A History Lesson on King Kong

By: Nick Gambino

King Kong is back and with Kong: Skull Island hitting theaters this weekend I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the many times the over-sized gorilla roared on the big screen.

King Kong in cinema fits into a simple framework. The original King Kong was made in 1933 and then remade in 1976 and 2005. There were a bunch of movies made in between, all of them garbage. Sure some of us try and fool ourselves that trashy B movies somehow fit in the “good” category but, as I said, we’re only fooling ourselves.

Released in the same year as the original, Son of Kong was the first in the line of bad Kong films. Others include King Kong vs Godzilla and King Kong Lives (with Linda Hamilton in ’86).

If you’d like an example of how bad it can get feast your eyes on this kitschy trailer from King Kong Escapes. Note his nemesis, The Kong of Steel. (Insert facepalm here.)

But bad movies aside let’s get into the three main King Kong movies.

King Kong (1933)

King Kong was unlike anything else in its day. Sure when we look at it now, the stop-motion animation of a constantly size-changing gorilla doesn’t exactly hold up but at the time it was revolutionary in its vision.

The idea was simple. A film crew ends up on an island inhabited by a primitive tribe and beasts of unusual size. The natives kidnap the blonde beauty in the film and offer her up as a sacrifice to a huge ape named Kong.

The ape falls in love with her and protects her against dinosaurs and a large snake.

Long story short they end up capturing Kong and bringing him back to New York to be put on display. But you can’t keep a good ape down and he escapes with the girl in tow.

Upon scaling the Empire State Building (only two years after it was built) he’s shot down by military planes. After falling to his death, the man who captured him utters what would become a famous line, “Oh, no it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

King Kong (1976)

For the remake over 40 years later, producers tapped young actors (at the time) Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (in her first film) as well as Charles Grodin.

The beats are pretty much the same as the ’33 version with some simple changes like using the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building and the crew is looking for oil instead of footage. All in all, this is a more complete film than the original as cinema had advanced almost half a century.

The final scene offers up a lot of emotion and even now, over 40 years later, it takes a real effort to hold back tears when Kong is shot down. The slow fading heart beat as he stares at the beauty is heart-wrenching.

King Kong (2005)

While there were plenty of critiques hurled at this version of the Kong story, I enjoyed it immensely. And I’m not the only one, it holds an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and an A- CinemaScore.

Sure Peter Jackson, having come off of the epic Lord of the Rings saga didn’t seem to know how to make a short film. It takes them easily over an hour before they even get to the island. That’s too long, I’d say.

But Andy Serkis’s motion capture as the giant beast makes this the most sympathetic portrayal yet. You really feel the loneliness that comes with being the only one of your kind, constantly having to defend yourself against beasts who want you dead.


From the looks of Kong: Skull Island, it looks like we’re about to add another solid film to the King Kong franchise. And with Godzilla vs. Kong set for 2020 I don’t think we’ll have to wait another 40 years for another worthy film about the king of the apes.


Nick Gambino is a regular script writer and tech beat reporter for NewsWatch. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.