The Godzilla franchise is the longest-running movie franchise in the world with 35 films in total released from the fifties to the present day and he is one of the most famous monsters in film history.
Godzilla is a giant prehistoric sea monster that was awakened and powered by nuclear radiation. He is so powerful that he is practically invincible to conventional weaponry. He can also walk on land and is capable of destroying buildings and breathing fire.
His original name was “Gojira,” which is a portmanteau of “gorira” (Japanese for “gorilla”) and “kujira” (Japanese for “whale”), which made sense because of his strength and aquatic origin, although he is much more similar in appearance to a dinosaur.
He was designed by Teizo Toshimitsu and Akira Watanabe under the supervision of special effects designer Eiji Tsuburaya, and his appearance was inspired by that of a tyrannosaurus, iguanodon and stegosaurus.
The character first appeared in the 1954 film Gojira, directed by Ishirō Honda and released by Toho. It is a classic of Japanese cinema that was made while the aftermath of World War II was still fresh on Japanese minds following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was released in the same year as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident in which a Japanese tuna fishing boat was contaminated by a nuclear test carried out by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands. This has led many people to see the film as a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Gojira originated with producer Tomoyuki Tanaka when he wrote an outline called The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, later shortened to Project G (G for “giant”). Tanaka hired sci-fi writer Shigeru Kayama to write the story and Honda and Takeo Murata were hired to write the screenplay.
The movie was actually inspired by an American film that was released the previous year called The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, featuring the fictional Rhedosaurus which was animated by stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen.
Godzilla was nearly animated with stop-motion as well, but it was decided that a rubber suit (and a mechanical smoke-breathing puppet in close-up shots) would be done quicker.
The film was not well-received by Japanese film critics who thought it was a mindless fantasy, but American film critics loved it and fully embraced it as a smart allegory for nuclear danger and an entertaining film (Japan eventually did as well).
It was actually nominated for the 1954 Japanese Movie Association awards for best special effects and best film, winning for special effects and losing best film to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Many people regard the film as the best of all the giant monster movies, of which there were many in the fifties.
In the period between 1954 and 1975, Toho released a ton of sequels, most of which were less serious and more wacky than the first. The classic formula was to pit Godzilla against other formidable monsters, such as Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Gigan, Mechagodzilla and others.
Most of these films were of lesser quality and not as highly regarded but by Godzilla’s most ardent fans.
It would be nearly a decade following the last Godzilla film in 1975 before Toho would release a direct sequel to the 1954 original called The Return of Godzilla (1984) which completely ignored the films between and was set up to reboot the series. It had a much darker tone than the average Godzilla film and every film released between 1984 and 1995 was set in a single timeline.
Beginning in 1999 with another reboot Godzilla 2000: Millennium, the series was treated as an anthology with many of the films of this era set up as standalone films and sequels to the 1954 original.
It would be another decade-long hiatus after the 2004 film Godzilla: Final Wars before Toho rebooted the franchise again in 2016 with the release of Shin Godzilla, which was a box-office hit and received critical acclaim from Japanese film critics.
Following that film, Toho announced a trilogy of anime films that would be released in Japan theatrically and distributed around the world on Netflix, and this trilogy consisted of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018) and Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018).
The first time America got the film rights to Godzilla was when TriStar acquired them in 1992. Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (the screenwriters behind Aladdin, Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean) were hired to write the story while Roland Emmerich of Independence Day fame was hired to direct.
It had the makings of a hit but the film released in 1998 to negative reviews and lackluster box office (before this, American versions of Godzilla had always gone poorly, and this movie did not help).
TriStar dumped the rights when they expired in 2003, but in 2009, Legendary Pictures got ahold of the rights and decided to try another American reboot, this one directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Rogue One) and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston in what Legendary has dubbed the first of its films to take place in a new cinematic universe known as the MonsterVerse.
The new film Godzilla was released in 2014 to positive reviews and was a box office success, prompting Legendary to proceed in expanding its MonsterVerse with the 2019 sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the crossover Godzilla vs. Kong scheduled for 2020 (not the first time and probably not the last time the two behemoths would face off).
Speaking of crossovers, the 1973 television series Zone Fighter, which aired in Japan on Nippon Television and was Toho’s answer to Ultraman, featured guest appearances from other Toho monsters including Godzilla in 5 of its 26 episodes, making Godzilla a TV star for the first time.
Other TV appearances would include the Hanna-Barbera version, which ran for 2 seasons from 1978 to 1979 on Saturday mornings and was exactly what you would expect a Hanna-Barbera series to be like, watered-down violence and wacky comical side characters galore.
An anime OVA series aimed at kids called Godzilland was introduced in 1994.
And an animated series executive produced by Roland Emmerich released in the same year as his film would air on Fox Kids from 1998 to 2000 and came from the same animation studio behind the Kids’ WB shows Men in Black: The Series and Jackie Chan Adventures.
As for the future of Godzilla, the success of the American 2014 film has inspired Toho’s plans for its own shared universe, with a planned start date of 2021. It will feature both stand-alone films and crossovers starring Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah and others.
Starting in 2019, Toho has invested billions of yen in the future of Godzilla (as well as other properties they own the rights to like Pokémon and Your Name) in co-productions with both the U.S. and China.
Like Batman or James Bond, Godzilla’s popularity and iconic status in pop culture pretty much guarantees that he is not going away any time soon. Not that I want him to go away. I am fully on board the Godzilla train. As long as he doesn’t stomp around my city.