For fans of the kaiju genre, Gamera is more than just a discount Godzilla. This giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle is a force to be reckoned with. Similar to Godzilla, Gamera has a long history in Japanese Cinema. The Gamera movies began in 1965 with Gamera, the Giant Monster. A series of seven sequels followed in the Showa series. These were all produced by the Daiei Film company as an attempt to rival Toho’s Godzilla.

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Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965). Daiei Film.

The Gamera property went into a long slumber, until it was revitalized in the 1990s. The first entry, Guardian of the Universe, released the same year as the end of Godzilla’s Heisei series. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) ranks among the best kaiju movies and was the perfect end to the great series of Godzilla films. Gamera had some tough shoes to fill with his own reboot. Yet the Gamera Heisei trilogy is often labeled as not only the best of the Gamera movies, but as some of the best kaiju movies of all time. It’s easy to see why.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Guardian of the Universe was directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who also directed the other two films in the trilogy and Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), an entry in Godzilla’s Millennium series.

In Guardian of the Universe, Gamera faces one of his signature foes from the Showa era of Gamera movies, the Gyaos. These demented pterodactyl like beasts are formidable enemies for our favorite kaiju turtle. The puppet effects and designs of both the Gyaos and Gamera are impressive, even today, and rank among the best effects in the best kaiju movies. Modern CG can do great things, but there’s a certain charm to these practical effects that can’t be replicated in the computer.

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Gyaos and Gamera in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). Toho.

It has a simple kaiju story, which isn’t necessarily bad thing. The human stories tend to become convoluted in even the best kaiju movies. It does a great job of bringing Gamera into the 90s. The kaiju action is awesome and the final battle is among the best in the Gamera movies and best kaiju movies.

The dub is an important element of kaiju films, because that’s how many fans saw these films in childhood. The American dub has some good laughs, but there’s a British dub of this that is absolutely hilarious. It’s strange seeing Japanese characters speak with a British accent. There’s also a bizarre techno score underneath the kaiju action, that somehow works and elevates it. It would be great to see this dub in all its glory.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Guardian of the Universe was followed a year later by, Attack of Legion, the second in the Heisei trilogy of Gamera movies. The army of fast reproducing alien insectoid creatures, nicknamed the Legion after a Bible verse, are another great foe for Gamera. There are multiple points in this movie where it seems all is lost, but Gamera keeps on fighting. Even if he’s alone.

The military human plot is not as engaging as the human plot in the other two films of the trilogy, and there are points where it takes away from the kaiju action. This balance of human characters and monster fighting is an important but tough balance to keep. The snowy setting was cool and this film still delivers on the kaiju action we crave from the Gamera movies. There are multiple epic battles between Gamera and the army of the Legion, as well as the Legion Queen.

best kaiju movies
Gamera fighting the Legion Queen in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion. Toho.

It’s also fun to watch Gamera and Legion wreck through miniature buildings. CG can do city destruction, but there’s nothing like watching miniatures explode and crumble. Computer effects just don’t have the same magic behind it. The designs and puppets effects of the Legion creatures are outstanding, and rank among the best effects in the best Kaiju movies. Gamera does quite a bit of fire action in this as well. He even has an epic chest blast move, which is certainly one for the books.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

The closing chapter in the reboot trilogy of Gamera movies is quite a bit grittier than other Kaiju flicks (and surprisingly gory). In the beginning of the movie, a submarine stumbles upon a graveyard of Gameras. A dead Gyaos is also found at a village where it had murdered some of the village children. Both scenes perfectly set the tone of the film to follow.

We are introduced to a schoolgirl named Ayana, who has a great disdain for Gamera because her parents died in the chaos of the battle from the first movie. She forms a bond with the antagonist monster, which she nicknames Iris. Iris feeds off her quest for vengeance. The movie does a great job of exploring the destruction Gamera has caused in the previous two movies, and questioning if he really is the protector of humanity. This central question elevates the film and certifies it as one of the best kaiju movies.

Iris and Ayana in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). Toho

Iris is the best of the trilogy, the best of the Gamera movies, and one of the best kaiju movies of all time. Not only because of its intriguing human plot, but it also delivers on the kaiju action. Unfortunately, it does use more CG effects than the previous movies and some of them haven’t aged well. There is a fight between Gamera and Iris in the sky that is near impossible to decipher. There are still a plethora of great puppet effects though.

Gamera’s updated design fits well with the grittier tone. Iris is a great antagonist, and has an awesome evolving design as well. The final battle is one of the most epic in all of the best kaiju movies. The final scene of Gamera walking off through the flaming city, plays into the movies central question, but also delivers an epic final image to close out this trilogy of Gamera movies.

Gamera leaving through the flames in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). Toho.

Future Films

The Heisei trilogy was followed by Gamera the Brave (2006), but it was not as well received and ignored the events of the trilogy. A trailer/proof of concept for a reboot of the Gamera movies released in 2015 at NYCC. There have been no updates have on the film since. In the trailer, Gamera looks epic in all his CG glory, but one hopes that if they ever do reboot the franchise they follow a more Shin Godzilla (2016) style approach, utilizing the best in modern CG and puppet effects.

For fans of Godzilla, these Gamera movies can’t be missed as they truly do rank up there with the best kaiju movies. Childhood fans of Godzilla who want to dive back into the genre or look outside of the Godzilla franchise, this is a great place to start. There’s no denying that the Godzilla franchise houses many of the best kaiju movies, but these three movies deserve to be among their ranks. Gamera is one of the great kaiju heroes and should not be forgotten.