Godzilla is one of the greatest characters in the world. Yet, despite his worldwide fame the franchise is not talked about the same way as series like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The final box office tallies for Godzilla: King of the Monsters should be respectable at $382.1 million. Yet, the film cost $170 million to make and expectations were that it would match the nearly $530 million gross of its predecessor. It’s not a flop, but it’s not the sort of success Legendary Pictures or Warner Bros. hoped for. Similarly, critics panned the film despite it working very hard to create the kind of mythology that underscores the best cinematic universes. Luckily, if critics and even studios don’t quite understand Godzilla, they will never stop making movies about him. He is the king.
What Makes Godzilla So Popular Even If Individual Movies “Fail?”
For more than 65 years, people have been telling stories about this nuclear-powered creature from the deep. Call him “Kaiju,” “Titan,” or, simply, “Monster,” every Godzilla story springs from the same foundation. Something happens that brings him forth from the depths of the ocean, and Godzilla proceeds to wreak havoc on it. Sometimes, Godzilla is awakened to fight other creatures like him. In these stories, he’s a defender of humanity. In others, humanity is the problem and Godzilla punishes the cities of humans with wanton destruction. At their core, Godzilla fans want to see one thing: the monster kicking ass. However, to say that is all fans want is unfair, just like it’s unfair for someone like Martin Scorsese to say that Marvel movies aren’t cinema. The action is fun, sure. But what keeps us coming back again and again are the stories themselves.
This is why Godzilla will always be the king of this genre. Whether it’s Pacific Rim or Cloverfield, any other giant monster movie is just a copy of the Godzilla mythos. The edge Godzilla has over his competitors is that he’s been around long enough that the legend feels like a real legend. Audiences have a familiarity with Godzilla that ensures they will give each iteration of the character a shot. Even though visual effects are better and more realistic than they’ve ever been, audiences are still waiting for a CGI Godzilla that lives up to their childhood memories of the guy in the rubber suit. In fact, if they can do anything to improve the future iterations of Godzilla it’s to focus less on his animal side and more on his human one. And that will take more than just clever motion-capture technology.
The Window to Godzilla’s Soul
For almost all Godzilla fans, the first time they saw him was usually in one of the rubber-suit films. If you are young enough, the king of all monsters looks both scary and adorable. While the iconic Godzilla grin plays a big part in that, the secret lies in the eyes. All of the CGI versions of Godzilla feature eyes on the side of his head. The rubber suit versions have more human eyes, and that makes all the difference. To go back to Star Wars, one of the things that made Chewbacca universally beloved and Ewoks not so much are their eyes. While the early Ewoks had black, unblinking orbs for eyes, Chewbacca’s eyes were that of the late Peter Mayhew. Now, Godzilla would not work with fully human eyes like that. Yet, the human-ish eyes found on the rubber suits make it easier for fans (especially kids) to sympathize and connect with the creature.
Still, there is plenty of time to get it right. Even without beating the box office gross of its predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is still the second-highest grossing Godzilla movie ever. They are telling a new and interesting story about the character. Audiences will connect with this newest version of Godzilla, if they can just look him in the eyes.
How important do you think the eyes are to the character of Godzilla? Which version is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below.