In November, we celebrated Godzilla’s 63rd birthday. The big guy with atomic breath is still going strong with his recent series reboots in Japan and in the United States. Doesn’t look a day over 55. But in December, we must celebrate the anniversary of his first and greatest nemesis: King Ghidorah! Let’s go through a little kaiju history…
Godzilla (or Gojira as it is known in Japanese) debuted in Japan on November 3rd, 1954 as a horrifying allegory for the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just nine years prior. The irradiated, furious daikaiju (“giant kaiju”) came to represent the devastating aftermath of the nuclear bombings on Japan, psychologically and physically. By the time the movie hit American shores it suffered from some edits to make it more relatable to American audiences, so the message isn’t quite as powerful for the people who really needed to see it, unfortunately.
For his first three four films, Godzilla was the villain. Misunderstood and sympathetic, but definitely the villain. It isn’t really until December 20th, 1964 that Godzilla turns into the heroic type daikaiju, and it wasn’t even his choice. He finally gets his first real nemesis in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. I say first nemesis because although Anguirus is Godzilla’s first foe to battle after Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer, their rivalry becomes brotherly overtime. Ghidorah, however, is an unrepentant planet-wrecking, three-headed golden dragon from space that doesn’t have a whole lot of expletives to spare for the human race. Nay, no expletives left for the entire universe.
Dragons from space? Already got my attention. Ghidorah is so iconic because simply put, he’s a boss. In fact, he’s the final boss. Even the other villains in the Godzilla canon are leery of Ghidorah. He is smaller in stature but is equipped with enough firing power to give Mechagodzilla pause. Just to cement his status, in his debut feature King Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Ghidorah comes out with all heads swinging, attacking the Earth’s guardian Mothra head on. For reference, just a few months prior in Mothra vs Godzilla, Godzilla himself succumbed to Mothra’s gale force winds and silk string shots. Mothra is so badly outmatched by Ghidorah that she has to recruit Rodan and Godzilla to help her take the monster out. The trio wins, but barely. From here on, we see Godzilla go from tragic villain to moody anti-hero. The monster that the world feared for so long was suddenly our savior because there was something far meaner and badder out there. And he’s getting outclassed by it.
It’s truly shocking to watch Godzilla get wrecked by the genocidal kaiju in King Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Unfortunately for Godzilla, that wouldn’t be the last time the golden kaiju rained on his parade. Ghidorah shows up several times to cause Godzilla and the universe trouble. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), an upgraded version of the beast is sent back in time just to mess his eternal foe up some more. Godzilla’s not safe in the past, present, or outer space.
The ongoing feud between Godzilla and Ghidorah is best compared to classic pro wrestling feuds. Godzilla is the good guy by default. But a good guy is nothing without the perfect villain to elevate him. Enter Ghidorah as quite literally the monster heel. Unlike Godzilla and most of the other kaiju after the Heisei series (roughly 1984-1995), Ghidorah never gets a tragic backstory or any real shot at redeeming himself. He remains a true villain and the perfect foil to Godzilla. You want to see him get his comeuppance because he’s so wicked, and you know he’s going to bring out the best in Godzilla during an epic fight. And boy does Ghidorah bring it to Godzilla. The fact that antisocial loner Godzilla even has to team up with anyone else already tells you that Ghidorah is a big deal. King Ghidorah is so out of control that even his dead remains get weaponized. You probably don’t want to see him win but you definitely want to see him wreck half of Tokyo.
After the lackluster MUTO in the Godzilla (2014) reboot, looks like Godzilla needs a new challenge from an old foe. Something to push him to the edge. Ghidorah (and Rodan!) is finally making his triumphant return to the screen and will no doubt cement his status yet again as the point of no return in the Godzilla universe. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Ask the Venusians, or rather you would if Ghidorah hadn’t destroyed their entire civilization. Ask the Xilliens since they love having him in their Conquer the Earth arsenal. And in the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla might want to ask himself why he hasn’t been able to take the terrifying celestial dragon down all by himself in nine, going on ten movies.