got to talking on Twitter about the 1998 American Godzilla (aka Zilla) and I admitted that I like her design. It doesn't work that the filmmakers tried to put her over as the Godzilla, but as her own monster, she works for me. Siskoid replied that he wouldn't include Zilla on his personal Top 10 Kaiju list and our blogging genes immediately lit up. Personal Top 10 Kaiju lists are things that need documenting. (Spoiler: Zilla doesn't make mine either.)
To make this a full blown blog crossover EVENT, Siskoid also recruited BW Media Spotlight and Matt Burkett of the Monstrosities vlog. I think Matt's going to join in later, but if you visit Siskoid or BW Media today, you should see their Top 10 Kaiju lists too. [Update: Here's Siskoid's list. Here's BW Media's. And That F'ing Monkey, Laughing Ferret, and Let's Rap with Cap have gotten into the action too. Yay!]
My list is below, but first, a few explanations/disclaimers:
1) I'm not as well-versed in the Tohoverse as I'd like to be. David, Diane, and I are working our way through the Godzilla films chronologically and we've only made it through 1969's All Monsters Attack so far. Some of the old Godzilla movies are surprisingly hard to find in the U.S. and we've been stalled out waiting to find a way to watch Godzilla vs. Hedorah. We're finally going to skip ahead and move on, but as of right now I've never seen a Gigan or Megalon movie. While I expect them to be awesome, they can't be on my list until I've seen them in action.
2) I decided for the purposes of this list that giant robots are a separate category. I sometimes see Mechagodzilla and Iron Giant on lists of giant monsters, but as much as I like them, they're not on mine. I've spent too much time having giant robots try to kill giant monsters, so they can't co-exist in my head.
3) These are my favorite giant monsters, not my favorite stories about giant monsters. That would be a whole different list. For example, I love Them!, but giant ants themselves didn't crack my Top 10.
4) In spite of the tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic superlative in the title of this post, standard list-making rules apply about how these are my personal favorites. Your list will be different and I'd love if you share how in the comments.
10. Brainblob (Kill All Monsters)
This is totally self-serving and I apologize, but I really do like a lot of the monsters we came up with for KAM. Especially this transparent, gelatinous blob with a brain floating in it.
9. Kraken (Clash of the Titans, 1981)
I love that Ray Harryhausen decided against a traditional, squid-like kraken in favor of this giant, mermanoid sea monster. The only reason it's not higher on my list is because it appears so briefly and is easily defeated. As awful as the 2010 remake was, I do like how it extended the kraken's appearance into an actual battle.
I'm pretty terrified of normal-sized tarantulas, which are plenty big enough. Blowing one up to this size makes it the most horrifying creature on this list.
We finally watched Gamera the movie the other night and I wasn't too impressed with it. Or Gamera the monster, for that matter, at least at first. By the time the military knocked Gamera on its back and were congratulating themselves (because turtles are notorious for not being able to right themselves from that position), I was barely paying attention. But that's when Gamera pulled into its shell, shot jets out of its leg holes, and turned itself into a flying saucer. The movie may still suck, but the monster is crazy and awesome.
6. King Ghidorah
Godzilla had sort of an identity crisis in the '60s as he waffled between villain and hero. What I like about King Ghidorah - besides his three heads and batwings - is that he's consistently evil and powerful enough that the "good" monsters have to team up to bring him down. A great antagonist.
5. Ymir (20 Million Miles to Earth)
This Harryhausen creation bears a slight resemblance to the kraken, but I love that fishy look, so it doesn't bother me. And though the Ymir isn't as huge as the other monsters on this list, it gets bonus points for being a sympathetic creature. It doesn't ask for any of the things that happen to it and is dangerous only because it's a wild creature that humans have forced into our environment. That theme goes a long way with me (see No. 1).
Speaking of themes, I'll always love Godzilla if based on nothing but the strength of that first movie in 1954. He was a perfect metaphor for the horrors of nuclear weapons and it's kind of a shame that he would eventually be known for hanging out with Minilla (aka Son of Godzilla) and dancing jigs. Still, he's the icon and it's impossible for me to put him lower than this.
Mothra introduced actual personality to giant monsters in the Tohoverse. Until her, there was a vague sense of who Godzilla and his fellow kaiju were, but they was malleable to the needs of their plots. Mothra, thanks greatly to the innovation of letting her speak through the Tiny Beauties, has a consistent personality. What's more, it's a lovely one that's protective not only of her home island, but humanity in general. She's directly responsible for turning Godzilla into a legitimately heroic character, but whatever I think of that development, Mothra's asking Godzilla to make that change fits perfectly with her characterization and it's cool that she did it.
2. Belloc (Firebreather)
The main character in Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn's Firebreather is the son of a human woman and a giant monster named Belloc. Hester has talked about how Belloc was inspired by Marvel's Fin Fang Foom (who just barely missed my list), which explains not only his general look, but also his intelligence. What I love about Belloc is that he's actually a complex character with conflicting motivations that lead him to do interesting things. Of all the monsters on this list, he's the most fully realized.
1. King Kong
I won't be surprised if I get some grief for featuring Peter Jackson's version of Kong instead of Ray Harryhausen's, but though I love the original film from 1933, Kong was just a monster to me in it, and one with a goofy smile. The story was all great, but as cool as that stop-motion gorilla was, I never connected to it.
Jackson's version - thanks to Andy Serkis' performance and Naomi Watt's reactions to it - turned Kong into a character I felt something for. He's not as complicated as Belloc, but he's no less relatable and the end of Jackson's film breaks my heart (in a good way) every time. I truly don't get the hate for it.
Really though, almost any version of Kong could make the top spot on my list just for being a giant gorilla who fights dinosaurs on a jungle island shaped like a skull. Does not get any better than that.