Giant Robot Monster Mash: A Subgenre Appreciation

The more I watch Guillermo del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM, the more nostalgia I get for the super-fun giant robots-vs.-monsters subgenre of kaiju films, domestic and imported. Guillermo’s 2013 cinematic love letter to monster mayhem (and its less-than-perfect sequel) is a busy, at times overwhelming production, but its heart is in the right place and it reminds me of the countless hours I’d spend as a kid recreating epic battles in my back yard smashing my action figures and vinyl Japanese monster toys together.

In that vein, I’d like to share a basic appreciation of the subgenre with a handful of similar films, in no way comprehensive, that either directly or indirectly served as inspirations for GdT’s knock-’em sock-’em monster mash.

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JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT (1967)

This classic Japanese live-action fantasy series from the late ’60s is packed with giant rubber Kaiju monsters battling a giant radio-controlled robot hero in every episode. Follow young Johnny Sokko and the good-guy organization Unicorn as they battle the malevolent Gargoyle Gang to keep peace and order in the world — and the galaxy! For goofy, retro Kaiju fun, this is as good as it gets.

Watch the trailer HERE.

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GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)

Despite a cool poster designed for the U.S. market showing Godzilla and the beetle-like Megalon duking it out on top of the World Trade Center in New York — a scene that never actually happens in the movie — this 1973 Godzilla entry is notable for the addition of Jet Jaguar (or “Robot Man” as named in the American trailer), a robot capable of growing to giant Kaiju size and entering the monster-mash arena. Nuclear tests prompt an underground race of humans to unleash their own weapon — Megalon — onto the populace, and it’s up to everyone’s favorite fire-breathing monster to team up with Jet Jaguar to save the day.

Watch the trailer HERE.

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GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974)

Created as an alien weapon of destruction, Mechagodzilla masquerades as Godzilla until the real deal finds out — and is not pleased — in this 1974 crowd-pleaser that’s also known as GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER and GODZILLA VS. BIONIC MONSTER). With the guardian deity kaiju King Caesar by his side, Big G and his new ally team up and go to town against the unwelcome mechanical foe. Okay, maybe Mechagodzilla isn’t a straightforward humanized robot per se, but it’s fun to see him rumble with Godzilla — he’s got plenty of tricks, from laser beams and flight ability to finger rockets and a spinning  head — and it can’t be denied that it would be awesome to see Mechagodzilla tangle with Mecha-King Ghidorah or Mechani-Kong.

Watch the trailer HERE.

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RAIDEEN (1975)

Known in the U.S. as RAIDEEN THE BRAVE for those who caught this groundbreaking anime series on UHF channels in the ’70s, RAIDEEN delivers a very similar one-two monsters-vs.-robot punch of PACIFIC RIM, with a heroic loner in the cockpit of a giant robot, tasked with defending the earth from a Demon Empire that sends new monsters each week to do battle. A precursor to the Transformers who could transform into a flying “God Bird,” many know Raideen as one of the jumbo Shogun Warriors toys (alongside Mazinga, Gaiking, Dragun, and even Godzilla with a spring-loaded shooting fist) that were popular back in the late ‘70s.

Watch the intro HERE.

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ROBOT JOX (1990)

Stuart Gordon’s ambitious, low-budget 1990 flick for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures comes pretty close to the PACIFIC RIM concept — minus the monsters — with a post-apocalyptic society settling territorial disputes with giant robots in one-on-one battles while crowds cheer them on. Very Saturday afternoon matinee, very hokey, very fun!

Watch the trailer HERE.

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DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)

Honorable mention, despite a lack of robots: All of your favorite monsters unite in this 1968 Japanese extravaganza, that has a similar plot strain to PACIFIC RIM in that aliens are using monsters to destroy us. Everything is peaceful on Monster Island, where all of the world’s giant destructive creatures are held — until a group of nubile alien women brainwash the monsters and set them loose. Now Godzilla is free to attack New York City. Mothra takes Beijing. Rodan gets Moscow. Manda devastates London, while Paris is destroyed by Gorosaurus. Enter King Ghidorah, and all bets are off. Can mankind destroy all monsters, or will the monsters defeat humankind once and for all?

Watch the trailer HERE.

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