Roland Emmerich's 1998 American Godzilla film, which arrived to negative reviews and is considered a box office disappointment, was not the first planned adaptation of the classic kaiju series. The first movie, pitched in the early 1990s, is fairly enigmatic. Despite how far along the movie was in pre-production before the project was ultimately canned, most people don't know anything about the film.
But had this Godzilla movie been made rather than the Emmerich film, it's possible the kaiju's American presence would have been fairly well-established as early as 1994. The original American Godzilla could've been great.
The Project's History
Pre-production started after Toho sold the rights to produce an American Godzilla film to TriStar Pictures, a subsidiary of Sony, in 1992. The script was written by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who had already penned Little Monsters and Aladdin. The two later went on to write Shrek and several Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Rossio wrote the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong. The script caught the attention of Jan De Bont, an industry veteran who had just finished his directorial debut: Speed.
De Bont brought in Sam Winston, the special effects genius behind the films Aliens, The Terminator and the then-upcoming Jurassic Park, to design the monsters. Although production ended early, Winston did have time to develop prototypes for what iteration of the character would have looked like, electing for a design identical to that of classic Godzilla. The plan may have even seen Winston employ some of the groundbreaking techniques he used to bring the dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park.
The studio had so much confidence that the film would end up being made that it released a teaser in Japan, despite the fact production hadn't even started.
So why didn't the movie get made? Budget. Sony and TriStar estimated the script would cost between $140-180 million to produce. Despite De Bont's insistence he could produce the film for only $100 million, the studio threw a fit when it concluded the absolute lowest budget for the film was $120 million. This, Sony and TriStar claimed, was far too much.
The studio continued to interfere, which led De Bont to conclude the issue wasn't really budgetary, but rather studio execs meddling with the film. De Bont left the project the day after Christmas in 1994, resulting in Godzilla entering development hell. The script was revised by Don Macpherson in 1995, but all that was tossed out when Emmerich was brought on. Emmerich's film ended up costing about $135-150 million, which raises some questions about Sony's previous budgetary issues.
The revised script has since leaked online, and there's a free graphic novel adaptation by Todd Tennant and Elden Ardiente, too. To summarize, the film opens with the discovery of Godzilla in the Arctic, dislodged from the ice after bleeding strange blood-like fluid into the ground. Godzilla's awakening causes an earthquake that kills several people. The surviving scientists investigate the earthquake to figure out what happened. They discover Godzilla was worshiped by the Atlanteans -- whose society sank under the Arctic ice.
Godzilla was created to combat probes belonging to an alien race sending monsters to colonize planets for them. Godzilla was created from dinosaur genetic material, but was suspended until the probe could return to unleash destruction on Earth.
At the same time, an alien probe lands in Utah. The probe assimilates bats and other life forms, starting with animals before carrying off people. It viciously assimilates bio-matter and transforms into an entity known as The Gryphon, a gigantic beast with the body of a cougar, wings of a bat and the tongue of a snake.
Godzilla travels to San Francisco, causing mass destruction along the way. However, he collapses south of the Golden Gate Bridge. The military collects Godzilla, and manages to revive him. Godzilla and the Gryphon, drawn to one another, meet in New York City, where a colossal three-way battle between Godzilla, the Gryphon and the US military ensues. The battle ultimately ends when the Gryphon, distracted by Fourth of July fireworks, is sliced open by Godzilla's fins, gored and disemboweled. Godzilla then bites through the Gryphon's neck, burns its body and mounts the head on top of the Statue of Liberty's torch.
Godzilla walks off alive but injured, in case the world needs him once again.
Why Did Emmerich Not Make This Movie?
That script sounds awesome -- and reminiscent, in many ways, to the 2014 Godzilla film that was eventually made. So what happened?
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin happened. The two joined the project reluctantly and just hated everything being done with the film. To quote Emmerich, "It was a very well-written script. 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."
So Emmerich threw all that out to make his film, which he likened more to a disaster film than a monster movie. Because of that decision, he essentially provided the world with a decent monster film, but a horrendously disappointing Godzilla movie. If Sony's producers just stuck with the original plan, they would've made a cheaper, better movie that could've spawned a trilogy of films, as the 1994 movie would have better captured the style and feel of the Japanese films, helping Americans learn to love the Land of the Rising Sun's most iconic kaiju.