Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch next if you like Godzilla vs Kong.
If all you know of kaiju movies is what you’ve seen in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, then you obviously owe it to yourself to watch the old Toho Godzilla films (pick up The Criterion Collection’s Show-era box set for starters) as well as the original 1933 King Kong (plus the 1976 and 2005 remakes for their respective charms). We highlighted some relevant classics in our Movie DNA for the previous MonsterVerse installment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and a few years ago we listed a whopping thirty-seven giant monster movie titles in our must-read kaiju primer. Add the whole lot to your watchlist.
I’m not going to take up too much of this edition of Movie DNA to highlight all of the essentials or referenced installments (Matthew Chernov has compiled a nice list of Toho easter eggs for Variety) connected to the new MonsterVerse crossover sequel Godzilla vs. Kong, and I tend to let remakes speak for themselves so I’ll just mention 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla here and leave it as a given. I’m also skipping over recommendations of director Adam Wingard‘s filmography, though you should definitely see You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2014) when you get the chance.
What we’re left with below is still an oversized list of fourteen features and one short I find most interesting to discuss and recommend after watching Godzilla vs. Kong. Some are acknowledged influences on the new movie or otherwise directly related titles as confirmed in interviews. The rest include historical precedents — inside and outside of the franchise — going back nearly a century, plus some personal favorites I was reminded of during my viewing. As is often the case, you’ll find even more suggested and pertinent movies (and a couple of television programs) that you may also want to check out for context.
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
The year before Legendary kicked off the MonsterVerse franchise with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, Guillermo del Toro brought kaiju back to Hollywood in a big way with the mecha vs. monster movie Pacific Rim. Well, it wasn’t quite as big as hoped-for in the US, but it was enough of an international hit to spawn this sequel. Why am I recommending part two (which shares its editor, Josh Schaeffer, with Godzilla vs. Kong) instead of part one? Well, I actually like it better (our publisher thinks I’m crazy for that), plus the original is in that kaiju movie list I link to above.
“I won’t say there’s an Easter Egg but there’s been a lot of discussion about that possibility [of crossing over]. Look I think it would be fantastic to have the ‘Pacific Rim’ universe join Legendary’s Monster Universe, it seems like a natural step. And part of the big overall plan after the third movie we’ve talked about is that could happen, it’s always a possibility. It’s by far not a certainty; it’s merely theoretical at this point, but as a fan myself I would love to see that happen.”
Earlier this year, del Toro admitted on Twitter he’d love to see it happen, as a fan. A month later, DeKnight claimed on social media that he saw it as more than just a theoretical, tweeting in reply to an inquiry: “That was actually my long-term plan. [Pacific Rim 3] was structured to end in a way that married the two universes.” Then Godzilla vs. Kong (and regular MonsterVerse) screenwriter Max Borenstein told We Got This Covered, “I saw what [DeKnight] said, and I think if he has the vision for it, that would be dope. You know, he’s a really talented storyteller so I would certainly be eager to see it.”
Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Conspiracy theorist characters go hand in hand with disaster movies and monster movies. But Brian Tyree Henry’s podcaster Bernie Hayes in Godzilla vs. Kong made me recall one in particular: Doug E. Doug’s Eight Legged Freaks character, Harlan Griffith, who spouts alien-abduction theories from a pirate radio station that he operates from his trailer home before becoming mixed up in the movie’s plot. However, unlike Hayes’ claims, Griffith’s are not validated since the giant spiders in Eight Legged Freaks are not extraterrestrial in origin. Anyway, this is an underrated large-monster movie I’m happy to include for any reason.
Beyond the Mat (1999)
Eight Legged Freaks co-star David Arquette, who has had a controversial side career as a professional wrestler, would appreciate this high-profile documentary bumping up against the above selection. The Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced Beyond the Mat is a fascinating look at pro wrestling and probably was the first time I viewed the entertainment seriously as an adult (my childhood enjoyment of Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling doesn’t count). And one of its featured subjects, Mick Foley, then known as Mankind, is namechecked by Adam Wingard in our interview with the director:
“I always saw Godzilla as the heel of the movie. He’s Undertaker, and Kong is Mankind Mick Foley. Whenever you have that sort of opposition, the heel has to be more mysterious. He’s blowing stuff up, and there are obviously characters trying to figure out why that is. But at the end of the day, that creates this protagonist kind of thing with Kong.”
If you’re not familiar with the wrestlers that Wingard references, you can see them fight in the most memorable sequence of Beyond the Mat. The director’s analogy isn’t too outrageous — many reviews of Godzilla vs. Kong also compare it to wrestling — considering film and cultural historians equate the first kaiju-vs-kaiju movies with the rise of pro wrestling in Japan in the 1950s. Also, the notorious international match between Japan’s Rikidôzan, Toyonobori, and Great Togo and America’s “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Lou Thesz, and Mike Sharpe in April 1962 and the event’s controversial (and allegedly lethal) TV broadcast as was a likely influence on the plot and the satirical themes of King Kong vs. Godzilla, released later that same year.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
No, this isn’t recommended because I saw some implication that Godzilla and Kong had some sexual tension between them or anything, but it would have been funny if one of the human characters who were Team Godzilla and one of the characters who were Team Kong would have started dating only for that drama to exacerbate the rift between the two Titans. Actually, no, the less the humans have to do, the better. In fact, my including Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy is just to acknowledge that fact by pointing out that there almost was more to the human characters than what made it on screen.
According to Godzilla vs. Kong co-stars Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison, via JoBlo.com:
MBB: But the script was supposed to be that we [Madison and Josh] were in a relationship…
JD: Our first screentest together we have to recite some “Romeo and Juliet” lines…
MBB: Oh my god.
JD: It was so bad.
MBB: It was so bad. But [by the end] we weren’t even doing the script, it was just me and him laughing. We were laughing and talking. And then I remember they left and they were like, “So, Millie, do you like him?” And was like, “Uhhh do I like him? He’s like an angel. Yes. Tell him he has the job, like, right now.”
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I can reveal that the real movie for this spot is the other modern-day update of Romeo and Juliet released in 1996: Tromeo and Juliet. It’s so loose with the source material and involves so many more laughs that maybe that’s what Brown and Dennison’s reading was closer to. Also, one of the main characters turns into a monster, so that fits, too. But maybe I should have gone with a different twist on classic literature by recommending Enola Holmes (2020), which is a more enjoyable movie than Godzilla vs. Kong with Brown and a couple of dudes on an investigative adventure.