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15 Kaiju You Should Know (That Aren’t Godzilla or King Kong)

Photo: Vulture; Photos: Everett Collection, Warner Bros.

There’s no question that Godzilla and King Kong are kaiju A-listers. Whenever the King of the Monsters and the Eighth Wonder of the World face off, it’s a big deal. Their first bout in the ’60s was one of the most important fights in cinema history, and their rematch in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong was one of the first blockbusters to do solid business after the pandemic. They’re set to share the screen again in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, the latest MonsterVerse flick that will have them teaming up instead of fighting.

But, although these two giant monsters are the biggest ones (maybe not literally, but you get it), they’re not the only kaiju around. Godzilla and Kong have starred in almost 50 movies, including three major crossovers  — what about all the other monsters waiting for their chance to smash some buildings? There are other kaiju worth knowing from both sides of the Pacific (and even a few weird ones in Europe).

Here then are 15 kaiju who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Godzilla and Kong — preferably while screaming in terror as they stomp through a city. We’ll start with the only other true contender to the pair’s dominance as kaiju icons and then take stock of other monsters, roughly arranged by their historical significance and importance. (Although Rodan and Mothra, two very famous kaiju, made their debuts in stand-alone films, they were folded into the Godzilla series and, as a result, have gotten enough representation to be left off this list.)

Gamera

Film Appearances: Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965), Gamera vs. Barugon (1966), Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967), Gamera vs. Viras (1968), Gamera vs. Guiron (1969), Gamera vs. Jiger (1970), Gamera vs. Zigra (1971), Gamera: Super Monster (1980), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996), Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), Gamera the Brave (2006)

Maybe one day Gamera, a giant fire-breathing turtle with gnarly tusks and the ability to retract into his shell and fly like a spinning, jet-powered UFO, will get a chance to go claw-to-claw with Godzilla or Kong. Until then, he’ll have to settle for being the third-most-famous giant monster.

Created in the 1960s as a clear attempt for Daiei Film to have a franchise to compete with Godzilla’s popularity, Gamera starred in a series of mostly cheap-looking flicks that are probably best known in America for getting riffed on several Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. In the ’90s, though, the turtle was revived for a trilogy of films that are widely regarded as some of the better kaiju movies of any sort, boasting some of the best suitmation ever filmed and human drama to match the monster action.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Yes, absolutely. We’re overdue for a Gamera-Godzilla crossover.

Gorgo

Film Appearances: Gorgo (1961)

Another Godzilla wannabe whose name starts with “G,” Gorgo, was the title kaiju of a British-Irish film from 1961 that has a lot going for it (if you can overlook the brutally stiff upper lips that render every human character drabber than the London sky). Gorgo, who resembles Godzilla with larger claws and finned ears that are, frankly, kind of cute, is captured and sold to a London circus … only for his much, much larger mother to smash through Big Ben and rescue her baby. Featuring detailed miniatures and exciting sequences of destruction, Gorgo proudly stands as Europe’s best kaiju — and it was notably released in glorious color one year before Godzilla and Kong made the jump from black-and-white in King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Probably! Gorgo’s mama is big and tough, and she could put up a fight versus her more-famous American and Japanese counterparts. Would she win? Eh.

Rhedosaurus

Film Appearances: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

While Gamera and Gorgo were inspired by Godzilla, the giant fictional dinosaur from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms can boast the opposite. Indeed, if Toho Studios had the time or the budget, they would have preferred to use the same stop-motion animation that the great Ray Harryhausen used to bring the Rhedosaurus to life the year before Godzilla stomped onto the scene via the much cheaper suitmation method. (Kong was originally a stop-motion creature in his 1933 debut, brought to life by Harryhausen’s mentor, Willis O’Brien.) Defrosted from the Arctic ice thanks to a nuclear test, the big dino lays waste to New York, toppling buildings and bringing with it a deadly prehistoric plague that’s frankly scarier in the COVID era than the giant monster is.

Would it Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Assuming that Godzilla and Kong aren’t vulnerable to the prehistoric disease in the Rhedosaurus’s blood, they’d probably win this fight, but it would be cool to watch.

Brontosaurus

Film Appearances: The Lost World (1925)

How big does a creature need to be to qualify as a kaiju? A normal dinosaur, like the type seen in Jurassic Park, isn’t big enough nor monstrous enough to be a kaiju. However, special considerations must be made for a brontosaurus who trashes London in the ****** of the 1925 silent film The Lost World. Arguably the first-ever cinematic kaiju, The Lost World’s brontosaurus is deserving of mention in any list of giant monsters for its historical stature, regardless of how tall the dino actually was compared to some of the other kaiju on this list.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? While Kong was more or less dinosaur size in his film debut, even that much smaller ape could’ve beaten a big herbivore. The much, much larger modern incarnations of Godzilla and Kong wouldn’t even register the brontosaurus.

Clover

Film Appearances: Cloverfield (2008), The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

The spindly limbed creature from Cloverfield (and the very end of the underwhelming Cloverfield Paradox) is by far the most influential new kaiju creation of this century. There was speculation that J.J. Abrams was actually making a Godzilla movie in the early days before Cloverfield’s release during the very secretive, very viral marketing campaign, but Cloverfield is its own thing. While most kaiju movies focus on the monster’s origin and the brave army men or scientists who are trying to defeat it, Cloverfield’s shaky-cam POV keeps the audience as in the dark as its characters. In that sense, it’s perhaps the most realistic kaiju movie.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Clover’s body shape isn’t that dissimilar from some of the monsters that Godzilla and Kong have fought in the MonsterVerse films. It would be a good fight.

Pacific Rim’s Kaiju

Film Appearances: Pacific Rim (2013), Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

The 20th century’s other new contribution to the kaiju film canon (and the movie that probably introduced a lot of viewers to the term “kaiju”), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is an earnest and kick-*** homage to giant-monster movies and the related giant mecha genre. However, if we’re being honest, the giant robots called Jaegers that humanity uses to fight the kaiju spawning from a rift in the depths of the Pacific are more memorable than the monsters.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Steven DeKnight, director of the far inferior Pacific Rim sequel, Uprising, tweeted that he had a plan to merge the Pacific Rim and MonsterVerse franchises, both of which are produced by Legendary Pictures. That plan never came to fruition, but that there was any talk of it goes to show what a natural match these various kaiju would be in a fight.

Giant Ants

Film Appearances: Them! (1954)

There are a bunch of creature features from the ’50s about oversize, irradiated bugs, but 1954’s Them!, about a colony of giant ants in the New Mexico desert, is the first and the best, making it worthy of special representation. While American movies tended to be understandably more blasé about using the atomic bomb as a monster-making MacGuffin than Japan did with Godzilla, Them! is set in the shadow of the Trinity Test and is more serious than most. Plus, it has fun special effects and an eerie, excellent use of sound.

Would They Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? The whole hive might present a bit of an issue, but it seems doubtful that Them!’s ants would be marching to victory.

Quetzalcoatl

Film Appearances: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

One of the rare original kaiju to be created between the current boom of giant monsters and the creature-feature kaiju phase of the ’60s, Q features a draconic Aztec *** who decides to make a nest for itself in the Chrysler Building. While the stop-motion that brings Quetzalcoatl to life is impressive (Q is one of the last kaiju movies to primarily use stop-motion animation before CGI took over), the film almost has more of a slasher-movie vibe, as the dragon attacks New Yorkers out of nowhere and then hides in its lair. A city of millions of people and none of them seem to notice the comings and goings of a giant monster until it’s too late.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Quetzalcoatl’s ultimately killed by normal ol’ gunfire at the end of Q, which suggests it wouldn’t be much of a fight.

Yongary

Film Appearances: Yongary, Monster From the Deep (1967), Yonggary (1999)

Yongary was South Korea’s stab at a Godzilla of their own, and although the 1967 film is the easily mocked subject of a pretty good Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, there are worse kaiju movies from that decade — including some real stinkers in the Godzilla and especially the Gamera franchises. The original movie is simultaneously at its best and its worst during a sequence when Yongary inexplicably dances to surf rock alongside the plucky young boy protagonist. (He does not dance in the ’99 movie, which boasts some seriously not-ready-for-primetime CGI and lacks the earnest charm of the original.)

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Tragically, Godzilla might actually be a better dancer than Yongary.

Pulgasari

Film Appearances: Pulgasari (1985)

The story behind Pulgasari is more monstrous than the actual creature, a giant metal-eating monster that terrorizes feudal Korea and represents the evils of capitalism, sort of. In 1978, Kim Jong-il had South Korean Shin Sang-ok and his wife kidnapped and “re-educated” in North Korea to make propaganda films. Kim, who was the heir to rule North Korea at the time, was a big fan of Godzilla, and Pulgasari was the fourth and final movie Shin made before escaping eight years of captivity. Kim even tricked a bunch of people who did special effects for Godzilla movies, including suitmation actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, into working on Pulgasari. Despite the dubiously acquired behind-the-scenes talent, Pulgasari is quite bad as a film, but you gotta marvel at North Korea’s signature kaiju.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Capitalism wins again, as Pulgasari doesn’t have what it takes to tango with Godzilla or Kong.

Trolls

Film Appearances: Troll Hunter (2010), Troll (2022)

Troll Hunter and Troll are not part of the same franchise; the former is a mockumentary about a man whose job it is to hunt mythological trolls in Norway, and the latter is a pretty fun Netflix release about a giant stone troll stomping toward Oslo. Still, both are very fun examples of a country taking its mythology and applying those legends to the kaiju format. Troll Hunter is the more inventive of the two movies while Troll follows the basic beats of a ’50s or ’60s monster flick in a charmingly clichéd way.

Would They Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? This would be pretty sick, actually. Godzilla hasn’t ever really fought a monster made out of stone before. Godzilla x Kong x Troll when???

Daimajin

Film Appearances: Daimajin (1966), Return of Daimajin (1966), Daimajin Strikes Again (1966)

Is something a kaiju if it’s a big human rather than a giant monster? With respect to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), and Ultraman and the rest of the Kyodai Hero subgenre, they’re not quite what we’re talking about when discussing famous kaiju (though Ultraman certainly fought his fare share of them). The giant stone demons in the Daimajin series, three movies from the same studio behind Gamera, are closer to the kaiju spirit. The title creatures, which are summoned to overthrow warlords in feudal Japan, are just inhuman enough to distinguish themselves.

Would They Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Given that they’ve only gone up against swords, bows and arrows, and other technology from feudal Japan, it’s unclear how a Daimajin would fare against an average tank that Godzilla or Kong would easily shrug off.

Konga

Film Appearances: Konga (1961)

If Gorgo was the U.K.’s pretty good riff on Godzilla, Konga is the isles’ very bad take on King Kong. Featuring an oddly complex plot about a botanist who develops a serum that turns his pet chimpanzee into a gorilla-size henchman he sics on his critics, Konga doesn’t even make its titular ape grow to kaiju proportions until the ******. There is something charming, though, about seeing what is clearly just a man in a gorilla suit be played so straightforward and earnestly like a special effect.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Assuming that Kong has no qualms about fighting one of his own species, Konga won’t last long.

Reptilicus

Film Appearances: Reptilicus (1961)

Reptilicus was Denmark’s attempt to get in on the kaiju craze of the early ’60s and, frankly, it shouldn’t have. Even more so than Konga, Reptilicus is a laughable effort, and it’s a wonder that it took until the Netflix revival for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to lambast it. A Danish mishmash of plots and tropes from other, better monster movies, Reptilicus is maybe the least-convincing kaiju in any movie, never looking like anything but the silly rubber puppet it was. Despite, or perhaps because of, Reptilicus’s infamous badness, it’s a definite kaiju classic.

Would It Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? No. I don’t need to elaborate.

Anne Hathaway

Film Appearances: Well, lots of them, but she’s only a kaiju in one, Colossal (2016)

Anne Hathaway is our beloved theater-kid queen, but she was only King Kong–size in one movie, Colossal. In it, she plays an adrift, underachieving adult whose alcoholism manifests as a giant monster that lays waste to Seoul when she’s *****. (Jason Sudeikis co-stars; he’s a giant robot.) Although primarily a heady comedy-drama with a definite sci-fi slant, Colossal makes a pretty good kaiju movie out of its metaphors.

Would They Stand a Chance Against Godzilla or Kong? Hathaway has won one Academy Award and been nominated for another. This puts her ahead of Godzilla, who only has the one win and no other nominations, but behind Kong, who won three Oscars for Peter Jackson’s 2005 movie plus one more win and two noms for the 1976 King Kong.

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