He can't quite get the senior citizen discount on movie tickets, but he's been crushing Tokyo for 55 years. Godzilla, the "King of Monsters," marks his fifty-fifth anniversary in 2009.
The character originally appeared in 1954’s Gojira from the Toho Company, Ltd. Actor Raymond Burr, better known for starring in Perry Mason and Ironside, portrayed a character named Steve Martin in footage edited into the American release of the film, which was re-titled Godzilla. Regardless of version, it would be the first of 28 Godzilla films to date produced by company.
The towering creature, awakened from some form of hibernation and mutated by an H-Bomb test, has been described as a hybrid of various dinosaurs and has been said to have the basic body structure of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the dorsal plates of a Stegosaurus, and the arms of an Iguanodon. None of those analogies are precise, however, in describing the incredible stature or power of the Godzilla.
Seen by many as a spirited embodiment of Japan’s experience with atomic destruction, the giant reptile became an instant metaphor for human actions unleashing consequences we have neither the technology nor the morality with which to deal.
The first film kicked off the “kaiju” genre of rampaging monster movies that flooded from the east and thrilled mostly children -- at least originally -- around the world with a combination of rubber-suited actors, exploding model cities and loosely plotted stories. From the beginning, Godzilla earned the his nickname as "King of the Monsters" in terms of box office popularity and licensing, as well as in the content of the stories.
At first he was seen purely as a threat to people, but then the focus shifted and he became the frequently misunderstood protector of Japan. Whether battling the other monsters such as Ghidrah and Mothra, or teaming up with them later to fight other threats, Godzilla generally came out on top.
For some years it seemed that 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla would be the final film in the series, but 1984's Return of Godzilla put new radioactive life into the franchise at its thirtieth anniversary. True to form, the Americanized Godzilla 1985 also featured the return of Raymond Burr as Steve Martin. In 1998, TriStar Pictures released director Roland Emmerich's fully American remake of Godzilla. It made money around the world, but traditional fans pretty much hated it. Almost without skipping a beat, the Japanese film series continued the next year.
The original Godzilla was featured in a 1978 cartoon series, and a junior version spun off from the 1998 American film also spawned a short-lived cartoon. He also appeared on Japanese television in the early 1970s. The character also appeared, sort of, in Marv Newland’s 1970 animated short film Bambi Meets Godzilla.
Godzilla was published in comic book form by Marvel in the 1970s in a series many still fondly recall and in a number of titles from Dark Horse Comics in the 1980s and '90s. The Dark Horse run included the one-shot Godzilla vs. Barkley, which was inspired by a popular Nike shoes commercial featuring the monster and NBA star Charles Barkley in his pre-DUI days. A wide array of license merchandise from a variety of manufacturers is available.
The films of the Japanese series:
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
King Kong vs. Godzilla 1962)
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)
Son of Godzilla (1967)
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
All Monsters Attack (1969)
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
The Return of Godzilla (1984)
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999)
Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)