How Godzilla Minus One Provides a Blueprint for American-Made, Big-Budget Movies

January 5, 2024 - Movies


Godzilla Minus One took the world by storm towards the tail end of 2023. The Takashi Yamazaki-directed epic kaiju released by legendary Japanese entertainment company Toho, hit theaters in Japan on November 3rd, the date of the franchise’s momentous 70th anniversary. The film was released seven years after its predecessor, Shin Godzilla. This was due to Toho’s agreement with American production company Legendary Pictures, which was smack-dab in the middle of producing their own set of films, leading to the monstrously epic clash with King Kong in 2021.

Following the contractually obligated hiatus from Toho, Godzilla Minus One began development, with an early decision being made to not make it a direct sequel to Shin Godzilla. The film debuted at #1 in Japan, raking in $7.8 million dollars, and skyrocketed to more than $30 million by December 14th. The film received a US release on December 1st, tearing its way onto American silver screens.

Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One

Release Date
December 1, 2023

Takashi Yamazaki

Ryûnosuke Kamiki , Takayuki Yamada , Sakura Andou

Japanese Success Abroad

Godzilla chases a small boat in the ocean in Godzilla Minus One

The hype surrounding the film’s domestic arrival was massive for hardcore and casual fans of the franchise. It received rave reviews from not just Japanese film critics, but many Americans as well, not typically common for all foreign released films. Described by several people as a masterpiece of modern cinema, Godzilla Minus One had a big reputation proceeding it before its first showtime in the United States, and to say it lived up to that hype would be an understatement.

Bringing in $11 million in its opening weekend, the film would quickly become the biggest debut of any other foreign film in 2023 and breaking the US opening weekend record for a live-action film from Japan. In just 17 days, Godzilla Minus One became the sixth-highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, released in the US. Americans have a history of not showing up for foreign films, a trend that certainly bucked with the release of Yamazaki’s movie. What exactly turned the tide for this foreign film in particular is not a mystery. At the end of the day, it boils down to relatability.

If you asked 10 people to describe a Godzilla film, odds are you would get relatively the same responses from all 10. A big monster arrives, destroys a city or two, and is eventually defeated or retreats back to solitude. This can be said for many of the Japanese-born Godzilla films and nearly all US-made properties. Despite the simplified plots of many of the Japanese monster films, it had been years since US audiences had flocked to a foreign film the way they did for Godzilla Minus One.

Related: Godzilla Minus One Director Unpacks the Film’s Mysterious Ending

Humanity at Its Core

Akiko and Kōichi in Godzilla Minus One

Asking a U.S. audience to sit down in a theater and read subtitles for two-plus hours is a big ask. It’s an interesting aspect of our movie-going culture in the United States and a trend that does not appear to change anytime soon, despite the success of this film. What Godzilla Minus One had going for it was its tremendous word of mouth and a story that audiences around the world could easily relate to and identify with.

The main story is centered around the human characters featured in the film, with a post-World War II Japan as the backdrop for the emotionally raw themes explored. The central protagonist is a former Kamikaze pilot named Kōichi Shikishima, a man ashamed of the fellow soldiers he allowed to die when first faced with Godzilla on the small island of Odo. He finds companionship with a woman named Noriko and a baby, Akiko. Together, the three form a family unit in shared grief after losing their families in the bombing of Tokyo. Together with his friends, they are drafted on a secret mission to destroy Godzilla once and for all as the creature continues to bring terror and destruction to Japan.

The film follows Kōichi as he learns to reconcile his past with his present while facing down an unknown future. This includes his acceptance of the new family he has built with Noriko and Akiko while all along feeling as though it is a life he has not earned, a life he feels that he owes to the soldiers who died due to his inaction. American moviegoers have proven to have a particular affinity for redemption stories, and Godzilla Minus One offers a redemption story for the ages. The humanity of the story takes center stage while Godzilla the monster feels like a supporting cast member, yet the film moves at a refreshing pace and still features incredible visual set pieces.

This writer can vividly remember watching the movie alongside a family member who recently welcomed a baby girl into the world, and one who was emotionally struck by the love Kōichi shows his newfound daughter Akiko throughout the film. Human emotions are the heartbeat of the film, and we can all relate to them. They are emotions that truly translate into any language.

Related: Godzilla: Minus One: 10 Movies That Had a Clear Inspiration on the Brilliant New Monster Film

Translation: Keep it Simple

Noriko Ōishi, Shikishima's partner in Godzilla Minus One.

The property that can benefit the most from the success of Godzilla Minus One is one that shares the title character, which is Warner Brothers MonsterVerse, something explored in more detail by a brilliant fellow writer here at MovieWeb. Hollywood as a whole can learn a litany of lessons from the success of the latest Godzilla thriller, lessons that apply to more than just the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, Star Wars, or any other big tentpole property.

Godzilla Minus One was produced for the incredibly modest price of $15 million. This is a film that presents truly astonishing action set pieces, and a monstrously iconic version of Godzilla, and the effects are near flawless. Compare this to other 2023 films such as The Flash and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Both of which were panned for their poor effects and CGI, making the film feel like one giant green screen overlay. Even the effects-heavy moments of Godzilla Minus One feel grounded in the environment in which they are set in.

Another thing Godzilla Minus One does well is the way it presents its story. The film does not talk down to its audience or offer moments that feel focus-grouped or written to appeal to a particular gender, age group, or any other demographic. Restraint not typically seen in many US-made blockbusters.

What this masterpiece of a monster movie proves is that big studios here in the US need to get back to the basics. A relatable story full of human emotions, shared experiences, and deep storytelling can be told in a fantastical world. Films like Jaws, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and The Lord of the Rings have shown us that it can be done. When a foreign film is outperforming domestic-made films in critical praise and, in some cases, box office numbers, pieces of art made almost exclusively for the US moviegoers’ attention span. It may be time to reevaluate the current blueprint being used. As creators work carefully on a worthwhile sequel to Godzilla Minus One, we will wait to see what lessons are taken from one of the best films that 2023 had to offer.

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