Godzilla: King Of The Monsters director Michael Dougherty on his monster influences

The director of Godzilla: King Of The Monsters tells us about the classic creature features that inspired him

Everyone’s favourite giant radioactive reptile is back in Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, smashing through puny human cities with gusto and taking on a powerful new titan – the three-headed King Ghidorah. 

Directing the carnage this time around is self-confessed super-fan Michael Dougherty, who says that he grew on a hearty pop-culture diet of monster movies. He’s no stranger to big-screen beasties, either, having previously helmed Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus.  

King Of The Monsters is by far his biggest project yet, though, and while the latest entry in Legendary’s Monsterverse is clearly a love letter to the original films made by Japanese studio Toho, those aren’t the only creature features that Dougherty was inspired by. 

Here, in his own words, the director tells Den Of Geek about the filmmakers and genre classics that influenced him, and how he set about putting his own, respectful spin on some classic movie monsters. 

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The Toho Godzilla movies

“I was very young when I was introduced to Godzilla. I was three or four years old, maybe. It was a very potent combination of the classic Toho films on Saturday mornings and afternoons, but also the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon. It was such a simplistic, kid-oriented presentation of the character as a straight hero. And it portrayed Godzilla as having a symbiotic alliance with human beings. I loved that as a kid. I didn’t differentiate the cartoons from the Toho films. Both of those were a great crash course in the character growing up. 

“I wanted to be faithful and pay tribute to the characters as they’ve been portrayed for decades, but still introduce new elements. I think that’s part of the tradition. Every time Godzilla comes back, he’s different. Every director makes some adjustments to his design. It’s the same thing with Rodan, Ghidorah and Mothra. Very rarely are they identical from one incarnation to the next. They’re constantly adding new features and abilities. Their evolution is part of the tradition. 

“I had to make sure that the designs were faithful to the characters, and make sure that their sound effects and roars were faithful to the legacy, but introduce new layers. So with Rodan, for example, he’s birthed out of a volcano, which is a reference to the classic films, but because he’s adapted to live in a volcano, the idea is that the magma and the rock of the volcano has become part of his body. So he can swoop over a city and not just destroy it with his wind, but set it ablaze if he had to. 

“Then there’s the idea that Ghidorah literally creates storms; that his bio-electricity, his gravity beams, his wings have an effect on our ecosystem, so that he could trigger these massive super-storms. And then Mothra’s bio-luminescence – it’s sort of been hinted at with the way her eyes would glow and change colours in the classic films, but, you know, since the ’60s, we’ve learned so much more about bio-luminescence and how that’s part of all different forms of animal life, that it would make sense that a giant insect would have that ability. 

“It was fun to sort of weave in these new abilities and features for the creatures that are borrowed from actual science in a weird way, but also fit their personalities.”

Ray Harryhausen

“As much as I grew up watching the Godzilla films on Saturday afternoons, that same station would pair them with some of the non-Godzilla giant monster movies from the ’50s and onwards. So The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Pretty much any Ray Harryhausen movie. He’s a god of monster and mythology films. Jason And The Argonauts, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. He just had a knack for creating non-human characters, whether they be statues that come to life magically or minotaurs or harpies. He just knew how to take these mythological characters that had never been portrayed on film before and turn them into living, breathing characters.” 

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Spielberg’s monster movies

“Pretty much any movie that portrayed man versus nature, I was into. It helped if the animal was more on the monstrous side. Jaws falls in that category, for sure. Obviously, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Any time there was a movie that featured man sort of messing with Mother Nature in ways that he shouldn’t I was into it, and was very squarely in Mother Nature’s corner. When a circus elephant goes crazy, and fights back against its masters, there’s a part of me that is rooting for the circus elephant.” 

The Universal monsters

“The Universal monster movies were great, because they were sympathetic monsters. I think that’s what all really good monster movies are. They’re asking you to feel sympathy for a misunderstood creature that is labelled evil or dark, but as a result is asking you to look at it in a different light. So Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon – they’re all tragic figures that are painfully misunderstood. Frankenstein’s Monster didn’t ask to be created. The Wolfman was bitten. The Mummy, Dracula, the Creature… They’re really just lonely guys pining after the love of a woman and are rejected, which only compounds that frustration, and makes them more monstrous as a result. 

“When you look at them through that lens, it just makes them so much more relatable. I feel like that’s what’s been missing in a lot of the current incarnations of those creatures. They tend to focus on the surface-level monster aspect, but they don’t get into the pathos and the inner struggle and what makes them relatable – which is that they’re us. They just want to find someone to love them. The Beast in Beauty And The Beast – they’re all the same archetype just in a different form. So I love those creatures just as much. But there’s just something really fun about giant monsters.” 

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is out in cinemas now.