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Godzilla 101

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Before there was Jurassic Park‘s rampaging T. rex or Jaws’ bloodthirsty great white, there was Godzilla — undoubtedly the biggest, baddest mother that ever breathed fire and flossed with a train. The subtitle of the atomic lizard’s 1956 American debut says it all: Godzilla is, was, and ever shall be the King of the Monsters.

But the metropolis-munching behemoth has never gotten the respect he deserves. Created by Japan’s Toho Studios, he’s been dismissed as a pissed-off, lumbering radioactive nightmare of destruction, even though the movie was an allegorical warning (albeit a none-too-subtle one) for the post-WWII age of H-bomb anxiety and a sorely needed paycheck for burly actor Raymond Burr before he landed his Perry Mason gig.

Finally, though, Hollywood is paying the 400-foot prehistoric reptile the ultimate compliment: a $120 million update. Opening May 20, the revamped Godzilla comes from Independence Day‘s Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. It goes without saying, they’ll have their hands full trying to satisfy all those persnickety, old-school ‘Zilla fans, who look back fondly on the glory days of Mothra and Rodan.

And what if you never truly appreciated this monster’s madness? We’ve put together this Godzilla primer that should get you up to speed with the Terror of Tokyo before he becomes the Titan of Tinseltown.

The Monsters

Being the King of the Monsters naturally comes with a hefty price. Namely, that a jealous posse of colossal contenders and wannabes are constantly lining up to topple you from your rightful throne on Monster Island. Here’s a look at the 10 most lethal creatures Godzilla rumbled with over the years:

Anguirus
A prehistoric porcupine- armadillo with barbed quills and a horned snout. Not so much a foe as a brother-in-arms during Godzilla’s bleak good-guy phase on Monster Island. Proves he’s a pretty agile swimmer to boot in 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Ghidrah (a.k.a. Monster Zero)
A perennial nemesis, the gnarly three-headed winged serpent who shoots electric bolts from his mouth(s) looks like a gargoyle come to life. In his 1965 debut, it took the tag team of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan to dispatch him.

King Kong
Yes, that King Kong tangled with the King of the Monsters in a classic 1963 East-meets-West cross-species grudge match. Unfortunately, Toho’s budgets prohibited Kong’s trademark stop-motion animation. So this Kong — an actor in a simian suit — isn’t quite as imposing.

King Seeser
The legendary Okinawan God-Monster is awakened to lend a hand to Godzilla after he gets spanked by Mechagodzilla. Seeser looks like a funky crossbreed of lion, Saint Bernard, and Wookiee from Star Wars. Bonus: has his own theme song.

Mechagodzilla (a.k.a. the Cosmic Monster and the Bionic Monster)
A shrink would have a field day with this gigantic titanium-covered replica of Godzilla designed by evil alien apes. After all, Godzilla has seen the enemy…and it is himself! Fortunately, Godzilla eventually reduces him to scrap metal.

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