When people speak of “worst movies”, a few titles always enter the discussion. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a lock, and Manos: the Hands of Fate is typically mentioned if any Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans are part of the discussion. Troll 2 ranks near the bottom of many reviewers’ lists and was the subject of a documentary, The Best Worst Movie. One that rarely receives the attention it deserves is Godzilla, but a case has been built for it claiming the throne and the case is fairly strong.
Godzilla (Gojira, in the original Japanese) debuted in 1954. It featured an actor in a rubber suit stomping through models of downtown Tokyo and was an international hit. More giant monster (kaiju) films were made, and the popularity of the creatures was such that a shared world system was developed by the studio that developed Godzilla, Toho. Rodan and Mothra and Gamera all received their own films (Gamera proved popular enough to land the starring role in a dozen movies). Godzilla retained the title given to him in the American translation of the first movie, though… King of the Monsters. Through the forty years following his introduction, he starred in fourteen movies, had his own Marvel Comics series, and had a weekly cartoon show. It was an impressive run… but tastes change. In 1995, Toho announced that the film Godzilla vs. Destoroyah would feature the death of Godzilla. After years of flagging ticket sales, they got what they could from the remaining fans and ended the franchise.
Sony Pictures/Tristar thought the worldwide name recognition of Godzilla was still valuable, and that a reimagining of the iconic character could provide a surfeit of revenue. In 1998, with a movie directed and partially written by Roland Emmerich and starring teen comedy legend Matthew Broderick, Sony/Tristar released a new Godzilla onto the world.
The film fell flat. It made half of its 130 million dollar budget in its opening week, but then word of mouth from those who had seen it started to take effect. Despite a popular commercial tie-in with Taco Bell and its then-iconic talking chihuahua and a toy blitz, the reality of a film where Godzilla looks like a generic dinosaur and runs away after getting hit by a few pieces of heavy ordinance couldn’t be ignored. Two months passed before the film was pulled from the last of the straggling first-run theaters, and during that time the film barely made back its operating budget… with the inclusion of advertising and promotion dollars the movie would have lost money, were it not for the overseas market.
Still, that’s a far cry from other bad movies. It’s the result of the film that puts it into legendary status.
One of those overseas markets was, as expected, Japan, where millions of fans were eager to see the latest interpretation of a cultural icon. The reaction was… less than positive. Terrible, in fact. There was such an outcry that when the Sony/Tristar lease ended and rights reverted to Toho, the studio – which had killed Godzilla in 1995 – hurriedly resurrected the character for a 1999 film, Godzilla 2000. The movie met mixed reviews, with the overall viewpoint being that it was, at least, head and shoulders against the Sony/Tristar version.
Toho intended to produce a few movies to cap the franchise and retire the characters completely, viewing the “millennium” films as a way to keep the 1998 Godzilla from being the final cinematic end of the beloved monster. Fate stepped in with the final film. Just as Doctor Who experienced a revival following a new scriptwriting team and better production values in the 2000s, so did Godzilla. The second movie was better received than Godzilla 2000, and what was to be the final film, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, didn’t simply please fans but created new ones across the world.
Faced with the prospect of a revitalized franchise, Toho decided to continue making kaiju movies… and they expanded their stable of creatures, as well.
Zilla is a giant lizard kaiju which first appeared in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. It is particularly ineffective and is easily killed by Godzilla. Various other media have provided his backstory, and in the different comic book and novel appearances, he’s the perennial loser of the kaiju, one who looks fierce but is easily defeated by any enemy.
The character design of Zilla is immediately familiar to anyone who saw the 1998 Godzilla; it’s the same creature, with one of the toys from the Sony/Tristar version used to recreate the monster’s appearance. And the name? It stems from a longtime Toho director’s comment when asked about the Emmerich version: “They took the “God” out of Godzilla”.
Say what you will about Plan 9, Manos or just about any other terrible film… they never caused such national outrage that movies were made to placate an angry fandom, nor were their stars burned with radioactive fire as an on-screen rebuke of the movie’s existence.
That’s a truly bad movie.
Question of the night: What is one of your favorite science fiction films?