Atomic Breath In ‘Godzilla’ Movies, Ranked (Including ‘Godzilla Minus One’)

Characters are more often associated with their iconographies, which provide them with an enduring legacy through the ages. When readers think of Sherlock Holmes, the pipe and the iconic hat immediately come to mind; the bat insignia is a cue to Gotham’s caped crusader; and similarly, the mention of Godzilla always evokes the mental image of the atomic monster unleashing its fierce, nuclear-powered breath—akin to the fire-breathing dragons of ancient mythology. 


Atomic Breath has been an integral part of the big G’s identity since the character’s first appearance and has been showcased in almost all of Toho Studio’s 30+ cinematic ventures involving Godzilla. Irrespective of the tone and treatment of the movie, whether it’s the campy fun of the Showa era or the grounded, dark approach of the present Reiwa era, makers have always made sure that each version of Godzilla asserts their individuality through their respective atomic breath. Toho’s latest Godzilla flick, the much-acclaimed Godzilla Minus One, takes this to another level with the display of its version of Atomic Breath, taken in the context of the narrative, which adds much more value than being a mere fan service sequence. Let us take a look back at all the iconic and strong iterations of Godzilla’s Atomic Breath through the ages and rank them according to power and impact in the storyline. 

The First Version: ‘Godzilla’ (1954)

The first appearance of the atomic monster in the classic Godzilla (1954) was marked by a tone that perfectly amalgamated realism and creature horror, making Godzilla the living embodiment of the dread of nuclear warfare. As Godzilla rampaged through post-war Tokyo, demolishing everything in his way, the desperation and fear of the entrapped citizens became very palpable. While leveling the city, Godzilla used the first version of atomic breath—or, in this context, what appeared to be more like supercharged atomic vapor—which melted high-voltage electric poles in an instant and burned buildings like dried leaves. With the movie being filmed in black and white, the earliest iteration of Atomic Breath was scary enough to leave a mark in the minds of viewers and went on to be iconic from thereon. 


The Strongest One: ‘Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah’ (1995)

As the last movie of the Heisei Era, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah had a lot going on for it. As stated by the makers as the movie that finally kills off Godzilla by pitting him against a formidable adversary, expectations surrounding the movie were quite high. A supercharged ‘Burning Godzilla’ was going to cause a nuclear meltdown, which could have incinerated the entire planet, and Destoroyah proved to be Godzilla’s ultimate nemesis, as it killed Godzilla’s young offspring after transforming into his final form. In the climactic moments of the decisive battle, an infuriated, aggrieved Godzilla launched its final version of Atomic Breath—Infinite Spiral Heat Ray—on Destoroyah, which eventually incapacitated him. This version of atomic breath was hotter than the core of the sun, making it the strongest iteration with ease. 


Final Atomic Breath for a Decade: ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ (2004)

As the title blatantly suggests, Godzilla: Final Wars was going to be the last Godzilla movie by Toho, at least for a while until the public interest regarding Godzilla was reinvigorated. The last movie of the Millennium Era saw Godzilla running a battle gauntlet against his former adversaries and even allies as well, which culminated with Godzilla’s battle against Monster X, an alien adversary. Eventually, it was revealed that the seemingly new enemy was a hidden form of Godzilla’s good old rival, King Ghidorah, and using a unique variation of atomic breath known as the Spark Heat Ray, Godzilla pushed Ghidorah into space and destroyed him. A funny maneuver executed by Godzilla while delivering this attack made it memorable. Additionally, the next time viewers across the world see Godzilla using atomic breath, it takes place a decade later in Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014). 

Through the Earth: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ (2021)

Monsterverse’s near-invincible Godzilla initially had a weaker version of Atomic Breath at his disposal, which gradually amplified as he became more empowered by juicing up radiation from nukes. In Godzilla vs. Kong, the strongest feat of Monsterverse Godzilla is shown as he blasts right through the center of the planet to create a hole from the surface to Hollow Earth, goading the Titanus Kong for an epic showdown. There is a reason Kong fears for his dear life whenever he sees Godzilla charging up his atomic breath, as he knows about its devastating capabilities in the first place. 


Utter Annihilation: ‘Shin Godzilla’ (2016)

After Final Wars, Toho’s first Godzilla movie during the Reiwa Era was Hideaki Anno’s tragic masterpiece Shin Godzilla, which essentially portrayed the titular monster as a tragic figure subjected to a series of tormenting transformations in a quest for survival. While Shin Godzilla was a representation of the cumulative agony that resulted from the government’s callous response to the destruction of life during disasters like the Tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disasters, its destructive atomic breath turned out to be a terrifying beauty and possibly the most unique as well. From emitting intense flames which converts into a streamlined plasma cutter-type beam and using the dorsal fins to deliver the attack as well, it is definitely the most outlandish, otherworldly Atomic Breath scene across Godzilla media. Added with Hideaki Anno’s depressive, melancholic vision manifested through the heart wrenching, haunting tunes of Shiro Sagisu’s “Who Will Know” (read with the lyrics; the song adds depth to Shin Godzilla’s predicament) playing in the background, the entire sequence is memorialized as tragic poetry. As Tokyo burns like hell, viewers will question their senses as the scene makes them sympathize with the destroyer more than human victims. It’s a scene we can’t recommend enough that needs to be interpreted with the context and nuanced undertone of the movie itself. 

Generational Trauma: ‘Godzilla Minus One’ (2023)

Finally, Godzilla Minus One brings the most iconic scene involving Atomic Breath among recent movies, as the scene turns out to be a standout moment in the movie itself. The roots of Godzilla’s conception lie in Japan’s collective generational trauma stemming from nuclear annihilation during the Second World War, a fact that is revisited in Godzilla Minus One during the creature’s attack in Tokyo’s Ginza province. The charge up to the attack takes time, as Godzilla’s dorsal fins expand one by one as he focuses his energy on a singular attack, and the resulting impact causes a nuclear blast that decimates several kilometers across the impact zone. The visuals are horrifying as everything in close proximity literally vaporizes; hapless people are removed from existence before realizing what has happened, sending post-war Tokyo further into a nightmarish existence. This is truly one of the rare moments viewers actually get traumatized by the plight of human subjects, and roaring over the blackened horizon, Godzilla acts as a meta-reminder of the sins of the past. 


Except for the aforementioned ones, some memorable Atomic Breath scenes include the animated entries like Godzilla Singular Point and scenes from the animated movie trilogy, which mark the appearance of the largest version of the monster, Godzilla Earth. However, based on the impact on the Godzilla lore of seventy years, we considered the silver screen versions to be more impactful compared to them. 

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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