While the release (and success) of Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot of people interested in streaming some kaiju movie classics, these movies are almost always popular. They may not reach Marvel/Disney box office numbers, but the interest in kaiju, even outside of the iconic characters like Godzilla, King Kong, and Clifford the Big Red Dog, hasn’t really ever gone away.
If you’re reading this, and joining me for a look at some of the best kaiju movies to stream, then you already know what I’m talking about.
Yes, Godzilla is well-represented here. However, as I’m excited to emphasize, he’s far from the only giant monster on the block. While Godzilla himself started what is known as the modern kaiju movie, we’re ultimately talking about a basic monster movie premise which goes back to the success of King Kong nearly 90 years ago.
From then to now, you’ve got a long list of kaiju movies indeed. Some star heavyweights like Kong and Godzilla, but you can’t forget about Gamera, Mothra, giant sea creatures, alien monstrosities, and the other takes on kaiju that have been committed to film over the years.
One thing you’ll find, as we pour through some of the best kaiju movies to stream right now, this is a far more versatile genre than some people credit it for being.
Yes, there are slugfests, dumb humans, and massive destruction, but you’d be surprised just how many different ways you can spin that.
Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Colossal still seems to me like a movie that hasn’t found enough admirers. While the movie has been gradually building its audience for years, I don’t think it’s quite as known as it deserves to be. This is a clever variation on our expectations, offering a truly unique story of a self-destructive woman (Anne Hathaway, in one of her best performances to date) who inexplicably becomes tied, in more ways than one, to a giant creature, suddenly appearing in Seoul.
Colossal might be a character study first, with some social commentary intelligently thrown in for good measure, and a kaiju movie second. However, the love for the genre is apparent in not only the visual power of these giant creatures, but in the way the film builds nicely to a physical showdown. The film creates new and interesting threats to not only the monsters, but also to the people involved with their existence. This film is going to surprise you in a number of ways.
Colossal is more about the humans than the monsters for a reason. For purists, that might be a problem. For everyone else, it is a truly unique way to create a compelling kaiju story.
2. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Director: Ishirō Honda Where To Stream: HBO Max
Arguably the most exciting and chaotic entry in the Showa era of the Godzilla franchise, Destroy All Monsters offered the ultimate IP battle royal decades before it became the norm.
Bringing together Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Godzilla’s weird little son, and several others, Destroy All Monsters was Toho going for absolute broke in the kaiju genre at that point. What could have been a muddled, rushed, and overwhelming production is instead, and remains to this day, one of the most entertaining kaiju epics of all time.
From genuinely impressive suit acting (including the GOAT himself Haruo Nakajima), to human performances and subplots that go a long way towards proving that the people stuff could be fun to, Destroy All Monsters is essentially perfect in every possible way.
If you want to start someone on the classics, the greatest kaiju movies of all time, this is a very good place.
3. Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
Director: Shusuke Kaneko Where To Stream: Arrow Player
The truth of the matter is that I love all things Gamera. Yes, that even includes the decidedly-cheesy, exceptionally low-budget entries from the 1960s. If you want a central kaiju character you can’t help but like, even in some admittedly-not-great films, just about any of the numerous Gamera films made over the years will at least bring you some entertainment value.
However, if you want to get right to not only what is probably the best of the Gamera franchise, but also one of the best kaiju films of all time, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion will be essential.
You can start with the first in this 90s trilogy, which boldly reimagined Gamera as more than just a character for children, but that isn’t crucial. You shouldn’t have any issue picking up on the story of Gamera engaging in an increasingly-complex relationship with humanity, as a new alien threat descends upon the earth.
Gamera 2 features some of the best blending of the human story to the monsters that are fighting it out in one city or another. The film also finds an impressive amount of time to essentially study humanity as not only the protagonist, but also the antagonist, of its own ongoing story and evolution. Gamera 2 might be visually thrilling, but it offers some fairly dark ruminations on human nature, as well as hope for the species.
4. Godzilla (1954)
Director: Ishirō Honda Where To Stream: HBO Max, The Criterion Channel
It’s not an accident that Ishirō Honda is the only director to make this list more than once. Aided by the essential special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, the unforgettable music of Akira Ifukube, and the other components which set this type of monster movie on the best possible path, Ishirō Honda directed a bleak masterpiece of humanity fully reconciling with the consequences of its ambitions.
Even with dated special effects, the film’s depiction of Godzilla as a truly unflinching force of nature at its cruelest gives the film an atmosphere and energy which no other Godzilla or kaiju has ever fully recreated for my taste. That’s fine, but it’s also true that because of this fact, the original Godzilla stands as something else entirely.
Godzilla is also notable for Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. The movie has several exemplary performances from the humans, including Momoko Kōchi, Akira Takarada, and Akira Kurosawa-regular Takashi Shimura. Still, Hirata as Dr. Serizawa remains the standard for Godzilla movies and the kaiju genre overall. His performance is the one by which all others are judged.
5. The Host (2006)
Director: Bong Joon-ho Where To Stream: Hulu, Hoopla, Kanopy
The execution of the simple premise of Host is one of the strangest and darkest entries for this list of kaiju movies to stream.
The Host is another film that condemns humanity on a variety of levels. This monster is simply the result of that, but The Host has far more surprises in its story, plot twists, and even relationships than one might think.
A father’s desperate search for his daughter is just one of the threads which runs through The Host, rolling us with the one-two punch of deeply affecting scenes with human beings (particularly Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung as the father and daughter in question), and utterly terrifying, chaotic assaults from the monster.
The Host is a movie which aspires to completely knock the wind out of you, over and over again. It succeeds to a precision that would eventually set Bong as one of the best directors in the world.
6. King Kong (1933)
Directors: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack Where To Stream: HBO Max, DirecTV
As many solid-to-terrible King Kong movies as we’ve received, none of them have quite managed to recapture the wonder of a film with stop-motion special effects that are nearly a century year old.
Willis O’Brien changed the spectacle potential of cinema forever. You can somehow pick up that energy and enthusiasm for its uniqueness by simply watching this movie.
As stunning in its visuals and exciting in its pace and performances as ever, the 1933 King Kong also boasts the original scream queen in Fay Wray. Without Wray’s performance, the movie would simply be a collection of sequences in which a giant ape fights a dinosaur, falls in love, and winds up going on a rampage in New York City, after an unsuccessful stint on Broadway.
King Kong is another piece of the ongoing argument that monster movies in general can relate just about any sort of story you may have in mind. There is an enduring grandeur to this movie, which doesn’t forget at any given point to forget that memorable characters and good dialog are good things to have, too.
7. King Kong (1976)
Director: John Guillermin Where To Stream: HBO Max, HBO, DirecTV
One of the most ambitious remakes of its time, the 1976 King Kong doesn’t have quite the same sense of wonder as its 1933 original. However, it’s aged better than one might think over the years.
It also remains a much more satisfying epic overall than the 2005 remake, so that’s why it makes this list of the best kaiju movies to stream instead.
While the 1976 King Kong at least feels slower than its 1933 counterpart, a lot of that time is well-spent on character, and on building a similar, yet distinctly different relationship between Jessica Lange as the beauty that will inevitably kill the beast Kong. King Kong in general makes good use of Jeff Bridges, René Auberjonois, John Randolph, and Charles Grodin.
Special effects by Carlo Rambaldi are supplemented by a script that covers much of the appeal and spirit of the original, but with its own unique sense of humor and attention to an impressive degree of realism.
8. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Director: Ishirō Honda Where To Stream: HBO Max, The Criterion Channel
We’re still in a pretty sweet spot for Showa-era Godzilla movies with the glorious, endlessly entertaining 1964 brawl between Mothra and Godzilla. The same inventive, passionate creativity that established 1954’s Godzilla as one of the most exciting monster movies ever made is very much in force here, with men like Honda, Tsuburaya, Ifukube, and Nakajima once again giving Godzilla that crucial component of something a little more engaging than simply a mechanical entity.
Mothra vs. Godzilla is another example of a defining title in kaiju film that still works as a riveting action movie experience in the 2020s. Fans of either character are likely to be very pleased with how all of this shakes out, regardless of who actually wins.
But does the winner ever particularly matter, as long as everyone (especially you) has a good time?
Whether ironically, or the many legitimate strengths of this movie that are worth appreciating, the purity of the fun behind Mothra vs Godzilla remains intact.
9. Space Amoeba (1970)
Director: Ishirō Honda Where To Stream: Prime Video
While not the Japanese kaiju master’s best work, Space Amoeba is an utter blast from start to finish. It more than deserves a place among the best kaiju movies to stream. A fun-loving gang of hideous amoeba-like space aliens create horrible giant monsters in a bid to take over the earth. While there is a bit more plot than that, I really don’t want to waste too much of your time.
While occasionally as silly as it all sounds, Space Amoeba remains a great example of the science fiction elements that were beginning to dominate these films. Aliens weren’t unusual, but there were a number of releases in this period, particularly from Toho, which built their stories around increasingly fantastical elements.
Relative to those elements, Space Amoeba is actually fairly grounded. Though no less ridiculous, particularly when the aliens make their choices for earth creatures to raise into giant city smashers.
The whole plan seems convoluted, quite frankly, but it’s one of the most entertaining of any of the villains to be found on this list. Everything about this movie is fun, with a distinctive plot, great characters, and striking monsters.
10. The X from Outer Space (1967)
Director: Kazui Nihonmatsu Where To Stream: HBO Max, The Criterion Channel
Among the most fantastical kaiju movies of the period, The X from Outer Space is brilliant entertainment for two reasons.
One is a simple, yet clever story of a reptile-like kaiju who runs amok in Japan. The clever touches are subtle, and sometimes require having seen other kaiju movies from this period to compare it to, but anyone can pick up on the unique atmosphere of the movie. It has everything you would expect in one of these movies, but it finds some appealing creativity in bringing all of that to life.
Secondly, the movie is a great example of low-budget horror that doesn’t feel like it had to compromise too much. Take the particularly memorable monster. An arresting creature that would have made for a pretty fun Godzilla foe, Guilala is a solid effort from Shochiku, who often didn’t have the big budgets for these Toho had to play around with. In spite of that, the studio’s creative forces assembled something quite special here.
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