With the recent announcement of a new Gamera movie, the first animated film in the long-running franchise, coming to Netflix in the unspecified future, I wanted to take a look back at the giant turtle’s storied history. The Gamera franchise offered at least one movie per decade between the 1960s and the 2000s with varying degrees of success.
From his first appearance in 1965 to his most recent outing in 2006, Gamera has starred in twelve films. Some of those twelve are stone-cold classics of the kaiju genre, while others are more forgettable. In honor of the turtle’s return, I’ll look at every movie where the turtle has starred and parse through the worst and the best in the series.
12. Gamera: Super Monster (1980)
Gamera: Super Monster is literally a cash grab. The film is made up significantly of clips from not only the seven previous Gamera films but also footage from two anime series that Gamera is awkwardly spliced into and features little original content. Gamera: Super Monster was made nine years after the last installment in the franchise to help the Daiei studio make some money while they were financially struggling.
The story centers on an evil alien invader that releases Gamera’s previous foes after superheroes (who are not present in any other Gamera films) cannot stop them. It’s barely a movie, and even if you’re kind enough to call it one, it’s a very, very bad one.
11. Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Not nearly as guilty as Super Monster of reusing footage, but not innocent either. Gamera vs. Viras mainly focuses on a pair of Boy Scouts kidnapped by aliens from the planet Viras. The movie spends more time on the boys’ attempts to escape their captors than on Gamera. And the original footage of Gamera’s fight with the titular Viras (yes, the monster and the planet have the same name) is disappointingly lackluster.
The monster’s design also looks more like something a desperate parent would create the night before Halloween than something that belongs in a kaiju movie, and the fight feels incredibly anticlimactic.
10. Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
The last film made before Super Monster, Gamera vs. Zigra, once again sees the beloved turtle face off against alien invaders. This time they’re aquatic aliens looking to take over Earth’s oceans and use humans for food.
Gamera vs. Zigra isn’t especially good, but it may be the most ridiculous movie in the series as Zigra speaks, and in the final battle, Gamera plays the other monster’s back like a xylophone. There’s a worthwhile but hamfisted message about environmentalism and overfishing in there as well.
9. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
The third and final film in the trilogy of Gamera films released in the 1990s, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris is sometimes considered one of the best entries not only in the franchise but in the kaiju genre overall. But that praise is based on the film’s significant human storyline that centers on a young girl whose family was killed during one of the turtle’s previous battles.
It’s an undeniably interesting narrative idea for a kaiju film, but it detracts from time spent with the kaiju leading to a movie that feels more abstractly about kaiju than actually centering on them. It also doesn’t help that while the villainous Iris’s design is fantastic, we mostly see it in CGI rather than practical effects.
8. Gamera the Brave (2006)
The only film that (thus far) stands alone in the Gamera franchise without a sequel, Gamera the Brave is a very different movie from the other eleven movies. It’s a much more grounded movie that centers more on the child at its center than on Gamera.
The story follows a young boy after he discovers a mysterious egg that hatches a small turtle he brings home as his pet. But that pet is capable of breathing fire and flying. It’s a sweet movie that includes a kaiju fight, but is much more interested in exploring the relationship between Gamera and children in a way that’s different from Gamera simply saving kids in peril as he’d done for decades before.
7. Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
Gamera vs. Gyaos pits the turtle against the oversized bat with laser breath known as Gyaos for the first time. Volcanic eruptions awake Gyaos, and while government scientists scramble to combat the new threat, Gamera befriends a child and takes on Gyaos to protect him. While Gamera vs. Gyaos is the first film to highlight Gamera’s love for kids, it’s also one of the most brutal movies in the series.
We see Gyaos slice off Gamera’s arm with its laser, Gamera bite the flying kaiju’s toes off, and a very good amount of purple and blue blood. It’s not quite as good as some of the other films in the series, but this is where this list takes an upswing.
6. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
The first of the 1990s reboot trilogy, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, once again sees the titular turtle face off against Gyaos, but this time there are three of them. The film introduces a lot of lore, establishing that Gamera was likely created by an ancient civilization and introducing a mystical pendant that allows a girl to communicate telepathically with the giant turtle.
These aspects are well done, but it’s still the kaiju battles that make the movie a success and the fact that there aren’t that many that keep to the middle of this list.
5. Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
Gamera’s second cinematic outing sees the titular turtle face off against the dinosaur-like Barugon, who is capable of shooting a rainbow ray attack from its back and breathing freezing air.
The diametrically opposed fire and ice-breathing powers of the creatures make for a great fight, but what makes Gamera vs. Barugon stand out is its surprisingly engaging human storyline. The human story sets up the eventual Kaiju fight, but it also serves up a thrilling crime movie with some fun twists and turns.
4. Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
The only movie in the franchise thus far to take place on another planet, Gamera vs. Guiron, transports two boys to the mysterious planet “Terra.” On Terra, the children see “space Gyaos” fight with the newly introduced Guiron, whose face is a long knife.
Guiron seems to be a protector, but it’s soon revealed that Guiron and the planet’s inhabitants are less than friendly, leading to a showdown between Gamera and Guiron. Gamera vs. Guiron offers a novel background for the fight between the monsters, and along the way, Guiron puts its face knife to good use on both Gamera and the space Gyaos.
3. Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
In which Gamera becomes pregnant, sort of. The titular antagonist here is awoken by the removal of a statue on Wester Island and, in one of her battles with Gamera, uses a stinger to lay an egg in his lung. While Gamera vs. Guiron offers viewers the unique background of another planet, Gamera vs. Jiger provides a look inside Gamera.
The children who lead the movie have to travel inside the giant turtle to save him from the baby Jiger growing in his lung. Of course, the film delivers a large-scale final fight, and it’s one of the best and funniest in the series as we see Gamera use telephone poles as earplugs at one point.
2. Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965)
The first Gamera movie ever made remains one of the best. Gamera, the Giant Monster is obviously just a cash-in on the previous success of Godzilla, and its sequels, but it’s an incredibly effective one. Unlike Godzilla’s first outing, which spends significant time establishing its allegorical intent, Gamera, the Giant Monster is interested only in delivering over-the-top kaiju action. And it succeeds.
The film’s simple premise of a creature awoken by nuclear explosions scouring the Earth for energy lets it focus on delightfully realized kaiju destruction without much concern for narrative. Not to say there isn’t a story here; in fact, we can already see the threads of Gamera’s friendship with all children as he develops a strange bond with a sympathetic child.
1. Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
The second film in the 1990s trilogy of films, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, is not only the best Gamera film, but also one of the best kaiju films ever made and a great horror movie in its own right. The film centers on another alien invasion of Earth (or rather Japan) as the creatures known as “Legion” arrive via a meteor and quickly set about terraforming cities that can serve as launching pads for more invasive meteors to other planets.
Before Gamera’s return, the movie plays like something closer to War of the Worlds than a classic kaiju film. And the genuinely frightening creature designs only make the movie’s horror all the more effective. But when Gamera does arrive and take on the “Mother Legion” creature, the film delivers the best kaiju fight in the entirety of the series, something that’s quite a feat in a franchise of twelve movies.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.