Godzilla at 70: Why the Japanese pop culture titan is enjoying a resurgence

The kaiju is an icon of the silver screen

Godzilla has been a pop culture icon since 1954. (Toho/Legendary)
Godzilla has been a pop culture icon since 1954, and with 38 films and several TV show around the kaiju it's officially the longest running film franchise in history. (Toho/Legendary)

Godzilla has reigned supreme in pop culture since it first stormed onto screens in 1954, becoming as synonymous with cinema as King Kong, Bugs Bunny or Charlie Chaplin.

In 2023 Toho marked the monster's 70th anniversary with the release of Japanese film Godzilla Minus One, as well as the Apple TV+ series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. 2024 will also continue the trend with the release of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire as part of Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse.

Toho, the Japanese studio to originate the character, and American company Legendary have championed Godzilla for decades, but what is it about the character that makes audiences return to cinemas each time there is a new production? The answer that Godzilla is an icon seems too simple, so let's dig into it.

The origin of Godzilla

GODZILLA, (aka GOJIRA), Godzilla, 1954
Godzilla was created by Ishirō Honda in 1954. (Toho films)

Godzilla was first created by Ishirō Honda, who co-wrote and directed the 1954 classic that birthed the icon, and Eiji Tsuburaya, who worked on the film's genre-defining special effects.

The monster was imagined at the height of nuclear panic, in a country still reeling from the devastation of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It imagined a world in which a monster emerged from the depths of the ocean and whose attacks led to nuclear fallout.

Read more: Godzilla 1998: The monster-sized struggle to remake Japan's Kaiju in America

The movie was more than just a kaiju (giant monster) epic though, it made relevant commentary on the socio and economic climate in Japan at the time and served as an inspiring story of good triumphing over evil. On a whole, it helped make sense of world transformed by the events of the Second World War, not only for those in Post-War Japan but outside it too. It's influence then transcended this.

Good triumphs over evil

Film Artwork Film: Godzilla 2000 (GOJIRA NI-SEN MIRENIAMU)   Jp 1999, Director: Takao Okawara 06 November 1999   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of TOHO PICTURES and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To TOHO PICTURES is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
The monster was imagined at the height of nuclear panic, in a country still reeling from the devastation of the atomic bombs. (Toho films)

Godzilla has resurged multiple times over the decades, with Toho categorising the character's return by splitting the movies into eras: The Shōwa era, the Heisei era, the Millenium era and the Reiwa era. Named after the Japanese emperor who reigned during production, each era represents a different chapter in the icon's life onscreen with the films distinguishing themselves from its predecessors in various ways.

The kaiju has rampaged through cities, battled other monsters, and even become the unexpected hero of the piece. Some films have been set in a linear timeline, whilst others focus on standalone stories that introduce a different take on Godzilla each time, and in recent years Toho has even aimed to make the franchise into a cinematic universe akin to Marvel and DC.

But there is one thing that aligns these different versions of Godzilla together: the battle between good and evil. It's a simple concept at its heart, but it is one that resonates with viewers of any age, and a story that can easily be brought back for each new generation.

GODZILLA MINUS ONEGOJIRA - 1.0 2023 de Takashi Yamazaki COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL © Toho Company - Toho Studios - Robot Communications fantastique; fanta
The most recent Godzilla film is Godzilla Minus One, which has become a critical and commercial success. (Toho Company)

Godzilla Minus One follows this format, opening in 1945 and set in the years after as it follows former kamikaze pilot Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and the actions he must make when Japan is terrorised with the rising threat of the kaiju.

Read more: Monarch: Legacy of Monsters creators felt it'd be 'disingenuous' if show didn't honour Godzilla's Japanese roots

Apple TV+'s series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters explores the notion of good and evil, though it does so through an intriguing mystery that centres on siblings searching for their missing father whilst they also contend with the existence of several monsters — not just Godzilla.

Godzilla x Kong The New Empire  Godzilla & King Kong
The kaiju will return in 2024 in Godzilla x Kong The New Empire. (Legendary)

Even Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire explores the idea, though in an unintentionally comical way given its focus on Godzilla and King Kong teaming up to defeat a common enemy.

As well as this idea of good versus evil, there is also a lot to be said of the desire of audience members to enjoy a good old-fashioned monster movie. It is a concept that transcends language barriers and cultural differences, and it also allows viewers to forget about their problems and lose themselves in the magic of the story.

The enduring legacy of Godzilla

GODZILLA 1985, 1985
Godzilla is a character that has always appealed to audiences, and feels so synonymous with pop culture that it will always have a place on the silver screen. (Toho)

Godzilla has been brought back to the silver screen time and time again, and has even been recognised by the Guinness World Records as being the longest running film franchise in history.

The kaiju has spawned 38 films — 33 of which are Japanese and five American — and several TV shows. The newest Toho production, Godzilla Minus One has become a huge success for Toho, earning critical acclaim and succeeding at the box office.

Read more: How Rocky influenced Godzilla vs Kong

Following its UK release the film became the UK's highest-grossing Japanese live-action film ever and has earned an impressive £2m at the box office so far. Its success has even led to plans for a re-release of the film in black-and-white, which will be titled Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color, in 2024.

It shows that there is still appetite for the monster, whose legacy is only added to by each new production and makes it clear that the monster will endure thanks to its widespread appeal. Godzilla feels synonymous with pop culture, and like King Kong is a character that will always have a place on the silver screen.

Godzilla Minus One is out in cinemas now, and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is available to watch on Apple TV+. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire premieres on 29 March, 2024.

Watch the trailer for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: