King Kong (franchise)
King Kong is a series of films and other licensed products featuring the character King Kong. The first film featuring the character, King Kong, was released in 1933, and since then the character has become one of the most recognizable movie monsters of all time, appearing in various other films produced by various studios and inspiring the creation of other famous giant monsters, most notably Godzilla.
So far, there are eight official live-action films starring King Kong, with one more currently in production. The King Kong franchise is unique in that its various films are produced by several different studios, and as a result the rights to the character's filmography are held by multiple companies.
King Kong was created by Merian C. Cooper, who pitched the story to RKO Radio Pictures. RKO adapted Cooper's vision into a feature film titled King Kong, which was directed by Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack and released to theaters in 1933. King Kong was a massive international box office success, and revolutionized the filmmaking and special effects industries. The film's special effects, achieved by stop-motion animation performed by Willis O'Brien, were considered spectacularly real at the time and led to the method being used in numerous American monster films for the nest half-century. Following the film's success, RKO immediately began production on a sequel, Son of Kong, which was released only a few months later. Son of Kong was not the success its predecessor was, and the studio did not produce another Kong film.
Willis O'Brien and RKO at one point considered producing a film pitting Kong against a giant version of Frankenstein's monster. The project never materialized, but in the early 1960s independent producer John Beck learned of the idea and decided to pitch it to the Japanese studio Toho, who was known for producing several internationally successful giant monster movies, including Godzilla and Rodan. Toho was interested in the idea, but decided to replace the Frankenstein creature with their own monster, Godzilla. RKO and Universal, who owned King Kong's copyright at the time, agreed and licensed the character of Kong to Toho. Toho released King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962 in Japan, while Universal International released an edited version of the film in the United States a year later. King Kong vs. Godzilla was a worldwide success, and remained the highest-grossing and highest-attended Godzilla film for years. Unlike the original film, which used stop-motion animation to portray the creatures, Toho utilized the method of "suitmation" (actors wearing detailed monster suits) to portray Kong and Godzilla.
Later in the 1960s, Rankin/Bass Productions acquired the rights to produce an animated series based on King Kong from RKO, and collaborated with the Japanese animation studio Toei Animation to create The King Kong Show. The series was successful, and inspired Rankin/Bass to approach Toho with the rights to Kong in order to produce a live action adaptation of the show. Toho's initial concept for the film, Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah, was not approved by Rankin/Bass, who felt it strayed too far from the show. In 1967, Toho released the more faithful King Kong Escapes, which adapted numerous elements from the show. The film was later released in the United States by Universal International in 1968. Toho's rights to the character expired soon afterward, though the company did reuse the King Kong suit from the film to portray the monster Gorilla in their show Go! Greenman.
Nearly a decade after the release of King Kong Escapes, RKO entered into an agreement with producer Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount Pictures to produce and release a remake of the original King Kong. Universal, however, contested that it had already entered into an oral agreement with RKO to produce a remake of the film, and so filed a lawsuit against both RKO and Paramount, all the while beginning production on its own remake entitled The Legend of King Kong. A federal judge ultimately concluded that Paramount did have the right to produce a remake, but that RKO did not have legal ownership of the character of King Kong, only the original film and its sequel. The rights to the character of Kong were granted to Richard Cooper, son of Kong's creator Merian C. Cooper, who immediately sold them to Universal. Content with owning the rights to the character for all future media, Universal abandoned its plans for a remake and allowed Paramount and De Laurentiis to proceed with their remake. Paramount's King Kong was released in 1976 and, while not as well-received as the original film, was still a box office success.
De Laurentiis, who had the rights to produce a sequel to his remake, tried for years to capitalize on the remake's success and release a sequel. After obtaining permission from Universal, De Laurentiis and his production company De Laurentiis Entertainment Group produced a sequel, King Kong Lives, in 1986. However, the already low-budget sequel was a financial and critical failure, and De Laurentiis relinquished his rights to the franchise soon afterward.
From 1998 to 2006, three different animated musical films starring Kong were released to home video by Warner Bros. The first was The Mighty Kong in 1998, followed by two tie-in films for Kong: The Animated Series, Kong: King of Atlantis and Kong: Return to the Jungle, in 2005 and 2006.
In the 1990s, Universal Pictures began considering producing a new remake of the 1933 film. Universal initially planned to revive the script for The Legend of King Kong, which was more faithful to the original film than De Laurentiis' remake, but shelved its plans for the time being when two other Hollywood giant monster films, GODZILLA and Mighty Joe Young, were released to theaters in 1998 and were poorly received. In the meantime, Universal began including King Kong-themed attractions in its Orlando theme park. By the early 2000s, Universal had hired director Peter Jackson, fresh off the success of his film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings fantasy novels, to direct its King Kong remake. Jackson discarded the screenplay for The Legend of King Kong and created his own, which still remained more faithful to the original than the 1976 version did. Peter Jackson's King Kong, with a huge budget of over $200 million, was released to theaters in 2005. While the film performed slightly below the studio's box office expectations, it was still profitable and well-received by critics and fans.
In 2014, Universal entered into a partnership with Legendary Pictures after the expiration of the latter's deal with Warner Bros. Universal and Legendary began production on a new King Kong film, titled Kong: Skull Island, in 2014, which was set to be an origin story for the character and was targeted for a 2016 release. Legendary, however, who had just produced a successful reboot of the Godzilla franchise, was interested in the possibility of tying the film in with its Godzilla series and setting up a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla. When Legendary decided to include references to Godzilla in Kong: Skull Island, Universal and Warner Bros. were uncomfortable with the idea of their films including references to each other. As a result, Legendary moved the film's production over to Warner Bros., with whom it still held an agreement to distribute any sequels to Godzilla. Kong: Skull Island was released on March 10, 2017, as the second entry in what was now termed the Monsterverse. Following Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019, Kong returned for a crossover film titled Godzilla vs. Kong, released on March 31, 2021. He will return in the next Monsterverse film, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which is scheduled to be released on April 12, 2024.
Films by company
The following is a list of all official films featuring King Kong, listed according to the company that produced them and including the years of release.
Kong has starred in three animated series, with a fourth in production. The first, The King Kong Show, was produced by Rankin/Bass Productions and Toei Animation in 1966. The second, Kong: The Animated Series premiered in 2000 and even received two tie-in films in 2005 and 2006. The third, Kong: King of the Apes, premiered exclusively on Netflix in 2016. Skull Island, a Netflix series which will take place in the Monsterverse, will premiere on June 22, 2023.
- Main article: King Kong vs. Prometheus.
Following the successful release of the original King Kong in 1933, animator Willis O'Brien conceived a screenplay treatment and concept art for a sequel pitting King Kong against a giant humanoid monster created in the Congo River region of Africa by the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein in San Francisco. The idea never materialized until it was discovered by independent producer John Beck. Beck had the treatment fleshed out into a screenplay titled King Kong vs. Prometheus by George Worthing Yates, and attempted to pitch it to a studio. When no American studio would buy the screenplay, Beck then pitched it to the Japanese studio Toho who altered it, replacing the giant Frankenstein's monster/Prometheus with Godzilla, into what would ultimately become King Kong vs. Godzilla. Toho would later recycle the concept of a giant Frankenstein's monster for the films Frankenstein vs. Baragon and The War of the Gargantuas. Beck's dealings with Toho were all done behind O'Brien's back and he was never given credit for any of his ideas by Toho.
In 1952, Merian C. Cooper, director of the original King Kong, and Willis O'Brien considered making a remake of the film making use of improved stop-motion techniques. The project, titled The Eighth Wonder, never came to fruition, however.
- Main article: Continuation: King Kong vs. Godzilla.
Following the success of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho planned to produce a direct sequel pitting the two titans against each other once more. However, Toho instead decided to have Godzilla cross over with a different monster for the next film, this time the giant moth goddess Mothra from the 1961 film Mothra.
- Main article: Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah.
In 1966, Rankin/Bass Productions produced a successful animated series featuring King Kong titled The King Kong Show with the Japanese animation studio Toei Animation. Rankin/Bass later approached Toho with the rights to King Kong, planning to release a live action adaptation of the series. Shinichi Sekizawa wrote a screenplay for a film titled Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah, which revolved around a group of shipwreck survivors discovering Kong sleeping on a remote island inhabited by a terrorist group known as the Red Bamboo. The survivors would awaken Kong to battle the Red Bamboo and the giant lobster Ebirah, who guarded the island. Mothra, another popular Toho kaiju, was also planned to make an appearance in the film. When presented with the screenplay, Rankin/Bass rejected it on the basis that it did not follow The King Kong Show closely enough. Instead of discarding the screenplay, Toho simply replaced Kong with Godzilla and repackaged it as a Godzilla film titled Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Toho then began work on a film more closely based on The King Kong Show, which was released in 1967 as King Kong Escapes.
In the early 1970s British studio Hammer Films, who had released remakes of many classic Hollywood monster films, planned to produce a remake of King Kong.
- Main article: The Legend of King Kong.
When Universal Pictures learned of Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount Pictures' plans to produce a remake of King Kong, the studio objected on the basis that it had a previous oral agreement with RKO Pictures to produce its own remake. When De Laurentiis began production on King Kong, Universal filed a lawsuit against Paramount and RKO over the rights to Kong. While the suit was ongoing, Universal announced its own remake entitled The Legend of King Kong, which was scheduled to begin production in January 1976. Universal hired Bo Goldman to write the screenplay and Joseph Sargent to direct the film. The Legend of King Kong was to utilize suitmation to portray Kong instead of stop-motion, and would have maintained the plot, characters and setting of the original film. Ultimately, a federal judge ruled that Paramount and De Laurentiis could proceed with their remake, but that the rights to King Kong were owned by the estate of Merian C. Cooper. The rights to Kong then reverted to Cooper's son Richard, who promptly sold them to Universal. Universal abandoned its plans for The Legend of King Kong while the Paramount/De Laurentiis version was released. Universal later revived the project in the late 1990s, but postponed production following the poor performances of GODZILLA and Mighty Joe Young in 1998. In the early 2000s, Universal hired Peter Jackson to direct a new remake of King Kong, who discarded the Legend script and created his own.
- Main article: Godzilla vs. King Kong.
Following the mediocre box office performance of their latest Godzilla film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, in 1989, Toho sought to make the next entry as profitable as possible. For this reason, the studio chose to remake the most successful Godzilla film to that point, King Kong vs. Godzilla, under the title Godzilla vs. King Kong. According to designer Shinji Nishikawa, the plot would have included King Kong falling in love with a human scientist, who later converts him into a cyborg. However, Turner Entertainment, who by this time had acquired ownership of the original King Kong film, demanded payment from Toho to use the character of Kong in the film. Rather than pay Turner for the rights to Kong, Toho instead revived classic Godzilla opponent King Ghidorah for the film Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Toho later replaced Kong with Mechani-Kong and attempted to realize several projects pitting Godzilla against Kong's robotic doppelgänger. Turner still demanded payment for even the use of Kong's likeness, and since Toho did not legally own Mechani-Kong, they shelved the project altogether.
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