King Kong (1933 film)

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King Kong
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
  • Merian C. Cooper
  • Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenplay by
Story by
Music by Max Steiner
Edited byTed Cheesman
Distributed byRadio Pictures
Release date
  • March 2, 1933 (1933-03-02)(New York City)
  • March 24, 1933 (1933-03-24)(Los Angeles)
  • April 7, 1933 (1933-04-07)(United States)
Running time
100 minutes
104 minutes (with overture) [2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$672,254.75 [3]
Box office$5.3 million [3]

King Kong is a 1933 American pre-Code monster adventure romance film [4] directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose was developed from an idea conceived by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933, to rave reviews. It has been ranked by Rotten Tomatoes as the fourth greatest horror film of all time [5] and the forty-sixth greatest film of all time. [6]


The film portrays the story of a huge, gorilla-like creature dubbed Kong who perishes in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman (Wray). King Kong contains stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and a music score by Max Steiner. In 1991, it was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. [7] [8] A sequel, titled Son of Kong , was fast-tracked and released the same year, with several more films made in the following decades, including two remakes which were made in 1976 and 2005 respectively, and a reboot in 2017.


In New York Harbor, filmmaker Carl Denham, known for wildlife films in remote and exotic locations, charters Captain Englehorn's ship, the Venture, for his new project. However, he cannot secure an actress for a role he has been reluctant to describe. Searching the streets of New York City, he meets Ann Darrow and promises her the adventure of a lifetime. The crew boards the Venture and sets off, during which the ship's first mate, Jack Driscoll, falls in love with Ann.

Denham reveals to the crew that their destination is, in fact, Skull Island, an uncharted territory of which he has come to knowledge from a Norwegian ship captain who saved some natives of the island from a canoe, although they died before reaching land. He alludes to a monstrous creature named Kong, rumored to dwell on the island. The crew arrives and anchors offshore. They encounter a native village, separated from the rest of the island by an ancient stone wall with an enormous wooden gate. They witness a group of natives presumably preparing to sacrifice a young woman termed the "bride of Kong" by confining her on the other side of the wall. The intruders are spotted, and the native chief stops the ceremony. When he sees Ann, he offers to trade six of his tribal women for the "golden woman." They rebuff him and return to the Venture.

That night, the natives kidnap Ann from the ship and take her through the wall gate and to an altar, where she is offered to King Kong, an enormous gorilla-like creature. Kong carries a terrified Ann into the wilderness as Denham, Jack, and some volunteers enter the jungle in hopes of rescuing her. They are ambushed by another giant creature, a Stegosaurus (on Skull Island, dinosaurs still exist), which they manage to defeat. After facing a carnivorous Brontosaurus and Kong himself, Jack and Denham are the only survivors.

A Tyrannosaurus rex attempts to devour Ann, but Kong kills it to defend her. Meanwhile, Jack continues to follow them, while Denham returns to the village to enlist the help of more crewmen. Upon arriving in Kong's lair, Ann is menaced by a snake-like Elasmosaurus , which Kong also threatens and kills. While Kong is distracted killing a Pteranodon that tried to fly away with Ann, Jack reaches her, and they climb down a vine dangling from a cliff ledge. When Kong notices and starts pulling them back up, the two fall unharmed. They run through the jungle and back to the village, where Denham, Englehorn, and the surviving crewmen are waiting. Pursuing Ann, Kong breaks open the gate despite the huge beam securing it and the combined efforts of the crew and natives to push it closed. Kong relentlessly rampages through the village until Denham, now determined to bring Kong back alive, knocks him unconscious with a gas bomb.

Shackled in chains, Kong is taken to New York City and presented to a Broadway theatre audience as "King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World." Ann and Jack are brought on stage to join him, surrounded by a group of press photographers. Kong, enraged by the ensuing flash photography, breaks loose. The audience flees in terror. Ann is whisked away to a hotel room on a high floor, but Kong, scaling the building, soon finds her. His hand smashes through the hotel room window, shoves Jack aside, and abducts Ann again. Kong rampages through the city as Ann screams in his grip. He wrecks a crowded elevated train and then climbs the Empire State Building. At its top, he is attacked by four airplanes. Kong destroys one, but finally succumbs to their gunfire. He gazes at Ann one last time before falling to his death. Jack takes an elevator to the top of the building and reunites with Ann. Denham arrives and pushes through a crowd surrounding Kong's corpse in the street. When a policeman remarks that the planes got him, Denham tells him, "No, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast".


Fay Wray - Studio Publicity Photo Wray, Fay 01.jpg
Fay Wray – Studio Publicity Photo
Armstrong featured in the trailer for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) Robert Armstrong.JPG
Armstrong featured in the trailer for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

James Flavin played Second Mate Briggs, and a host of stuntmen and bit players as the ship's crew. Etta McDaniel played a native mother of a child she rescues from Kong's rampage. Sandra Shaw played the New York woman Kong drops to the street from the hotel ledge. [16] Merian C. Cooper played an airplane pilot and Schoedsack the machine gunner in uncredited roles in the film's final scenes. [17] James Dime played a member of the ship's crew [18]



An articulated skeleton of the Brontosaurus used in the film. King Kong (1933), Brontosaur.jpeg
An articulated skeleton of the Brontosaurus used in the film.

Before King Kong entered production, a long tradition of jungle films existed, and, whether drama or documentary, such films (for example Stark Mad ) generally adhered to a narrative pattern that followed an explorer or scientist into the jungle to test a theory only to discover some monstrous aberration in the undergrowth. In these films, scientific knowledge could be subverted at any time, and it was this that provided the genre with its vitality, appeal, and endurance. [19]

In the early 20th century, few zoos had primate exhibits so there was popular demand to see primates on film. At the turn of the 20th century, the Lumière Brothers sent film documentarians to places westerners had never seen, and Georges Méliès utilized trick photography in film fantasies that prefigured that in King Kong. Jungle films were launched in the United States with Beasts in the Jungle (1913), and the film's popularity spawned similar pictures such as Tarzan of the Apes (1918). [19] The Lost World (1925), made movie history with special effects by Willis O'Brien and a crew that later would work on King Kong. [20] King Kong producer Ernest B. Schoedsack had earlier monkey experience directing Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927), also with Merian C. Cooper, and Rango (1931), both of which prominently featured monkeys in authentic jungle settings. Capitalizing on this trend, Congo Pictures released the hoax documentary Ingagi (1930), advertising the film as "an authentic incontestable celluloid document showing the sacrifice of a living woman to mammoth gorillas." Ingagi is now often recognized as a racial exploitation film as it implicitly depicted black women having sex with gorillas, and baby offspring that looked more ape than human. [21] The film was an immediate hit, and by some estimates it was one of the highest-grossing films of the 1930s at over $4 million. Although Cooper never listed Ingagi among his influences for King Kong, it has long been held that RKO green-lit Kong because of the bottom-line example of Ingagi and the formula that "gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits". [22]


Merian C. Cooper's fascination with gorillas began with his boyhood reading of Paul Du Chaillu's Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1861) and was furthered in 1929 by studying a tribe of baboons in Africa while filming The Four Feathers. After reading W. Douglas Burden's The Dragon Lizards of Komodo, he fashioned a scenario depicting African gorillas battling Komodo dragons intercut with artificial stand-ins for joint shots. He then narrowed the dramatis personae to one ferocious, lizard-battling gorilla (rather than a group) and included a lone woman on expedition to appease those critics who belabored him for neglecting romance in his films. A remote island would be the setting and the gorilla would be dealt a spectacular death in New York City. [23]

Cooper took his concept to Paramount Studios in the first years of the Great Depression but executives shied away from a project that sent film crews on costly shoots to Africa and Komodo. In 1931, David O. Selznick brought Cooper to RKO as his executive assistant and promised him he could make his own films. Cooper began immediately developing The Most Dangerous Game , and hired Ernest B. Schoedsack to direct. A huge jungle stage set was built, with Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray as the stars. Once the film was underway, Cooper turned his attention to the studio's big-budget-out-of-control fantasy, Creation , a project with stop motion animator Willis O'Brien about a group of travelers shipwrecked on an island of dinosaurs. [24]

When Cooper screened O'Brien's stop-motion Creation footage, he was unimpressed, but realized he could economically make his gorilla picture by scrapping the Komodo dragons and costly location shoots for O'Brien's animated dinosaurs and the studio's existing jungle set. It was at this time Cooper probably cast his gorilla as a giant named Kong, and planned to have him die at the Empire State Building. The RKO board was wary about the project, but gave its approval after Cooper organized a presentation with Wray, Armstrong, and Cabot, and O'Brien's model dinosaurs. In his executive capacity, Cooper ordered the Creation production shelved, and put its crew to work on Kong. [25]


Cooper assigned recently hired RKO screenwriter and best-selling British mystery/adventure writer Edgar Wallace the job of writing a screenplay and a novel based on his gorilla fantasy. Cooper understood the commercial appeal of Wallace's work and planned to publicize the film as being "based on the novel by Edgar Wallace". Wallace conferred with Cooper and O'Brien (who contributed, among other things, the "Ann's dress" scene) and began work on January 1, 1932. He completed a rough draft called The Beast on January 5, 1932. Cooper thought the draft needed considerable work but Wallace died on February 10, 1932, just after beginning revisions. [19] [26] Despite not using any of the draft in the final production beyond the previously agreed upon plot outline, Cooper gave a screen credit to Wallace as he had promised it as a producer.

Cooper called in James Ashmore Creelman (who was working on the script of The Most Dangerous Game at the time) and the two men worked together on several drafts under the title The Eighth Wonder. Some details from Wallace's rough draft were dropped, such as his boatload of escaped convicts. Wallace's Danby Denham character, a big game hunter, became film director Carl Denham. His Shirley became Ann Darrow and her lover-convict John became Jack Driscoll. The "beauty and the beast" angle was first developed at this time. Kong's escape was switched from Madison Square Garden to Yankee Stadium and (finally) to a Broadway theater. Cute moments involving the gorilla in Wallace's draft were cut because Cooper wanted Kong hard and tough in the belief that his fall would be all the more awesome and tragic. [26]

Time constraints forced Creelman to temporarily drop The Eighth Wonder and devote his time to the Game script. RKO staff writer Horace McCoy was called in to work with Cooper, and it was he who introduced the island natives, a giant wall, and the sacrificial maidens into the plot. Leon Gordon also contributed to the screenplay in a minimal capacity; both he and McCoy went uncredited in the completed film. [10] When Creelman returned to the script full-time, he hated McCoy's "mythic elements", believing the script already had too many over-the-top concepts, but Cooper insisted on keeping them in. RKO head Selznick and his executives wanted Kong introduced earlier in the film (believing the audience would grow bored waiting for his appearance), but Cooper persuaded them that a suspenseful build-up would make Kong's entrance all the more exciting. [27]

Cooper felt Creelman's final draft was slow-paced, too full of flowery dialogue, weighted-down with long scenes of exposition, [27] and written on a scale that would have been prohibitively expensive to film. [28] Writer Ruth Rose (Schoedsack's wife) was brought in to do rewrites and, although she had never written a screenplay, undertook the task with a complete understanding of Cooper's style, streamlining the script and tightening the action. Rather than explaining how Kong would be transported to New York, for example, she simply cut from the island to the theater. She incorporated autobiographical elements into the script with Cooper mirrored in the Denham character, her husband Schoedsack in the tough but tender Driscoll character, and herself in struggling actress Ann Darrow. Rose also rewrote the dialogue and created the film's opening sequence, showing Denham meeting Ann on the streets of New York. Cooper was delighted with Rose's script, approving the newly re-titled Kong for production. [29] Cooper and Schoedsack decided to co-direct scenes but their styles were different (Cooper was slow and meticulous, Schoedsack brisk) and they finally agreed to work separately, with Cooper overseeing O'Brien's miniature work and directing the special effects sequences, and Schoedsack directing the dialogue scenes. [30]



Two Western lowland gorillas at Ueno Zoo displaying prominent belly and buttocks. Kong modelers would streamline the armature's torso to minimize the comical and awkward aspects of the gorilla's physique.

After the RKO board approved the production of a test reel, Marcel Delgado constructed Kong (or the "Giant Terror Gorilla" as he was then known) per designs and directions from Cooper and O'Brien on a one-inch-equals-one-foot scale to simulate a gorilla 18 feet tall. [31] Four models were built: two jointed 18-inch aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur models (to be rotated during filming), one jointed 24-inch model of the same materials for the New York scenes, and a small model of lead and fur for the climactic plummeting-down-the-Empire-State-Building shot.[ citation needed ] At least two armatures have survived – one believed to be the original made for the test footage – and are owned by Peter Jackson and Bob Burns. [32] In 2009, one sold for £121,000 ($200,000) at Christie's in London. [33]

Kong's torso was streamlined to eliminate the comical appearance of the real world gorilla's prominent belly and buttocks. His lips, eyebrows, and nose were fashioned of rubber, his eyes of glass, and his facial expressions controlled by thin, bendable wires threaded through holes drilled in his aluminum skull. During filming, Kong's rubber skin dried out quickly under studio lights, making it necessary to replace it often and completely rebuild his facial features. [34]

The stop-motion animated King Kong atop the Empire State Building and battling a Curtiss F8C Helldiver airplane Img kingkong1.jpg
The stop-motion animated King Kong atop the Empire State Building and battling a Curtiss F8C Helldiver airplane

A huge bust of Kong's head, neck, and upper chest was made of wood, cloth, rubber, and bearskin by Delgado, E. B. Gibson, and Fred Reese. [35] Inside the structure, metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor were operated by three men to control the mouth and facial expressions. Its fangs were 10 inches in length and its eyeballs 12 inches in diameter. The bust was moved from set to set on a flatcar. Its scale matched none of the models and, if fully realized, Kong would have stood thirty to forty feet tall. [36]

Two versions of Kong's right hand and arm were constructed of steel, sponge rubber, rubber, and bearskin. [37] The first hand was non articulated, mounted on a crane, and operated by grips for the scene in which Kong grabs at Driscoll in the cave. The other hand and arm had articulated fingers, was mounted on a lever to elevate it, and was used in the several scenes in which Kong grasps Ann. A non articulated leg was created of materials similar to the hands, mounted on a crane, and used to stomp on Kong's victims. [38]

Charles R. Knight's Tyrannosaurus in the American Museum of Natural History, on which the large theropod of the film was based T. rex old posture.jpg
Charles R. Knight's Tyrannosaurus in the American Museum of Natural History, on which the large theropod of the film was based

The dinosaurs were made by Delgado in the same fashion as Kong and based on Charles R. Knight's murals in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. All the armatures were manufactured in the RKO machine shop. Materials used were cotton, foam rubber, latex sheeting, and liquid latex. Football bladders were placed inside some models to simulate breathing.[ citation needed ] A scale of one-inch-equals-one-foot was employed and models ranged from 18 inches to 3 feet in length. Several of the models were originally built for Creation and sometimes two or three models were built of individual species. Prolonged exposure to studio lights wreaked havoc with the latex skin so John Cerasoli carved wooden duplicates of each model to be used as stand-ins for test shoots and lineups. He carved wooden models of Ann, Driscoll, and other human characters. Models of the Venture, railway cars, and war planes were built. [40]

Special effects

Promotional image featuring Kong battling and killing the Tyrannosaurus. King Kong vs Tyrannosaurus.jpg
Promotional image featuring Kong battling and killing the Tyrannosaurus.

King Kong is well known for its groundbreaking use of special effects, such as stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection and miniatures, all of which were conceived decades before the digital age. [41]

The numerous prehistoric creatures inhabiting Skull Island were brought to life through the use of stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and his assistant animator, Buzz Gibson. [42] The stop-motion animation scenes were painstaking and difficult to achieve and complete after the special effects crew realized that they could not stop, because it would make the movements of the creatures seem inconsistent and the lighting would not have the same intensity over the many days it took to fully animate a finished sequence. A device called the surface gauge was used in order to keep track of the stop-motion animation performance. The iconic fight between Kong and the Tyrannosaurus took seven weeks to be completed. O'Brien's protégé, Ray Harryhausen, who later worked with him on several films, stated that O'Brien's second wife noticed that there was so much of her husband in Kong.

The backdrop of Skull Island seen when the Venture crew first arrive was painted on glass by matte painters Henry Hillinck, Mario Larrinaga and Byron C. Crabbé. The scene was then composited with separate bird elements and rear projected behind the ship and the actors. The background of the scenes in the jungle (a miniature set) were also painted on several layers of glass to convey the illusion of deep and dense jungle foliage. [43]

The most difficult task for the special effects crew to achieve was to make live-action footage interact with separately filmed stop-motion animation – to make the interaction between the humans and the creatures of the island seem believable. The most simple of these effects were accomplished by exposing part of the frame, then running the same piece of the film through the camera again by exposing the other part of the frame with a different image. The most complex shots, where the live-action actors interacted with the stop-motion animation, were achieved via two different techniques, the Dunning process and the Williams process, in order to produce the effect of a travelling matte. [44] The Dunning process, invented by cinematographer Carroll H. Dunning, employed the use of blue and yellow lights that were filtered and photographed into black-and-white film. Bi-packing of the camera was used for these types of effects. With it, the special effects crew could combine two strips of different film at the same time, creating the final composite shot in the camera. [45] It was used in the climactic scene where one of the Curtiss Helldiver planes attacking Kong crashes from the top of the Empire State Building, and in the scene where natives are running through the foreground, while Kong is fighting other natives at the wall.

On the other hand, the Williams process, invented by cinematographer Frank D. Williams, did not require a system of colored lights and could be used for wider shots. It was used in the scene where Kong is shaking the sailors off the log, as well as the scene where Kong pushes the gates open. The Williams process did not use bipacking, but rather an optical printer, the first such device that synchronized a projector with a camera, so that several strips of film could be combined into a single composited image. Through the use of the optical printer, the special effects crew could film the foreground, the stop-motion animation, the live-action footage, and the background, and combine all of those elements into one single shot, eliminating the need to create the effects in the camera. [46]

Colored publicity shot combining live actors with stop motion animation. KingKong001C.png
Colored publicity shot combining live actors with stop motion animation.

Another technique that was used in combining live actors and stop-motion animation was rear-screen projection. The actor would have a translucent screen behind him where a projector would project footage onto the back of the translucent screen. [47] The translucent screen was developed by Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman, who received a Special Achievement Oscar. It was used in the famous scene where Kong and the Tyrannosaurus fight while Ann watches from the branches of a nearby tree. The stop-motion animation was filmed first. Fay Wray then spent a twenty-two hour period sitting in a fake tree acting out her observation of the battle, which was projected onto the translucent screen while the camera filmed her witnessing the projected stop-motion battle. She was sore for days after the shoot. The same process was also used for the scene where sailors from the Venture kill a Stegosaurus.

O'Brien and his special effects crew also devised a way to use rear projection in miniature sets. A tiny screen was built into the miniature onto which live-action footage would then be projected. [47] A fan was used to prevent the footage that was projected from melting or catching fire. This miniature rear projection was used in the scene where Kong is trying to grab Driscoll, who is hiding in a cave. The scene where Kong puts Ann in the top of a tree switched from a puppet in Kong's hand to a projected footage of Ann sitting.

The scene where Kong fights the snake-like reptile in his lair was likely the most significant special effects achievement of the film, due to the way in which all of the elements in the sequence work together at the same time. The scene was accomplished through the use of a miniature set, stop-motion animation for Kong, background matte paintings, real water, foreground rocks with bubbling mud, smoke and two miniature rear screen projections of Driscoll and Ann.

Over the years, some media reports have alleged that in certain scenes Kong was played by an actor wearing a gorilla suit. [48] [49] However, film historians have generally agreed that all scenes involving Kong were achieved with animated models. [50] [51]

Live-action scenes

King Kong was filmed in several stages over an eight-month period. Some actors had so much time between their Kong periods that they were able to fully complete work on other films. Cabot completed Road House and Wray appeared in the horror films Dr. X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). She estimated she worked for ten weeks on Kong over its eight-month production.[ citation needed ]

In May and June 1932, Cooper directed the first live-action Kong scenes on the jungle set built for The Most Dangerous Game. Some of these scenes were incorporated into the test reel later exhibited for the RKO board. The script was still in revision when the jungle scenes were shot and much of the dialogue was improvised. The jungle set was scheduled to be struck after Game was completed, so Cooper filmed all of the other jungle scenes at this time. The last scene shot was that of Driscoll and Ann racing through the jungle to safety following their escape from Kong's lair.[ citation needed ]

In July 1932, the native village was readied while Schoedsack and his crew filmed establishing shots in the harbor of New York City. Curtiss F8C-5/O2C-1 Helldiver war planes taking off and in flight were filmed at a U.S. Naval airfield on Long Island. Views of New York City were filmed from the Empire State Building for backgrounds in the final scenes and architectural plans for the mooring mast were secured from the building's owners for a mock-up to be constructed on the Hollywood sound stage. [52]

King Kong views Ann on the limb of a tree King Kong Fay Wray 1933.jpg
King Kong views Ann on the limb of a tree

In August 1932, the island landing party scene and the gas bomb scene were filmed south of Los Angeles on a beach at San Pedro, California. All of the native village scenes were then filmed on the RKO-Pathé lot in Culver City with the native huts recycled from Bird of Paradise (1932). The great wall in the island scenes was a hand-me-down from DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and dressed up with massive gates, a gong, and primitive carvings. The scene of Ann being led through the gates to the sacrificial altar was filmed at night with hundreds of extras and 350 lights for illumination. A camera was mounted on a crane to follow Ann to the altar. The Culver City Fire Department was on hand due to concerns that the set might go up in flames from the many native torches used in the scene. The wall and gate were destroyed in 1939 for Gone With the Wind 's burning of Atlanta sequence. Hundreds of extras were once again used for Kong's rampage through the native village, and filming was completed with individual vignettes of mayhem and native panic.

Meanwhile, the scene depicting a New York woman being dropped to her apparent death from a hotel window was filmed on the sound stage using the articulated hand. At the same time, a scene depicting poker players surprised by Kong's face peering through a window was filmed using the 'big head', although the scene was eventually dropped. [53] When filming was completed, a break was scheduled to finish construction of the interior sets and to allow screenwriter Ruth Rose time to finish the script.

In September–October 1932, Schoedsack returned to the sound stage after completing the native village shoots in Culver City. The decks and cabins of the Venture were constructed and all the live-action shipboard scenes were then filmed. The New York scenes were filmed, including the scene of Ann being plucked from the streets by Denham, and the diner scene. Following completion of the interior scenes, Schoedsack returned to San Pedro and spent a day on a tramp steamer to film the scene of Driscoll punching Ann, and various atmospheric harbor scenes. The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles was rented for one day to film the scenes where Kong is displayed in chains and the backstage theater scenes following his escape. [54] Principal photography wrapped at the end of October 1932 with the filming of the climax wherein Driscoll rescues Ann at the top of the Empire State Building. Schoedsack's work was completed and he headed to Syria to film outdoor scenes for Arabia, a project that was never completed. [55]

In December 1932 – January 1933, the actors were called back to film a number of optical effects shots which were mostly rear-screen projections.[ citation needed ] Technical problems inherent in the process made filming difficult and time-consuming. Wray spent most of a twenty-two hour period sitting in a fake tree to witness the battle between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus . She was sore for days after. Many of the scenes featuring Wray in the articulated hand were filmed at this time.[ citation needed ] In December, Cooper re-shot the scene of the female New Yorker falling to her death. Stunt doubles were filmed for the water scenes depicting Driscoll and Ann escaping from Kong. A portion of the jungle set was reconstructed to film Denham snagging his sleeve on a branch during the pursuit scene. Originally, Denham ducked behind a bush to escape danger, but this was later considered cowardly and the scene was re shot. The final scene was originally staged on the top of the Empire State Building, but Cooper was dissatisfied and re shot the scene with Kong lying dead in the street with the crowd gathered about him.[ citation needed ] The final negative cost of King Kong was $672,254.75, $270,000 more than the original projected budget. [56]


Murray Spivack provided the sound effects for the film. Kong's roar was created by mixing the recorded growls of zoo lions and tigers, subsequently played backwards slowly. Spivak himself provided Kong's "love grunts" by grunting into a megaphone and playing it at a slow speed. For the huge ape's footsteps, Spivak stomped across a gravel-filled box with plungers wrapped in foam attached to his own feet, while the sounds of his chest beats were recorded by Spivak hitting his assistant (who had a microphone held to his back) on the chest with a drumstick. Spivak created the hisses and croaks of the dinosaurs with an air compressor for the former and his own vocals for the latter. The vocalizations of the Tyrannosaurus were additionally mixed in with puma screams. Bird squawks were used for the Pteranodon. Spivak also provided the numerous screams of the various sailors. Fay Wray herself provided all of her character's screams in a single recording session. [57] [58]

For budgetary reasons, RKO decided not to have an original film score composed, instead instructing composer Max Steiner to simply reuse music from other films. Cooper thought the film deserved an original score and paid Steiner $50,000 to compose it. Steiner completed the score in six weeks and recorded it with a 46-piece orchestra. The studio later reimbursed Cooper. [59] The score was unlike any that came before and marked a significant change in the history of film music. King Kong's score was the first feature-length musical score written for an American "talkie" film, the first major Hollywood film to have a thematic score rather than background music, the first to mark the use of a 46-piece orchestra, and the first to be recorded on three separate tracks (sound effects, dialogue, and music). Steiner used a number of new film scoring techniques, such as drawing upon opera conventions for his use of leitmotifs. [60] Over the years, Steiner's score was recorded by multiple record labels and the original motion picture soundtrack has been issued on a compact disc. [61]


Trailer for the 1938 re-release of King Kong (1:31)
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where King Kong held its world premiere Grauman's Chinese Theatre, by Carol Highsmith fixed & straightened.jpg
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where King Kong held its world premiere


King Kong opened at the 6,200-seat Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the 3,700-seat RKO Roxy across the street on Thursday, March 2, 1933. The film was preceded by a stage show called Jungle Rhythms. Crowds lined up around the block on opening day, tickets were priced at $.35 to $.75, and, in its first four days, every one of its ten-shows-a-day was sold out – setting an all-time attendance record for an indoor event. Over the four-day period, the film grossed $89,931. [62] [63]

The film had its official world premiere on March 23, 1933 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The 'big head bust' was placed in the theater's forecourt and a seventeen-act show preceded the film with The Dance of the Sacred Ape performed by a troupe of African American dancers the highpoint. Kong cast and crew attended and Wray thought her on-screen screams distracting and excessive. The film opened nationwide on April 10, 1933, and worldwide on Easter Day in London, England. [62] [64] It was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956, [63] the latter following a successful telecast on WOR-TV. [65]

Censorship and restorations

The Production Code's stricter decency rules had been put into effect in Hollywood after its 1933 premiere and it was progressively censored further, with several scenes being either trimmed or excised altogether. These scenes were as follows: An Apatosaurus mauling crewmen in the water, chasing one up a tree and killing him; Kong undressing Ann Darrow and sniffing his fingers; Kong biting and stepping on natives when he attacks the village; Kong biting a reporter in New York; Kong mistaking a sleeping woman for Ann and dropping her to her death, after realizing his mistake. An additional scene portraying giant insects, spiders, a lizard and a tentacled creature devouring the crew members shaken off the log by Kong into the floor of the canyon below was deemed too gruesome by RKO even by pre-Code standards, and thus the scene was studio self-censored prior to original release. Though searched for, the footage is now considered "lost forever" with only a few stills and pre-production drawings. [66] [67] After the 1956 re-release, the film was sold to television (first being broadcast March 5, 1956). [68]

RKO did not preserve copies of film's negative or release prints with the excised footage, and the cut scenes were considered lost for many years. In 1969, a 16mm print, including the censored footage, was found in Philadelphia. The cut scenes were added to the film, restoring it to its original theatrical running time of 100 minutes. This version was re-released to art houses by Janus Films in 1970. [66] Over the next two decades, Universal Studios carried out further photochemical restoration on King Kong. This was based on a 1942 release print, with missing censor cuts taken from a 1937 print, which "contained heavy vertical scratches from projection." [69] An original release print located in the UK in the 1980s was found to contain the cut scenes in better quality. After a 6-year worldwide search for the best surviving materials, a further, fully digital, restoration utilizing 4K resolution scanning was completed by Warner Bros. in 2005. [70] This restoration also had a 4-minute overture added, bringing the overall running time to 104 minutes. King Kong was also, somewhat controversially, colorized in the late 1980s for television. [71]

Home media

In 1984, King Kong was one of the first films to be released on LaserDisc by the Criterion Collection, and was the very first movie to have an audio commentary track included. [72] Criterion's audio commentary was by film historian Ron Haver; in 1985 Image Entertainment released another LaserDisc, this time with a commentary by film historian and soundtrack producer Paul Mandell. The Haver commentary was preserved in full on the FilmStruck streaming service. King Kong had numerous VHS and LaserDisc releases of varying quality prior to receiving an official studio release on DVD. Those included a Turner 60th anniversary edition in 1993 featuring a front cover which had the sound effect of Kong roaring when his chest was pressed. It also included the colorized version of the film and a 25-minute documentary, It Was Beauty Killed the Beast (1992). The documentary is also available on two different UK King Kong DVDs, while the colorized version is available on DVD in the UK and Italy. [73] Warner Home Video re-released the black and white version on VHS with the 25-minute documentary included under the Warner Bros. Classics label in 1999.

In 2005 Warner Bros released their digital restoration of King Kong in a US 2-disc Special Edition DVD, coinciding with the theatrical release of Peter Jackson's remake. It had numerous extra features, including a new, third audio commentary by visual effects artists Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with archival excerpts from actress Fay Wray and producer/director Merian C. Cooper. Warners issued identical DVDs in 2006 in Australia and New Zealand, followed by a US digibook-packaged Blu-ray in 2010. [74] In 2014 the Blu-ray was repackaged with three unrelated films in a 4 Film Favorites: Colossal Monster Collection. At present, Universal holds worldwide rights to Kong's home video releases outside of North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. All Universal's releases only contain their earlier, 100 minute, pre-2005 restoration. [70]


Box office

The film was a box-office success making about $5 million in worldwide rentals on its initial release, with an opening weekend estimated at $90,000. Receipts fell by up to 50% in the second week of the film's release because of the national "bank holiday" called in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first days in office. [75] During the film's first run it made a profit of $650,000. [3] Prior to the 1952 re-release, the film is reported to have worldwide rentals of $2,847,000 including $1,070,000 from the United States and Canada and profits of $1,310,000. [3] After the 1952 re-release, Variety estimated the film had made an additional $1.6 million in the United States and Canada taking its total to $3.9 million in cumulative domestic (United States and Canada) rentals. [76] Profits from the 1952 re-release were estimated by the studio at $2.5 million. [3]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 56 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "King Kong explores the soul of a monster – making audiences scream and cry throughout the film – in large part due to Kong's breakthrough special effects." [77] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "Universal acclaim". [78]

Variety thought the film was a powerful adventure. [79] The New York Times gave readers an enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film a fascinating adventure. [80] John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "ridiculous", but wrote that there were "many scenes in this picture that are certainly diverting". [81] The New York World-Telegram said it was "one of the very best of all the screen thrillers, done with all the cinema's slickest camera tricks". [82] The Chicago Tribune called it "one of the most original, thrilling and mammoth novelties to emerge from a movie studio." [83]

On February 3, 2002, Roger Ebert included King Kong in his "Great Movies" list, writing that "In modern times the movie has aged, as critic James Berardinelli observes, and 'advances in technology and acting have dated aspects of the production.' Yes, but in the very artificiality of some of the special effects, there is a creepiness that isn't there in today's slick, flawless, computer-aided images.... Even allowing for its slow start, wooden acting and wall-to-wall screaming, there is something ageless and primeval about King Kong that still somehow works." [84]

Racism allegation

In the 19th and early 20th century, people of African descent were commonly visually represented as ape-like, a metaphor that fit racist stereotypes, further bolstered by the emergence of scientific racism. [85] Early films frequently mirrored racial tensions. While King Kong is often compared to the story of Beauty and the Beast, many film scholars have argued that the film was a cautionary tale about interracial romance, in which the film's "carrier of blackness is not a human being, but an ape". [86] [87] Cooper and Schoedsack rejected any allegorical interpretations, insisting in interviews that the film's story contained no hidden meanings. [88] In an interview, which was published posthumously, Cooper actually explained the deeper meaning of the film. The inspiration for the climactic scene came when, "as he was leaving his office in Manhattan, he heard the sound of an airplane motor. He reflexively looked up as the sun glinted off the wings of a plane flying extremely close to the tallest building in the city... he realized if he placed the giant gorilla on top of the tallest building in the world and had him shot down by the most modern of weapons, the armed airplane, he would have a story of the primitive doomed by modern civilization." [89]

The film was initially banned in Nazi Germany, with the censors describing it as an "attack against the nerves of the German people" and a "violation of German race feeling". However, according to confidant Ernst Hanfstaengl, Adolf Hitler was "fascinated" by the film and saw it several times. [90]


Kong did not receive any Academy Awards nominations. Selznick wanted to nominate O'Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects but the Academy declined. Such a category did not exist at the time and would not exist until 1938. Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman received a special achievement award for the development of the translucent acetate/cellulose rear screen – the only Kong-related award. [91]


The film has since received some significant honors. In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute. In 1981, a video game titled Donkey Kong , starring a character with similarities to Kong, was released. In 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. [92] [93] In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. [94] [95]

American Film Institute Lists


The 1933 King Kong film and character inspired imitations and installments. Son of Kong , a direct sequel to the 1933 film was released nine months after the first film's release. In the early 1960s, RKO had licensed the King Kong character to Japanese studio Toho and produced two King Kong films, King Kong vs. Godzilla (a crossover with the Godzilla series) and King Kong Escapes , both directed by Ishirō Honda.

In 1976, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis released his version of King Kong, a modern remake of the 1933 film, which was followed by a sequel in 1986 titled King Kong Lives . In 2005, Universal Pictures released another remake of King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson. Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. released a Kong reboot film titled Kong: Skull Island in 2017 which was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and is the second installment of Legendary's MonsterVerse , with a sequel Godzilla vs. Kong directed by Adam Wingard set for a May 2021 release, marking the second time Kong fights Godzilla.

See also

Related Research Articles

Fay Wray American actress

Vina Fay Wray was a Canadian-born American actress best remembered for starring as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film King Kong. Through an acting career that spanned nearly six decades, Wray attained international recognition as an actress in horror films. She has been dubbed one of the early "scream queens".

<i>King Kong</i> (2005 film) 2005 film directed by Peter Jackson

King Kong is a 2005 epic monster adventure film co-written, produced, and directed by Peter Jackson. A second remake of the 1933 film of the same title, the film stars Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, and Andy Serkis as the title character, through motion capture. Set in 1933, it follows the story of an ambitious filmmaker who coerces his cast and hired ship crew to travel to the mysterious Skull Island. There, they encounter prehistoric creatures living on the island as well as a legendary giant gorilla known as Kong, whom they capture and take to New York City. Filming for King Kong took place in New Zealand from September 2004 to March 2005. The project's budget climbed from an initial $150 million to a then-record-breaking $207 million.

Merian C. Cooper American aviator, actor, director and producer

Merian Caldwell Cooper was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director, and producer. Cooper was the founder of the Kościuszko Squadron during the Polish–Soviet War and was a Soviet prisoner of war for a time. He was a notable movie producer, and got his start with film as part of the Explorers Club, traveling the world and documenting adventures. He was a member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways, but his love of film always took priority. During his film career, he worked for companies such as Pioneer Pictures, RKO Pictures, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He is also credited as co-inventor of the Cinerama film projection process. Cooper's most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

<i>King Kong</i> (1976 film) 1976 film by John Guillermin

King Kong is a 1976 American monster adventure film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. It is a remake of the 1933 film of the same name about a giant ape that is captured and taken to New York City for exhibition. Featuring special effects by Carlo Rambaldi, it stars Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange in her first film role.

<i>The Mighty Kong</i>

The Mighty Kong is a 1998 American direct-to-video animated, musical adaptation of the classic King Kong story, produced by Lana Productions. Jodi Benson and Dudley Moore headed its cast of voice actors. The film was animated overseas by the South Korean animation studios including Hahn Shin Corporation, and by Jade Animation in Hong Kong. It features original songs by the Sherman Brothers. The film was released on VHS on June 16, 1998 by Warner Home Video and Warner Bros. Family Entertainment as a part of their 75th Anniversary promotion. It was released on DVD by Tri-Coast Entertainment in 2019 as a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release that is only available through online stores. The film is currently available on multiple streaming platforms such as Tubi and Vimeo.

King Kong Fictional character, a giant movie monster resembling a colossal gorilla

King Kong is a film monster, resembling an enormous gorilla, that has appeared in various media since 1933. He has been dubbed The Eighth Wonder of the World, a phrase commonly used within the films. The character first appeared in the novelization of the 1933 film King Kong from RKO Pictures, with the film premiering a little over two months later. The film received universal acclaim upon its initial release and re-releases. A sequel quickly followed that same year with The Son of Kong, featuring Little Kong. In the 1960s, Toho produced King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), pitting a larger Kong against Toho's own Godzilla, and King Kong Escapes (1967), based on The King Kong Show (1966–1969) from Rankin/Bass Productions. In 1976, Dino De Laurentiis produced a modern remake of the original film directed by John Guillermin. A sequel, King Kong Lives, followed a decade later featuring a Lady Kong. Another remake of the original, this time set in 1933, was released in 2005 from filmmaker Peter Jackson.

Carl Denham

Carl Denham is a fictional character in the films King Kong and The Son of Kong, as well as in the 2005 remake of King Kong, and a 2004 illustrated novel titled Kong: King of Skull Island. The role was played by Robert Armstrong in the 1933 films and by Jack Black in the 2005 remake. Denham's function in the story is to initiate the action by bringing the characters to Skull Island, where they encounter the giant beast Kong. Denham then brings Kong to New York City to put him on display as entertainment, but he escapes and rampages through the city.

<i>Mighty Joe Young</i> (1949 film) 1949 US black-and-white fantasy film by Ernest B. Schoedsack

Mighty Joe Young is a 1949 American black and white fantasy film distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and produced by the same creative team responsible for King Kong (1933). Produced by Merian C. Cooper, who wrote the story, and Ruth Rose, who wrote the screenplay, the film was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and stars Robert Armstrong, Terry Moore, and Ben Johnson in his first credited screen role. Animation effects were handled by Ray Harryhausen, Pete Peterson and Marcel Delgado.

<i>Son of Kong</i> 1933 American adventure monster film directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack

Son of Kong is a 1933 American Pre-Code adventure monster film produced by RKO Pictures. Directed by Ernest Schoedsack and featuring special effects by Buzz Gibson and Willis O'Brien, the film stars Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack and Frank Reicher. The film is the sequel to King Kong.

Skull Island Fictional island in King Kong media

Skull Island is the name most often used to describe a fictional island that first appeared in the 1933 film King Kong and later appearing in its sequels, the two remakes, and any other King Kong-based media. It is the home of the eponymous King Kong and several other species of creatures, mostly prehistoric and in some cases species that should have been extinct long before the rise of mammalian creatures, along with a primitive society of humans.

Robert Armstrong (actor) American actor

Robert William Armstrong was an American film and television actor remembered for his role as Carl Denham in the 1933 version of King Kong by RKO Pictures. He uttered the famous exit quote, "'it wasn't the airplanes, 'twas beauty killed the beast," at the film's end.

Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack was an American motion picture cinematographer, producer, and director. He worked on several films with Merian C. Cooper including King Kong and Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness.

Jack Driscoll is a fictional character in the King Kong franchise. In the original 1933 film he was the first mate of the ship named the Venture, while in its 2005 remake he was a playwright. He was played by Bruce Cabot in the original and by Adrien Brody in the remake. In both versions he is one of the main heroes of the story, a man who is on a ship heading for the mysterious Skull Island where Carl Denham intends to make a film. On the way, Driscoll falls in love with the actress Ann Darrow. When she is kidnapped by a giant ape named Kong on the island, Driscoll rescues her after helping to lead a search. Beyond these facts, his characterization is quite different in the two films.

Creation is an unfinished feature film, and a project of stop motion animator Willis O'Brien. It was about modern men encountering dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on an island. The picture was scrapped by RKO studio head David O. Selznick on the grounds of expense, and Merian C. Cooper, the studio producer who recommended the film's cancellation, considered the storyline to be boring, due to lack of action. The completed footage ran 20 minutes in length, although approximately eleven minutes of footage is all that survives today. Cooper later used some of the miniatures and dinosaur armatures and O'Brien's stop-motion animation techniques for King Kong.

<i>The Most Dangerous Game</i> (film) 1932 film

The Most Dangerous Game is a 1932 pre-Code adaptation of the 1924 short story of the same name by Richard Connell, the first film version of that story. The plot concerns a big game hunter on an island who hunts humans for sport. The film stars Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks, and King Kong leads Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong; it was made by a team including Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, the co-directors of King Kong (1933). The film was shot at night on the King Kong jungle sets.

King Kong (comics)

Throughout the decades King Kong has been featured in numerous comic book publications from numerous publishers.

King Kong is one of the best-known figures in cinema history. He and the series of films featuring him are frequently referenced in popular culture around the world. King Kong has achieved the stature of a pop-culture icon and modern myth. King Kong has inspired advertisements, cartoons, comic books, films, magazine covers, plays, poetry, political cartoons, short stories, television programmes, and other media. The forms of references to King Kong range from straight copies to parodies and humorous references.

Ruth Rose

Ruth Rose was a writer who worked on several films in the 1930s and the 1940s, most famously the original 1933 classic King Kong.

<i>King Kong</i> (2013 musical)

King Kong is a musical with music by Marius de Vries, lyrics by Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, a book by Lucas and additional musical and lyrical contributions by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches. It is based on the 1933 film of the same name. The original production was mounted in Australia in 2013. A re-worked Broadway production premiered in October 2018.

<i>King Kong</i> (franchise)

King Kong is an American media franchise featuring King Kong, initially created by RKO Radio Pictures and now owned by Warner Bros. Films featuring Kong over the years are currently owned by various studios, including Toho, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. The film franchise consists of twelve monster films, including seven Hollywood films, two Japanese kaiju films produced by Toho, and three direct-to-video animated films. The first film, King Kong, was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and released by Radio Pictures in 1933 and became an influential classic of the genre. Toho was later inspired to make the original Godzilla after the commercial success of the 1952 re-release of King Kong and the success of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). The success of King Kong would go on to inspire other monster films worldwide. The popularity of the films has led to the franchise expanding to other media, such as television, music, literature and video games. King Kong has been one of the most recognizable symbols in American pop culture worldwide and remains a well-known facet of American films. The character of King Kong has become one of the world's most famous movie icons, having inspired a number of sequels, remakes, spin-offs, imitators, parodies, cartoons, books, comics, video games, theme park rides, and a stage play. His role in the different narratives varies, ranging from a rampaging monster to a tragic antihero.


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