The cinematic evolution of King Kong over more than 80 years

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Kong (2)

Godzilla may be the king of all monsters, but he wasn’t the first abomination to tear a major metropolis to pieces on the big screen. Instead, that honour went to King Kong way back in 1933, as the king of Skull Island made a massive impact not only on the audiences who flocked to see the great ape on the silver screen, but the movie industry itself.

Over the years, Kong has been in numerous movies and even more terrible TV series which I am not going to f***ing list here because I’m a purist, with his size changing accordingly to the budget and special effects involved at the time. So just how big was King Kong before beauty felled that beast?

King Kong – 1933

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The original flavour of King Kong was a towering behemoth, and possibly the first great movie monster of his era that helped pioneer several special effects for the movie industry. Kong’s size is never consistent in his first movie appearance, starting out with a height of 7 meters/ 24 feet and increasing in size by up to 21m/70ft thanks to some trick photography.

“I was a great believer in constantly changing Kong’s height to fit the settings and the illusions. He’s different in almost every shot; sometimes he’s only 18 feet (5 m) tall and sometimes 60 feet (18 m) or larger,” director Merian C Cooper said in an interview.

This broke every rule that O’Bie and his animators had ever worked with, but I felt confident that if the scenes moved with excitement and beauty, the audience would accept any height that fitted into the scene. For example if Kong had only been 18 feet (5 m) high on the top of the Empire State Building, he would have been lost, like a little bug; I constantly juggled the heights of trees and dozens of other things.

The one essential thing was to make the audience enthralled with the character of Kong so that they wouldn’t notice or care that he was eighteen feet (5 m) high or forty (12), just as long as he fitted the mystery and excitement of the scenes and action.

King Kong vs. Godzilla – 1962

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In the 1960s, Kaiju movies were massive in Japan and Toho was looking to pit their biggest star against the biggest ape in the west. Officially licensing the character from RKO, Toho scaled their King Kong to be an even match for Godzilla at a height of 45m or 148ft. To make Kong an even bigger threat, they gave the big monkey the ability to absorb electricity and redirect it, a perfect counter for the big G’s infamous atomic fire breath.

King Kong Escapes – 1967

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In the first Toho sequel, Kong was scaled back dramatically in size, now clocking in at a height of 20m/66ft. Still a dangerous ape though. Also, a robot monkey was involved. MONKEY VS ROBOT!

King Kong – 1976

King Kong 1976

43 years after the original film, and the king was back. In a remake of the first film, Kong’s height was a respectable 13m/42ft, although he somehow went through a growth spurt when he landed in New York and walked around at a height of 17m/55ft. Movie magic hey?

King Kong Lives – 1986

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Ten years later, and producer Dino De Laurentiis had an idea for a sequel, with Kong being around 18m/60ft tall. Kong was more ape-like this time however, walking around in a more natural manner that relied on him supporting his weight with his knuckles.

King Kong  – 2005

king kong 2005

Arguably the most realistic version of King Kong, director Peter Jackson’s version of the greatest of apes may not have been the biggest but it certainly was the most savage when it was cornered by a pack of T-Rexes. Battle-scarred and a survivor of Skull Island, Jackson described Kong as “the last surviving member of his species.

He had a mother and a father and maybe brothers and sisters, but they’re dead. He’s the last of the huge gorillas that live on Skull Island, and the last one when he goes…there will be no more. He’s a very lonely creature, absolutely solitary. It must be one of the loneliest existences you could ever possibly imagine. Every day, he has to battle for his survival against very formidable dinosaurs on the island, and it’s not easy for him. He’s carrying the scars of many former encounters with dinosaurs.

I’m imagining he’s probably 100 to 120 years old by the time our story begins. And he has never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature in his long life; it has been a brutal life that he’s lived.

Jackson’s regular motion capture performance artist Andy Serkis created the physical language for this King Kong, with the silverback being 8m/25ft tall, making up for his short stature by being surprisingly more nimble than any other incarnation seen on the big screen.

Kong: Skull Island – 2017

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts hasn’t been shy regarding the size of his Kong, stating that “This is going to be the biggest Kong there’s ever been, Not 10 foot or 30 foot, but a 100-foot ape”. Which will make him a perfect match for the current incarnation of Godzilla over at Legendary Pictures, when a new King Kong V Godzilla flick lands in 2020.

Last Updated: July 20, 2016

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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