The Long History of Godzilla's Cinematic Looks

The Long History of Godzilla's Cinematic Looks

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Godzilla’s been through quite some changes over the years.
Screenshot: Toho, Tristar, and Legendary Pictures

Godzilla isn’t just a monster movie icon, the king of all kaiju: he is a king of looks too. In the nearly seven decades he’s been stomping around the box office, Godzilla’s gone through more appearances than most cinematic legends ever could. From his earliest days to his upcoming smashup with Kong in Warner’s Westernized reboot, here’s a trip through the Big G’s wardrobe history.

James is a News Editor at io9, where you can find him delivering your morning spoilers, writing about superheroes, and having many feelings about Star Wars. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla (1954)

Illustration for article titled The Long History of Godzilla's Cinematic Looks
Screenshot: Toho

The original, and still an icon. His big, almost-googly eyes are weirdly cute for what is meant to be an imposing, horrifying creature, but he’s the standard to set all other ‘zillas against.

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Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

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Screenshot: Toho

For his follow-up, Godzilla got some minor tweaks—new eyes, which meant he could actually look forward, which is a useful upgrade for a kaiju, and a svelte form and a more detailed, smaller head.

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King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

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Screenshot: Toho

Not to be confused with the upcoming Western slugfest with an inverted name, the first time Godzilla went up against Kong saw him get a design overhaul that bulked him up and gave him more reptilian features. He lost his ears too, a design feature that wouldn’t return for over 20 years.

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Mothra vs. Godzilla (1963)

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1963)

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Screenshot: Toho

Bringing back the pronounced brow of the original suit, this Godzilla also did some working out after his battle with Kong. Though it’s slightly less bulky than the older suit, this is the first time we see a Godzilla with sharper, pronounced muscle definition on his chest and around his knees.

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Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

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Screenshot: Toho

The suit in Big G’s first tussle with the legendary Ghidorah is very close to the one that had appeared prior—the body is essentially the same. The head gets some minor design tweaks, thanks to its predecessor being heavily damaged during production on Mothra vs. Godzilla, shortening his snout and giving him a longer tongue in the process.

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Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)

Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)

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Screenshot: Toho

Once again similar to its predecessors, this Godzilla is more of a streamlining than a big overhaul: his shape is generally softer, slimming down a bit more and giving him a round face in the process. Even his claws got a trim, becoming less pronounced.

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Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

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Screenshot: Toho

The biggest changes for Horror of the Deep are once again around Godzilla’s head. This time, aside from more detailed eyes with smaller pupils, Godzilla loses his angry brow again, creating a slightly less miffed-looking monster.

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Son of Godzilla (1967)

Son of Godzilla (1967)

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Screenshot: Toho

In order to match the cutesy look of his son, this Godzilla got some major head overhauls. As well as a longer neck to allow the new dad to tower over his kiddo, Son of Godzilla’s Big G looks strangely human, with cartoony eyebrows, larger eyes, and a smaller nose in his rounded face.

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Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

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Screenshot: Toho

Destroy All Monsters brings Godzilla back in a much more fearsome direction, with angular eyes and the return of his mean-looking prominent browline.

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Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

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Screenshot: Toho

Another streamlined design, this is one of the slimmest Godzillas since the original—even his back spines got smaller, rounded updates. But once again, the head is where you really see the most difference. Godzilla’s got huge pupils this time, as well as not quite individual brows...more like one massive monobrow instead. Puffy cheeks and an overall rounded aesthetic make him maybe the cutest Godzilla of them all!

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The Return of Godzilla (1984)

The Return of Godzilla (1984)

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Screenshot: Toho

Godzilla took a decade off in the mid-‘70s, and when he returned, he got a suitably refreshing makeover. Gone was the cutesy heroic figure of the late Shōwa films; this Godzilla was once again a mean, angry antagonist, with a design to match. Evocative of the original 1954 design, this Godzilla had larger teeth, an extra digit on his feet, and a return to the smaller pupils.

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Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

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Screenshot: Toho

A few films later, Godzilla once again got a pretty radical overhaul that would set the tone for the rest of the Heisei films. A muscled body, a smaller head, and a longer neck, as well as some larger dorsal plates. This one also got a head tweak—bringing back Godzilla’s ears for the first time since the ‘60s, reducing the size of his eyes, and also giving him a prominent set of sharp teeth.

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Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

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Screenshot: Toho

While very similar to vs. Biollante’s suit, this one amplifies the changes made there for an even bulkier, meaner-looking Godzilla. This Kaiju got swole.

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Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

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Screenshot: Toho

Going up against Mothra again saw Godzilla get a little less ‘roided and more trim, keeping a lot of the definition in his muscles but just with less size. That is, except for his neck, which got more defined and thicker, to match a flatter head—which this time had larger, golden eyes.

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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

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Screenshot: Toho

Very similar to the last suit, this Godzilla is more defined, with a slimmer figure giving way to much more prominent musculature. Of special note for this suit is that Godzilla’s tail got much more flexible, being able to be posed in more dynamic positions in action sequences.

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Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

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Screenshot: Toho

Godzilla really does go through cycles of bulking and cutting, doesn’t he? This Godzilla is big in all ways: bigger eyes; a bigger, wider brow and cheeks; and then a body that is almost a triangle of grade-A kaiju beef. This is also the one that transforms into the glowing, volcanic-patch-strewn “Burning Godzilla,” an awesome tweak.

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Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998)

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Screenshot: Tristar

Ah yes, Godzilla goes West. People may malign the Roland Emmerich take on Godzilla, but hey, it has to be mentioned! A radical divergence from the Japanese designs, this Godzilla is much more like a giant dinosaur in comparison—moving like a therapod instead of the more upright Godzilla we’d seen for decades. The face, in contrast to traditional Godzilla designs, favors a more prominent jaw.

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Godzilla 2000 (1999)

Godzilla 2000 (1999)

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Screenshot: Toho

Back over in Japan, meanwhile, Godzilla rang out the 20th century with another slim down. Much svelter compared to the ‘94 suit—except for its much larger, sharper dorsal plates—2000's Godzilla also got a mean face redesign, slimming out his cheeks in lieu of a massive mouth, as well as a flatter brow and snout.

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Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

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Screenshot: Toho

The first Godzilla of the 21st century features a lot of throwbacks to his earliest designs—his musculature is much less defined, and his brightened dorsal plates were rounded back out to evoke the classic Godzilla. A minor but standout twist here is that Godzilla lost the pupils from his eyes, giving him a sinister, almost alien look.

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Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

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Screenshot: Toho

A year later though, Godzilla went back to his 2000 look for inspiration, bringing back the more jagged dorsal plates, and a flatter, sharper head—albeit smaller than 2000 version, and more inline with the earlier Heisei designs.

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Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

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Screenshot: Toho

To celebrate 50 years of stomping over Japan, Godzilla got one of his most radical redesigns yet. Perhaps the sleekest he’s ever been, this Godzilla’s slimline arms, legs, and torso make him stand much straighter than his predecessors, with smaller dorsal plates to match. Like Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, his eyes are missing pupils again, except now they’re an angry shade of red.

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Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla (2014)

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Screenshot: Legendary

We had plenty of thicc Godzillas before the Big G’s second Western reboot, but Legendary’s take on Godzilla is thicc. Much more hunched than most Godzillas, this brute of a Kaiju has a flattened, reptilian head, a large snout, and some mean, sharp dorsal fins. Combined with a stockier neck and the aforementioned bulk, it was no wonder fans were shocked at his girth—but for as little as we got to see him in Gareth Edward’s movie, the design has become a monster hit.

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Shin Godzilla (2016)

Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Screenshot: Toho

Meanwhile, over in Japan, Godzilla once again went through a significant overhaul. Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s take on Godzilla had multiple evolutions, but his final and most infamous form is perhaps one of the most freaky, alien Godzilla designs yet. With small sunken eyes, an elongated tail (that culminated in a bizarre second “face”), and a strangely emaciated body shape, Shin Godzilla is also covered in red lesions to further amplify his grotesque appearance.

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017)

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017)

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Screenshot: Toho

Godzilla’s first animated theatrical release in Polygon Pictures’ trilogy (released internationally on Netflix) re-imagines the kaiju as an almost plant-like personification of natural life on a future Earth that has been abandoned by humanity for centuries. When human colonists return to their ancestral home, they find a Godzilla that is in many ways kind of similar to the Legendary Godzilla—albeit with slimmer legs, as well as a much more severe musculature and a strange, fibrous texture that makes him look like a living tree.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

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Screenshot: Legendary

The Godzilla of King of the Monsters—and this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong—is subtly updated from his 2014 appearance. While mostly the same as 2014's design, its dorsal plates are redesigned to be more evocative of the original 1954 Godzilla, and his face has been given a slightly more prominent brow in the process.

Which has been your favorite Big G design?


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James is a News Editor at io9, where you can find him delivering your morning spoilers, writing about superheroes, and having many feelings about Star Wars. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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