A New Renaissance For Giant Monster Movies Is Almost Upon Us

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Pacific Rim

Warner Bros. Pictures

Have you noticed a recurring theme in this week’s movie news?

Tuesday: Pacific Rim 2 gets a start date (this November) and a working title (Maelstrom).

Wednesday: San Andreas director Brad Peyton is in talks to direct Rampage, Dwayne Johnson’s upcoming based-on-a-video-game monster mash.

Also Wednesday: That whole Sharknado 3 debacle (please tell me you didn’t see it. It was mostly Xfinity product placement and Real Housewives cameos).

Thursday: Jurassic World’s sequel nabs a release date in 2018, locks in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Also Thursday: Brie Larson and Russell Crowe probably starring in Kong: Skull Island.

Five news stories. Five separate giant monster movies. All in the span of a single week. It’s the kind of thing that sparks a tiny fire of optimism inside me; the kind of thing that might be total coincidence but might also be the start of something wonderful. Are we approaching a Kaiju boom in Hollywood?

As a sheer numbers game: Yes. We are. Over the last 15 years, Hollywood’s followed a fairly consistent monster schedule of one giant monster movie per year. And we’re talking Hollywood, specifically, so let’s exclude indie monsters and low-brow Syfy kaiju. Larger-scale budgets, larger-scale releases.

2015: Jurassic World
2014: Godzilla
2013: Pacific Rim, Jack the Giant Slayer
2012: Wrath of the Titans (not a kaiju movie per se, but the spectacle was centered on jumbo-sized beasts. Close enough).
2011: Super 8
2010: Clash of the Titans (same rules apply)
2009: Outlander, Monsters vs. Aliens
2008: Cloverfield
2007: The Mist, Primeval
2006: N/A
2005: King Kong
2004: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
2003: N/A
2002: Eight Legged Freaks, Reign of Fire
2001: Jurassic Park III
2000: Godzilla 2000

In total? 18 movies over 16 years, so roughly one per year.

Now compare that to the monsters at our door. 2016 looks a little slim – if The BFG counts as a quasi-kaiju movie, than we’ve got one in 2016. Otherwise, none. 2017’s where the monster movie glut begins. Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim 2 are already locked in for that year, while Rampage is penciled in with a generic “2017.” There’s also the Power Rangers reboot, which is all but guaranteed a climactic monster-on-Megazord brawl.

In 2018 we’ve got Godzilla 2 and Jurassic World 2, two weeks apart in June (can we fit another one in there somewhere? Get a “monster month” happening). And Simon West’s remake of The Blob is arriving at some undetermined point in the future. It’s shooting in November. We know that much.

That gives us seven movies in the span of two years. That’s huge; the the largest monster footprint Hollywood’s had in decades and as many large-scale kaiju movies as we’ve gotten in the last six years.

Forbes first picked up on the trend last year, with Dorothy Pomerantz noting how much of Legendary Studios’s upcoming slate was invested in jumbo apes and lizards. Legendary’s the one largely responsible for our current monster movie uptick, having put Pacific Rim 2, Godzilla 2 and Kong: Skull Island in motion. (they also financed a chunk of Jurassic World- I’m guessing they’ll do the same for part two).

Especially considering that Pacific Rim and Godzilla weren’t far enough into the black that their sequels were obvious slam dunks. In a follow-up at Forbes, Scott Mendelson points out that the 2014 Godzilla had a banner opening weekend, but dropped off quick and ultimately sold fewer total tickets than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla. And today, we consider Emmerich’s take a flop. Pacific Rim 2, meanwhile, is banking on the original’s impressive reception in China and not the lukewarm one it received here in the states.

But if Legendary has to stretch things to justify more monster sequels, that’s fine by me. Monster movies don’t get sequels- not the mainstream Hollywood ones, anyway. Jump back up to that list for a second. Of those 18 movies, only five- Godzilla 2000, Jurassic Park III, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, and Wrath of the Titans, and Jurassic World– are legit sequels (and you could almost write off Jurassic World and Godzilla 2000 as not being “true” Hollywood sequels- one was a Jurassic Park III-ignoring reboot, the other the sole film in a series to get a stateside release).

For the most part, monster movies don’t resonate with audiences and don’t earn enough cash to justify a Part Two. And when they do resonate, the result is usually a line of sloppy direct-to-DVD follow ups.

Starship Troopers? Three sequels on DVD.

Tremors? Three sequels on DVD.

Lake Placid? Three sequels on Syfy.

Anaconda managed to buck the trend when its follow-up Blood Orchid had an actual theatrical run. Until the next two, which were on Syfy. Then Lake Placid vs. Anaconda, also on Syfy.

There’s the case to be made that giant monster movies were never meant to be four-poster, summer tentpole smashes. Maybe it’s that peculiar blend of tones in any good kaiju flick. The destruction of national landmarks evokes memories of tragedies like 9/11 or Fukushima; the rotating roster of creatures body-slamming each other is like giant monster WWE. Maybe “Hiroshima Meets 300-ft Hulk Hogan” is more of a niche thing than people realize.

Or maybe it’s because the giant monster genre has never really boasted huge budgets. It’s not like the monster movies of the ‘50s/’60s golden days were renowned for their fancy, lavish productions. They were cheap and hokey and on the off chance they scored a Ray Harryhausen or a Willis O’Brien’s wielding stop motion magic, they’d probably suffer massive budget cuts in some other department. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and From Here to Eternity were both released in 1953. Back then, making a movie with Frank Sinatra cost you a cool $1.6M, but a giant atomic dinosaur eating a roller coaster? A measly $210,000. Even the original King Kong and Godzilla never really broke the bank.

That would certainly explain why in the same span of time that gave us 18 Hollywood-sized monster movies, there amount of shlocky Z-grade monster movies soared well above 50. And it would definitely explain why Sharknado is the closest thing we’ve had to a Kaiju phenomenon in several decades.

Although I’d much rather believe that giant monsters are just waiting for their Avengers moment: audiences connect with a movie on a billion-dollar level, then studios spend at least a decade chasing that Avengers gold with endless rip-offs (heard anything from the 21 Jump Street Cinematic Universe recently?).

If monster are getting that moment, it’s right now, as Jurassic World passes The Avengers to become the #3 movie of all time. Surely people in suits are planning future Jurassic World-ish blockbusters at this very moment, right? There’s at least one: Mendelson also suggests that Rampage is Hollywood’s first attempt at mimicking Jurassic World’s combo of broadly likable star (Chris Pratt = Dwayne Johnson) and building-sized man-eaters (Indominus Rex = these three hungry contenders).

If Legendary’s monster push was the tinder and Jurassic World is the spark, I can’t wait for the whole thing to blow up. Let the new “giant monsters stomping on stuff” renaissance begin.

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