Six Decades of ‘Godzilla’ Movie Posters

By  · Published on May 14th, 2014

Toho Company

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:

Warner Bros.

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.

Gojira (1954)

Toho Film Co.

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)

UK Godzilla King of the Monsters Poster

Toho Company

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!

Toho Company

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).

Invasion of Astro Monster

Toho Company

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.

Toho Company

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:

Terror of Mechagodzilla Japan

Toho Company

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:

Toho Company

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:

Showa in Poland

Or the posters could be works of art. Because during the Showa period, Poland was bent over a drawing board, turning Godzilla into something fancy and sophisticated. While Japan had a photo of the big green guy and the UK had a flab monster and a demeaning term for short people, Poland’s theaters had this plastered out front:

Toho Company

Does it convey anything at all about the film besides “Hey, that’s a big lizard?”


Should we care?


Gojira by way of Picasso is a beautiful thing. Not just because of its actual beauty, but because it was the beginning of a long and fruitful series of abstract Godzilla goodness. Poland’s take on Son of Godzilla is a small miracle; it takes the freaky little bastard that is Godzilla’s son, Minilla, and makes him almost palatable.

Toho Company

His face is a skull, but then he’s also blowing bubbles. Kind of cute. Kind of unsettling. Whereas the real Minilla is all unsettling, zero cute. If you’ve never gazed into the horror that is Minilla, you can do so below. Although I wouldn’t recommend it.

Each Polish poster is its own giant monster masterpiece. Godzilla vs. Hedorah goes the True Detective route and superimposes its lead monster against a grey urban wasteland – albeit, one that’s been infected with a whole lot of Monster smog.

Toho Company

Terror of Mechagodzilla eschews most of its giant monsters for Stereotypical 70s Man, sporting wavy hair and a proud set of bell bottoms. It’s not completely insane, however. The film’s lead does kind of dress like that, so it’s not as far off as one might think.

Toho Company

Each one is a unique piece of art, and each one is gorgeous in its own right (a few more can be seen over in this direction). Poland’s contribution to Godzilla posterdom is a big one (and one that’s totally in line with the rest of the nation’s poster output – type “Polish Movie Posters” into a Google Image search and marvel at the bounty that lies before you).

It’s also not the only time artists have found true beauty in men dressing like monsters to smash someone else’s handcrafted model buildings.

Noriyoshi Ohrai and the Hesei Era (1984–1995)

The Godzilla franchise took a few years off after Terror of Mechagodzilla, and when it returned, it was with a full series reboot. And a man named Noriyoshi Ohrai. Think of him like Japan’s Drew Struzan. Ohrai specializes in old-fashioned, hand-painted movie posters that outclass about 99% of all movie posterdom (and as far as fun coincidences go, both artists hit it big with a poster for the first Star Wars).

Ohrai put out a poster for all seven Godzilla films in the Heisei era (and a couple more afterward), and each one’s the same: an overflow of pulp sci-fi excess and the majesty of a big-ass lizard. Below is a short sample of Ohrai’s work, for the 1984 Godzilla reboot, Godzilla vs Biolante, and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

Godzilla Ohrai Poster

Toho Company

Toho Company

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah Ohrai Poster

Toho Company

To put it bluntly, the Godzilla franchise has always been kind of dumb. Yes, giant monsters are awesome and Godzilla is a cultural icon and his movies are immensely fun. All true. But this franchise is not known for its visual beauty, intelligent writing or cutting-edge special effects. It’s shlocky human drama that’s occasionally interspersed with guys duking it out in monster suits.

But despite his goofier side, Godzilla is still the King of the Monsters. And Ohrai’s work brings Godzilla to life in a way that, so far, has never wholly been captured on film, a terrifying (and 100% realistic) force of nature that’s here to protect Earth, when he’s not too busy destroying it.

Millenium to Modern Day

Ohrai painted a few more posters for Godzilla as the big green guy entered the final leg of his Japanese career. As for the rest of the world… well, they had their fill of Godzilla a while ago. Almost all of the Millenium series were direct-to-DVD releases in the United States, with the only exceptions being the first (Godzilla 2000) and the last (Godzilla: Final Wars) in the series. Not surprisingly, the amount of Godzilla posters in this era was seriously limited.

Godzilla 2000, at least, had a little bit of marketing behind it. And a spiffy new poster to boot! It might not have been much, but at least it was something:

Godzilla 2000 Poster

TriStar Pictures

Maybe “Get Ready to Crumble” errs a little on the silly side, but at least it’s got some hand-drawn art. Real, artistic effort has been expended in creating this. But a with a single click, every last drop of dignity can be drained out of the poster above. Not buying it? Use that single click on the video below.

Picture Godzilla happily shilling for Kraft Cheese and watch his legitimacy melt away. It makes no difference that this ad aired a few years after Godzilla 2000 was ever in theaters. If the tag line for a monster movie can also be used to sell those irregular little crumbs of cheese that a normal person throws away, I’m guessing that tag line could have used a little more thought.

The English-speaking world has some weird inability to come up with a non-terrible Godzilla catchphrase. There’s this, “THEY’RE BOTH ALIVE!,” the whole King Kong debacle, and “Size Does Matter,” which made every damned ad for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla look like history’s most elaborate dick joke. Be grateful (so very grateful) that those in charge of marketing this year’s reboot have decided against any kind of tag line. Chances are, it’d be something like “Hail to the King, Baby,” which would crush any goodwill towards a new Godzilla under an endless mountain of cheese.

And if this one dude on Instagram is to believed, “The World Ends, Godzilla Begins” was thrown around at one point. Photographic evidence aside, it’s hard to confirm that as anything legitimate. But there’s hardly any tag line under the sun that can compare to staying silent and just showing the big scary radioactive dinosaur. Like so:

Godzilla Empire Cover

Empire/Warner Bros.

Which was an exclusive cover to those who subscribe to Empire Magazine.

As we inch closer to Godzilla’s May 16 release date, there’s bound to be more Godzilla bombardment on our eyes, ears, and the various electronic devices that now fill in for the rest of our senses. Don’t try to avoid it. Chances are, such a feat is impossible.

Instead breathe it in, remembering the long line of tradition that came before. And maybe pick up a Godzilla dessert plate if you’re running low.