The 10 Best Toho Kaiju Movies Without Godzilla


1954’s Gojira changed the game. Not just for Japanese film studio Toho, but for film studios across the globe. And, for the most part, the film’s success guided Toho’s actions — which should help explain why they released so many monster movies in the ensuing years.



That said, it’s not as if even the more popular non-Godzilla Toho films like Mothra and Rodan ever received a sequel (they were just merged into the Big-G’s franchise).

But, why were all of these (besides Mothra, after decades) a one-off? Is it just because of a comparable lack of quality? Did the narratives tell their whole story in one film? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, depending on the film. But these 10 non-Godzilla kaiju films are worth more than their low budgets would suggest.


10 Rodan (1956)

There has to be a best non-Godzilla Toho kaiju film, and darn if it isn’t the first one. Released just two years after Gojira, Rodan was a hit. And, outside its silly Meganulon in the first two acts, it’s well-aged. It’s also easily the bloodiest Toho film of the early era, though the arterial spray in Godzilla vs. Gigan is suitably unsettling all its own.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Like Gojira, Rodan is all about the build. And, frankly, Rodan does that just as well as Gojira. If anything, Rodan is the second-scariest film Toho ever made after Matango. Furthermore, the city destruction sequence in Rodan is top-notch. So much so that it was used as stock footage in several later Godzilla films.

Stream Rodan on The Criterion Channel

9 Varan (1958)

Admittedly, Varan (or Varan the Unbelievable as it was called in the States) is very much a lesser Toho film. The pacing is atrocious and the quality of the film is dirt cheap. But, at least the title character’s a decent monster (though, not a particularly intimidating one).

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Varan is primarily for Toho completionists. It has many of the staples that they’ve grown accustomed to via the studio’s better films. Not to mention, the design of the Varan suit is pretty neat. The film could and should be restored, but even that wouldn’t make it one of Toho’s greats. In the end, Varan is one of their more disappointing endeavors.

Stream Varan on The Criterion Channel

8 Mothra (1961)

Mothra

Release Date
July 30, 1961

Director
Ishirô Honda

Cast
Frankie Sakai , Hiroshi Koizumi , Kyôko Kagawa , Za Pînattsu , Yûmi Ito , Emi Ito

Runtime
101

Mothra debuted in 1961, when only Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again, Rodan, Varan, the kaiju-free The Mysterians (save for the mechanized Moguera), and The H-Man had seen release. There’s an argument to be made that, outside Gojira, Mothra was the most successful kaiju film Toho had in its original cinematic lineup.

At the very least, its production values are a substantial cut above everything that had come before. And, in three years’ time, the film’s visual style would be replicated for the even better Mothra vs. Godzilla.

RELATED: Godzilla x Kong Director Teases Homages & Easter Eggs to Godzilla’s Toho Era, New Images Released

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Mothra is a solid adventure film, even before the titular beast rears her pretty head. Then, when she does reveal herself, both the adult and larvae Mothras don’t disappoint, in either design or personality. It’s pretty easy to see why — besides the Big G, Mothra has ended up effectively serving as Toho’s mascot.

She’s an interesting monster, and an unusually kind-hearted one (even in her debut solo film), and one with two iconic twin fairies beside her (AKA the Shobijin). And, as played by The Peanuts in not only Mothra but Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, it’s easy to see why they became as important a part of film history as the so-called monster they serve.

Stream Mothra on FlixFling

7 Gorath (1962)

Back in the ’90s, Toho films were hard to get one’s hands on. And, in the case of Gorath, even if an American did somehow see the American version of the film, they still wouldn’t have even gotten to meet its kaiju. Not to mention, in a case exclusive to Gorath, it’s now a Toho kaiju film that’s utterly impossible to find.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Loaded with favorites from the Godzilla franchise’s cast lists, Gorath is classic Toho. But, again, it’s now basically unattainable. Kudos to those lucky few who have been able to watch it (in either version), but whether or not it’s worth watching (it’s mid-level Toho, so not really) is irrelevant. You can’t buy it. You can’t rent it. You can’t watch it. Perhaps that should be fixed.

6 Matango (1963)

Like some of the most essential Godzilla movies (e.g. Gojira and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) there’s a horror slant to Matango. The narrative has an isolated location, namely an island, and a group of likable characters who get picked off one by one. It’s a slasher. A super, super trippy slasher.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

We have to give it to Toho, because they made a legitimately frightening midnight film. And they did so with walking mushrooms as the antagonists. But, when a film’s tone is as well-modulated as Matango‘s, the intended effect can be carried out in full, even if there are just a few men in costumes.

Stream Matango on The Criterion Channel

5 Atragon (1963)

Atragon finds Toho (and many of its most reliable actors) venturing into the depths of the ocean. And finding a big sea snake while they’re down there. The desperate crew then struggle to make it back home.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Atragon is a fairly well-crafted film. Meaning, it boasts better production value than other, similar films of its era. That said, Manda (the film’s sole kaiju) doesn’t make his appearance until the final 15 minutes. So, for those looking for kaiju action, don’t spend the money on a DVD copy of Atragon.

Stream Atragon on The Roku Channel

4 Dogora (1964)

Of the initial run of Toho films, Dogora (or Dagora: The Space Monster in the United States) is pretty close to the bottom. But, unlike Godzilla’s Revenge, it’s not so much a cheesy, stock footage-filled nadir as it is simply unsatisfying. In other words, Dogora is barely in Dogora.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

So, what works about Dogora? It’s pretty simple, but there’s a two-factor appeal. For one, pretty much everyone who was in the first few Godzilla films makes an appearance here. Two, even if it’s only seen for a few moments, Dogora isn’t the worst monster Toho ever created (that’d be Godzilla’s Revenge‘s Gabara).

Stream Dogora on The Criterion Channel

3 Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)

An utterly bizarre film that both fits in with Toho’s filmography and stands entirely apart, Frankenstein Conquers the World is an odd duck — and a very enjoyable odd duck at that. It also has Nick Adams as one of the leads, who G fans will know from his lead role in Invasion of Astro-Monster (more commonly known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero).

RELATED: The Top 10 Japanese Godzilla Movies, Ranked

What Makes It Worth Watching?

For one, Frankenstein Conquers the World introduced Baragon, and of all the infrequently-used Toho monsters, he’s hands down the best. After all, there’s a reason he was in not only Destroy All Monsters but Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack as well. Two, the movie’s tone grabs the viewer, no matter how ridiculous the narrative gets. It’s a sweet-natured movie with sweet-natured characters.

Stream Frankenstein Conquers the World on The Criterion Channel

2 The War of the Gargantuas (1966)

While The War of the Gargantuas is a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, it’s much more of its own thing. Really, very little reference is made to the previous movie, and even the actors who were in the film are now playing different characters. But, it’s still an important kaiju film, oddly enough, more than its predecessor.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

There’s a reason this thing is basically the one Toho kaiju film outside the original Gojira that’s received shout-outs from celebrities. In the case of The War of the Gargantuas, everyone from Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino to Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton have cited it as a stylistic influence on their work. What’s the reason? It’s about a tumultuous brotherhood… and it also has a pretty keen concept of what makes pacing work.

Stream The War of the Gargantuas on Freevee

1 King Kong Escapes (1967)

1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla is an oddball in the Toho canon. It’s mostly a Godzilla film (his third, and the first to have fight sequences that were actually choreographed). But, by the same token, it’s King Kong’s debut in the Toho kaiju world. And, after his battle against Godzilla, Toho Kong got his own movie in King Kong Escapes. His own weird, weird movie.

What Makes It Worth Watching?

Like the later Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, King Kong Escapes has its title protagonist fight a mechanized version of itself. This makes Escapes somewhat of a trend-setter. Furthermore, it introduced Gorosaurus, one of Toho’s least-utilized but well-liked kaiju.



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