King Kong Escapes (1967) and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Despite the fact that I disqualified the original Pacific Rim for being in our kaiju movie primer and therefore already recommended, I am making an exception for King Kong Escapes, which is also on that mega-list. Because I can’t rightly include Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, the movie that gave us the robot version of Godzilla that’s now been brought into the MonsterVerse for Godzilla vs. Kong, without recognizing that Kong got to battle his own robot double (Mechani-Kong) seven years earlier (which made its debut in the cartoon series The King Kong Show) and it inspired the creation of Mechagodzilla.
And if you want more movies involving characters having to fight their robot doppelgangers, there’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), in which the titular duo has to deal with some “robot usses,” and the original Spy Kids (2001), in which the main titular brother and sister have to fight their mechanical doubles among hundreds of robot versions of real children. More recently, there’s the dual Michael Fassbender duel in Alien: Covenant (2017). I’m on the fence about whether Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) counts as the first example since Maria doesn’t ever physically fight False Maria.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
As much as I’d love to just be able to drop this here in honor of George Segal, who recently died, the truth is that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is another surprising movie brought up in discussion of Godzilla vs. Kong by one of the MonsterVerse installment’s creators. Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Edward Albee’s play is essentially a verbal equivalent of the physical throwdown between the two Titans. I’m not sure if Elizabeth Taylor is Godzilla or Kong or which of them is Richard Burton. I guess it’s not really that analogical. It’s just an abstract comparison of one script to another.
As Borenstein told Courtney Howard at Fresh Fiction:
“The way we write these scenes — and I come from the world of drama and do that more than anything else — but the action scenes are written really the same. It’s talking about the objectives for these characters and the obstacles and the moment-to-moment escalations in the same way you would if you were writing an argument in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ You’ve got these two different characters throwing jabs at each other. They’re not punches, but they might as well be. One person gets the upper hand and then it flips. It’s set-ups and pay-offs.”
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
I don’t know why I can’t think of a proper documentary recommendation for the whole Hollow Earth theory business, but the only thing I can find is a part of a 2015 episode of Ancient Aliens titled “The Other Earth” and focused on life on other planets. Therefore, in relation to the subterranean sequences of Godzilla vs. Kong, I will simply recommend this classic adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The title says it all as it’s about an expedition into the depths of our planet. And like the hollow earth of the MonsterVerse, there are large deadly creatures residing beneath Earth’s surface. Prior to this movie, there’s also 1951’s Unknown World, in which humans search for habitable space within Earth’s center.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
While it doesn’t have the “vs.” title of Godzilla vs. Kong and its precursors, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first movie to pit two famous monsters against each other. Even as is, the title makes the usual mistake with Frankenstein adaptations and inspirations by implying the doctor rather than his Monster is at the center of the story. But maybe that’s why it’s not Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man? Anyway following the fight between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man here, Universal then went full speed ahead with its monster mashes, continuing with 1944’s House of Frankenstein and beyond.
The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1915)
Last but certainly not least, here is the first movie to pit an ape creature against a giant reptile, though both of the fighters are still much, much smaller than Kong and Godzilla. Three years earlier, George Méliès gave us what I believe is the original giant monster movie in 1912 with The Conquest of the Pole, and I think that’s worth noting in connection to the history of kaiju films. But from there, Willis O’Brien did more to spawn the genre, albeit by looking back to the time when real giant “monsters” roamed the Earth, often showing these dinosaurs fighting one another.
O’Brien’s directorial debut, the stop-motion animated short titled The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy features cave people living simultaneously as dinosaurs, as well as other primitive primates, and the film’s one battle is between one such ape, called “Wild Willie,” and a generic brontosaurus type, which kills its “missing link” foe. The five-minute film and a few subsequent cave-person-centered shorts by O’Brien are precursors to his lengthier but mostly lost film The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, which features a dinosaur fight.
And that, of course, led to his effects work on the 1925 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation The Lost World, which like the hollow earth sequences of Godzilla vs. Kong involves a hidden world where prehistoric creatures still roam. The film also features multiple big beasts — less fantastical, however, since they’re all dinosaurs — with many of them facing off against another for the film’s legendary stop-motion effects scenes. The Lost World then led to O’Brien’s stop-motion contributions to the 1933 King Kong, which then inspired the 1954 Godzilla and so on and so on and so on.