Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters this summer. The film is sure to be the literal biggest film of the year (size does matter). As many prepare to see what happens in this epic brawl between Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, among others, I thought it would be fun to go over some of the more interesting, wild, and obscure facts about the kaiju franchise that has been around for 65 years, with no signs of stopping. Keep reading if you want to learn about the Italian cut of the original film Toho doesn’t want you to see, the many other wacky abilities Godzilla has, the extent of Kim Jong-Il’s Godzilla fandom, and more.
1. The Mystery of The Gorilla-Whale
Initially, some concept designs for Godzilla included a giant octopus, as well as a humanoid creature with a mushroom cloud head. Of course, Toho and production designer Akira Watanabe ended up with something closer to an amalgamation of various dinosaurs. How the actual name of “Godzilla” came to be is something no one can ultimately agree on. One common version of the story involves a larger member of the Toho staff having the nickname “Gojira” – a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale, which was then given to the monster. Most believe the name was simply decided upon by the creative team. As the word has no real meaning, the English phonetic pronunciation became Godzilla, which did manage to speak to its gigantic stature, combined with something unique to further separate the best from the pack.
2. A Size Ranging from City Smasher to World Crusher
Godzilla’s size has changed from film to film (sometimes scene to scene), depending on the filmmaker’s vision for the particular movie they were working on. The original Godzilla was designed to be 50 m. As Tokyo’s skyline expanded with more prominent buildings, Godzilla’s height grew to 100 m, so as not to be over shown by man’s creation. For 2014’s American Godzilla, the monster’s size rose to 108.2 m. Not to be outdone, Toho’s 2016 entry, Shin Godzilla, was made even taller, standing at 118.5 m. However, the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters now has Godzilla at his tallest (in live-action*) at 119.8 m.
*The anime films that began with 2017’s Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters has the creature standing at 300 m.
3. An Enduring Nuclear Metaphor
While a majority of Godzilla films traffic in camp for the sake of entertaining audiences with monster battles, the original film was made with serious intent. Godzilla symbolizes nuclear holocaust, with the original 1954 film relying on the terror of the bomb as a theme. More specifically, Godzilla serves as an allegory for the effects of the hydrogen bomb. The original film’s opening features the mysterious destruction of various freighters and boats, akin to the real-life contamination of the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5, due to nuclear fallout from US thermonuclear tests on Bikini Atoll.
Few of the later films continued to hold onto that metaphor (Godzilla vs. Hedorah attempts to incorporate social commentary concerning pollution, others find different approaches), though 2016’s Shin Godzilla brought back the nuclear metaphor once again, by including a political angle to satirize the Japanese response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
4. Suitmation Over Stop-Motion
Today’s Godzilla movies utilize CG versions of the giant monster; conversely, most of the series relied on actors in large rubber suits, a filmmaking technique referred to as “Suitmation.” The initial idea was to use stop-motion, taking inspiration from King Kong; however, a mix of budget limitations, lack of experience, and deadlines prevented the follow-through on this. Developed by special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, to make Suitmation work, actors would perform their movements while moving through sets composed of miniatures to give the impression of a giant creature. Additionally, these scenes would be filmed at a higher framerate, with the actor moving at a deliberate pace, creating a final product that would allow the monster a proper sense of immense scale.
Haruo Nakajima was the most notable suit actor in this role, having played Godzilla in twelve consecutive films. The former stuntman also appeared in other Kaiju films and is considered the best actor to have embrace Suitmation. While having passed in 2017, he has an asteroid named in his memory.
5. A True Monster’s Roar
Few monsters have anything close to a sound as iconic as Godzilla’s distinctive roar. The sound, transcribed as “Skreeeonk!” in comics, was initially created by composer Akira Ifukube, who rubbed a resin-coated glove along the string of a double bass and then slowed down the playback. There have been other versions since, which have attempted to emulate the classic sound, though some sound editors are hesitant to reveal how they accomplished their version of the iconic roar.
6. Kaiju Italiano: The Story of Cozilla
In 1976, Italian director Luigi Cozzi, a protégé of horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento, decided he wanted to bring Godzilla to Italy. Unable to obtain the rights to the original version, he was only able to license the American cut of the film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which led to Cozzi creating a new cut of the film. Now known infamously as “Cozilla,” Cozzi’s version colorized the picture using a technique called Spectrorama 70. Additionally, Cozzi re-edited the movie by replacing various scenes with stock footage of death and destruction from WWII newsreel footage. A new Italian dubbed track, and new original music was added as well. There were even attempts to augment the soundtrack with in-theater effects to shake the audience’s seats every time Godzilla took a step. Toho approved of none of this and decreed that this version of the film may only be legally distributed in Italy. That said, bootleg versions are out there.
7. Multiple Godzilla Periods
There are currently 32 Japanese Godzilla films produced by Toho and fans recognize four distinct eras in the history of this ongoing franchise. Three are named for the Japanese Emperors of the time, and the eras include the Showa period (1954-1975), the Heisei period (1984-1995), the Millennium period (1999-2004) and the Reiwa period (2016-present).
- The Showa series opens with its serious franchise-starter, before evolving into a more comical monster-action series, with Godzilla even going from villain to anti-hero, to monster superhero. This period also included other monsters that would have their own solo films, including Mothra and Rodan.
- The Heisei series is unique in that all of the films are set on a single timeline, allowing for a shared continuity from one film to the next. Godzilla is also more of a villain again, though occasionally still fought for the greater good.
- The Millennium series was a series of anthology stories, as each entry (with one exception, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.) served as a sequel to the original 1954 film.
- Lastly, the Rewia period currently only features Shin Godzilla and the three animated films, though Toho plans to create a “World of Godzilla” that will function as a series similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
8. King Kong v Godzilla: Dawn of Ticket Sales
King Kong vs. Godzilla was only the third film in the franchise, but it is still the film with the highest number of tickets sold for the series to this day. Counting two theatrical re-releases, the film has accumulated 12.5 million tickets sold. The film may have ushered in the kitschier takes on the character in the movies to come, but audiences were undoubtedly happy to see it. It’s no wonder Legendary’s MonsterVerse is releasing its big crossover film, Godzilla vs. Kong, in 2020.
9. It Was Originally Titled King Kong Meets Frankenstein
The influential concept of pitting two cinematic titans against each other had a rather strange origin. Willis O’Brien, the special effects genius behind the original stop-motion work for King Kong, developed a treatment for a film called King Kong Meets Frankenstein, where the 8th Wonder of the World would battle a gigantic version of Frankenstein’s Monster. All kinds of studio problems prevented this from happening. However, producer John Beck took O’Brien’s idea and shopped it around to other studios, eventually landing a deal with Toho. Rather than use Frankenstein’s monster, Toho decided to use Godzilla, their most famous monster character.
At this point, O’Brien was not involved and given no credit for the finished product, but it had already been wholly warped from the initial concept. That in mind, a version of that original concept was eventually developed and turned into Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World and its sequel, War of the Gargantuas.
10. Not the Most Loquacious of Monsters, But Godzilla Can Talk
You may think Godzilla is all roars and no bark, but the monster has chimed in on matters now and again, conversing with his monster cohorts at pivotal moments. In Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla and Rodan’s fight is interrupted by Mothra, who has to persuade the two to put aside their differences and take on King Ghidorah for the good of Earth. They have a conversation in monster sounds that is translated by the twin fairies that generally accompany Mothra on her adventures.
In Godzilla vs. Gigan, this is taken one step further. Godzilla and former foe Anguirus speak to each other about investigating a Godzilla theme park secretly created by aliens (it’s a weird flick). In the original version, this is basically a bunch of sound effects with comic book text bubbles appearing on screen, but the American cut of the film has the creatures speaking in garbled English.
11. Godzilla, Marty McFly, and H.G. Wells All Have One Thing in Common: Time Travel
Not unlike how the James Bond franchise has adapted to incorporate genres and ideas from popular films of the time, Godzilla has managed to be a kaiju series hip to the culture of the day. 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah took influence from The Terminator and Back to the Future by featuring a time travel plot. With help from aliens, some humans travel back in time to WWII to stop the creation of Godzilla by eliminating the lost dinosaur that was mutated by a nuclear accident to create the legendary monster. During this time, the aliens also manage to create King Ghidorah. It leads to more plot machinations involving time travel to solve the problem of saving the world from one monster with another, which almost certainly had no paradoxes or plot holes whatsoever, as is usually the case with time travel movies.
12. Godzilla Has Traveled Farther Through Space Than Neil Armstrong
You may think I’m referring to the gloriously titled Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzillai, but this fact is actually from 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster. In it, Aliens known as the Xiliens are discovered by two astronauts on the mysterious Planet X. They request help from the Earth monsters Godzilla and Rodan to protect them. This is revealed to be a ploy to keep the monsters away while the Xiliens attempt to conquer Earth. Regardless, Godzilla and Rodan do wind up on another planet, fighting off Monster Zero, who is actually just King Ghidorah again.
13. Godzilla And Akira Kurosawa Had a Surprising Amount of Crossover
I wish I could tell you Akira Kurosawa had Spielberg-like influence on some of the Godzilla action scenes, but I can tell you that several individuals involved in the Godzilla franchise were also involved with various Kurosawa films. It made sense, given Toho’s involvement with both, but the kaiju series’ most notable director, Ishiro Honda, was good friends with Kurosawa. Honda would even work as an assistant director and production coordinator on Kurosawa films such as Kagemush and Ran. He also directed sequences in Dreams and Rhapsody in August, and served as an uncredited writer and editor on Madadayo, though passed away before the project was completed.
Additionally, the man behind Godzilla’s original score, Akira Ifakube, would go on to compose the score for Kurosawa’s A Quiet Duel. And lastly, Kurosawa’s most frequent collaborator, actor Takashi Shimura, was one of the leads in the original Godzilla and would go on to appear in several other sequels and kaiju films.
14. Godzilla Hates the American “Zilla”
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla was about as successful as Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. The films made money, but everyone seemed to hate them. Toho was so disappointed with what an American studio came up with that they took back the rights and immediately set about rebooting the series, initiating the Millennium Era. And that’s not the end of it. Toho looked down on the American Godzilla so much, they renamed that take on the monster “Zilla” and had it appear in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, in all its CG glory. Why? So it could be instantly killed by the real Godzilla in record time when it comes to kaiju fights.
15. Saturday Morning Godzilla
Movies could not contain the King of the Monsters, which is why Godzilla was able to transcend mediums and become the star of a couple of animated shows. First was Godzilla, a 1978 animated series produced by Hanna-Barbera. The series aired for two seasons (26 episodes) on NBC and much like many of the films in the Showa era, Godzilla would help people by fighting off other monster threats.
Additionally, despite failing to launch a theatrical sequel, the 1998 American Godzilla did lead to the development of Godzilla: The Series, an animated series that aired on Fox Kids for two seasons (40 episodes). Picking up where the film left off, the remaining egg that survived hatches and imprints on Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick’s character in the movie), becoming a monster on the side of the humans, helping to fight off other mutated monsters. The reception of this series was actually stronger than the movie.
16. Godzilla Can Bust A Move
During the Showa era, Godzilla’s transformation into a monster who defends the people meant he was winning his battles. What better way to celebrate a victory than with a dance? Much to the chagrin of director Ishiro Honda, following a victory against King Ghidorah in Invasion of Astro Monster, Godzilla performs the shie, also known as the highland fling dance that had become popular in a manga comic. It’s basically a funny leap in the air that has become one of the more widespread Godzilla gifs. Even suit actor Haruo Nakajima was against the idea, but effects director Eiji Tsuburaya fought for the dance, which would become one of the more polarizing moments for fans.
17. Godzilla Is A Proud Parent of Many
Throughout the series, Godzilla has found itself to be the parent of several children. Sometimes it’s more adoption than a real blood connection (don’t ask about the paperwork), but the fact is Godzilla was given a few progenies. 1967’s Son of Godzilla introduced Minilla (sometimes known as Minya). This little one prematurely hatched from an egg and was eventually trained by Godzilla. It’s an awkward design. The stubby creature is not very powerful, but blows atomic smoke rings and even helped fight against King Ghidorah in 1968’s Destroy All Monsters.
1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II introduced Godzilla Junior. Initially an egg taken from one of the monster islands and studied by humans, Godzilla Junior eventually hatched and imprinted itself on one of the biologists. Still, it had a psychic link to Godzilla, which ultimately found the two taking off to the sea together. Godzilla Junior grew over time, and even faced off against some other monsters, but was eventually killed in battle against Destoroyah in 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.
That’s not all. 1998’s American Godzilla eventually revealed that Godzilla had laid hundreds of eggs inside Madison Square Garden. These eggs hatched to reveal Baby Godzillas, which were essentially velociraptor knock-offs to appeal to the Jurassic Park crowd. Finally, who can forget Godzooky, Godzilla’s nephew (Godzilla has siblings?), who would appear time to time in the animated Godzilla series from Hanna-Barbera.
18. You Will Believe a Godzilla Can Fly
1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster) is a funky film, and it also happened to introduce a never-before-seen superpower for the King of the Monsters. Late in the movie, as Hedorah attempts to flee from battle, Godzilla manages to propel itself through the air with its atomic breath to chase after it. This gives audiences the impression that Godzilla can fly. Much like R2-D2 in the Star Wars prequels, it seems like this was merely a one-time occurrence, but hey, Godzilla has indeed found ways to continue to prove just how powerful a monster it is.
19. Godzilla Doesn’t Always Drink, But When He Does, He Drinks Dr. Pepper
In 1985, Godzilla was given a reboot, which is looked at as the start of the Heisei era. During this time, Godzilla was featured in two commercials for Dr. Pepper as a part of a $10 million ad campaign. Additionally, the American cut of The Return of Godzilla featured many instances of product placement. This almost included a scene of Raymond Burr (who reprised his role as reporter Steve Martin from the American version of the original Godzilla) drinking from a can of Dr. Pepper. Burr said no to this idea, and presumably buried the exec who suggested this in the courtyard of his apartment complex.
20. Kim Jong-Il Made His Own Godzilla Movie Because Of Course He Did
Noted cinephile Kim Jong-Il was a rabid kaiju movie fan. While he considered Gone with the Wind his favorite film and Elizabeth Taylor as his favorite actress, he always had a desire to make a giant monster movie that would, of course, double as political propaganda. In 1978, Kim Jong-Il essentially kidnapped South Korean director Sang-ok Shin and his wife, actress Eun-hie Choi, and jailed them for five years until they agreed to make a series of films for North Korea (they were ultimately able to escape to the US). Still, having their involvement eventually resulted in Pulgasari, which contained work from some of the creatives from Toho. The film featured a metal-eating monster that would grow and help fight with the peasants to overthrow a corrupt monarchy. While made in 1985, the film would eventually premiere in Japan in 1998, around the same time as the first American Godzilla. Some have claimed to prefer Pulgasari to the poorly received Emmerich film.
21. Godzilla 3D To The Max and Beyond!
Yoshimitsu Banno, the director of 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah, had his career cut short due to Toho’s less than positive reaction to his funky vision (though it stands as a favorite to many, including Roger Ebert). Still, Banno persisted in his continued dream to deliver exciting kaiju films and eventually secured the rights from Toho to make his own independent short Godzilla film. With the rights, he intended to remake Godzilla vs. Hedorah as a 40-minute IMAX film titled Godzilla 3D: To The Max. Yes, that does sound amazing, but the project was eventually scrapped. That said, Banno would be instrumental in helping Legendary Pictures obtain the rights from Toho to develop 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. Banno would remain on the project as an executive producer, and despite his hopes to still eventually make Godzilla 3D: To The Max, he passed away in 2017.