25 years ago, a massive Hollywood blockbuster picked the wrong fight
This was supposed to be a bigger success than Jurassic Park. Spoiler alert: it failed.
July 1997. Cinema-goers are sitting down to enjoy Men In Black, which would go on to become the second biggest hit of that summer. The biggest box office hit of the season arrived two weeks earlier, in the shape of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As the audience wait for Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones to battle aliens, a teaser trailer appears on screen, revealing the skeletal remains of a T-Rex in the New York Natural History Museum.
Was this some sort of mistake? Did the cinema accidentally put a teaser on for a movie that was released already? But nope, as the T-Rex is squished underfoot by something that absolutely dwarfs the Jurassic Park movies' big baddie, and so went the first official promotional material for Godzilla, letting us all know that no matter how big you thought The Lost World was, something much bigger was on the way...
Equally big in the promotional campaign was the fact that this Americanised version of the famously Japanese creature was that it was coming from director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin, who had struck gold in the summer of 1996 with Independence Day. That movie landed thanks to its scenes of OTT destruction, so just imagine how they'll be flattening cities once they get their hands on the world's most famous giant lizard.
Ever since the first Godzilla movie hit Japan in 1954, Hollywood had been clambering to get the rights to adapt it for an American remake. Things didn't start really moving until 1994, when Jan De Bont (Speed, Twister) almost helmed the movie, but eventually left the project with Sony refused to cough up the requested $120 million budget (just keep that number in mind for now).
Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the duo behind successful blockbusters such as Shrek, The Mask of Zorro and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, were next up to take a whack at it, but their version was reportedly ditched for being "too much like The Terminator". We're not entirely sure how that would've worked, but it actually sounds kind of awesome, and it was eventually release as a graphic novel:
Next up came Emmerich and Devlin, who praised Elliott and Rossio's script, but said they left it behind because "It had some really cool things in it, but it is something I never would have done. The last half was like watching two creatures go at it. I simply don't like that."
Having made so many changes to the design of Godzilla that it left the owners of the rights to the creature completely speechless - and not necessarily in a good way - they finally went into production, complete with a bizarre amount of voice actors from The Simpsons, including Hank Azaria (Chief Wiggum), Harry Shearer (Ned Flanders) and Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson).
Filming began in May 1997, just as The Lost World was hitting cinemas, and one of the very first things that Emmerich did was spend $600,000 on that T-Rex flattening scene, which didn't even end up in the finished movie - it was just so they could get the teaser out as soon as possible and build the hype ASAP. And it worked. Secure in the knowledge they had an sure-fire hit on their hands, Sony gave Emmerich $150 million to make the movie... yep, a full $30 million more than the previous budget they deemed to be too expensive.
Arriving right in the middle of the era when movies could barely exist without having a star-filled soundtrack, Godzilla didn't seem like the perfect fit for a bangers-filled set-list. But that didn't stop producers from dropping only God knows how much money on an album that included Puff Daddy, Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, Green Day and, admittedly, this absolute tune from Jamiroquai:
Jump to 20 May 1998, Godzilla arrived in cinemas, with Sony expecting a $100 million opening weekend. But things soured quickly once critics got their eyes on it. Admittedly, brainless popcorn blockbusters don't usually go down well with those paid to share their opinions, but even Independence Day managed to score a not-too-shoddy 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But they were nowhere near as kind to the giant lizard movie, with Roger Ebert perhaps giving the best summation: "One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film. The movie makes no sense at all except as a careless pastiche of its betters. You have to absorb such a film, not consider it. But my brain rebelled, and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome."
Critics gave it 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the movie opened to a $44 million opening weekend. It would go on to be marginally profitable, banking $379 million worldwide (The Lost World made $619 million, just FYI), but not before reportedly being the cause of a toy company being forced to close down when the Godzilla figures sold so poorly that stores were left with shelves full of unwanted merchandise.
Sony's plans for a trilogy of Godzilla movie were quickly scrapped, with the rights to the creature sold to Warner Bros., who have had much more success with the recent Godzilla and Kong shared universe. Emmerich would go on to have some more financial successes (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), and some massive financial failures (White House Down, Moonfall).
But one thing that Hollywood hasn't done since is put out a promotional campaign based entirely around their blockbuster being bigger (and therefore, better) than another blockbuster. This movie definitely puts to bed the argument that, when it comes to cinema, size doesn't necessarily matter.
Should you want to, this version of Godzilla is available to watch with a NOW Cinema Membership, as well as being available to rent on Rakuten TV and the Sky Store.
- Stephen Rea makes no secret of his dislike of The Late Late Show
- Your first proper look at the greatest movie ever made is finally here
- Sharon Horgan gives searingly honest update on Bad Sisters sequel
- Andrew Scott on the pressure of playing one of literature's great villains
- Report suggests Grand Theft Auto 6 will be the most expensive game ever made