Godzilla premiered in theaters nationwide in the United States on May 20, 1998 grossing $136,314,294 in domestic ticket receipts. It earned an additional $242,700,000 through international release to top out at a combined $379,014,294 in gross revenue. The film was met with a negative reception from critics and fans alike. The negative reception highlighted by critics included the film's thin plot, acting, and directing while fans targeted the film's drastic reinvention of the titular character, which included its radical redesign and departure from the source material. Because of this, the film was nominated for and won multiple Raspberry Awards, including Worst Remake or Sequel, but received recognition in the field of computer-generated imagery by winning the Saturn Award for Best Special Effects. Planned sequels were abandoned, despite a well-received animated series airing September 12, 1998 on the Fox Kids network.
In later years, Emmerich's "Godzilla" became recognized as a separate, stand-alone character (unrelated to Godzilla) and was officially renamed Zilla by Toho, the character's parent owners, and has been featured in the original Godzilla universe.
Following a nuclear incident in French Polynesia, a lizard's nest is irradiated by the fallout of subsequent radiation. Decades later, a Japanese fishing vessel is suddenly attacked by an enormous sea creature in the South Pacific ocean and only one seaman survives. Traumatized, he is questioned by a mysterious Frenchman in a hospital regarding what he saw, to which he replies, "Gojira".
- Matthew Broderick as Dr. Niko "Nick" Tatopoulos
- Jean Reno as Philippe Roaché
- Maria Pitillo as Audrey Timmonds
- Hank Azaria as Victor "Animal" Palotti
- Kevin Dunn as Colonel Hicks
- Michael Lerner as Mayor Ebert
- Lorry Goldman as Gene, Mayor Ebert's Aide
- Harry Shearer as Charles Caiman
- Arabella Field as Lucy Palotti
- Vicki Lewis as Dr. Elsie Chapman
- Doug Savant as Sergeant O'Neal
- Malcolm Danare as Dr. Mendel Craven
- Frank Welker as creature vocals
- Ralph Manza as Fisherman Joe
- Glenn Morshower as Kyle Terrington
The first talk of an American-produced Godzilla film started in the early 1980s when director Steve Miner received special permission from Toho to produce an American Godzilla 3D feature film. Miner tried to find backers to finance the project, presenting concept art and storyboards from artist William Stout and a full screenplay written by Fred Dekker. Despite igniting some interest in Hollywood, studios were unwilling to gamble on Miner's proposed $30 million budget and the film rights died in 1983.
In 1992, TriStar Pictures acquired the rights to Godzilla from Toho to produce a trilogy of American Godzilla films, with the promise of "remaining true to the original series—cautioning against nuclear weapons and runaway technology." Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were tapped to write the script and submitted their final draft in late 1994. Earlier that year, Jan de Bont became attached to direct and began pre-production on the film for a 1996 summer release. De Bont's Godzilla would have had the character's atomic origins discarded and replaced as an artificial creation constructed by Atlantians to fend humanity against a shape shifting extraterrestrial monster called "The Gryphon" and having the final showdown on Ellis Island. Stan Winston and his company were employed to do the effects for the film. Winston crafted sculptures of Godzilla, in vein of the original design, and the rival monster, The Gryphon. De Bont later left the project after TriStar refused to approve his budget of $100–120 million.
Prior to the release of Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin signed on to do Godzilla under the condition they would be able to handle the film "their way." Emmerich and Devlin discarded Elliott and Rossio's script and provided a new script where the Godzilla character in general was rewritten as a whole. Production began in May 1997, in New York City, and moved to Los Angeles in June. Scenes in New York were filmed in 13 days; tropical scenes were filmed in the Hawaiian Islands.
The soundtrack featuring alternative rock music was released on May 19, 1998 by Epic Records. It was a success on the music charts, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum on June 22, 1998. The original score was composed by David Arnold. The film's score was not released on CD until 9 years later, when it went on sale as a complete original film score in 2007 by La La Land Records.
In interviews promoting The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich admitted regretting the production of Godzilla, particularly due to the rushed shooting schedule that was required for a Memorial Day weekend release and the studio's insistence on not test-screening the film. However, he defended the film as better than critics gave it credit for, as it was financially successful, and out of all the films he directed, it was the one which parents told him their children enjoyed the most. At its release, the film was much criticized by Godzilla fans the world over. Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who portrayed Godzilla in the Heisei series (1984–1995) walked out of a Tokyo screening and told reporters that, "It's not Godzilla, it does not have the spirit".
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on November 3, 1998. Special features for the DVD include; photo galleries, visual effects and special FX supervisor commentaries, the music video of "Heroes" by The Wallflowers, Behind the Scenes of Godzilla with Charles Caiman, theatrical trailers, a featurette, director/producer and cast biographies, a photo gallery, music video, and Godzilla Takes New York (before and after shots). Additionally, a special edition DVD was also released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on March 28, 2006. The DVD contains all of the above features as well as the "All-Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes" featurette, 3 episodes from Godzilla: The Animated Series, and a "never-before-seen" production art gallery.
The widescreen high-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was released on November 10, 2009. Special features include the visual effects commentary, the "Behind the Scenes of Godzilla with Charles Caiman" and "All Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes" featurettes, as well as the music video of "Heroes" by The Wallflowers. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of video on demand is available as well.
The film was re-released on Blu-ray 1080p "Mastered in 4K" format on July 16, 2013.
Godzilla premiered in cinemas on May 20, 1998 in wide release throughout the United States for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Godzilla was initially projected to break the four-day Memorial Day long weekend opening record of $90 million (set by The Lost World: Jurassic Park a year earlier). Instead, it grossed $55,726,951 in business showing at 3,310 locations over the four-day weekend. The film Deep Impact opened in second place during that weekend with $19,381,788 in revenue. The film's revenue dropped by 59% in its second week of release, earning $18,020,444. For that particular weekend, the film remained in first place as the romantic drama Hope Floats overtook Deep Impact for second place with $14,210,464 in box office business. During its final week in release, Godzilla opened in 19th place grossing $202,157. For that weekend, Lethal Weapon 4 starring Mel Gibson made its debut, opening in first place with $34,048,124 in revenue. Godzilla went on to top out domestically at $136,314,294 in total ticket sales through an eight-week theatrical run. Internationally, the film took in an additional $242,700,000 in business for a combined worldwide total of $379,014,294. For 1998 as a whole, the film was the ninth highest grossing film domestically and the third-highest grossing film worldwide.
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received generally negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that only 25% of 63 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 4.7 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 32 based on 23 reviews. In 1999, at the Huntley Hotel Garden Room in Santa Monica, California, the film won Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Supporting Actress for Pitillo and Worst Re-Make or Sequel. The film was also nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.
Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, bluntly noting that "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 (and, yes, the Japanese Godzilla movies are, in their way, better - if only because they embrace dreck instead of condescending to it). You have to absorb such a film, not consider it. But my brain rebelled, and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome." In an entirely negative review, James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "one of the most idiotic blockbuster movies of all time, it's like spitting into the wind. Emmerich and Devlin are master illusionists, waving their wands and mesmerizing audiences with their smoke and mirrors. It's probably too much to hope that some day, movie-goers will wake up and realize that they've been had." Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the film "is so clumsily structured it feels as if it's two different movies stuck together with an absurd stomping finale glued onto the end. The only question worth asking about this $120 million wad of popcorn is a commercial one. How much further will the dumbing down of the event movie have to go before the audience stops buying tickets?"
Veteran Godzilla actors, Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma were also critical of the film and its character. Nakajima stated "its face looks like an iguana and its body and limbs look like a frog." Satsuma walked out of the Japanese premiere of the film and commented, "it’s not Godzilla, it doesn’t have his spirit." The "Godzilla" on the film was considered so different from the original Godzilla that the term GINO, "Godzilla In Name Only", was coined by critic Richard Pusateri to distinguish the character apart from the original Godzilla. Toho (Godzilla's parent owners) later recognized the creature as a totally different monster and officially renamed it as Zilla for later appearances.
When asked about his thoughts on Gareth Edwards' upcoming Godzilla film, Devlin has expressed his support of the project, having said, "I'm happy. You know, to get another shot at getting that one right, I understand why they want to do it, and I really hope the best (for them). I hope they get it right." He also added, "I wish them nothing but the best. I would love it if the whole Godzilla franchise was revitalized for a new generation."
TriStar planned to produce a trilogy of American Godzilla films upon acquiring the license for Godzilla in 1992. TriStar went as far as tapping Tab Murphy to write a treatment for a sequel. Not much is known about the third installment in the trilogy, but the second movie, 'Godzilla 2,' would involve the friendlier offspring that survived in the 1998 movie fighting a giant insect named 'Queen Bitch.' However, due to the overwhelming negative reception the first film received and a lack of enthusiasm from fans, audiences, theater owners, and licensees, the planned sequels were abandoned and the rights to Godzilla sat on TriStar's shelf until they expired in 2003.
An animated series was produced as a continuation of the storyline of the film. In the series, Dr. Tatopoulos accidentally discovers the egg that survived the aerial bombardment before it hatches, in a minor change from the ending in the 1998 film. The creature hatches after Nick Tatopoulos stumbles onto it as it assumes him as its parent. Subsequently, Dr. Tatopoulos and his associates form a research team, investigating strange occurrences and defending mankind from dangerous mutations. Actor Ian Ziering voiced the character of Dr. Tatopoulos throughout the series.