Feature: King of Kings

“Oh no, it wasn’t the aeroplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

First said in the 1933 classic King Kong, this snippet is one of the most quoted lines in movie-ending history. And almost 90 years later, it remains etched into the memory of fans everywhere. King Kong isn’t just a movie monster he is a pop culture icon that has appeared in many mediums.

Today, we will look back at what made King Kong a staple in popular culture — and in our lives.

The Rise of a Kingdom

King Kong, a character created by American aviator and screenwriter Merian C. Cooper in 1930, is the centre of the £1.14 billion media franchise of the same name. The concept for the character was conceived by Cooper’s fascination with gorillas, combined with a dream he had that a giant gorilla was terrorising New York City.

After the first film, King Kong, became an instant classic, it was immediately followed by Son of Kong later that year, although the sequel’s impact is significantly lesser. But, both films were largely praised for their use of stop-motion effects, which many considered to be a pioneering achievement.

A Filmmaking Revolution

From its first film, the King Kong franchise has always been a forerunner of filmmaking developments. Aside from stop-motion models, miniatures were also utilised, especially when Kong and his opponents needed to move. But to make it look like these models were interacting with reality, the filmmakers relied on in-camera techniques, with actors performing in front of a screen that projected images. They also used the Dunning process, which combined the images simultaneously captured by two strips of film.

Over time, with more visual effects techniques being developed, animating King Kong became easier, and the results were more realistic. In fact, the 1976 version, which brought the giant ape to life through men in gorilla suits and a robot version of Kong, received an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Fast-forward to 2005: Motion capture was used to create the gorilla, introducing the character into the age of digital cinema.

Kong’s Cultural Impact

One of the world’s most recognisable icons, King Kong inspired sequels, spin-offs, remakes, comic books, graphic novels, and even theme park rides. The 2017 release Kong: Skull Island is the highest-grossing film in the franchise, starring Hollywood A-listers Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brie Larson. It serves as a reboot of the franchise, with scientists and soldiers exploring Kong’s home Skull Island in 1973. On the other hand, despite being delayed due to the pandemic, the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong still broke box-office records, earning £315 million worldwide. But aside from a dozen blockbuster films, King Kong is also the star of four successful television shows, with one being styled as an anime to be released on Netflix.

King Kong has also been the object of fascination for many gamers — from the 1982 King Kong game for the Atari 2600, all the way to 2017’s KONG VR: Destination Skull Island, which placed gamers right inside Kong’s world (and eventually, his mouth). Online, he’s been featured in battle royale titles with 2012’s Godzilla Daikaiju Battle Royale and according to Foxy Games, he actually featured on his very own slot title in Blueprint Gaming’s King Kong Cash. Here, Kong is depicted as a gorilla living deep in the jungle, and the player must wake him up to win exciting bonuses. Moreover, Kong has even graced a Broadway musical that saw the 20-feet tall puppet move in over 20 shows.

An Enduring Spirit

All in all, there is a reason why a media franchise about a gorilla has lasted for almost 90 years now. The original premise was simple: A giant ape named Kong was taken from his home on Skull Island to be displayed to humans as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. He then escaped from captivity and climbed the Empire State Building, wanting to protect Ann Darrow, the girl he fell in love with. Amidst the action and destruction, he was simply a beast overwhelmed by emotions — and there is nothing more human than that.