A few months ago, I wrote an article about giant monster movies that don’t feature Godzilla or Kong, and I had so much fun writing it that I want to do it again. As much as I love Godzilla and Kong, there’s a lot more to the kaiju world than just their films. Unfortunately, those other giant monster movies don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
They’re often just as good as their more famous counterparts, and many also take the subgenre in new and interesting directions. Some even challenge our preconceived notions of what a kaiju film is supposed to be, destroying the stereotype that these movies are all the same. So, once again it’s time to sit back, relax, and broaden our cinematic horizons as we explore more giant monster films that don’t involve Godzilla or Kong.
Let’s begin with the big screen debut of Godzilla’s most famous frenemy. While most people know Mothra for her many fights either against or alongside Godzilla, she actually debuted in her own solo movie. It’s one of the best and most creative stories the kaiju subgenre has to offer.
Unlike most giant monsters, Mothra isn’t the villain in this one. Rather, the villains are greedy humans who kidnap the Shobijin (the two tiny women who appear in nearly all her films) and show them off for profit. Mothra travels from her native island to Tokyo to save them. The unique plot allows the film to feature all the awesome giant monster action fans crave, while also flipping the script and putting a unique twist on the kaiju formula.
On top of that, it also gives Mothra a really great message. Like most Godzilla and Godzilla-adjacent movies, this one touches on the dangers of nuclear weapons, though that’s not its primary concern. Instead, as you might’ve guessed from the bare-bones plot synopsis I gave, the main point of this story is to warn us against greed and unbridled capitalism. It’s an important message that’s both timeless and timely. When you combine it with the film’s awesome kaiju action, you get one of the absolute best giant monster movies ever made.
The Daimajin Trilogy
If you’re a fan of giant monster movies but you’ve never seen the Daimajin trilogy, that needs to change. Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath of Daimajin, all released in 1966, follow the same basic plot: evil men in feudal Japan oppress innocent villagers, the villagers ask their mountain god to save them, and then a giant statue comes to life and wreaks havoc on the tyrants.
Now, normally, making the same movie three times is a recipe for disaster. However, somehow the filmmakers behind this trilogy managed to do the impossible. All three of these films are excellent, and despite their narrative similarities, they’re all well worth your time. They tell classic good vs. evil stories firmly rooted in their historical setting, while also tapping into timeless themes that resonate in any era. Unlike most giant monster movies, you don’t just watch the Daimajin films for the kaiju. Rather, you watch them for their great human stories; Daimajin is simply the icing on the cake.
He comes to life in the third act of each movie to free the oppressed villagers, and every time, he rips through the bad guys without even breaking a sweat. It’s super fun to watch, and seeing these tyrants get their comeuppance is also pretty cathartic. It cements these films as some of the best giant monster movies ever made. This entire trilogy is an absolute must-watch for fans.
Monsters was the feature directorial debut of Gareth Edwards, the director of 2014’s Godzilla. If you’ve ever seen that film, you can probably guess how monster-centric this one is (hint: not very). In a world where giant monsters have suddenly appeared, a man named Andrew is tasked with leading his boss’s daughter to safety through the “infected zone,” the area where the creatures live.
Not surprisingly, this is more of a romance than a kaiju movie. However, though you don’t see the monsters all that much, they’ve left such a huge mark on this world that you still feel their presence throughout the entire movie, even when they’re nowhere to be found. That feeling makes up for their lack of screen time, so as long as you don’t go into this film expecting an all-out monster mash, you should enjoy it just fine. Also, the few times these creatures do show up, they’re awesome. Granted, they’re nothing out of this world, but they’re solid giant monsters any fan of the subgenre is going to enjoy seeing.
The human story here is really good as well. The two main characters are extremely likable, so you buy into them and their journey right from the beginning. They ground the movie and keep your interest the whole way through. Whatever you may have thought of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, it’s not hard to see why Warner Bros. got him to direct the film. He knows how to make a good giant monster movie, and we can only hope he demonstrates that skill again some time soon.
Pacific Rim was directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro as a love letter to the giant monster movies he grew up with. Despite del Toro’s penchant for putting really unique spins on run-of-the-mill genre tropes, this is without a doubt the most generic film on the list. It’s about giant monsters fighting giant robots. Everything else in it, including the characters and the plot, is pretty much just an excuse to see those kaiju fights.
So, if you prefer a bit more narrative substance in your giant monster movies, this is definitely not the film for you. Granted, the story and the characters aren’t bad, but they’re little more than placeholders to fill out the narrative and make this an actual movie rather than a random collection of disconnected action scenes. They’re just good enough that you don’t mind them, but they’re not what you really come to this film to see. You watch it for the monster vs. robot action, and in that regard, it does not disappoint.
Pacific Rim features some of the best kaiju fights I’ve ever seen, and the creature designs in it are really cool. In fact, I love this movie so much that I named my cat after one of the giant robots. If you’re ever in the mood to turn your brain off and enjoy some big, dumb fun, you should definitely check this film out.
Last but definitely not least, we come to Colossal, hands down the weirdest and most unique film on this list. In fact, it just might be the most unique giant monster movie ever made. It’s about a young woman whose life is spiraling out of control. When she goes back to the town where she grew up, she manifests a kaiju that attacks Seoul, Korea every time she walks through a particular playground.
On paper, that probably sounds a bit too bizarre to actually work, but somehow, the film pulls it off. Unlike most giant monster movies, this one isn’t actually about the kaiju. It’s first and foremost a dark, somewhat romantic comedy, which I would argue is the key to its success. It tells a great human story with really charming characters, and it’s executed so well you barely even notice how weird the story is.
So, just like with Monsters, don’t go into this one expecting a typical monster vs. military bash. While Colossal has its fair share of kaiju fun, the monster is only peppered in here and there in pretty small doses. It’s kind of like a proverbial spoonful of sugar making the more down-to-earth human story a bit easier to swallow for fans of the fantastical; in my opinion, it totally works. It’s a brilliant and captivating genre mashup that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. If you want to explore the weirder side of the giant monster subgenre, you absolutely need to check this movie out.