Perhaps no other film has made Kaiju, which means ‘strange beast’, as popular among the masses as the 2013 sci-fi monster film, Pacific Rim, but of course, that’s not the first time Hollywood paid homage to the genre. The Kaiju genre originated in 1954 when the iconic monster film, Godzilla, was made by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. And that was not the first monster film, of course, as Tomoyuki Tanaka was actually inspired by all the reception Japanese people gave to classics such as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), in creating the Godzilla franchise, which, by the way, holds the record of being the longest continuously running movie franchise. With the sequel to Pacific Rim – Pacific Rim Uprising hitting the screens this Friday, here are some iconic Hollywood monster films. Are you sure you’ve caught them all?
King Kong (1933)
This classic adventure film is sure to make every greatest-films-of-all-time list. The story of a huge ape-like creature who makes the ultimate sacrifice when attempting to possess a beautiful young woman, is a twist on the iconic beauty and the beast story. Known for its groundbreaking use of special effects such as stop-motion animation and miniatures, it was also famous for its sound effects. Apparently, King Kong’s roar was created by mixing the recorded roars of zoo lions and tigers, which were played backward slowly. Unsurprisingly, King Kong paved the way for many variants and crossovers with the latest, the 2017 reboot, all set to lead to a bigger battle in the 2020 release, Godzilla vs Kong.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
It’s the story of a fictional dinosaur, the Rhedosaurus, whose disturbed hibernation causes havoc in New York City. Although Godzilla is a film closely related to atomic bombs, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was the first film to feature the awakening of a giant monster by atomic bomb detonation. The film’s screenplay is based on American writer Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Fog Horn. The financial success of this film made the genre famous in the 1950s which, naturally, led to many similar films.
Fan of films with giant arthropods such as Starship Troopers? Then the credit goes to Them! which happens to be the first ‘big bug’ film. Them! is yet another under the ‘nuclear monster’ list, and is about gigantic irradiated ants discovered in the New Mexico desert which go on to become a threat to the nation. One of the highest-grossing films of that year, Them! is often paid homage to in various films, and video games such as Fallout 3.
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1957)
Yet another gem from visual effects creator, Ray Harryhausen, who also worked on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It Came from Beneath the Sea cemented his status as the go-to person for special effects and led to his collaborations with filmmakers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and James Cameron. As the name suggests, the film is about a deep sea creature — a gigantic octopus — made radioactive by, you guessed it, a bomb detonation. As a homage to Ray Harryhausen, a four-issue comic book mini-series, It Came from Beneath the Sea… Again (2007), was released as part of the Ray Harryhausen Signature Series which happened to be a continuation of the original story.
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
While films in this genre were generally made with big budgets, The Giant Gila Monster proved that a low-budget B-movie too can attain cult status. This story of a 70-foot long venomous lizard was lauded for the use of scaled-down models which resulted in keeping the budget tight. In fact, a live Mexican beaded lizard was used to showcase the giant and a sequence involving a train was also shot with a model train set. The makers were so impressed with Ray Kellogg’s special effects that they even let him direct the film.
Though the Japanese created it, the 1998 Godzilla is Hollywood’s first take on what is inarguably the most recognised monster. Directed by Roland Emmerich right after Independence Day, Godzilla opened to negative reviews, but that didn’t stop the film from making almost three times the film’s budget at the box office. Thanks to the umpteen reruns on television, every 90s kid will remember the scene where Godzilla gets trapped on the Brooklyn Bridge and gets killed. This 23rd film in the Godzilla franchise was dedicated to its creator Tomoyuki Tanaka, who died during the film’s production. Thanks to the rather lukewarm response the film gained from fans of the franchise, the plan to make it a trilogy was killed. But that didn’t stop them from coming up with a reboot in 2014 which opened to positive reviews. The reboot is also the first film in the MonsterVerse which includes King Kong.
Though sticking to the regular monster ravaging a city story, Cloverfield stood out thanks for its presentation as found footage material. The film’s producer, JJ Abrams (who’s famous for directing sci-fi hits such as Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), conceptualised a new monster, taking inspiration from Godzilla and King Kong. The film was secretly green lit and as part of a viral marketing campaign, a teaser trailer was released without the film’s name which garnered widespread interest. Interestingly, the film also shows frame inserts from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, King Kong and Them! Thanks to the style of cinematography, the film never shows the monster in its full glory, something the 2014 Godzilla would imitate. The film went on to spawn a franchise that resulted in films such as 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. A fourth film, titled Overlord, is up for release later this year.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Unlike most films in this list, Pacific Rim is known for a lighter take on the monster genre, sticking to bright colours while the rest of them predominantly used dark tones. Set in the future, Pacific Rim sees humans creating Jaegers in order to tackle Kaiju — colossal sea monsters which have emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean — sort of a Power Rangers meet Godzilla. While it underperformed in the US, the film turned out to be a highly successful venture in other markets. With the film ending with General Stacker Pentecost (played by a brilliant Idris Elba) sacrificing his life, the sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, will continue ten years after the happenings with the General’s son Stacker Pentecost (John Boyega) rising up to stand against the evolved Kaiju and a mysterious rogue Jaeger.
Who would’ve ever thought of making a black comedy film featuring a Kaiju? The film follows the travails of an unemployed young writer whose actions in New York city unwittingly cause a giant monster to wreak havoc halfway across the world. The film’s lead, Anne Hathaway, reportedly found the story intriguing thanks to the genre-hopping in the script. A low-budget film, Colossal, opened to generally positive reviews, but couldn’t quite get the cash register ringing.
Note: This post was written for Cinema Express, the entertainment wing of The New Indian Express.