Every Movie in the MonsterVerse, Ranked

This weekend, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” stomps into theaters, giving our plus-sized heroes a dangerous new foe.

It’s enough to make us check in on the MonsterVerse, the collection of inter-connected films (and two television series, which we will not be evaluating here).

So which MonsterVerse movies are king? And which should be left to rot in the Hollow Earth? Read on to find out.

A three-headed monster flies through an orange-tinged sky while lightning fires in the distance
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (Warner Bros.)

5. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019)

MonsterVerse movies are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. This is certainly the case with 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which had the unenviable task of being a direct sequel to 2014’s “Godzilla” while also establishing a platform to further expand upon the idea of the so-called MonsterVerse.

But here’s the thing – they mostly pull it off. The sequel, which was originally to be helmed by “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards before eventually being assigned to “Krampus” filmmaker Michael Dougherty, was always meant to be a monster-palooza, as they had gotten permission from Toho to use Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, aka Monster X, alongside Godzilla (There are also a bunch of new-to-you kaiju conjured just for this film).

Sadly, the human part of the narrative is severely lacking, although there is a moving send-off for Ken Watanabe’s Serizawa (fun fact: he’s the only human character in any of these films to touch Godzilla) and Kyle Chandler is a compelling enough monster-chaser. The film’s big moments of pure mayhem are, of course, sublime, with the introductory sequence featuring Rodan facing off against a bunch of fighter jets in Mexico among the very best sequences in any “Godzilla” movie ever. And that’s saying something.

Godzilla Vs King Kong
Warner Bros/Legendary

4. “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021)

“Let them fight” was a line uttered in the very first “Godzilla” by Ken Watanabe. But it more accurately fits the mood of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which would pit the giant monsters against each other for the first time since 1962’s agreeably crummy “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (directed by the great Ishirō Honda).

A pretty direct continuation of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” with Millie Bobby Brown serving as one of our heroes (along with brief contributions from Kyle Chandler), “Godzilla vs. Kong” wisely chooses to frame the movie around an “E.T.”-style creature-and-human relationship, this time between Kong and Jia (Kaylee Hottle) a deaf girl and orphan from Skull Island. That relationship gives the movie some much-needed emotional weight.

But otherwise, it’s pure fun – a giddy sugar high of a movie expertly choreographed by director Adam Wingard, who up until now had been known mostly for low-budget horror movies. This is particularly true in the movie’s third act, when Kong and Godzilla team up against a fearsome, “Terminator”-esque Mechagodzilla. That’s right after Kong travels to Hollow Earth and returns with a magic ax. What a journey.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Legendary/Warner Bros.)

3. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (2024)

If you thought the loopy heights of “Godzilla vs. Kong” couldn’t be topped, well, think again. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” once again helmed by Wingard and once again starring Rebecca Hall, Hottle and Brian Tyree Henry, takes things to truly absurd new levels. And we mean that in the best possible way.

In this installment, Kong and Godzilla have to team up against a new big bad – a gnarly giant ape called Skar King, who has been stewing in Hollow Earth with a captive monster, Shimo, a Space Godzilla-like boy who breathes ice and might have been the first Titan ever. Godzilla even upgrades his whole deal by hibernating in a glacier. Kong gets a robotic glove after sustaining damage in battle. Dan Steven wears a Hawaiian shirt and is introduced to the strains of Greenflow’s 1977 single “I Got’Cha,” after which he removes one of Kong’s teeth. We also learn more about Hollow Earth and get a big monster brawl in a tropical South American city.

There’s a lot going on here, despite Wingard’s attempt to “simplify” the narrative. And ultimately, that’s a good thing. When it comes to MonsterVerse movies, more is definitely better.

King Kong stands in the sunset as helicopters fly by
Warner Bros./Legendary

2. “Kong: Skull Island” (2017)

Part of the fun of the MonsterVerse is the truly insane swings that these movies take. For example, to introduce this universe’s version of King Kong (a character whose rights remain an ungodly tangle), the choice was to create an adventure film that takes place in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam and is set almost entirely on Skull Island. And it rules.

Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson are members of the expedition to photograph and document Skull Island, which scientist John Goodman believes is an outcropping of Hollow Earth. Of course, they meet Kong and a bunch of other crazy critters, including massive beasts known as Skull Crawlers, plus John C. Reilly, who steals the movie as a G.I. marooned on the island since World War II.

There are a ton of unforgettable set pieces, including the initial arrival at the island, Hiddleston killing a horde of creatures with a samurai sword and a final confrontation with Kong that involves napalm and a very angry Jackson. It’s a shame we didn’t get more Kong standalone films before he squared off against Godzilla, save for a Netflix animated series that takes place in 1990. “Kong: Skull Island” proved how elastic the franchise could be and set the outré tone that other films would follow.

Warner Bros./Legendary
Warner Bros./Legendary

1. “Godzilla” (2014)

The film that started off the MonsterVerse is still the very best film in the franchise. Director Gareth Edwards, who has a background in visual effects, was careful to handle the character with sensitivity and grace, especially after the disastrous American film in 1998. Edwards plays coy with even showing us Godzilla, as he is only glimpsed through atmospheric effects or very briefly until the movie’s extra-large third act set piece.

And it’s the right move, too – by establishing the character through a Spielbergian mixture of awe and terror, when he is finally revealed in all of his glory, it makes a much greater impact. Much of the criticism of “Godzilla” was leveled at its human characters and the frankly baffling decision to kill off Bryan Cranston, up until then the heart of the film, early on in the movie. It speaks to the nebulousness of the script during production more than anything (up until the shoot, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen played siblings, in the final movie they’re married).

Where it counts are the set pieces – an early, chilling destruction of a nuclear plant; an attack at a Hawaii airport; a HALO jump into a devastated San Francisco; and that final battle, between Godzilla and a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, later dubbed Titans in the series). What’s incredible, looking back on “Godzilla,” too, is how much unobtrusive world-building was established that the rest of the franchise would follow — the movie dramatizing the attempt to kill Godzilla at the Bikini Atolls, showing Monarch tracking these creatures and introducing characters like Serizawa, who would have a huge impact in later films, for example.

10 years later, “Godzilla” is the ideal franchise table-setter and one of the better blockbusters in recent memory. It’s got teeth.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is now in theaters.

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