This article contains massive spoilers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. You have been warned!
As Godzilla: King of the Monsters unspools in all its titanic glory across movie screens around the country, one thing about the movie is clear: director Michael Dougherty, a huge fan himself, has fashioned an unabashed love letter to Godzilla, his friends and foes, and the 65 years and more than three dozen kaiju movies produced by Japan’s Toho Studios and the now-expanding MonsterVerse created by Legendary and Warner Bros. Pictures.
Not only is the film forged out of a classic confrontation for the ages between Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and their common enemy, King Ghidorah, but there are a slew of Easter eggs and references within the film to names, scenes and plot points from all over the shared Toho universe — and perhaps even a couple of nods to other giant monsters that were influenced by or inspired the giant reptile himself, as well as a few other horror and sci-fi landmarks.
We have assembled a list below of all the references and lore we’ve spotted throughout Godzilla: King of the Monsters, while speculating on a few as well. But this is a huge movie, the kind of film in which it takes more than one viewing to catch everything, so we wouldn’t be surprised if we missed something here or there. Godzilla/kaiju fans: if you’ve spotted something we’ve missed, let us know in the comments and we will log it right away with the Earth Defense Force (EDF).
Here we go…
– Several of the Monarch scientific stations used to study the Titans are given numeric names that seem to correspond to the years that key Godzilla/kaiju movies were first released: Outpost 55 (Godzilla Raids Again), Outpost 61 (Mothra), Outpost 67 (Son of Godzilla), Outpost 75 (Terror of Mechagodzilla) and Outpost 91 (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) are the ones we caught.
– Early in the film, when we are first introduced to Mothra, her Monarch code name is given as Mosura; this was, of course, the Japanese version of the giant moth’s name, and the title of the 1961 movie that introduced her to the world.
– Appearing in Godzilla: King of the Monsters is Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who plays twin scientist sisters Ilene Chen and the briefly glimpsed Dr. Ling. Chen works for Monarch, studying the mythological backgrounds of the Titans, while her sister unfortunately has gone to work for the eco-terrorist group led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). While at Outpost 61 (see above), Chen reveals that she and her sister are third generation twins, all of whom went to work for Monarch. This is a major, more “realistic” homage to the Shobijin, the fairy twins who accompany Mothra and can summon her with a song.
– In the montage of news headlines and film clips that play under the movie’s closing credits, there’s a quick flash of a headline that says a second Mothra egg has been discovered. This could be either a mate to the first Mothra, who is killed in the film, or her son, who made his debut in Toho’s Rebirth of Mothra trilogy (1996-1998).
– Rodan makes his entrance by waking up and rising out of a volcano in Mexico, where he has been held in “pyrostasis.” Rodan is intimately associated with volcanos; in the original 1956 film bearing his name, the winged monster emerges from mines near the volcanic Mount Aso, and perishes — with his mate — inside that same volcano when it erupts. He re-emerges from the same crater in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.
– King Ghidorah’s name is said to mean “the one who is many” in the film, and the actual Japanese name is a derivation of the Russian word for “Hydra,” the ancient serpent from Greek mythology which had multiple heads (ranging from six to fifty!). Like Ghidorah in this movie, the Hydra could regenerate its heads if one was cut off.
– King Ghidorah is first referenced in Godzilla: King of the Monsters as Monster Zero, a direct reference to what the Xiliens, an alien race, called him in 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster. The Xiliens ask the people of Earth if they can “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan to fight “Monster Zero,” a creature ravaging their home planet. But human astronauts recognize “Monster Zero” right away as Ghidorah and the whole thing is revealed as a ruse on the part of the Xiliens.
– While the rest of the Titans are part of an ancient race that was here eons before humankind, it’s determined that King Ghidorah is not of this world; he came from somewhere out in space. This is a tribute to the origins of Ghidorah in the original Toho films, where he also came from space and was often controlled by other alien races — although in the original Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, his reasons for traveling from planet to planet, obliterating their inhabitants, remains unknown.
– At one point in the movie the military dispatches a secret ultimate weapon to destroy both Godzilla and Ghidorah as they battle each other. The weapon is called the Oxygen Destroyer, which was the name of the deadly device created by the doomed Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) to kill Godzilla in the very first movie in the franchise, 1954’s Gojira. And speaking of Dr. Serizawa…
– Returning from 2014’s Godzilla is Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a scientist for the secretive Monarch agency who is tasked with studying the Titans. While Dr. Serizawa’s father was one of the founders of Monarch, it’s not clear whether he is related in some way to the Serizawa from the first movie. Like his namesake, however, the current Dr. Serizawa — whose first name, Ishiro, is a tribute to original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda — sacrifices himself to help save humankind, although he does so to help restore Godzilla to full strength, rather than destroy him.
– During his final battle with Ghidorah, Godzilla begins to overheat from the effects of the nuclear blast that Serizawa detonated to help speed along his recovery from the Oxygen Destroyer. An overheating Godzilla threatening to melt down like a living nuclear reactor was the key plot point in 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, in which the Japanese Self-Defense Force races to find a way to stop Godzilla from exploding and wiping out the surface of the Earth.
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– One of the themes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, that the Titans are here not just to protect the Earth from threats but to restore balance and vitality to the planet after humankind has screwed up the environment and the ecosystem, is prevalent in many of the earlier Toho features. A notable example is 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), in which the title creature is created and nourished out of pollution and waste.
– Early in the film, a group of demonstrators are seen waving signs and demanding that Monarch (and the government) do something to rid the world of the Titans instead of just tracking and studying them. One of the protestors is holding up a sign that says “Destroy All Monsters,” a reference to the classic 1968 Toho film in which Godzilla and every Japanese kaiju teamed up to defeat Ghidorah.
– One of the Titans resembles a giant spider, which could be an unofficial reference to Kumonga (a.k.a. Spiga), who served as the enemy in 1967’s Son of Godzilla but later joined the team in battle against Ghidorah in 1968’s Destroy All Monsters.
– At one point in the movie, the Monarch ship travels through the underwater ruins of a vast, ancient metropolis, which could be a tip of the hat to Seatopia, the advanced underground civilization that unleashes the title monster in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), or an even more obscure reference to Mu, the legendary lost continent that was portrayed in the 1963 Toho film Atragon (which also introduced the giant serpent Manda).
– Skull Island and King Kong (from 2017’s Kong: Skull Island) are referenced a handful of times throughout the film, and that movie’s “hollow earth” theory about monsters existing and moving under the Earth’s surface is seemingly borne out when both Godzilla and the Monarch team travel through a massive underwater tunnel as a sort of shortcut across vast distances on the surface.
More Monster Movies and TV Shows
– The name of the device that Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has built to communicate with the Titans is ORCA, which is both the name of Quint’s fishing vessel in Jaws and the title of a mediocre 1977 Jaws rip-off about a killer whale.
– The Argo, on the other hand, was the name of the ship that Jason captained in the famous Ray Harryhausen mythological monster movie Jason and the Argonauts.
– Although sadly the other Titans in the movie are not named after famous Toho monsters like Anguirus, Baragon, Manda and so on, two of them may be references to monsters from other movies and ancient myths:
One creature, called Behemoth, could be a nod to The Giant Behemoth, a 1959 British film about a tremendous radiation-breathing dinosaur rampaging through London.
A second Titan is named Quetzalcoatl, perhaps a reference to the winged Aztec dragon/deity that terrorizes New York City in Larry Cohen’s 1982 film Q – The Winged Serpent.
A third, Scylla, is named after a monster from the Greek myths who started life as a beautiful nymph but was transformed into a hideous creature with a dozen tentacles instead of legs and six dog’s heads around her waist, each of which snatched a sailor from the deck of Odysseus’ ship in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey and devoured him alive.
– Monarch’s Outpost 32, based in Antarctica, is a reference to Outpost 31, the frozen research station where that small group of men battled a revived shape-shifting alien in The Thing. Sounds like they’re right next door to each other!
– Glimpsed in those underwater ruins where Godzilla hides out to recharge himself after nearly being killed by the Oxygen Destroyer is a statue very familiar to fans of The Exorcist: a stone carving of the ancient demon Pazuzu, who possibly possesses Linda Blair in the 1973 horror classic.
– Finally, we must give a shout-out to Nerdist reporter Kristy Puchko, who was on the same Godzilla set visit as Den of Geek and accurately surmised that the character of Dr. Rick Stanton, a misanthropic, sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking Monarch scientist played by Bradley Whitford, is a live-action tribute to Rick Sanchez, the misanthropic, sharp–tongued, heavy-drinking mad scientist from the animated Rick and Morty series. They even have the same hair!
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is out in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye