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How Godzilla Made Foreign Film a Box Office Monster

Stocks in this article: TWX SNE

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's good to see Godzilla back in giant, radioactive fire-breathing form, but the giant movie monster will never be bigger in the U.S. than it was 60 years ago.

With all respect to lead actor Bryan Cranston, director Gareth Edwards and the folks at Legendary Pictures, this year's Godzilla incarnation could make $1 billlion at the box office and never have the impact of 1956's Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. I said it five years ago in The Huffington Post and I'll say it here: It is the single most important foreign film in U.S. history.

Even though it wasn't even the best version of that film available, it made foreign film palatable to what was a fairly xenophobic American moviegoing audience. It made everything from The Seven Samurai to last year's Instructions Not Included fair game for U.S. cinema screens.

But it didn't do so easily. The U.S. movie market in 1956 wasn't exactly a cardboard city that Godzilla could wade into and trample. There weren't a whole lot of foreign films screened here and those that were didn't come with subtitles. Toho had tapped directly into Japan's deepest post-World War II fears when Gojira was released in 1954. Less than a decade after having atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States at the end of World War II, Japan was dealing with the literal fallout of U.S. atomic testing in the Pacific. The Castle Bravo test of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb on the Bikini Atoll in 1954 scorched the crew of the nearby Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 with radiation and tainted the food supply with radioactive fish.

Gojira didn't flinch from public reaction to that incident and showed children being treated for radiation burns and families incinerated:

A fantastic recap video at Slate goes into greater detail, but basically the dark nature of Gojira wasn't going to fly with a U.S. audience that liked its movie monsters more like 1933's King Kong -- which was rereleased in 1952 and 1956 -- and 1953's Beast From 1,000 Fathoms.

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