You may have noticed a sudden surge in Godzilla lately. Where before there was nothing (and by nothing, I mean a single teaser and a handful of posters), now there is a Godzilla bounty everywhere you turn. Trailers, preview screenings, stupidly brilliant Snickers ads, dessert plates, and all manner of spoilers leaking out through Godzilla toys (not that one should ever look for that kind of thing). In the lead up to the release this weekend, Godzilla is everywhere.
And in this deluge of radioactive green merchandise was a new poster for the big dude’s resurgence. This poster:
Neat, right? The King of the Monsters is back, he’s cool enough to pull a “badass with his back to the camera” pose, and he’s also freakishly, unrealistically tall. Seriously. If the proportions here are accurate, Godzilla towers more than a quarter-mile into the sky. Probably not accurate.
But this isn’t just a Godzilla poster. It’s the latest in a long line of posters. A sixty-year tradition of posters. Awesome posters. Ridiculous posters. Crazy stupid posters. A rich heritage of posters that spans a vast spectrum of quality — some of the most beautiful poster art to grace the outside of a movie theater, or garbage that a considerate human being should have mercy-shredded years ago.
And with that in mind, let’s take a look at all the ways Godzilla has been postered in the last six decades.
Now, I don’t speak (or read, for that matter) a word of Japanese. I’m assuming the majority of you don’t either. Not a problem. Certain images transcend any language barrier; it’s safe to say that a 150-foot-tall nuclear dinosaur is one of them. So even if this poster has been spattered with Japanese word salad, the message still comes across.
Godzilla = bad.
All that is not Godzilla = almost certainly doomed.
Planes = better when barbecued.
As is the case for many an old-fashioned monster movie poster, the lower portion is reserved for its human cast to gape at whatever abomination is currently wreaking havoc on the nearest major city. Note, though, that these Japanese poster-goers are a little more stoic than your average Americans. On our side of the globe, men flee in shrieking terror; women do the same after pausing to reveal extreme amounts of cleavage.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (UK)
Case in point. Technically, this poster hails from the UK, but the stereotype fits all the same. Look to the left and you’ll see multiple women in various states of undress, as though their imminent, Godzilla-related death scores a close second against exposing themselves to the last smoldering remains of humankind.
Okay, now look to the right again. Notice that this thing assaulting civilization (and our eyes) isn’t exactly Godzilla. It’s a poor-quality police sketch of Godzilla, if the eyewitness in question had seriously overestimated Goji’s weight and seriously underestimated everything below his waist. The big guy may have a double chin and about six extra armpit-chins, but he doesn’t seem to have any legs. Or perhaps the general stumpiness stemming from Godzilla’s waist IS his legs. If that’s the case, his tail is attached to his ankle.
Make no attempt to understand Godzilla’s vague, probably impossible physiology. Or the fact that he’s drinking a building through a straw made of fire. Or that genius tag line: “Makes KING KONG look like a Midget!” which has foolishly been abandoned in current Godzilla marketing. This is the gold standard for Anglocentric Godzilla posters. Godzilla’s image is misrepresented, the text is awful and/or incorrect, and in general everything is kind of embarrassing.
Godzilla Raids Again!
Not to be outdone, the first sequel to Gojira was botched even harder when it journeyed West. Godzilla became Gigantis, while his first-ever monster foe, Anguirus, became Angurus (we’ve all had trouble with the letter “i” now and then). And the film’s title (literally, Godzilla’s Counterattack, but known as Godzilla Raids Again) became Gigantis the Fire Monster.
The question on everyone’s minds — why?! — will always be a mystery. The Americanized version of Gojira, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was more than successful at the box office. Why Warner Bros. would order a complete re-branding of a moneymaking franchise makes zero sense.
The poster, at least, has a little style. The black and orange color scheme adds flair, and Godzilla’s got all his arms and legs in the right places, a step up from before. But this wouldn’t be a western Godzilla poster without something to elicit a long shameful sigh, so the phrase “THEY’RE BOTH ALIVE!” has been added to meet the quota. It’s not wrong, both monsters are, in truth, alive. But go ahead and sigh it out anyway.
Through the Showa Era (1954-1975)
And so it continued through the years. Japanese Godzilla posters would convey, more or less, what happens in the films they represent. Take the film Invasion of Astro-Monster. It follows a group of astronauts who venture into space and happen upon the three-headed King Ghidorah. The film ends with a big monster battle between Godzilla, Ghidorah, and the flying Rodan. All of that is presented on the poster below, without misrepresentation, abuse of cleavage, or the word “midget” (I’m assuming, anyway, it is in Japanese).
Whereas Godzilla vs. Megalon (seen below) does not have a pitched monster battle atop the World Trade Center. It actually doesn’t take place in New York at all. And if you stare at the two beasts’ feet long enough, you’ll soon notice they’re both balancing on one foot (or maybe there’s something off in the perspective). Either way, a round of applause for Godzilla vs. Megalon.
The Godzilla franchise is marked off into three eras: Showa, from 1954-1975, Heisei, from 1984-1995, and Millenium, from 1999-2004. And in 1975, the first era of Godzilla films capped off with Terror of Mechagodzilla. By this point, each hemisphere had settled into its own groove- Japan advertised its Godzilla movies thusly:
Big red text and an accurate representation of which monster suits would body slam until Godzilla was proclaimed the victor. And although our side of the planet occasionally got things right, mostly we were putting out stuff like this:
The usual flubs are out in force. The film’s title was altered and the strange lion-dog-man known as King Caesar doesn’t actually appear in the movie. But even on a simplistic, “does this at least look okay?” level, the poster is a mess. The sky is purple, the earth is a solid mass of fire and everything has a coloring book quality to it. Plopping Godzilla and his monster foes into the middle of this is not flattering; instead, it makes them look like children’s toys (or perhaps like men in fake monster suits). Godzilla posters don’t need to be works of art, but they should at least convey the idea of a big explosion-y monster attack.
Coming up next, bell bottoms and cubism: