recognize Godzilla when they see him.

That's not to say his appearance hasn't changed over the years. He's no longer a guy in a rubber suit kicking down someone's model city. Yet despite his upgrade into the visual effects world of CGI, he still looks like Godzilla. This list rounds up the key films between 1954's Godzilla and 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters that mark the monster's visual evolution - to see just how this cautionary tale of nuclear conflict and the wastefulness of humanity has changed over the years.

Photo: Toho / Warner Bros.

  • 'Godzilla’ In 1954
    Photo: Toho

    The original look for Godzilla (called "Gojira" in Japan) came from the minds of Teizo Toshimitsu and Akira Watanabe under the supervision of Eiji Tsuburaya. The first designs were closer to a whale, based on the fact that Gojira is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira). These concepts were scrapped in favor of a more dinosaur-like design, which is what made it to the final film.

    Efforts were made to make the creature look less humanoid or mammalian, but initial designs that featured a head resembling a mushroom cloud were scrubbed - perhaps because it made the theme of nuclear proliferation and conflict too on-the-nose. Eventually, the final design incorporated elements of the Iguanodon, Stegasaurus, and Tyrannosaurus, all of which were combined into a rubber suit to be used in a "suitmation" performance.

    While the first film establishes Godzilla's height at approximately 50 meters (164 feet), this would change over the years as the buildings he demolished got taller and taller.

  • 'Mothra Vs. Godzilla’ In 1964
    Photo: Toho

    By the time the fourth film, Mothra vs. Godzilla, hit screens in 1964, Godzilla's design received a slight upgrade in the way the suit was constructed. This is the suit that appears throughout most of the film, though the suit from the previous films was still used for water scenes and a scene of the monsters tumbling off a cliff.

    Godzilla's look in this film isn't radically different from his previous outings, but modifications to the material and construction enabled his actor, Haruo Nakajima, to move more naturally. The lighter suit included reinforced heels in the feet, so Nakajima could actually flip and jump. This more agile Godzilla seemed like a completely upgraded monster, and the fans ate it up. Subsequent films would feature more action, and push the franchise's tone into campier territory.

    Godzilla's height in Mothra vs. Godzilla remained the same as it did in the first three films. He wouldn't receive a size boost until the mid-1980s.

  • 'Terror Of Mechagodzilla’ In 1975
    Photo: Toho

    The 1970s were all about campy fighting between kaiju, taking the scarier elements from the original films and tossing them out the window. That's not to say the films weren't incredibly popular, but they were considerably different from the earlier allegories about the dangers of nuclear conflict.

    One of the biggest changes made to Godzilla and the monsters of this era occurs in Terror of Mechagodzilla. From this film onwards, many of the kaiju sport large anime-like eyes. This makes the creatures less frightening, yet considerably more marketable to a younger audience.

    In his book, Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters, William Tsutsui summed up the more marketable changes like so: "That Godzilla wasn't scaring anybody. In fact, you wanted to take it home as a pet."

  • 'The Return Of Godzilla’ In 1984
    Photo: Toho

    In 1984, the indomitable kaiju was redesigned to bring him closer to his horror roots. Gone were the campy, oversized eyes, and in their place loomed a darker, more frightening visage. Godzilla's height was also increased significantly. Whereas the monster of the 1950s and '70s stood at 50 meters, his 1984 incarnation was 80 meters (262 feet) tall.

    These changes to Godzilla were made in the wake of the Three Mile Island event, which saw an increased level of worldwide awareness regarding the dangers of nuclear radiation. Series creator Tomoyuki Tanaka used this event to help launch the reboot, and once again embrace the grimmer tone of the '50s.

    Everything from the previous decade, from the more fantastical approach to the giant monster slug fests, was gone. The '80s belonged to an antagonistic Godzilla who stomped on buildings for fun.

  • 'Godzilla Vs. SpaceGodzilla’ In 1994
    Photo: Toho

    The 1990s saw another redesign of Godzilla, but he wasn't the only monster to get an upgrade. His son - named Minilla or Minya, depending on which version you watch - was also given a redesign.

    Minilla was altered from his previous, dinosaurian visage and given a more cartoony overhaul. It is rumored that this was done in the hopes of launching a Saturday morning cartoon series tentatively entitled Little Godzilla's Underground Adventure, but if so, the project never materialized.

    Godzilla's changes in this film were more pronounced than recent alterations. His build was much stockier, and the shape of his body took on a triangular build thanks to wider shoulders with less-pronounced ribbing on the neck. His eyes were enlarged once more and given a more prominent whiteness around the pupils (though it still didn't make him look as cartoony as it had previously). Like other films in the franchise, suits from the previous films were used for water entrances and exits, as well as some scenes involving Godzilla being thrown through the air.

    In terms of height, Godzilla received yet another upgrade. His stature was increased by 20 meters to 100m in total (328 feet), where it would remain until the 1998 American reboot.

  • 'Godzilla Vs. Destroyah’ In 1995
    Photo: Toho

    When the previous two films failed to achieve the box office numbers the producers were hoping to see, the idea of eliminating Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Destroyah was floated in 1995. The demise was temporary, but it offered an opportunity to close out one era so another could begin.

    Many of the changes made to Godzilla's appearance in this film are incidental to the plot, which centers around Godzilla's heart - likened to a nuclear reactor - approaching its limit and threatening the entire world. To achieve these effects, Godzilla's coloration is altered to include several glowing aspects, and reveals a clear correlation between his ill-fated ticker and his physical features.

    Godzilla's height remains the same in this film, but his spinal protrusions are slightly increased. This was done via the inclusion of 200 incandescent lights spread along the ridges and over portions of the skin. Technically, the suit was the same one used in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, but the added changes altered his appearance. This made him appear somewhat larger, and added to the overly irradiated look.