3 Ways Godzilla Had The First Cinematic Universe

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Not too long ago, Legendary Pictures announced that they were launching something like a “Shared Cinematic Universe” based around the Godzilla franchise, where he would encounter King Kong and other famous giant monsters. Everyone was super excited, but this isn’t the first time this happened to Godzilla. In fact, the old Godzilla series is really the original Marvel-style “Cinematic Universe”! Things aren’t so different from the 60s and 70s, as much as we might think. Here are a few striking parallels to get you psyched up about Godzilla movies old and new:

It introduced important characters in their own films before putting them together.

Not pictured: cold hard grim science fiction; Credit: Toho Co. Ltd.

The original 1954 Godzilla was perhaps a few shades too grim and emotionally draining to expect it to kick off a series of science fantasies the way that it did. A thoughtful reflection on nuclear war and testing tends to be a bummer. And yet, the character of Godzilla was so popular that a sequel followed in 1955. After that, he took a break and allowed the likes of Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961) to come forward.

Marvel, at least in the beginning, thought they needed to introduce each super hero in their own film, each with its unique tone and characters. Toho, in either a remarkable fit of prescience, or sheer dumb luck, ended up doing the same with its monsters. Mothra is a creature of magic, and is found on a mysterious South Seas island alongside tiny fairy priestesses and glowing magic symbols. Rodan is the ugly prehistoric secret lurking within a collapsing mine. Godzilla is a towering mutant from the depths of the ocean. These things don’t really go together, and yet, they inevitably do, thanks to some real creative writing. Mothra vs. Godzilla merged two of them in 1964, and Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster brought in Rodan later that year. (You could almost call that one the Avengers of the Godzilla Universe, where our monsters reluctantly team up to take down an all-powerful threat from the depths of space. I don’t know if Tom Hiddleston has as much sex appeal as Ghidorah, though.)

It gave serious actors a chance to have fun and participate in big budget epics.

Surviving WWII and then a giant atomic dinosaur can really put a damper on a man’s decade; Credit: Toho Co. Ltd.

Prior to Iron Man, not too many well-respected actors would jump at the chance to be a super hero on film. It happened, sure, but Robert Downey Jr. really led the way and showed everyone that playing in this larger-than-life mythology was both fun and had a massive impact on our popular culture. These days, everyone seems to have a good time playing in the worlds of super heroes.

The Godzilla Universe was very much like that for Japanese actors of the time! Takashi Shimura, who leads in the classic Akira Kurosawa movies Ikiru and Seven Samurai, does a wonderful job with his role in the original Godzilla. Yoshio Tsuchiya, another Kurosawa regular, not only starred in several Godzilla movies, but had tremendous sentimental feeling about them. When he was brought out of retirement for a 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, he had this to say about it: “Godzilla means something very special to me. I’m as proud of my Godzilla films as much as anything I did.” The impact Godzilla had on world culture, and the excitement of being in a Godzilla movie was absolutely worth the teasing to all these actors, even decades later!

It answered “What-ifs?” that cinema-goers worldwide wanted the answer to.

You know what I miss about old movie posters? Shameless boasting. Or maybe their really shaky sense of scale; Credit: Universal Pictures

From the moment the Marvel Cinematic Universe got rolling, fans were always speculating about what the next surprise cameo, team-up, or villain would be. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got to see Dr. Strange in the next one?” “I’d love to see Thor take on The Enchantress!” You might be surprised at the similar kind of popularity movie monsters held in the 1960s. The most popular toys, songs, cartoons, and magazines of the time were flooded with them, and there was definitely a desire to see King Kong and Godzilla go to bat.

At the time, the idea of such a crossover was basically unheard of, especially with two different rights holders in two different countries, but some bewildering coincidences allowed it to happen. King Kong vs. Godzilla set a box office record in Japan and made brisk business in the US as well, and remained the golden standard of movie geek wish fulfillment for many decades. It’s one of those movies which, even if you’ve never seen it, just feels natural that it exists. A world without King Kong vs. Godzilla is a sadder world indeed, so I guess we should be happy that we might soon have two!

(Editor’s note: Geek & Sundry is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.)
Featured image credit: Toho Co. Ltd.

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