20 Kaiju That Aren’t From Japan (No Godzilla)

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Virtually everybody knows Godzilla, especially with the new blockbuster films from Toho and Legendary. The movies have solidified a genre known as kaiju (Japanese for ‘strange creature’) in the hearts of movie fans forever. But this type of monster didn’t start with Godzilla or even in Japan! Here is a collection of U.S. kaiju and a few from other countries.

1. Grandpa Kong

Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

The granddaddy of the kaiju genre is King Kong. Made in 1933 by RKO with groundbreaking special effects by Willis O’Brien, it tells the story of a giant ape found on a remote island. He is captured due to his infatuation with a girl, which seals his fate when he is displayed in a world not his own. The character is so popular that films about him have been made many times and are still being made today.

2. Kong’s Successor

Photo Credit: RKO Radio Pictures.

Mighty Joe Young exploits the continuing popularity of King Kong and uses the same creative team. RKO released this kaiju film in 1949. It tells the story of Jill Young, who agrees to take the gargantuan ape Joe to Hollywood to save her father’s ranch. The film features the first full-length stop-motion by effects master Ray Harryhausen.

3. Menace From Below

Photo Credit: Jack Dietz Productions.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is the first film (1953) with effects completely by Ray Harryhausen, based on Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.” Nuclear testing in the Arctic awakens a long-dormant dinosaur-like kaiju that makes its way down the East Coast of the United States, wreaking havoc.

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4. Ants in Your Pants

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Them!, a 1954 entry in the kaiju realm, continues the trend of atomic panic films. When a 6-year-old girl is found alone and terrified in the desert, authorities never expected the source of her terror to be gigantic, irradiated ants from nuclear testing at Alamogordo.

5. Still More Sea Monsters

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

It Came From Beneath the Sea is another Ray Harryhausen masterpiece. This 1955 film’s nuclear-generated kaiju monster is a gigantic octopus terrorizing the California coast. The spectacular image of it attacking the Golden Gate Bridge is famous.

6. A Huge Case of Arachnophobia

Photo Credit: Universal International Pictures.

In a break from the atomic monsters, Universal’s 1955 entry Tarantula is the result of a scientist trying to find a miracle food to solve world hunger. But the formula creates wild growth, and soon, a lab tarantula is the size of a house and a formidable kaiju to contend with.

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7. Menace From Above

Photo Credit: Morningside Productions.

20 Million Miles to Earth is Ray Harryhausen’s favorite film he worked on. Filmed in Italy and released in 1957, it features astronauts who crash into the Mediterranean Sea carrying an extraterrestrial egg. Soon, the egg hatches, and through rapid growth, the kaiju called a “ymir” reaches gargantuan size.

8. Without A Prayer

Photo Credit: Universal International Pictures.

In 1957, Universal’s kaiju was The Deadly Mantis. You guessed it, a gigantic praying mantis. Instead of being irradiated, the mantis was frozen in time. However, a South Seas volcano causes a shift in North Pole icebergs, releasing the beast that will eventually terrorize Washington, D.C.

9. The Eighth Plague: Enlarged

Photo Credit: AB-PT Pictures Corp.

Famous monster man Bert I. Gordon directed Beginning of the End, a lesser-known 1957 kaiju film featuring giant monsters and giant vegetables! Using radiation, Dr. Ed Wainwright has grown enormous veggies to help world hunger issues. However, when locusts manage to get at them, they cause the insects to grow to the size of a city bus.

10. Kaiju on the Fly

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Staying in 1957 but moving away from kaiju insects, The Giant Claw features a gigantic bird with a taste for airplanes. It turns out to be a creature from an antimatter galaxy that terrorizes the Empire State Building.

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11. Hulkin’ Lizards!

Photo Credit: Hollywood Pictures Corporation.

Combining kaiju with this era’s hot rod teen fad resulted in The Giant Gila Monster, a not-so-memorable 1959 film. A young couple disappears, and their car is found in a ravine. Later, a train is attacked, exposing the massive lizard. This fine film brings the genre mainly to a close for a while.

12. The Tremors Series Worms Its Way In

Photo Credit: Universal Studios.

Tremors started invading a modern type of US-based kaiju in 1990 while injecting comedy into the storyline. The first of seven films and a short-lived television series features Kevin Bacon as a handyman who gets caught up in an investigation of unusual seismic readings that turn out to be giant, prehistoric, flesh-eating worms. While not quite what a viewer might expect, the size and malice of the monstrous, flesh-eating worms definitely qualifies.

13. Found Footage Kaiju: Cloverfield

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

In 2008, Paramount delved into the found footage style of filmmaking, cleverly combining it with a mysterious kaiju. The Department of Defense finds a video camera chronicling the day of a few friends who encounter a massive monster that destroys Manhattan. The film spawned two indirect sequels.

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14. Move Over, Jaws: The Mega Shark Series

Photo Credit: Lawson Digital.

In 2009, The Asylum started their Mega Shark franchise consisting of three films in which the shark fights other kaiju-sized creatures. For its 25th Anniversary, The Asylum poked fun at itself by releasing Mega Shark Versus Kolossus, whose theme is an alien race that believes the Mega Shark films are documentaries.

15. Menace From Beyond: The Pacific Rim Series

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Guillermo del Toro brought kaiju from another dimension through two films and a television series starting in 2013. These movies chronicle humankind’s fight with these creatures, which arrive on Earth through an undersea wormhole known as “The Breach.”

16. China’s Kung-Fu Kaiju

Photo Credit: Shaw Brothers.

The famous Shaw Brothers entered the kaiju realm with two films. The first was Infra-Man (1975). As with all their movies, martial arts plays a large part – in this case, very large, as a man uses a bionic growth suit to stop the monsters of Demon Princess Elzebub. Far less famous, The Mighty Peking Man was released in 1977 to cash in on the popularity of the new King Kong film.

17. Italy Serves Up Some Calamari

Photo Credit: Esse Ci Cinematografica.

Tentacles is the 1977 Italian kaiju film that is exactly as it sounds. A giant octopus terrorizes an Italian seaside resort after being driven insane by ultrasonic drilling. Like the 1950s films, this expresses a response to concerns of the era in which it was made.

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18. North Korea Goes Metal 

Photo Credit: Korean Film Studio.

Pulgasari, released in 1978, is unique because it takes place in feudal Korea and is one of the films Kim Jong II forced kidnapped director Shin Sang-ok to make. An evil king uses a metal-eating kaiju to defeat peasant uprisings. Once defeated, Pulgasari becomes a problem when he won’t stop eating weapons and farm tools.

19. South Korea Dances into the Kaiju Genre

Photo Credit: Keukdong Entertainment.

In 1967, South Korea delved into the Kaiju realm with Yongary. A nuclear test awakens the monster, believed to be the realization of an old fairy tale about a monster associated with earthquakes. Drinking oil and gasoline and occasionally dancing when the spotlight is on him, it turns out he was just hungry.

20. Three Continents, Four Countries, One Movie

Photo Credit: Voltage Pictures.

Colossal (a 2016 joint effort of Canada, Spain, South Korea, and the U.S.) is the story of unemployed writer Gloria, her struggle with alcoholism, and the creature she manifests in South Korea as a result. Worse, her manipulative partner Oscar manifests a giant robot, resulting in a final battle in this comedy horror.

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