He’s been around longer than James Bond or Spider-Man, and starred in more movies than both of them combined. The latest Godzilla opens in theaters this weekend, and if you’re in the mood for giant rampaging monsters, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Crackle have quite a selection for you, including a variety of classic Godzilla movies.
The one that began it all is no mere cheesy monster movie. Revived in theaters a decade ago, the original, uncut, subtitled Japanese version of Gojira (1954) also streams on Hulu Plus. Director Ishiro Honda had been an assistant director to none other than Akira Kurosawa. The great actor Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai, Ikiru) has a more significant role, bringing more dignity and history to the movie. It’s really about the fear and rage that the Japanese people must have felt after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. distributor chopped some 40 minutes from it, added some footage of Raymond Burr, and released it in 1956 as Godzilla: King of the Monsters. That version was a success and introduced American fans to the great, giant monster, but this original version puts that release to shame.
Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster
Of all the sequels, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) is perhaps the most memorable. Roger Ebert even referenced it in an old review of Godzilla 1985 as his favorite of the series, and it’s on Hulu for everyone, no Hulu Plus subscription required. It has the most blatant pro-environmental message of all the films; our excessive pollution has resulted in the creation of a “smog monster,” which is more of a sludge monster, really. The best part of this movie—which is absolutely cheesy—is its opening theme song, the unbearable but heartfelt earworm “Save the Earth.” The Japanese title is Gojira vs. Hedora.
More Godzilla movies
If you’re up for a massive Godzilla binge, many more of the 30-odd movies in the series are available streaming. Netflix has Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), and Godzilla’s Revenge (1969). Hulu fights back with Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), and Hulu Plus subscribers can additionally check out Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), and The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975).
Here’s an interesting twist on the giant monster movie. Available on Hulu Plus, The Blob (1958) starts as a small, weird object from space, and then gets bigger and bigger as it feeds, soon turning into a giant, freaky all-consuming gelatinous thing. Its rampage climaxes at a movie theater with a crowd of people watching a scary movie! The visual effects on this full-color feature have hardly dated, and it’s not easy to see just how they were done—the movie still has some magic. The big deal about The Blob, however, is that it features the acting debut of 28-year-old Steve McQueen, playing a teenager. He brings some tough, Method-type performing to the movie, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. directed.
King Kong (1976)
John Guillermin’s King Kong (1976) has nothing on the original 1933 version or the 2005 Peter Jackson remake, but it’s still not too bad, and unlike those other two it’s streaming on Netflix. In keeping with its times, it updates the story from a filmmaking expedition to an oil-finding expedition. On a ship heading for a mysterious island that could be rich in oil, a paleontologist, Jack (Jeff Bridges), stows away to get a look at things for himself. A shipwrecked actress, Dwan (Jessica Lange, making her movie debut), somehow shows up as well. Of course, they discover more than just oil. Here Kong climbs the World Trade Center, rather than the Empire State Building, because it reminds him of home. Charles Grodin plays an evil oil executive.
It’s not exactly a giant monster movie, but it’s in the same spirit. Under the tutelage of Roger Corman, director Joe Dante made this lightweight riff on Jaws, with a bunch of mutated piranha getting loose in a lake, situated right next to a summer camp full of kids. Streaming on Netflix, Piranha (1978) isn’t as media-savvy or as satirical as Dante’s later works would be, but it’s just as much fun. The effects are not exactly state-of-the-art, but the inventive combination of quick movements, sinister, chittering sound effects, and red billowing clouds in the water works amazingly well. The movie includes genre icons Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) as well as Corman regulars Dick Miller and Paul Bartel. Future director John Sayles wrote the screenplay.
What giant monsters hadn’t yet been done? Trucks! Author Stephen King actually directed Maximum Overdrive (1986), his one and only attempt behind a movie camera. Streaming on Netflix, the film is based on the short story “Trucks” from King’s Night Shift collection (which also spawned five other movies). Emilio Estevez leads the cast of characters stranded at a truck stop diner when machines—specifically, big 18-wheelers—come to life and start threatening the humans. Absolutely ridiculous and impossible to take seriously, Maximum Overdrive has gained a reputation as a camp classic. King even enlisted rock band AC/DC to record new music for the movie. Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, and Yeardley Smith co-star.
The twist with the giant monsters in Ron Underwood’s Tremors (1990) is not that they can step on you, but simply that you can never see where they’re going to attack next. The monsters here are giant underground worms that follow vibrations on the surface to find their next meal. Playing a couple of local cowboys, stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are funnier and more likeable characters than this kind of movie ordinarily merits. Underwood and his writers continually invent new ideas to go with the worms, such as the scramble to find safe ground (go higher? Find some concrete?) as well as a couple of redneck characters with their own personal arsenal. The movie is a strong mix of funny and exhilarating, and makes excellent use of wide-open spaces and small-town mentality. Tremors and its three sequels stream for free on ad-supported Crackle.
Available on Netflix, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006), from Korea, is arguably the greatest giant monster movie since the original Godzilla. Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder) plays Park Gang-du, a sad-sack single dad who runs a snack stand by the Han River. In an incredible shot, he and a throng of onlookers observe as a strange sac-like thing drops into the river, and emerges as a full-blown, rampaging monster. To make matters worse, the beast kidnaps Park’s crafty young daughter. The visual effects, created by San Francisco’s The Orphanage, are great, but like all the best monster movies, The Host is really about other things: unemployment, pollution, modern food, the government, the military, and mob mentality—in other words, things that are really scary.
The director of the new Godzilla, Gareth Edwards, made this earlier film for a fraction of the budget, but with some of the same touches. Streaming on Netflix, Monsters (2010) is about a jaded journalist, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), who is ordered to escort his boss’s pretty daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), through a mysterious infected zone in Mexico. It’s a road movie romance, like an updated version of It Happened One Night, except that it features giant alien monsters. Edwards focuses squarely on the characters, and the weirdness is sometimes only barely glimpsed or suggested—at least until the incredible ending. It may have too much talking for monster fans, but viewers looking for something more thoughtful will enjoy it.
An import from Norway, Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter (2010) is one of the many found-footage horror movies inspired by The Blair Witch Project, but this one, which streams on Netflix, is different. Rather than a ghost or a witch or a demon, it’s about (you guessed it!) a giant troll. Three young filmmakers team up with the title troll hunter, played by Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen. They slowly learn about the real-life existence of trolls and the measures that must be taken to hide them from the populace. The movie cooks up an incredible amount of troll lore as well as displaying a wonderful sense of humor; one great joke involves a power station wherein the employees are unaware that their grid runs in a circle and doesn’t go anywhere (it’s really a giant electric fence).