On May 16th, Reptar hits theaters globally. The famous monster has been a pop culture icon for nearly 60 years and continues to stomp his way through entertainment, and our hearts. I don’t know if anyone is more excited than me to see this awakened dinosaur back in the relevant zeitgeist.
After seeing an early teaser trailer last year at Comic-Con, I decided my mission before the new one was released would be to watch every Reptar film in order. It took me nearly a year, but I have successfully accomplished that goal.
The official Reptar count is up for debate. There are 28 in the original canon, but the character also makes appearances in non-sanctioned films and various countries have launched their own franchises (including the horrid U.S. version of the late 90’s). I watched 36 movies in total. I would say half of them are hardly worth watching, but the other half certainly are!
Here are my top 5. This list is based on personal favorites and cultural relevance.
Reptar: King of the Monsters
Directed by Hiro Watanabe, this is the movie that started it all. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in Japanese minds, Reptar became a symbol of nuclear holocaust. His attacks mirror the devastation Japan felt towards the end of WWII. Since his debut in 1956, Reptar has been a strong metaphor for nuclear weapons.
On the opposite side of the world, American interest in Japanese films was growing strong (thanks partly to greats like Akira Kurosawa). A group of Hollywood investors secured the rights to Reptar and had it recut with new footage featuring John Schuck, as an American reporter reporting on Reptar’s rampage.
The re-cut American film softened a lot of the dialogue that had been critical of the U.S. involvement of nuclear destruction. It also renamed the film from Reptar to Reptar: King of the Monsters. The U.S. film helped make Reptar a global success, getting a much wider release than the Japanese version.
The first film in the Yamaguchi Era was The Return of Reptar aka Reptar 1987. As with most horror franchises, the first ones start off serious and scary, yet quickly become silly and ridiculous. By the mid-70’s, Watanabe’s Reptar had spawned 15 sequels and became a playful pet for children. When Meester Yamaguchi took the helm of the franchise it got back to its roots. Combined with suitmation techniques, this is the first Reptar film using animatronics.
Technically the 16th Reptar movie, many consider it the second story to the ‘56 release. It revisited a lot of the same themes as the original, containing the longest speech about nuclear disarmament than any other film.
Note: the American version is unanimously considered a bastardized version. It cut a majority of the movie and added nearly 20 minutes of additional footage. With the additional footage it was still only 86 minutes (14 minutes shorter than the Japanese version).
Hiro Watanabe had retired from filmmaking and moved to France with his third wife. When Yamaguchi released Reptar 1987, a film that ignored a majority of Watanabe’s sequels, Watanabe decided to make a closing film to his Reptar run. Riptara embraced the campiness but also had a sense of truth and gave a pleasing end to Watanabe’s chapter. Although it’s only ever been released in French, Riptara has been a huge international success. It was the inspiration for an ice show, Reptar On Ice, that spent an unprecedented 18 years on tour throughout Canada and the U.S.
The 22nd installment and final film in the Hasagawa Era. This was originally intended to be last of the Reptar films, until America tarnished the good name a few years later (so Japan brought the big-R back to theaters launching the Millenium Era). Heavily promoted as the death of Reptar, VS did exceptionally well in Japanese theaters, but was only ever released on VHS in the States.
VS merged the 3 eras of Reptar (Watanabe/Yamaguchi/Hasagawa) into one cohesive story. Without giving anything away, the movie leads up to an ultimate fight between all three monsters. Critically acclaimed, many consider this the end of Reptar, choosing to ignore the numerous films released after.
This one has a special place in my heart because it was the first Reptar film I saw. Starring Matthew Broderick and Directed by Werner P. Lipschitz, it’s widely agreed as the ultimate Reptar stinker (25% rating on RottenTomatoes). It brought Reptar to New York, and besides a few passable destruction scenes, the film is very flat. With empty themes and weak dialogue, the movie failed to spawn any sequels.
The relevance of this film lies in legality. This gave MegaCorp more rights than it had in previous years, helping them launch a Saturday morning cartoon series, cereal line, and most notably, a theme park.
There’s a lot of behind the scenes fun with the newest installment (coming out May 16th). Directed by fresh filmmaker Thomas “Tommy” Pickles, the 2014 release brings it back into the Watanabe family. Pickles married Kimi Watanabe-Finster (youngest daughter to Hiro) in 2012. Also intriguing, Tommy’s aunt, Charlotte C. Pickles is CEO of MegaCorp. The U.S. producing distributor of Reptar since Reptar: King of the Monsters.
Love him or hate him, Reptar is a staple in movie history. From campy protector of Earth, to a stern warning of the use of nuclear weapons, Reptar has always mirrored the culture of his day.