Godzilla: King of the Monsters calls the titular lizard behemoth’s royalty into question when it pits him and other titans Rodan and Mothra against an even larger three-headed monster, whose name just happens to be King Ghidorah. Obviously there’s going to be some abdication of some sort in the movie. And this isn’t a new rivalry; Ghidorah has gone toe to toe with Godzilla many times over the past 50 years, and has been his most consistent main antagonist from the very start, though his origins have changed over time.
King Ghidorah’s first appearance is in the 1964 movie appropriately named Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Americanized to “Ghidrah” for the U.S. release), wherein he is a Galactus-like world-devouring entity who has just destroyed the civilization of Venus (this was pre-moon landing, so humanity still thought dumb stuff) and now was headed to Earth. A Venusian emissary takes over the body of a princess from a small island nation (who also happens to be the target of the Yakuza) and acts as a harbinger of Ghidorah’s coming.It’s up to Mothra’s daughter (still in larva form) to convince the hapless and petty Godzilla and Rodan to stop fighting each other and help her save the planet. All of this dialogue is depicted via sound effects and puppeteers and suit-performers gyrating around while the two twin faeries who worship Mothra (yes, guys, this mythology is effed) translate. But ultimately Godzilla and Rodan team up with Mothra to destroy Ghidorah, but the fight doesn’t stop there.
In the very next movie, 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, where astronauts go to Planet X and meet benevolent human-like beings called the Xiliens, and are immediately attacked by a monster they call “Monster Zero,” but whom the astronauts recognize as King Ghidorah. The Xiliens awaken Godzilla and Rodan and teleport them to Planet X to fight Ghidorah, which they do, but no sooner have the astronauts returned home do the Xiliens say they’re going to send all three monsters to destroy Earth if humanity doesn’t surrender. Not cool, bros.He’s back for 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, effectively as the endgame pawn of another alien race. The film’s story features aliens known as Kilaaks, who have released the giant monsters from Monster Island (including Godzilla, Rodan, and Anguirus) and have planted mind-control devices on the monsters to control them. The monsters are eventually freed from the mind control, which leads the aliens to release King Ghidorah from space to challenge them. And in 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan, Ghidorah yet again is the puppet of alien invaders, this time even playing second banana to new foe, Gigan.
Ghidorah returned in the rebooted ’80s and ’90s continuity of Godzilla films in 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, where the creature’s backstory was totally rewritten to make him a genetically modified merging of three different lizard creatures from the twenty-third century, sent back in time to take over Japan and prevent their economic domination of the future (yes, really), but first removing the dinosaur that would eventually become Godzilla. Scientists then had to recreate Godzilla from whole cloth to oppose King Ghidorah. This would prove to be Ghidorah’s only appearance in this continuity.He did return, however, in the 1998 film Rebirth of Mothra III, the third part in a separate series of movies just about, you guessed it, Mothra.
In this film, Ghidorah is back to being a space monster, thought to be the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and Mothra does a lot of evolving and changing form in order to fight Ghidorah in two separate time periods.
King Ghidorah appeared one last time in Toho films with 2001’s mouthful,Â Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, part of yet another rebooted continuity. In this version, Godzilla is back to being a terrible monster who needs to be stopped, and it’s up to Earth’s ancient planetary defenders, Barugon, Mothra, and Ghidorah, to stop him. Godzilla beats Barugon and kills Mothra, but her spirit merges with Ghidorah to become King Ghidorah, and then some even weirder stuff happens. Honestly, this movie’s insane.
And that leads us to now. In 2018, Ghidorah appeared as the main antagonist in Godzilla: The Planet Eater, the third and final part of the CGI anime trilogy of movies of Godzilla on an alien planet. And next year, of course, King Ghidorah appears yet again as the biggest (literally) threat to Earth as he takes on Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it looks like Ghidorah will be another long-dormant elemental titan rising due to Godzilla’s awakening. A three-headed dragon is always bad news, so Godzilla, who, as far as we know, only has one head, will have his work cut out for him.
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Image: Toho/Legendary/Warner Bros
Kyle Anderson is the Editor at Large for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!