Monsters, or “kaiju” as the Japanese call them, have always been part of the literary and pop-culture canon. Godzilla and King Kong are just two of the most famous examples from the 20th century, and like many monsters before them, embody potent metaphors (Godzilla represents untamed nuclear power while Kong has become a symbol for American industrial conquest). Both are equally beloved. On March 31, Godzilla and King Kong will face off against each other in the fourth film in Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs. Kong. Not too much has been revealed about the film—we know that the two titans will battle, but not necessarily each other.
There have actually been a whooping 36 Godzilla films and 12 King Kong films released over the past eight decades. While each film is fun and has its own unique charms, there are a number that you may want to revisit before watching Godzilla vs. Kong. In chronological order, here are the movies to watch before these two combat each other again.
The film that started it all, the 1933 version of King Kong still remains an impressive piece of cinema. According to Rotten Tomatoes, King Kong is the fourth greatest horror film of all time and has been selected as “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. By today’s standards, King Kong isn’t very scary (he’s kind of cute) but for 1933 audiences, he was terrifying. Kong and his dinosaur enemies were a breakthrough in terms of special effects. The film itself has a rather odd story—a movie director decides to hire a crew, a ship, and a leading lady he just met and head off to a random island in the Pacific. Rumor has it that a giant ape lives on the island, and his plan is to capture it and use it as the star of his movie. It turns out that giant apes don’t like being film stars, and when forced in front of cameras, they escape and wreak havoc in New York. Some of the most famous scenes in pop culture—like King Kong climbing the Empire State Building—come from this film and have been endlessly spoofed.
The film that kicked off the Godzilla franchise, the original Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese, a combination of the words for “whale” and “gorilla”) actually served as an allegory for the nuclear destruction Japan faced at the end of World War II. In the 1954 film, Godzilla is an unstoppable monster who destroys Japan (in one scene, a hospital is full of victims of Godzilla). Godzilla first shows up in Japan after he is discovered on a nearby island, where he’s been crushing the locals. When he makes it to the main island, a reluctant scientist has to decide whether or not to use his new creation, a deadly chemical weapon known as the oxygen destroyer, to take down Godzilla. If he does use his new weapon, he could release a threat far worse than nuclear weapons, but it’s the only way to take Godzilla out. Rumor has it that producing Godzilla nearly destroyed Toho Studios; on the contrary, Godzilla was a huge financial success. There is an American remake of the original Godzilla released in 1956 that added a newscaster and dubbed dialogue, but the Japanese version is stronger as it takes on a different feel, considering what Japan dealt with after WWII.
Where to watch: Both versions are currently streaming on HBO Max.
King Kong and Godzilla have got some long time beef with each other—it goes back to the 60s! This first epic battle between the two greats begins when a submarine hits an iceberg and Godzilla is released once again. The head of a pharmaceutical company then decides that he wants his own monster to gain publicity (advertising was very weird in the 1960s), so he sends out a crew to look for one and lo and behold, they find King Kong. When King Kong and Godzilla first set eyes on each other, they know that it is on. To avoid spoilers, I won’t reveal who wins, but this film was actually meant to be more of a comedy. Both Godzilla and King Kong were toned down, and the battle between the two was meant to be ridiculous. It also marked a milestone for both King Kong and Godzilla: the first time they appeared in color.
Where to watch: The English dubbed version is available for free on YouTube.
There is a high chance that this film will not have anything to do with Godzilla vs. Kong, but it’s still a fun watch. In some twist of fate, Godzilla has a son. (Was Mothra the mother? Was he adopted? The world will never know!) When scientists try to perfect the weather on a tropical island, they get more than they bargained for when Godzilla’s son, Minilla (sometimes translated as Minya), hatches out of an egg and cries for daddy. Godzilla shows up to protect his son and teach him the ways of the Godzilla family, and the two end up battling a giant spider. Minilla was actually designed to be cute, and giving Godzilla a son was meant to humanize him. Awwwww.
Where to watch: Son of Godzilla is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Released on the 20th anniversary of the franchise, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla introduced audiences to Godzilla’s greatest arch enemy: Mechagodzilla. One day, despite becoming friends with humans, Godzilla appears to destroy a Japanese city. The real Godzilla and his buddies go to check out what’s going on, only to discover that there is another Godzilla, a massive robot created by aliens to destroy the Earth. This isn’t the last of the battles between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla—he becomes his nemesis in subsequent films. There may be a few Easter eggs from this film in Kong vs. Godzilla, so keep your eyes peeled for them!
Where to watch: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is currently streaming on HBO Max.
The battle between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla did not end in 1974; the two battled each other in 1975 and again in 1993. It is rumored that Mechagodzilla will make an appearance in Godzilla vs Kong (and that the two titans may team up against him). In this particular battle, yet another Godzilla goes on the attack and the Japanese government decides to build another Mechagodzilla to take him down. While not the most brilliant Godzilla release, it could impact the upcoming film, so it is worth a watch.
Where to watch: Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla is available for rent on multiple streaming services.
After making the Lord of the Rings films, Peter Jackson decided to follow up with another epic—a period remake of the original King Kong (the second such attempt, after a 1976 modernization). Jackson’s version was far more expensive and expansive than the original, but kept its basic story structure. Naomi Watts stars as Ann Darrow, the star of the fictional film-within-a-film and King Kong’s paramour, while Jack Black plays the ambitious director. This version of King Kong received mixed reviews, with some critics praising its visual design and performances, while others found fault in its unnecessarily long three-hour runtime and the problematic stereotypes inherited from the original. Although this film will probably not be connected to the new one, it’s still worth a watch. The special effects are impressive and Jack Black is deliciously devious.
The MonsterVerse Movies:
There are technically three films in the MonsterVerse so far: Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). All three of these films precede Godzilla vs Kong and most likely will connect with the new film.
Where to watch: All three films are currently available on HBO Max and for rent on multiple streaming platforms.
In the first film, Godzilla—the fourth reboot of the Godzilla franchise and only the second to be made outside of Japan—a soldier attempts to return to his family amidst the battle between Godzilla and two parasitic monsters in San Francisco. While the film was a success (and launched the various sequels), quite a few fans felt that there wasn’t enough Godzilla in it. It’s a fair criticism—every Godzilla film should have plenty of Godzilla—especially considering it was supposed to be inspired by the original Godzilla.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
The second film, Kong: Skull Island, shifts away from Godzilla to the other title monster: King Kong. Like Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island is a reboot of the original franchise. Set in 1973, a group of scientists and soldiers (including Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, and John Goodman) travel to the mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter an enormous ape who is the last of its species (guess who!). Kong: Skull Island was even more popular than Godzilla and has been considered to be the most fun of the MonsterVerse movies. Be sure to stick around after the credits for a bonus scene teasing future monster encounters.
The third film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a direct sequel to 2014’s Godzilla. In the film, a zoo agency realizes that they need the help of Godzilla and Mothra to defeat King Ghidorah, a three-headed monster who awakens various other monsters. It has been the least popular of the MonsterVerse movies and received negative reviews; however, it does factor into Godzilla vs Kong. Like Skull Island, this one hints at an epic showdown between the two monsters if you pay attention to the closing credits.
Godzilla vs. Kong will be released on HBO Max (and in some theaters as well) on March 31st, so pop some popcorn, grab some candy, and watch these films to prepare for the epic battle!