Despite the predictions, superhero movies aren’t going anywhere. Yet people are getting tired of them. It’s reflected in the complaining about how there are sooooo many superhero movies in a year that’s only seen three of them. And, notably, Universal, the only studio not building a shared universe with superheroes, crushed the box office this past summer. Also, pop culture is cyclical. It wasn’t so long ago that Tolkien captured the popular imagination. Which leaves us to wonder what’s next and propose this possible answer: Giant monsters.
Giant monster movies have, much like superheroes, been a victim of circumstance and changing tastes. The original Gojira was a serious movie that struck a chord with Japanese audiences horrified by the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The one-two punch of cheaper and cheaper sequels and knock-offs churned out by a struggling Japanese film industry put a dunce cap on the entire genre. Giant monster movie came to be viewed as cheap crap to be enjoyed by kids in Japan and necking teenagers in America. Full stop.
Giant monsters, though, have been enjoying a reevaluation in recent years. In the past two decades, Japanese filmmakers have returned to kaiju movies with a sense of thoughtfulness and a cinematic approach that has changed the genre, starting with, of all things, a reinvention of Daiei’s child-friendly rocket turtle Gamera. Toho did a whole series of experimental Godzilla movies that stepped away from selling merchandise and towards the seriousness of the movie that started it all. They even put together Godzilla: Final Wars, a loving tribute to the cheese of the past that was quite enjoyable on its own terms.
The real shift, though, has been in Hollywood. Even a few years ago, the idea of a big-budget Hollywood Godzilla movie seemed unthinkable, not least because of how badly it had been screwed up before. But 2014’s Godzilla, while far from a perfect movie, made a pile of money at the box office, enough that King Kong will soon be coming back to theaters and fighting the Big G. And a somewhat related series of films has proven profitable at the box office. Though everyone claims to hate them in America, the Transformers series keep reliably raking in cash at the overseas box office. That global business might be the reason Hollywood will be all about giant monsters in a few years: Pacific Rim found an international audience wide enough to make a sequel a possibility, even if that’s up in the air.
While kaiju movies largely remain cult items in America, they’re big business in much of the rest of the world, both on and off the screen. As the global box office becomes more important, Hollywood is necessarily going to reflect the tastes of a wider audience… and that means you might see a lot of kaiju on screens in a few years. Really, the only question is who would direct them: Anybody in the mood for Martin Scorsese’s Rodan?