‘Jurassic Park’ Killed ‘Godzilla’ For Americans
Godzilla is more than a monster at this point. He’s a dark myth, a cinematic icon, and according to Deadline, “tired IP.” Even though Hollywood’s latest take on the legend’s story, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it’s still being hailed as summer’s first major dud. The movie’s $49 million open fell far short of its $60 million projections, and the steep drop off box office receipts suggested the film won’t be able to gain legs.
Essentially, American audiences seem to be over the great behemoth of the deep.
So what’s wrong with Godzilla? Why can’t the great Kaiju of yore spark the imaginations of Americans today? Sarah at LaineyGossip suggests it could be a cultural thing. “[M]aybe nothing is wrong with Godzilla. Maybe it’s just not our story to tell.” That makes a lot of sense. After all, Godzilla is a distinctly Japanese character. He originated as “Gorjira” in a 1954 Japanese film that was as concerned with the monsters lurking in the deep Pacific waters surrounding the island nation as it was with the literal (and emotional) fallout of nuclear catastrophe.
That’s all true, and I would go further. I would argue there’s no way for Godzilla to thrive in a culture that has decided Jurassic Park is its great monster myth. Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 hit film, the Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptors, and their prehistoric ilk have toppled Godzilla in the hearts and minds of modern American filmgoers.
To understand Godzilla’s initial appeal, you have to put yourself in the mindset of a pre-CGI filmgoer. The effects in early Godzilla films were awe-inspiring. Whether you feared the great lizard king or were delighted by the carnage he wrought, it still looked badass. That is, until directors like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg started to understand the best way to use CGI on screen. Cameron, of course, revolutionized the way action film utilized computer generated imagery in The Abyss, his Terminator films, and later Titanic and Avatar. But in Jurassic Park, Spielberg figured out not only how to make it look like dinosaurs were walking the earth, but he did it with lyricism. After being blown away by the mere visual effects in Jurassic Park, you can’t blame audiences for feeling let down by Godzilla (especially since Hollywood’s 1996 attempt to resurrect him was less than stellar).
Since Jurassic Park has debuted, dinosaurs have arguably taken up the role in the average American psyche that Godzilla, Mothra, and their pals hold in the Kaiju-loving quarters of the world. Most Millennials and Gen Z members know more about Velociraptors than they do about Kaiju, and as such, a showdown between a monstrous new Indominus dinosaur and a bunch of likable Raptors. Don’t believe me? Just compare the box office of 2015’s Jurassic Worldwith 2014’s Godzilla reboot. The 2014 film is the highest grossing Godzilla film stateside ever, raking in $200 million. Jurassic World made well over three times that figure. In fact, all but one film in the Jurassic Park franchise has made less.
Of course, there might be more to Jurassic Park‘s pull on the American psyche than just great effects. Unlike Japan, the United States is not an island nation, but a vast, colonized continent. We’re also a relatively young country, and we owe much of our success to aggressive exploration and innovations. Jurassic Park is a story about these concerns, not the concerns of a post-WWII Japan, still stinging from the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are a culture not-so-secretly wary of the technological Pandora’s Box we’ve opened, and subconsciously aware that there might be something dire and dangerous buried under the ground we’ve built our great cities on. It’s not necessarily that we think dinosaurs could walk again, but that our own avarice to push technology could birth our own destruction.
So if you’re asking yourself why Americans aren’t into giant lizard creatures fighting to the death in a mythic battle that represents deep-rooted cultural fears, well, we do. We just prefer our T. Rexes to our Kaiju. Jurassic Park is America’s Godzilla.