Best Japanese Godzilla Movies For Beginners

The Godzilla franchise of films, made in Japan by Toho, is one of the longest movie franchises in history. Here are some great places to jump into it.


  • The original 1954 Godzilla film is a must-watch for beginners, with its dark and serious tone that presents Godzilla as a metaphor for the atomic bomb.
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is a fun-filled crossover film that introduced color to the franchise and features memorable monster fights.
  • Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964) is an action-packed film that introduces multiple characters and monsters, making it a great starting point for newcomers to the Japanese Godzilla franchise.

With Godzilla Minus One having been released and also winning an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, both long-time fans of the Japanese franchise and many potential newcomers will likely be looking for other great Godzilla movies to watch.

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While Godzilla is known to many English fans for the more recent MonsterVerse outings or even the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick, the legacy of the towering Kaiju goes back much further. The Japanese Godzilla franchise began in 1954 and boasts an impressive 32 films already, making for one of the longest film franchises in history.

Updated on March 16, 2024, by Chris Harkin: The Godzilla franchise has had a rejuvenation in Japan due to the release of Godzilla Minus One, and across the world, the beloved Kaiju is experiencing more popularity than ever due to the MonsterVerse series and the upcoming release of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. This is all leading to many fans attempting to jump into the legendary history of Japanese films starring Godzilla, and there are more great jumping-on points than ever before thanks to the latest reboots available. The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, making it incredibly easy for newcomers to sink their teeth in.

Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep

IMDb Score: 5.5/10

Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep

  • Release Date: December 17, 1966
  • Director: Jun Fukuda
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

Known simply for being one of the strangest and silliest, most fun-filled Godzilla movies, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is also known more simply as Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. This film provides a great jumping-on point because it introduces newcomers to the style of the Japanese Godzilla films. The Showa era was a fun time for the giant monster, nothing was taken that seriously, and Godzilla, at this point, was being painted as an outright heroic character.

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With another strange but low-stakes plot compared to some of the other movies and a fun, beach-themed soundtrack that felt bizarre at times, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep provides the sort of hilariously weird watch that viewers need to get used to if they are choosing to delve further into the rabbit hole of the Japanese Godzilla franchise. It also marks the only appearance of Ebirah to date.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla

IMDb Score: 5.7/10

King Kong vs Godzilla

  • Release Date: August 11, 1962
  • Director: Ishiro Honda
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

One of the other early films in the Godzilla franchise, as well as being an early one in the history of King Kong, this film was special for several reasons. It was one of the first big versus crossover films in history. It marked the first time that either creature appeared in color, and it was the second highest-grossing Japanese film ever when it was released.

This film was the first in the Japanese Godzilla franchise that managed to take on more of the feel of what would continue coming from the rest of the Showa era of movies. Progressively, the films took on a more lighthearted tone, focusing on convoluted plots and big monster fights. Some of the most memorable fighting moments in the Japanese franchise’s history include King Kong shoving a tree into Godzilla’s mouth, among other great scenes encompassed in this silly, but extremely fun outing that showcased both monsters long before their appearance in Godzilla vs. Kong.

Godzilla 2000

IMDb Score: 6.0/10

Godzilla 2000

  • Release Date: December 11, 1999
  • Directors: Takao Okawara
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

The beginning of another era, Godzilla 2000 was the start of the Millennium era of films. This one ignored the events of almost every previous Godzilla film except the original and painted a version of Japan constantly in fear of attacks by Godzilla. However, an ancient UFO is found and gives them other difficulties as it absorbs Godzilla’s DNA to create the monstrous Orga.

This creature attempts to become a perfect clone of Godzilla, leaving the giant monster, while still viewed as villainous to humanity, to fight the incredibly powerful Orga off out of self-interest. Godzilla 2000 is a truly wonderful time to jump into the franchise; the Millennium era was a fantastic time for Godzilla movies, and it manages to start a new era without being “just a film about Godzilla fighting humans,” making for a fantastic all-round Godzilla experience.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

IMDb Score: 6.5/10

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

  • Release Date: December 20, 1964
  • Director: Ishiro Honda
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.
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Another early film in the Showa era of Godzilla movies, this would be a great jumping-on point for beginners simply because it introduces so many other characters and elements seen in much of the rest of the Japanese franchise. While more modern Japanese Godzilla movies have somewhat stepped away from so many monsters and such a focus on strange plots, this one is memorably crazy.



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Involving ghostly aliens from Jupiter, which has been destroyed by King Ghidorah, taking over humans and trying to warn the public about the coming of Rodan and later Ghidorah himself, this film had a lot going on. It marked the first appearance ever of King Ghidorah, who would become known as Godzilla’s arch-rival. This was also the first but not last time in the franchise when Godzilla was painted as a reluctant hero, working to save Earth alongside Mothra and Rodan in a fight against Ghidorah. With all these different monsters, some of whom had their own movies, it’s easy to view the Japanese Godzilla franchise as the first cinematic universe.

The Return Of Godzilla

IMDb Score: 6.8/10

The Return Of Godzilla

  • Release Date: December 15, 1984
  • Director: Koji Hashimoto
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

The Heisei Era was a different time for Godzilla in the Japanese franchise. Taking the franchise back to its roots, this film is a great jumping-on point as the first film of the new era and one that returned the franchise to a darker tone, giving Godzilla less strange abilities. This makes it a little more familiar to fans looking for something more similar to the style of the recent American Godzilla movies.

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The Return of Godzilla featured a new Godzilla rising in a timeline where only the 1954 film had occurred. This new Godzilla went on a rampage, and the strong but less farcical story made for a great addition to the franchise, while the action managed to involve humans more by including the Super X, a flying fortress that managed to survive long enough against Godzilla to eventually help trap him in a volcanic eruption. The serious tone made for a great Godzilla adventure.

Shin Godzilla

IMDb Score: 6.8/10

Shin Godzilla

  • Release Date: July 29, 2016
  • Directors: Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.
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The newest era of Godzilla films in Japan is the Reiwa Era, which began in 2016 with Shin Godzilla. This is a great jumping-on point because it manages to get back to what the original ideas about Godzilla were in 1954, but it does so while including many modern elements.

Satirizing modern Japanese politics, this version of Godzilla was a stand-alone that saw the creature evolving through various forms, created to be a metaphor for the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster instead of atomic weapons. Praised highly by Japanese critics for its take on their culture, Shin Godzilla kick-started an era of films that were truly diverse in style.


IMDb Score: 7.5/10

Godzilla 1954

  • Release Date: November 3, 1954
  • Director: Ishiro Honda
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

Known to fans as Gojira, the first ever Godzilla film is obviously a great place for beginners to start with their viewing of the franchise. The original film was much less of a wild ride than some that would follow, not involving any monsters besides the giant lizard himself and having a much darker, more serious tone that presented Godzilla as a metaphor for the atomic bomb.

The destruction of Tokyo by Godzilla made for a great initial film. Of course, with a relatively low budget even for the 1950s, this movie shows its age, but this doesn’t take away from the great acting. The later Godzilla films would somewhat change the nature of the monster in some surprising ways.

Godzilla Minus One

IMDb Score: 8.3/10

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  • Release Date: November 3, 2023
  • Director: Takashi Yamazaki
  • Distributed By Toho Co., Ltd.

Another film from the Reiwa Era that looked to change the way Godzilla movies work, Godzilla Minus One has been a massive worldwide hit that has transcended Japan and needs to be seen by every Godzilla fan. Using post-war Japan as a setting, this film completely shifted style in many ways and returned the franchise to its roots.

Following a kamikaze pilot who returns home in shame after the war, Godzilla Minus One sees the creature appearing and attacking Japan, prompting many disenfranchised former soldiers to come together in an attempt to destroy the monster. Returning Godzilla to a purely villainous role has been a theme much explored in the Reiwa Era, and this film stunned everyone worldwide, received universal acclaim, and reignited Japan’s passion for the creature all at once, making it a perfect jumping-on point for new fans.

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