In 1933, the middle of The Great Depression, Americans were flocking to the cinema and spending what little money they had to see the bigger-than-life adventure picture, King Kong. As it turned out, very few people would be likely to regret the decision. It has gone down as one of the most important movies in film history, as a pioneer in stop-motion special effects, and as one of the first films to have an original score. Rotten Tomatoes has ranked it the greatest horror movie of all time, as well as among the top 20 greatest movies of all time. The film has been called a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast; but on a bleaker note, it has also been analyzed as an allegory for racism and a cautionary tale of an interracial romance. A product of its times, Kong himself has been called a pop icon for economic ruin.
King Kong went on to spark seven sequels/remakes, including the upcoming origin film, Kong: Skull Island. Many are silly comedies, but Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake set out (with great success) to recapture the magic of the original for a new audience. The latest installment hits cinemas Friday, March 10th and promises to be an epic thriller with plenty of action. So, in anticipation, let’s look back at some fun facts about the history of King Kong and his many films.
15. King Kong Is 84 Years Old
Hollywood set loose King Kong on the world for the first time during The Great Depression in 1933, 84 years ago. The adventure-fantasy horror flick was originally conceived as a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, with more action. The story was developed by co-producers/directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, who were themselves real-life adventurers and documentary filmmakers. The film had a very low budget and was a studio production, meaning it was shot entirely within the confines of a studio. To save money, the jungle scenes re-used sets from a previous action film, The Most Dangerous Game. Even so, the movie was a massive commercial and critical success. It broke box-office records and the giant ape came to be a pop culture image of economic ruin. Themes such as survival, repression, and urban struggles continue to be explored through the film today.
14. Fay Wray Was Expecting Cary Grant But Got An Ape
RKO’s blonde-bombshell extraordinaire was given the leading role in the original King Kong. All she was told at the time about her male co-star was that he was “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood” – so naturally, she expected Cary Grant. Instead, she found herself in the grip (literally!) of a 24-foot tall ape. Kong had actually stood only 18-feet tall during the first half of the movie, in which he was portrayed on Skull Island. However, the filmmakers decided to scale him up for the New York City scenes, to compensate for the high rises and skyscrapers. In reality, though, Kong was designed out of a series of animated models. It was the first film to use miniature rear projections to create the special effects sequences. Footage of the actors was projected onto a small screen, frame-by-frame, behind the models as they were animated. Kong was, therefore, the first ever animated leading man.
13. Fay Wray Performed All Her Screams In One Afternoon
Fay Wray earned her Scream Queen title for her flawless depiction of the terrified damsel-in-distress in the original King Kong. As the object of Kong’s infatuation, Ann’s job was to scream like her life depended upon it – which she did. Her twisted face, writhing body and desperately loud volume were all meant to heighten the fear and suspense for the viewer; so they had to be perfect. Apparently, the actress recorded all of her screams in one afternoon post-production session. A controlled environment is always the best way to make movie magic, so it’s no surprise that no scream queen (including Naomi Watts) has been able to give Wray a run for her money. One film critic has said that her screams are the most famous since Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, The Scream. Her lungs went on to nab her roles in a slew of Hollywood Horrors.
12. Peter Jackson Re-Imagined The Lost Spider Scene For His 2005 Remake
A lot of footage was cut from the 1933 film, including a train sequence that would have caused the film to take up the unlucky number of thirteen reels. The most famous by far, though, is the Spider Pit sequence. The sequence features the crew members being attacked by a variety of creatures, including giant spiders. It made it into the cut for the film’s very first screening, but reportedly audience members did not respond well. Reactions including screaming, fainting, and, in some cases, leaving. The sequence was never screened again (the official reason given is that it “stopped the story”), and there are no known surviving copies of the reel since a common practice in those days was to burn footage that had been cut. However, a novelization of the film does include a description of the scene. For his 2005 remake, Peter Jackson did reconstruct the scene, using traditional stop-motion effects, and included it in the DVD release.
11. King Kong Was Heavily Censored During Its Re-Release
Four scenes were heavily censored at various points during the original King Kong’s re-release:
The Brontosaurus’ killing (biting) of five sailor victims in the swamp (this was cut to three sailors)
Kong’s stripping/peeling of Fay Wray’s clothing while holding her unconscious in his palm, and sniffing her
Kong’s killing of natives on a scaffold in the village, and the stomping of a native during the attack
Kong’s chewing of a New Yorker victim and his drop of a woman from the Empire State Building window after mistaking her for Ann
Notably, all of these scenes were exceptionally violent, which is likely why the production code censors stepped in. The production code (or Hays Code) was developed in 1938, causing havoc in Hollywood as it sliced and diced films to fit William Hays’s restrictive perception of “appropriate.” Consequently, this new Kong may have seemed far less malevolent than the way in which he was originally conceived.
10. Linda Miller’s Voice Was Dubbed, And She Hates It
Linda Miller starred in the 1967 film, King Kong Escapes. Because of her father’s military background, Linda and her family had moved to Japan in 1965, where she was able to pursue modeling – a career that would have been less accessible to her in America due to her 5’1” stature. It was during that time that she was contacted for the role of Susan Watson in the Japanese-America King Kong film. Because the cast was made up of Japanese-speaking actors and English-speaking actors with dubbing planned for post-production, Miller recalls that there really couldn’t be any ad-libbing or script changes that would require communication. She was thrilled with the voice picked for her in the Japanese-dub but had a very opposite reaction to the English-dub. She had expected to dub her own voice, but that was not the case. About the voice, she has said, “it was not the right person. As bad at acting as I (was) with my voice, she just accentuated it.”
9. The King Kong 1976 Remake Was Fraught With Legal Issues
Right from the beginning, this King Kong remake was larger than life. Producer Dino De Laurentiis set out to create a multi-million dollar Paramount picture, with a full sized mechanical Kong that would even dwarf Jaws. The production encountered a series of issues including cost overruns, technical problems, and a legal battle with a rival studio that was also looking to remake the classic. When it came to attaining rights, Universal and Paramount battled it out, heatedly and publicly. Universal eventually sought $25 million in damages, with Paramount counter-suing for $90 million and rushing the film into production. Finally, De Laurentiis agreed to pay a percentage of profits to Universal, in exchange for the studio canceling their own film. The production went on to sink another $1.7 million on the 40- foot mechanical ape, with another $700,000 on a separate suit and Styrofoam versions. The final product is generally thought not to hold a candle to the 1933 original, but it did win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
8. King Kong Lives Was Nominated For A Razzie In Special Effects
King Kong Lives is a 1986 sequel to the 1976 King Kong remake, making it the sixth Kong movie. The film is widely regarded if a disaster, if not “charming” in a patronizing sense. The film features a Mrs. Kong and effectively becomes a strange monster romance that involves an inordinate amount of ape flirting and eyelash-batting. Although the first King Kong movie was an action-adventure that bordered on horror, the sequel (which followed it immediately in 1933) was, in fact, a comedy. Thus, the idea that Kong sequels are silly had been cemented by this point. But King Kong Lives went above and beyond silly. Critics attacked it for having a dull story and bad acting. Worst of all were its awful special effects. The extremely low budget was extremely obvious, and men in hairy suits just made audiences nostalgic for the days of miniatures. Even leading lady Linda Hamilton couldn’t save this train wreck.
7. Peter Weller Turned Down King Kong Lives For Robocop
Peter Weller was actually offered a role in King Kong Lives but ultimately turned it down for the title role in Robocop. This turned out to be an incredible wise career move. Many of us can’t imagine what Robocop would have been without him; King Kong Lives, on the other hand, was not likely destined to fair well, even with Weller. Instead, the cast included Peter Elliot as Kong, with George Antoni starring as Lady Kong (which was really just an identical ape-suit with long eyelashes). Linda Hamilton took up the role of Dr. Amy Franklin, King Kong’s caretaker. Reportedly, Hamilton still cringes at her participation in what has been called one of the most enjoyably bad movies of all time.
6. The King Kong 2005 Remake Won 3 Oscars
Time Magazine has placed the original King Kong among the Top 10 Oscar Snubs of all time. Despite pioneering stop-motion and delivering a thrilling narrative that is an analogy for America’s failing economy during The Great Depression – it received ZERO nominations. In 2005, the film was remade for the second time. Peter Jackson’s re-imagining of King Kong is widely regarded as a respectful homage and, independently, as a great film. In true Jackson fashion, it also offered astonishing visuals and special effects that are the stuff of which fantasies are made. This version was finally one that was big enough to withstand the King Kong legacy. Roger Ebert attested that the film’s brilliance was its ability to remove the “element of creepiness” that was inherent in the girl/gorilla relationship of the earlier versions. It took home 6 awards in total, three of which were Oscars for Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.
5. There Is A King Kong Musical
With something as large and theatrical as King Kong, it’s difficult to imagine it NOT going the way of a big, musical, stage production. The show hit the stage in Australia back in 2013 and was met with mixed reviews. One thing critics agreed upon was that the grandiose of Kong was stage-worthy, having a presence that could only be described as spectacular. It was a visual and technical success, prompting Anne-Marie Peard to write that it was all “so sensorily sensational, that it’s easy to forgive the inconsistent style and questionable portrayal of women.” She went on to note that the story was lackluster, and the songs were forgettable. Others criticized it for relying too heavily on the notion that we all know the story and leaving confusing gaps in the narrative. Peard maintains, though, that such a play has the potential to be a game-changer, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of Kong, The Musical.
4. Jordan Vogt-Roberts Expected To Be ‘Laughed Out Of The Room’ When He Pitched Kong: Skull Island
The 2017 King Kong film marks the eighth incarnation of the giant ape, so it’s not a far-fetched notion that Hollywood may not need another Kong movie. Especially following the major success of the 2005 remake. We’ve seen Kong die, come back to life, fall in love, and have a son – over and over again. So, what’s left? An origin story, of course. “I went in and pitched a movie I would want to see and my friends would want to see,” the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts told The Guardian. “I honestly thought they were going to laugh me out of the room. Then they responded really well and we started building that story.” This new Kong will be set in 1972, during the Vietnam war. When Skull Island is caught by satellite image for the first time, a group of rag-tag explorers head out to discover what mysteries it holds. Enter King Kong. The film has a huge budget, a stellar cast, and a lot of hype – it’s certainly no laughing matter.
3. The Newest Kong Stands At A Record Height Of Over 85 Feet
For a film set in the 1970s, Skull Island firmly grounded itself in the present with its modern mechanics and effects. Unlike other Kong films, this one is an origin story that uses Skull Island as its primary location. This means the heart of the film is how the humans interact with the creatures of this mysteriously horrific place. No expense could be spared. This time around, Kong is bigger and meaner than ever before. One reviewer notes that even with a star-studded cast and huge budget, “the film is at its best at its simplest; Kong kicking monster butt, or the human heroes fighting for their lives in a boneyard filled with poisonous, flammable gas.” To make sure the audience feels Kong’s size, and the way in which his victims are rather eclipsed by it, there is an emphasis on “bricks–and-mortar sets,” rather than CGI.
2. Skull Island Is On The Map – Google Maps, That Is
The fictional home of King Kong is being portrayed in the upcoming film by an amalgamation of three locations: Vietnam, Australia, and Hawaii. Using real locations was very important to the director, who wanted to create the sense of otherworldliness, while also bringing it to life. The film crew spent months traveling the world to complete production, after nine or ten months of location scouting! But thanks to Google, we don’t have to look very far to find the legendary Skull Island. In celebration of the film’s release, Google has added it to their maps application, locating it in the South Pacific Ocean, parallel to Papua New Guinea. In an official statement, Google explained that the otherworldly island believed to be a myth was revealed. Google also encouraged users to leave fantasy reviews about Skull Island. Google has done similar things in celebration of The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Fantastic Beasts.
1. Godzilla Vs Kong Is Coming
The two biggest monsters in cinematic history, Godzilla, and King Kong have gone head to head once before, in 1962s, King Kong vs Godzilla. But since the public can’t seem to get enough of either of them, it’s not surprising that a rematch has been announced. Godzilla vs Kong is reported to be hitting screens in 2020, following the presumed success of both Kong: Skull Island, which premieres this Friday, and Godzilla 2 (2018). There are still so many questions the public has, like how will the timelines work, with Kong being set in the 1970s, and Godzilla in modern time? And, maybe more importantly, how will the two size-up, literally? Previously, Godzilla has been portrayed as much larger than Kong, but with a new bigger-than-ever ape, anything can happen. Rumour has it, the studio has also acquired the rights to other creatures within the Godzilla universe, so the movie might even be able to go full-on creature feature. And we can’t wait.