When the classic monster movie King Kong was released in the US in 1933, it had the biggest opening ever recorded, and little wonder – who could resist the fantastic story of a giant lovesick ape on the rampage in New York city!
Since then Kong has returned to the screen numerous times, not least in the 1976 version KING KONG, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, with Kong himself brought to life by special effects legends Carlo Rambaldi (ET) and Rick Baker (American Werewolf). Directed by John Guillermin (The Towering Inferno) and produced by the legendary Dino De Laurentis (Flash Gordon) this blockbuster features a stirring John Barry score, action set pieces, stunning scenery, groundbreaking effects – it’s arguably one of the greatest King Kongs ever. To celebrate the towering release of the film in a stunning 4K restoration, here’s a look at Kongs onscreen from the 1931 original all the way to him battling Godzilla in the 2020s!
KING KONG (1933)
Created by Merian C Cooper, the giant ape King Kong immediately became a box office icon. The stop motion special effects, a marvel in their day and still wonderful after all these years, really bring Kong to life. He’s discovered on a tropical island by a film crew, who see great potential in this enormous beast, so capture him and take him back to New York. The key to the film is that the audience sympathise with Kong – dragged from his island in chains, separated from the woman he loves (cinema’s legendary scream queen Fay Wray), and turned into a Broadway exhibit, can you blame him for seeing red?
Tagline: The most awesome thriller of all time
Memorable moment: Who can forget Fay Wray’s heartrending scream as Kong takes her into his clutches?
SON OF KONG (1933)
How could Hollywood – or rather RKO Pictures – pass up the chance to cash in on the box office bonanza of King Kong? In this quickly made, enjoyable sequel, the phrase once bitten twice shy does not occur to Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong again) the man who brought Kong to the US the first time round. Instead, he heads back to Skull Island (with Helen Mack in the Fay Wray-style role) to try and capture Kong’s son! Needless to say, things don’t run smoothly.
Tagline: Laughs! Thrills! Pathos!
Memorable moment: Kong’s fight with a giant bear is a sight to behold.
KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962)
The two mightiest monsters of all time… in the most colossal conflict the screen has ever known! Japanese film studio Toho, renowned for their creature features including Mothra and Matango, decided to match one of their most famous creations, Godzilla, against Kong, in this amazing film directed by Ishiro Honda, the man behind the superb 1954 monster movie favourite Godzilla.
Tagline: The battle of the century!
Memorable moment: Kong and Godzilla fighting it out on Mount Fuji is a smackdown of epic proportions.
KING KONG (1976)
Primate palaeontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) sneaks aboard an expedition to the uncharted Skull Island, warning the ruthless oil executive Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) against exploiting its resources. En route they rescue aspiring actress Dwan (Jessica Lange), the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Upon disembarking on the island they discover a strange primitive world of mystery and danger, where the natives live within the confines of a vast wall to protect them from the giant ape god, Kong. Dwan is abducted and offered as a sacrifice to the savage beast, before the crew rescue her and capture Kong to take him to New York.
Tagline: The most exciting original motion picture event of all time.
Memorable moment: The truly epic finale set atop the iconic Twin Towers.
KING KONG LIVES (1986)
A pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton stars in this follow-up to the 1976 film, again directed by John Guillermin and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. It turns out (spoiler alert!) Kong survived his plunge from the tower at the end of the previous film… just. He requires a heart transplant – done using industrial diggers, naturally. Then he discovers there is a female Kong at large, so sets out to find her, wreaking havoc along the way.
Tagline: America’s biggest hero is back… and he’s not happy
Memorable moment: Kong doesn’t take kindly to being shot at, so he responds by squishing a soldier like a fly.
KING KONG (2005)
Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy adventure boasted a fantastic cast, including Naomi Watts and Jack Black, beautiful period details, mind-blowing special effects and a running time of over three hours, meaning audiences got plenty of Kong for their buck. The film was a big hit, and won three Oscars, including Best Visual Effects. Kong, respectable at last!
Tagline: The eighth wonder of the world
Memorable moment: Kong’s thunderous first appearance in Jackson’s film is well worth the wait
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
Scientists in the Pacific happen upon an uncharted island. Being scientists, it is their duty to explore… and guess who they find! A-listers Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L Jackson and Brie Larson head up the cast of this big budget rebooting of the Kong legend.
Tagline: All hail the king
Memorable moment: Kong versus Huey helicopters – what more could you ask for?
GODZILLA VS KONG (2021)
This follow-on from Kong: Skull Island is a reworking of the 1962 film, with Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown. Alexander Skarsgard (The Legend of Tarzan) and Rebecca Hall (The BFG) as the mere mortals caught between the warring beasts, made flesh by up-to-the-minute special effects – this is two hours of maximum carnage, and deafening explosions. The film was a box office smash, and needless to say, a sequel, Godzilla and Kong, is on its way… (More here!)
Tagline: One will fall.
Memorable moment: Kong and Godzilla’s nighttime city clash is a neon-drenched building-wrecking marvel.