In recent years, the kaiju genre has become more popular than ever. Kaiju is a Japanese word that translates to English as “strange beast,” but the word has come to refer to pretty much any movie with giant monsters causing mayhem and destruction — a super-sized cousin to the monsters wreaking havoc in classic creature features.
If your mind is going immediately to Godzilla, you’ve got the right idea. He’s sort of the grandfather of all kaiju. Since Toho Studios took the world by storm with their 1954 film Godzilla, it seems like five new kaiju movies are coming out every year.
Legendary Pictures has since taken over the rights to Godzilla, and their most recent addition to the kaiju universe, or MonsterVerse as they call it, was the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong. The 2013 film Pacific Rim also made a huge splash in the kaiju game, and they even just released an anime spinoff series on Netflix called Pacific Rim: The Black on March 4th.
With the hundreds of kaiju movies out there, it’s pretty hard to keep track of all the fictitious monsters threatening the Earth. So, I’ve undertaken the task of distilling it down to the eight most awesome kaiju monsters of all time, in no particular order.
The Iconic Kaiju of Cinematic History
Gigan’s marked his place in kaiju history by being the first monster to ever make Godzilla bleed, and that makes sense when you consider the fact that he’s basically half-lizard, half-meathook.
He’s got giant steel hooks where his hands should be and smaller hooks instead of toes. He has a buzzsaw-like device on his chest (which is not great for hugging). He also has a crest like a cockatoo, except it’s made out of metal spikes, and a metal beak.
Oh, and did I mention his eyes were replaced with a laser visor like Cyclops from the Marvel Universe?
Gigan first appeared in the 1972 film Godzilla vs. Gigan, in which we learned of his ability to fly at Mach 3 while inside the Earth’s atmosphere, and at Mach 400 while in the vacuum of space. How could a half-robotic bird-lizard flying faster than the speed of sound not be one of the best kaiju of all time?
I couldn’t make this list without including the supreme overlord of all kaiju, the monster that started it all, Godzilla. The 1954 film Godzilla is widely regarded as the first kaiju movie, and since then, our favorite giant lizard has kicked the ass of pretty much every kaiju you can think of.
Since this beast was conceived by Toho Studios, he’s starred in 33 different movies in Japan and the United States.
Godzilla is a giant, prehistoric, lizard-like monster awakened from the sea and empowered by nuclear radiation. Due to the fact that he’s got a whole bunch of nuclear fallout in his belly, he’s able to use electromagnetic force to concentrate this nuclear energy into a laser-like beam that blasts out of his mouth to the dismay of his enemies.
Pulgasari makes this list exclusively because of the strange background behind his movie. One of the officially listed producers of the movie was Kim Jong-il. Yes, that Kim Jong-il.
Apparently, the North Korean dictator wanted to enter the world of filmmaking, and so he kidnapped famous South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and forced him to direct this movie, the looming threat of death hanging over Shin’s head all the while.
Luckily, Pulgasari was a pretty successful film, and so Shin Song-ok and lead actress Choi Eun-hee, who had also been kidnapped by Kim Jong-il, were able to escape captivity while on a festival tour in Austria.
In terms of Pulgasari the monster, he’s sort of your run-of-the-mill kaiju. He’s got two giant horns like a bull, he’s super tall, and he’s got gold-plated armor covering his stomach. Oh right, and he likes to smash things.
While he’s not the coolest specimen on this list, he’s partially responsible for two people escaping North Korean captivity, and I’d say that’s worth something.
Destoroyah waddles his way onto this list because, if you’ve ever played the Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee video game that was released in 2002 for GameCube and Xbox, you know he’s undoubtedly the best character.
Destoroyah seems to be a mix of a bat, a human, and a crab. His younger form, as revealed in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, looks almost identical to a crab. However, after he hits kaiju puberty, he develops bat-like wings and a humanoid figure.
Fairly slow and large, Destoroyah’s attack strategy is similar to that of a heavyweight boxer. He’s hitting home runs or striking out.
He’s got big claws. He can shoot a laser beam from his chest. And the single horn on the top of his head can transform into a laser sword. He also has an inner jaw like the aliens in Alien, and he can fly, but only about as well as a chicken.
I had to include at least one kaiju from Pacific Rim on this list. And out of all the awesome monsters throughout those movies, I think that Knifehead deserves to be here the most. Let’s be honest, there’s really no need to describe what Knifehead looks like. He’s a kaiju with a giant knife on his head, simple as that.
Knifehead traverses the oceans causing mass destruction whenever he surfaces. He can use the knife on his head to cut the giant robots in Pacific Rim, known as Jaegers, clean in half.
He has two dominant arms that dangle like the arms of a gorilla, and two non-dominant arms that come out of his stomach. He may not be the most powerful kaiju in Pacific Rim, but dare I say no kaiju has ever been so fittingly named.
No, this kaiju has nothing to do with ancient Rome, and he definitely has nothing to do with a budget pizza chain.
King Caesar is actually just a poor anglicization of “King Shisa,” as he’s supposed to look like a shisa from Okinawan mythology. If you’re unaware of what a shisa is, they’re basically those lion-like figures that you often see outside of Chinese Buddhist temples.
King Caesar pretty much looks like a shisa statue, but just really, really big. He was originally the guardian of the Azumi family of Okinawa, and could be awoken in times of danger by one of the family members playing a song.
The benevolence toward mankind stopped there, however, as he wages all-out war against Earth in Godzilla: Final Wars.
The first time you take a look at Daigoro, you’d assume he belongs standing next to the Hamburglar and Ronald McDonald. However, this unmenacing kaiju comes from a film called Daigoro vs. Goliath produced by the same geniuses that started the Godzilla series, Toho Studios.
If I had to describe what Daigoro looks like, I’d say the most comparable animal would be a hippopotamus.
He looks nothing like one of those scary hippopotamuses that eat people, though, instead he has yellow-tinted skin and looks like he would give a great hug. But don’t take him lightly, Daigoro can breathe fire and his jumping ability makes LeBron James look unathletic.
Toho Studios showed their environmental side with the 1971 film Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Hedorah was basically a giant ball of smog and slime that fed on the Earth’s pollution.
It seems like Toho was trying to send not-so-subtle anti-pollution messages with this kaiju, and that was back in the early 70s when the only people who cared about the environment were hippies.
His name was based on the Japanese word for mud, which makes sense when you consider that most of his attacks involve flinging acid-enriched dirt as his enemies.
Hedorah was an amorphous creature that often appeared in a humanoid visage. Most attacks, such as bullets and Godzilla’s laser breath, are useless against Hedorah since they go right through him. Godzilla is only able to defeat Hedorah by tearing him into a bunch of different pieces and annihilating him with his atomic breath.
Keep reading and check out our look into the Avatar Cycle: A Cross-Section of Anime and Ancient Religions