King Kong is as classic as classic movie monsters get.
After first appearing in a hit film all the way back in 1933, this giant gorilla has changed the way films are made.
Although King Kong may have gone through some massive changes, he remains one of the most iconic and beloved monsters from Hollywood.
The original King Kong may look silly by today’s standards, but he has become a true, roaring beast in recent years.
Nearly a century after King Kong was introduced, Hollywood is still making movies around this vintage character.
Is King Kong Real?
No, the story of King Kong is based on a book by Arthur Conan Doyle in which a group of explorers finds dinosaurs living on a South American plateau and decides to bring the dinosaurs back to London.
One of the dinosaurs ends up escaping and causing mayhem all over the English city, all of which probably sounds like the plot of several movies over the years.
The man who translated Doyle’s story to the silver screen was Merian C. Cooper, who was an incredibly interesting man.
As a young man, he had become a war hero after he was shot down in World War I and in the Polish-Russo War.
Cooper had also escaped after being captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
After his time in the military, he began exploring the world and took time from his adventures to work as a reporter.
Cooper eventually took the leap from reporter to full-time adventurer when he teamed up with his friend Ernest Schoedsack to create videos of the real animals and people they would see.
The pair would later add a fictional plot to the video to make the clips more entertaining.
Schoedsack and Cooper’s nature movies made them a lot of money and allowed them to financially support more adventures across the globe.
When the pair were first introduced to gorillas, the animals seemed more like mythical creatures only written about in stories.
After seeing how massive gorillas are, Cooper knew that his next film was going to include the beast.
Gorillas were so unknown at the time that there was a rumor that they liked to snatch women up and run into the jungle with them.
King Kong was a monstrous version of a gorilla, even if he was unlike real gorillas.
How King Kong Innovated Special Effects
The King Kong that you see in the 1933 film was a real prop and wasn’t done with the same kind of modern special effects that we see today.
The 1933 film wasn’t just important to King Kong, but to the movie industry as a whole.
The first King Kong was made using stop-motion, similar to what you can see in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
His animation was done by the animation legend and pioneer, Willis O’Brien.
O’Brien had been an effects specialist since 1915, when he worked on The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy and Morpheus Mike.
After working on King Kong, he was given the opportunity to work on Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
After receiving the first printed versions of King Kong, O’Brien noticed that the fur on King Kong’s puppet was moving around due to O’Brien’s fingers brushing against the fur.
As a veteran animator, O’Brien was ashamed of this mistake when he showed it to the producer.
Instead, the producer praised O’Brien’s attention to detail and thanked him for ensuring that King Kong’s fur even blew in the breeze.
This helped the stop-motion figure feel like a living creature that was outside in New York City.
The puppet used in King Kong is actually four different puppets.
Three of the puppets were made with aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur.
The fourth model was made from fur and lead.
This was the puppet used in the dramatic scene in which Kong falls from the Empire State to his death.
The scene in which King Kong finds a T-Rex is often used in film schools to teach basic animation, both for stop-motion and computer animation.
Nowadays, director Peter Jackson owns one of the puppets and the others are missing or destroyed.
The Real Story Behind Kong: Skull Island
While Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack were out filming gorillas, William Douglas Burden was becoming one of the first men from his country to ever see komodo dragons.
Komodo dragons are massive reptiles, which have often been mistaken for dinosaurs throughout history.
Burden was an heir to the Vanderbilt family fortune, which allowed him to go on wild and lengthy expeditions to find creatures that would shock the rest of the world.
When Burden was telling Cooper about what he had seen on the island, Cooper requested that Burden bring a komodo dragon back with him and he would film a nature movie featuring a komodo dragon and a gorilla.
By 1926, Burden was given permission by the government of the Netherlands to collect a komodo dragon for research.
As a trustee member of the American Museum of Natural History and seasoned explorer, Burden was the perfect man for the job.
When Burden and his wife arrived at Komodo Island, the air was thick and still.
There was an eerie sense of mystery looming in the air, on an island that had an environment that was nothing like New York.
The Burdens and their dragon-hunting team first managed to capture a komodo dragon that was 10 feet long and weighed nearly 350 pounds.
They went on to capture multiple dragons, with Mrs. Burden acting as the expedition’s photographer.
While searching for more dragons to take photos of, Mrs. Burden had gotten separated from the hunter who accompanied her.
All of a sudden, a dragon walks out of the tall grass and is on the verge of an attack.
Luckily, her hunter was able to find her in time to shoot the beast.
This moment inspired the scene in which Fay Wray is helplessly flailing to get out of King Kong’s tight grasp.
How King Kong Changed Movie Soundtracks
King Kong is more than a set of stop-motion puppets.
Although it was the excellent animation skills of Willis O’Brien who brought the massive beast to life, King Kong was just as fearsome thanks to his mighty roar.
While O’Brien was becoming a pioneer of special effects and animation, Max Steiner was becoming a pioneer for movie music and sound effects.
Max Steiner was the composer behind King Kong and was known for being a musical genius from a very young age.
Steiner had been a family friend of the Strauss family, who were extremely popular in classical music and opera.
He studied at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna and had his first operetta run at The Orpheum Theater for an entire year by the time he was only 14 years old.
After the movie played in the theaters, crowds were amazed by the soundtrack and how well it helped the audience understand where the characters were.
The sound effects were layered over the music in post-production.
Max Steiner was the turning point in the film industry that placed an importance on the soundtrack that was equal to the importance of the dialogue.
His success with King Kong led Steiner to work on other films such as Since You Went Away, Casablanca, Tomorrow Is Forever, and many more classic films.
When King Kong was released on March 2nd of 1933, fans couldn’t get over how scary the movie was and how they had never seen effects like that in their life.
Rotten Tomatoes still counts King Kong as one of the best horror films of all time.
Even King Kong’s roar would become so popular that it would be used countless times throughout entertainment, branching from television to video games.
The sounds of King Kong changed the entertainment industry.
How Many King Kong Movies Are There?
Thirteen different official King Kong movies have been released since his introduction in 1933.
King Kong is so iconic that he has been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World.
From the beginning, King Kong was supposed to represent humanity’s relationship with the natural world.
Although there are humans who look to monetize and destroy the natural world for their own gain, the natural world is mysterious and much more powerful than humans often give it credit for.
The 1933 King Kong took viewers to Skull Island, a remote island off of Indonesia and the home of a massive gorilla.
Rather than leaving the animal in his home peacefully, the humans who discover the giant ape instead bring him back to New York City and quickly regret their choice.
The sequel film Son of Kong was released later that same year, when the expedition crew from the last film returned to Skull Island in search of treasure.
Instead, they are greeted by an albino gorilla who is smaller than King Kong but is surrounded by massive creatures about his size.
King Kong wouldn’t return to the silver screen until 1962 when the legendary Japanese film studio, Toho, decided to bring the giant ape back to fight their very own monster.
King Kong vs. Godzilla was so popular that the sequel Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla was released immediately.
In 1967, Toho released King Kong Escapes, which was directed by the same director from the King Kong vs. Godzilla movies.
King Kong must fight Mechani-Kong, a robot replicate of the giant ape created by Dr. Who.
King Kong was remade in 1976 and 2005.
He was completely re-introduced to the world in Kong: Skull Island in 2017 and had his third fight with Godzilla in 2021.
What Is The Biggest Gorilla To Ever Live?
The biggest gorilla to ever live was six feet and five inches tall, had an arm span of nearly nine feet, and weighed 483 pounds.
This massive creature even had a chest size of 6.5 feet, proving just how massive silverback gorillas can grow.
Sadly, this gorilla died in 1938 after being shot in northern Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although females are normally the larger ones in a troop, this gorilla happened to be a male.
The only silverback gorillas that have the namesake fur pattern are mature males, starting anywhere from 11 years of age to 15 years of age.
As the leader of the pack, it is their job to provide food and reproduce with all of the troop’s females.
Silverback gorillas have to be massive to defend their troop from other gorilla attacks or the threat of poachers.
Since gorillas have a low reproduction rate, even small amounts of poaching can set back populations for generations.
Many of the poachers who still hunt for silverback gorillas are looking to use the gorilla’s body parts in their traditional medicine or even as magical charms.
However, the poaching of other animals is what often hurts gorilla populations.
Gorillas are known to get stuck in traps that are meant for other animals, leaving them mangled in the traps or even killed by other animals while stuck in the traps.
Although local governments have put more resources towards protecting their wild gorillas, these endangered creatures are far from having long-term sustainable population levels.
Due to the breeding pool becoming more limited and the lifespans of wild gorillas shortening, these animals aren’t being spotted growing to the same monstrous sizes they were once known for.
However, they were never 12 feet tall like people thought in 1933.
Is King Kong Considered A Kaiju?
Yes, King Kong is definitely a kaiju and is considered to be the grandfather of kaiju in film.
A kaiju, which translates directly from Japanese as “strange beast,” is a Japanese film genre that features a massive creature taking on an entire civilization.
While some would argue that King Kong started as an American property and is most commonly brought back in American film production, King Kong’s time with Toho earned him a revolutionary place in Japanese film history.
Toho is on the same production level as Disney or Universal Studios.
Although King Kong has been an adopted member of their cast of iconic monsters, he stands proudly alongside Toho’s other creations like Godzilla and his many monstrous friends and foes.
There has been a recent discovery of an additional Japanese-made King Kong film that predates Godzilla.
The film was called King Kong Appears in Edo, but all the copies of the film were destroyed by the World War II bombings.
This movie was originally released in 1938 and the special effects were worked on by Fuminori Ohashi, the man who created the first Godzilla suit and worked as an early Disneyland costume consultant.
Between Ohashi’s short accounts of working on the film early in his career and an advertisement for the film in a magazine called Kinema Junpo, that is all that remains of King Kong Appears in Edo.
If this film had truly hit theaters, then that means that King Kong has been a property of Toho’s longer than their flagship monster, Godzilla.
That also means that King Kong was a Japanese property for the majority of his existence.
The King Kong franchise is the perfect example of how two different cultures can share a common interest enough to save the interest from extinction.
Monsters That Were Inspired By King Kong
Although King Kong has faded in and out of popularity, his impact on entertainment and the creation of monsters has stood firm through the test of time.
Without King Kong, the world would be missing out on a variety of strange, giant beasts.
When Toho took the King Kong franchise under their wing, they knew that they needed to expand on the idea that was laid out before them.
By adding some of Japan’s fear of atomic disaster, Toho was able to create the King of the Monsters, Godzilla.
Following the success that the crew of the original King Kong found, many of them returned to create Mighty Joe Young.
Although the story follows many of the same beats as their first movie, Mighty Joe Young is much better animated and production value has noticeably increased.
American International Pictures released Konga in 1961.
A British botanist figured out a way to grow animals and created a gorilla named Konga.
The scientist becomes crazed with power and sends Konga off to kill his rivals.
In the end, the British army kills Konga.
In 1976, the German production company Constantin Film decided to create their own version of the roaring beast.
Queen Kong was a parody of the original film and featured a female gorilla causing mayhem in London.
When J.J. Abrams released his film Cloverfield, no one expected the threat to look the way that Clover did.
Although it emerges from the water like Godzilla, it wreaks havoc on New York City like King Kong.
In 2018, the story of King Kong inspired Rampage.
The film follows Dwayne Johnson as a primatologist who is trying to stop George, an albino Western gorilla who is exposed to a pathogen that causes him to grow rapidly and become increasingly aggressive.
How King Kong Has Changed Over The Years
King Kong has been around for nearly a century and has seen some drastic changes in design over the years.
Part of the reason that we see so many changes in King Kong is that he never had set rules to his design, like other popular characters like Spiderman or Freddy Krueger.
One of the most inconsistent features about King Kong is his height.
In the 1933 film alone, you see King Kong portrayed as anywhere between 18 and 24 feet tall.
When King Kong was brought back to the silver screen in 2005, Peter Jackson estimated his height to be 25 feet tall.
However, King Kong has been portrayed as his tallest when fighting other monsters.
His maximum height has been 104 feet tall.
Another feature that changed over King Kong’s existence is who or what is portraying the beast.
Kong may have first been a stop-motion puppet, but he has been created with CGI and has been portrayed by multiple actors.
The Toho King Kong movies may have used a simple suit, but Peter Jackson’s film used a CGI suit and an actor to allow for exact movements and facial expressions.
Jackson wanted to make the larger-than-life beast feel more human.
King Kong may go through waves of popularity, but his impact is undeniable.
The King Kong franchise has always looked to keep the great ape alive and create film innovations to achieve the perfect look and sound for the beast.
King Kong may not be King of the Monsters, but he is the grandfather of movie monsters.