This article may be a fool's errand because why would anyone be looking for a list of the best Kaiju films that exclude Godzilla? But over here at The Lunatics Project, we just released two episodes on Lunatics Radio Hour that talk through the history of the original Godzilla film and the power of the franchise as a whole.
For anyone new to the idea of ‘Kaiju,’ it’s a sub-genre that started in Japan, meaning great or giant monster or creature. In our latest episode, we break down the best Kaiju films that aren’t part of the epic Godzilla franchise. For this series, as you can imagine, we’ve watched loads of films. So, while they are fresh in our minds, here are our favorites.
Pacific Rim (2013) In 2013, Guierllmo del Toro brought us Pacific Rim. Del Toro has said that he drew inspiration from the painting called The Colossus by Francisco de Goya. It’s believed to have been painted sometime after 1808. The painting depicts a giant-looking man set against dwarfing hills and camps below. There are several other etchings and paintings by Goya that show a similar scene. But that wasn’t the only art that inspired Del Toro. He also tapped into Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa as a reference for the film's ocean battles.
Ultraman (1966) - We can’t talk about Kaiju franchises without discussing Ultraman. Ultraman consists of films, a TV show, and all of the other mediums you would expect: comic books, video games, traditional books, etc. For those unfamiliar, Ultraman debuted in 1966 with a series called UltraQ and then was quickly followed the same year by the Ultraman TV series. The show was, at the time, the most expensive ever produced. There is an overlap between the inception of Ultraman and Godzilla. Both of which originally came from Toho Studios. However, Ultraman feels a bit closer to a ‘superhero’ series than a Kaiju one.
Cloverfield (2008) Not only is Cloverfield a Kaiju horror film, but it’s also a found-footage film. The film was directed by Matt Reeves and produced by JJ Abrams. It stars Lizzy Caplin and TJ Miller. The creature in Cloverfield was added after production, meaning cast members had to react to an invisible monster while filming. In an interview, the director revealed that he had established an unseen origin story for the Kaiju so that they could direct him and motivate his actions. The origin story centers around the monster being a baby, losing its mother, and frantically searching for her.
Gamera (1965) - Gamera is a Kaiju in the form of a giant turtle. Who can also fly and breathe fire. Gamera, The Giant Monster hit theaters in 1965, meant to be a direct competitor to the success of the Godzilla franchise. All in all, there are 12 films, spanning from 1965 through 2006.
Within these films, the character of Gamera evolves from destructive and scary to a protector of humanity. The Gamera films have been met with mixed response; on one hand, they are called out for being derivative of Godzilla and a clear rip-off, but in some cases, their success has rivaled the Godzilla franchise in Japan. Only the original film was released in theaters in the US.
The Host (2006) - The Host is a 2006 Korean film, it was directed by Bong Joon-Ho. At the time of its release, The Host was the highest-grossing Korean film of all time. The Host is a widely human look at a Kaiju story, and it’s also notably riddled with social and political commentary. The South Korean government is made to look aloof and bureaucratic. While the Americans are made to look diabolical, the film’s references to Agent Yellow clearly call upon similarities to Agent Orange. Between frustrating characters and obstacles, The Host is visually stunning and poetic—especially its ending sequence.