When it comes to the question of which character has the best rogue’s gallery, most people immediately go with Batman or Spider-Man. Some of the more initiated might even go with The Flash. But be encouraged to think bigger, much bigger.
Over 59 years, and four eras — Showa, Heisei, Millennium, and Reiwa — Godzilla has faced many threats. While some have proven to be more memorable than others, they’ve all worked in the service of Godzilla’s longevity and legacy. Much of Godzilla’s lasting appeal, and how he subsists in pop culture, is due to the popular “Godzilla vs.” concept that has seen some of his greatest adversaries rebooted and reimagined through the eras, alongside the creation of new enemies — a more difficult but no less necessary endeavor.
As Godzilla’s popularity continues to grow, irradiated by recent releases like Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Godzilla: Minus One, and the upcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, now feels like the perfect time to look back on the greatest monsters Godzilla has fought against and allied himself with.
1. King Ghidorah
Ghidorah carries the title of king for a reason. Since his first appearance in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), the three-headed dragon cemented himself as Godzilla’s arch-nemesis and a true threat to his dominance on Earth. Co-creator Ishiro Honda based Ghidorah’s design on the mythological Japanese dragon, Yamata no Orochi, and equipped the creature with gravity beams, and later chain-lighting attacks. Whenever the battle comes down to the two giant lizards, audiences are in for a brutal showdown, and because of his popularity, he’s appeared in a total of nine films. The monster’s origin has changed over the years, depending on the era of Godzilla films. He’s been an alien, a result of a time travel experiment, and an extra-dimensional god. But regardless of those origins, Ghidorah has always been depicted as an unnatural outsider, a foil to Godzilla’s frequent status as Earth’s righteous fury. The three heads also allow for some of the franchise’s most creative battles, as seen in Destroy All Monsters (1968), and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) upped the ante by giving each of Ghidorah’s heads a distinct personality, an aspect that will hopefully continue in future appearances.
Arguably one of the best-designed kaiju in the history of cinema, Biollante is a true work of art, with an incredible origin story. In Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), the monster is the result of a grieving scientist merging his daughter’s cells with a rose, and later Godzilla’s cells, leading to a stunning evolutionary process that may be the closest a Godzilla film has gotten into Cronenberg territory. Off-screen, the monster was the result of a story proposal competition for a Godzilla movie. The winner, Shinichiro Kobayashi, a dentist who had submitted designs and story pitches for high school, developed the concept for Biollante after contemplating the hypothetical death of his daughter. The monster went through a heavily documented design process, incorporating Kobayashi’s designs, and those of the concept artists, all working into the film’s budget and practical suit design. The result proved to be iconic and had long-lasting repercussions through the rest of the Hesei era, despite never making another appearance in film since.
The beast that nearly felled the King of the Monsters. Destroyah’s origin goes back to Godzilla (1954) and a weapon known as the Oxygen Destroyer that was used to defeat the original Godzilla. In Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995), the Oxygen Destroyer is revealed to have had an unintended consequence, as weapons of mass destruction always do, and released a colony of Precambrian crustaceans trapped in the Earth. The crustaceans mutated over 40 years, before rising to the surface, first as separate, independent mutant creatures driven by a hivemind and then later, with the help of Godzilla Jr’s DNA, as a giant, monstrosity that looks like something escaped from hell. Not only is Destroyah incredibly durable and able to withstand Godzilla’s atomic blast, but he also proves to be more than a physical adversary by getting into Godzilla’s head by killing his son, Godzilla Jr., which furthers Godzilla’s descent into nuclear meltdown, which ultimately proves catastrophic to Destroyah’s survival.
4. King Kong
Ghidorah’s not the only king to come for Godzilla’s throne. Kong’s relationship with Godzilla is an interesting one, particularly since he’s one of the only monsters that didn’t derive from Toho. The giant gorilla, who first debuted in King Kong (1933), would go on to inspire the creation of Godzilla given the film’s successful rerelease in 1952. And much like Kong, Godzilla’s death in his debut film didn’t slow down the franchise. The two monsters would cross paths in each monster’s respective third film, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), which ultimately saw Kong emerge as the victor. The event became what is to this day the highest box office attendance for a Godzilla film in Japan’s history. The battle delivered one of the monsters’ most famous scenes, since turned into a meme, which features Kong shoving a tree trunk down Godzilla’s throat. Though Kong would get one more Toho film, King Kong Escapes (1967), sans Godzilla, the two would trade blows again courtesy of Hollywood’s Monsterverse franchise. In Godzilla vs Kong (2021), Godzilla finally wins. But their business with each other is hardly done, as the two will meet again in 2024’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.
Before she crossed paths with Godzilla, Mothra had her own storied history. The giant moth goddess debuted in the serialized novel, The Luminous Fairies and Mothra (1961), which was quickly adapted into the film, Mothra (1961). She emerged as Japan’s second most popular monster, after Godzilla, earning the title Queen of the Monsters. When the two crossed over three years later, Mothra got first billing in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). The two come into conflict when Godzilla poses a threat to her unhatched egg. Mothra is killed in the battle but lives on through her twin larvae who eventually defeat Godzilla. One of those larvae matures to become the new Mothra and eventually aids Godzilla in his battles against Ghidorah and others. Unlike most of Godzilla’s adversaries and allies, Mothra isn’t the result of science gone wrong but of mysticism. She is frequently accompanied by the Shobijin, twin fairy priestesses who call on Mothra’s aid to protect the world. Mothra is one of the most enduring Godzilla monsters, appearing in 13 Godzilla movies, as well as leading her own trilogy, Rebirth of Mothra, in the 90s.
Hedorah is trash. No, literally: He’s a giant trash monster. A microscopic alien life form who arrived on Earth via a comet, Hedorah fed off of Earth’s pollution and trash, growing in size, and developing the ability to spread toxic smog across Japan, as well as an acidic touch. First appearing in Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Hedorah was director Yoshimitsu Banno’s means to explore a potentially world-ending contemporary crisis through giant monsters, much in the same way Godzilla (1954) did. But Godzilla vs. Hedorah is more than just a message movie. Despite the singing hippies, it also features one of Godzilla’s most brutal battles. Hedorah not only takes one of Godzilla’s eyes, but he also burns his hand down to the bone. It’s a bloody fight, that Godzilla only manages to survive with the help of the JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Forces). But in the end, rather than gratitude, Godzilla casts a look of disgust and blame at the humans for once again jeopardizing the Earth through their responsibility. Hedorah would appear again in a minor role in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), but if there’s any monster on this list ripe for a modern interpretation, it’s Hedorah.
Is he more machine than monster? Regardless, Mechagodzilla is one of Godzilla’s strongest and most popular adversaries. The co-creator of Godzilla, and producer of the franchise during the Showa and Hesei era, Tomoyuki Tanaka, was inspired to create Mechagodzilla following Mechani-Kong’s appearance in King Kong Escapes, and the rise in robot anime series. A rather late addition to Godzilla’s most recognizable foes, Mechagodzilla made his debut in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), which proved to be such a hit that the mechanical monstrosity was brought back in the subsequent sequel, Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Originally, Mechagodzilla was a weapon designed by aliens to first turn the public against Godzilla, who had by this time emerged as a protector, and then destroy him. When the ’90s rolled around and Godzilla was rebooted and back in his original villainous depiction, Mechagodzilla was reimagined as a weapon for the Japanese government piloted by humans. By the 2000s Millenium era, Mechagodzilla was once again reimagined as a cyborg whose metallic body was built over the original Godzilla’s bones and housed those genetic memories. That iteration of the character fully emerged as the hero, even earning a more personable name, Kiryu.
Gigan is pure chaos and violence, essentially fulfilling the role of Godzilla’s Joker, though appearing far less frequently than DC’s Clown Prince of Crime. The monster makes no logical sense anatomically, but despite that Gigan has managed to put Godzilla through the wringer like few other adversaries. Gigan made his debut in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), a film that not only had Godzilla face off against the sadistic cyborg lizard, but also King Ghidorah. The result remains one of Godzilla’s bloodiest battles. Gigan holds the distinction of being the first monster to make Godzilla bleed onscreen. A weapon for the Nebula aliens, cockroach-like creatures who take over the identities of deceased civilians, Gigan sports metallic hooks for hands, a giant buzzsaw in his abdomen, and a cyclopean laser eye. Despite his memorable design and being a true threat to Godzilla’s existence, Gigan has gone underutilized, having only appeared in three Godzilla films, with the most recent being Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). It feels like he’s past due to make a comeback.
Like Mothra, Rodan had a solo feature before he ever crossed paths with Godzilla. First debuting in Ishiro Honda’s Rodan (1956), the giant, irradiated Pteranodon and his female partner wreaked havoc on Japan before being buried in a crater. The male Rodan managed to survive and would first cross paths with Godzilla in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Though the two are originally enemies, Mothra convinces Godzilla and Rodan to work together to fight King Ghidorah. Though put in a tough spot, having to stand out between almighty power and the popularity of Godzilla and Ghidorah, and never getting featured in a Godzilla vs. Rodan movie like the rest of Godzilla’s most popular monsters, Rodan managed to carve out a space for himself as a beloved ally during the Showa era films. Following the Showa era, Rodan was once again put in the position of ally. In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Rodan watches over BabyGodzilla’s egg. Despite an initial misunderstanding and the ensuing battle between the two, Rodan succumbs to his injuries from Mechagodzilla’s attack and gives Godzilla his remaining life force to defeat the giant military robot, cementing his status as Godzilla’s most powerful ally.
The Millenium era kicked off with an entirely original threat to Godzilla, and although it shared elements with past Godzilla adversaries, particularly those of the Hesei era, Orga still posed a memorable threat. In Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), an advanced alien race known as the Millennians (Toho really drives home the impending turn of the century, if you couldn’t tell) combines their genetic mass into a single being. Unable to survive in Earth’s atmosphere, they seek a genetic sequence that will not only allow them to survive on Earth but also conquer it. Of course, that genetic sequence belongs to none other than Godzilla. In absorbing Godzilla’s DNA, the Millennians hoped to become a perfect clone of Godzilla. But, given that Godzilla’s DNA is irradiated, the absorption instead turns them into a hulking monstrosity. To fully absorb Godzilla, the Orga, possessing giant snake-like jaws, attempts to devour Godzilla. Once Godzilla is in the jaws of the beast, he unleashes his atomic breath and annihilates Orga’s top half, killing the alien monster.
Here we arrive at the middle tier of Godzilla monsters. Known as one of Godzilla’s most cunning adversaries, SpaceGodzilla first appeared in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994). In the film, it’s theorized that Godzilla’s cells made their way to space, a result of his previous battles with Biollante or Mothra, and entered a black hole, before emerging from a white hole and evolved by developing the crystalline structure of the organisms surrounding him. This is all a very silly way to explain why SpaceGodzilla has giant crystals that shoot energy beams protruding from his shoulders. The shorter explanation is simply that the crystals look cool… up to a point. Things start getting a little crystal crazy when SpaceGodzilla starts revealing other abilities like a crystal shield, conjuring crystals out of the ground, and flying by way of — you guessed it — more crystals. Oh, and he also has telekinesis and can throw Godzilla with the use of his “Gravity Tornado.” The fact that SpaceGodzilla is so overpowered does make Godzilla’s victory over him all the sweeter, though admittedly the JSDF’s robot MOGUERA put in most of the work by destroying SpaceGodzilla’s shoulder crystals.
Baragon, sometimes referred to as “Red Godzilla” first made his debut in Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), which to this day remains the only film where he receives a titular billing. Toho’s version of Frankenstein’s monster is a giant as a result of his heart being irradiated by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Baragon, who can burrow underground begins killing and eating livestock in Japan, actions for which Frankenstein is blamed. Eventually, the two come to blows, and Baragon is trapped with the earth. Baragon later makes his Godzilla franchise debut in Destroy All Monsters (1968), where he is controlled by aliens and forced to attack Paris. The character’s true time to shine though came in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), in which Baragon finally has a worthy battle against Godzilla, which he loses, he’s also revealed to be one of three guardian spirits of Japan, upping his status in the realm of monsters.
Another underutilized adversary who made a strong impression is Ebirah, a giant crustacean irradiated by the activities of the Red Bamboo terrorist organization. Originally meant to be the adversary in Toho’s Kong solo film, which became King Kong Escapes, rights holders Rankin and Bass wanted a story that stuck closer to their animated television series, The King Kong Show. So, instead, Godzilla was written into Kong’s role and Ebirah made his debut in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966). Given the island setting and the pulp adventure tone, centered around a group of boys searching for their missing friend, it’s quite obvious that Horror of the Deep was meant to be a Kong film. And Ebirah himself would’ve worked better and posed a bigger threat to Kong than Godzilla, who not only handily defeats him twice but also rips both his claws off. But without Toho’s King Kong film going in the direction it did, Mechagodzilla may never have been conceived. Though Ebirah has only made brief appearances, he feels like the perfect option to finally battle Kong within the Monsterverse franchise. Sure, he’s not the most skilled fighter against Godzilla, but he ranks higher than others on this list because you simply can’t go wrong with a giant crab-lobster monstrosity.
Godzilla (2014) brought the giant lizard back to Hollywood, and along with him came two new adversaries: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, or MUTOs. They’re revealed to be the adult hatchlings of prehistoric parasites that wiped out most of Godzilla’s kind and laid eggs in their carcasses. Reawakened by a mining operation in the Philippines, the MUTOs began feeding on nuclear reactors across the globe so that the larger female MUTO could reproduce. Sensing a threat to his existence and that of the world, Godzilla rises from the oceans, revealing himself to the modern world, and begins hunting the parasitic organisms, wreaking havoc and being confronted by the military along the way. While they certainly aren’t in the same realm as Godzilla’s most iconic adversaries, they do have grounded motives that fit within the Monsterverse’s ongoing theme of balancing the natural order of the world. The fact that the MUTOs create an imbalance in that system leads to a spectacular showdown with Godzilla that sees him use his atomic breath onscreen for the first time in ten years. While there’s still some debate over whether the MUTOs were the best choice for the film instead of a familiar nemesis, they proved to be the kind of threat that allowed Godzilla to be the true showcase.
Anguirus holds the distinction of being the first monster Godzilla ever fought on screen. The Ankylosaurus and armadillo-inspired reptilian monster debuted in Godzilla’s first sequel, Godzilla Raids Again (1955). The film is a significant departure in tone, theme and quality from the 1954 film, but it also established the “Godzilla vs.” formula that constitutes so much of the franchise. The fight between the two in Raids Again isn’t all that exciting, with Godzilla tearing out Anguirus’ neck and then lighting him on fire with his atomic breath in an all too quick act of overkill. But it’s the second Anguirus who first appeared in Destroy All Monsters (1968) who is best remembered. This version of Anguirus is the BFF and stalwart ally of Godzilla. He backs Godzilla in some of his biggest fights and goes toe-to-toe with King Ghidorah, Gigan and Mechagodzilla. Now, none of this is to say he fares particularly well in any of these battles, but it’s the thought and willingness to go into battle that counts. That’s what friends are for.
With Megaguirus, we reach the bottom tier of Godzilla monsters. The giant insect queen first debuted in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. When prehistoric dragonflies, called Meganula, are brought to the present by a black hole experiment, they emerge from flood waters in Tokyo. Immediately, they began wreaking havoc on the civilians, feeding on them… until they found a larger target to feed off of. The Meganula absorb Godzilla’s energy and transfer it to their Queen, transforming her into a giant reptilian dragonfly with a giant stinger. She shares a notable design similarity with Mothra’s minor male counterpart Battra, and is probably worthy of the same lack of investment outside of the fact she gets a title billing. Megaguirus seeks out Godzilla to drain the rest of his energy but proves no match for the King of the Monsters. While Megaguirus’ design is cool, the final battle between the two leaves a lot to be desired and is one of the least exciting of the franchise, mostly consisting of Megaguirus flying back and forth, attempting to confuse Godzilla until he takes her out with two atomic breath blasts.
17. King Caesar
The ancient guardian deity who allied himself with Godzilla first appeared in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Awakened by a mystical statue, King Ceasar aided Godzilla in the fight against Mechagodzilla, eventually defeating the alien robot. While he was originally set to be part of a trio of allies in the fight, alongside Anguirus and Godzilla, Anguirus’ role in the film was significantly reduced, an unfortunate outcome for his years of loyalty. Though King Caesar proves to be a capable warrior, it’s difficult to get past how silly the character looks, with his design failing to make the reptilian dog creature look threatening or composed of much other than used wig parts.
The aquatic dinosaur who was the subject of the mad scientist, Dr. Shinzo Mafune’s control experiments debuted in Terror of Mechagodzilla. After being disgraced by the scientific community, Mafune partners with the Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens who plan to use Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla 2 to take over Earth and turn it into a utopia of their design. Though Titanosaurus does stand out thanks to his aquatic fins and red skin, he proves to be a very weak enemy whom Godzilla easily dispatches by throwing him off a cliff. The monster hasn’t been used again since, outside of stock footage, and it’s understandable why.
Megalon is the guardian of the Atlantis-inspired undersea kingdom of Seatopia and first appeared in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). Megalon appears to resemble some kind of insect with drills for arms, making him an anatomical mess but not in a fun way like Gigan. No designer has ever taken credit for Megalon, which in itself speaks volumes. The film ends up being far more of a Jet Jaguar film than a Godzilla one, with the size-changing robot doing most of the fighting against Megalon, sent by Seatopians to get revenge on humanity for their atomic tests damaging the underwater sea. Megalon proves to be neither particularly smart nor capable and even when backed by Gigan manages to be overwhelmed by the combined might of Jet Jaguar and Godzilla. Megalon helped hasten the end of the Showa Godzilla series, which was only kept alive for two more movies thanks to the arrival of Mechagodzilla.
A monster dreamed up by a young, bullied boy’s imagination, Gabara first appeared in All Monsters Attack (1969), considered by many Godzilla fans to be one of the worst films in the franchise. When latchkey kid Ichiro is bullied at school by a classmate named Gabara, he imagines visiting Monster Island where he helps Godzilla’s son Minilla deal with the larger bully Gabara, a reptilian troll-like creature with the ability to channel electricity through his body. Minilla defeats him by luring him to a monster-sized teeter totter and launching him into the air. When he later attempts to bite Godzilla, the King of the Monsters delivers a beatdown, causing Gabara to run off in shame. While many Godzilla films have sought to appeal to a younger audience, Gabara feels just too juvenile to take seriously as a threat. And the story revolving around defeating bullies feels too simplistic to carry much weight. At least the fact that he only exists in a boy’s imagination offers some small comfort in that he doesn’t exist at all.