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Godzilla Transformation Over the Years
Godzilla: King of the Monsters features a version of the famous monster that is, like the original Godzilla from 1954, very big, and very menacing. But our great big monstrous boy hasn’t always looked like this. Godzilla’s design has shifted in shape and style a lot over the past 65 years. In some cases, he’s been almost cuddly. In others, the ancient radiated Kaiju has been outright sinister, dominating the earth with lasers shooting out from his back.
While Godzilla has gone through many cosmetic alterations and personality shake-ups throughout what the Guinness Book of World Records calls the longest-running franchise in the history of cinema, one thing has held firm: he’s the king of all monsters. And he should be treated as such!
Here’s a rundown of some of Godzilla’s many looks over the past 65 years.
Godzilla obliterates some power lines in his first onscreen appearance back in 1954.
When the Kaiju first emerged from the deep in the mid 1950s, he came in shadowy black and white in the Japanese classic, Gojira. With limited visual effects technology, director Ishirō Honda and Toho Studios relied on some expressionistic lighting to instill the sense of terror for this massive nuclear beast. He was huge, slow moving, and curvy as hell. Later installments would slim him out and give him sharper edges, adding a spiker spine and a more aesthetically-pleasing face, but this naturalistic vision for the character is inarguably the definitive one.
We first saw the monster in color back in 1962’s King Kong. vs. Godzilla.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Godzilla’s first appearance in full color came in 1962, nearly 10 years after Gojira. Still only his third outing in cinema, he squared off with the other massive famous movie monster, King Kong, in what quickly became a classic East vs. West scenario. The monster design in this film showed off ‘Zilla’s greenish grey color, setting the precedent for how he’d look for the future of the franchise.
Godzilla’s design starts to get funkier in the late 60s, as the franchise heads into the 1970s.
Son of Godzilla (1967)
Just like the Bond franchise, the late ’60s and ’70s saw the Godzilla character get sillier and more shlocky. Godzilla as a series has always been satisfyingly B-Movie-ish, and this era of the character really owned that campiness.
Godzilla confers with a ferocious friend in the early ’70s Godzilla vs. Gigan.
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
The ’70s era of Godzilla is perhaps the most well-known era. When you think of the monster, you’re likely imagining this era of B-movie madness, where the screen was always occupied by a bunch of actors in monster suits dancing around. There were five films released throughout the 1970s, each of them featuring the nuclear kaiju squaring off (and alongside) other big baddies from the franchise’s rich and detailed lore.
Godzilla menaces over a city in Return of Godzilla from 1985.
Return of Godzilla (1985)
When the prehistoric titan returned in the ’80s, he returned in a devastating way. Godzilla rocked the earth in Return of Godzilla with a design that dropped the shlocky bullshit of the ’70s and harkened back to the terror of his roots. His design felt less pudgy, with a rock-like, stony exterior and more snarling face. This movie acted as both a sequel to the original 1954 movie and an overhaul of the franchise that ignored many of the films of the past two decades.
The 80s and 90s for Godzilla featured a much more brutal vision for the character than in decades past.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Much like the 1980s, the ’90s was a period of reformation for the gigantic kaiju character, as he stomped away from his dorky roots and found his footing in a more traditional monster-movie genre. With the advances in special effects, the franchise finally began to realize its true potential, especially as the new millennium would bring tons of CGI wizardry to the medium. Godzilla’s powers are on full display in these movies, with effects that feel more visceral and terrifying than ever before.
Godzilla burns up as he nears a complete nuclear implosion in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
‘Zilla was in bad shape in this film. On the brink of nuclear meltdown, the movie saw him red and smoking hot. Fascinatingly, some sequences in the trailers for the upcoming King of the Monsters seem to feature the character in a similarly reddish hue–perhaps there’s a connection there? Godzilla vs. Destoroyah would be the last film of the series before yet another reboot by Toho studios in ’98.
Godzilla stomps through a city in the moody 1998 reboot of the franchise.
Say what you will about this one, but Roland Emmerich’s vision for the character is definitely a stand-out in this list. Starkly different to all the other monster designs in the 65 years represented here, Emmerich’s monster was much more prehistoric in design. Looking somewhere between a T-Rex from Jurassic Park and like a monster out of the Alien franchise, Emmerich’s Godzilla may be a sore spot for the franchise but it definitely cast a new light on the enduring kaiju monster. We could have done without Matthew Broderick, though.
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
The final film of the “Millennium” reboot series for the franchise, this post-Y2k vision for the character looked as sinister as ever. The 50th anniversary for the franchise, this film donned some very flashy Blade Runner-esque visuals and still relied heavily on practical effects, unlike many of the leading CGI-dependent blockbusters of the era.
After the tragically disastrous Roland Emmerich film in 1998, Gareth Edwards’ vision for Godzilla brought the Kaiju back to the states in a big way. A towering achievement for the franchise in America, Edwards paid homage to the very first Godzilla movie by making his monster big, mean, and heavy as hell. The beast had never been visualized by computers so vividly before, with modern day effects giving a startlingly-realistic take on the character. Did we mention he’s big? He’s fucking huge in this one.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
Two years after America gave our Big Boy the modern day update, Japan delivered in their own way. Shin Godzilla stands as both one of the greatest Godzilla films to date, and also one of the strangest and idiosyncratic designs for the character. Sporting a much more slender, elongated look, Shin Godzilla bears some resemblances to the Roland Emmerich design for the character, and instead of sporting some bright blue highlights, this ‘Zilla has got hyper-violet light emitting from his hide. Very spooky.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Though the upcoming film isn’t directed by Gareth Edwards, the brilliant monster-maker’s vision for the kaiju is alive and well in this upcoming film. Time will tell if we get to see any cool new powers this time.
Dom Nero is a staff video editor at Esquire.com, where he also writes about film, comedy, and video games.