By Claire Downs
King Kong first stomped into theaters in 1933, and with last week’s release of Kong: Skull Island the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World” is wreaking havoc again. Kong is killing box office competition (amassing $61 million in its first weekend in theaters), and slaying the on-screen performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and John C. Reilly.
It’s no wonder that so many stars want to associate with Kong’s Hollywood royalty status. The character’s 84-year cinema history is filled with false starts, groundbreaking special effects, and weird coincidences. These BTS stories will destroy your perceptions of the king of the jungle and give you a new look into the OG Harambe.
1. Tall, Dark and Handsome
The 1933 blockbuster, King Kong, catapulted scream queen, Fay Wray to superstardom. But when she asked writer/director Merian C. Cooper who her co-star was, he promised her “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” Wray assumed he was talking about actor Cary Grant, instead of the colossal ape, Kong.
2. Hitler’s Fav Film
Everybody loves a good movie, including German dictator, Adolf Hitler, apparently. Recent history book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler revealed that the führer watched King Kong over and over. His second favorite movie? Snow White.
3. Size Matters
The OG film’s Kong was supposed to appear to be 18 feet tall while on Skull Island and 24 feet tall while climbing the Empire State Building New York City, because, according to the director, “New York is bigger.” The actual stop-motion model was 18 inches. Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong scaled the ape back to 25 feet, but this year’s Skull Island uses a 100-foot version of the beast.
4. The Struggle Was Real
During Fay Wray’s famous scene where she struggled to get free of the beast’s grip, Wray was barely acting. The crew used a large model of a gorilla’s hand at a 70-foot scale, placed Fay inside of it, and used a crane to make it “shake” ten feet into the air. The higher the crane lifted, the looser the prop’s grip got. Fay nearly fell several times during filming and begged the director to cut multiple times.
5. When Kong Flipped Off the Director
In the 1976 remake, starring Feud’s Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges, King Kong’s famous animatronic hands also got a reboot. Weighing in at 1,650 pounds a piece, the monster’s paws improved upon the original models. But, when director Dino De Laurentiis came to check them out, a glitch in the system caused one to extend a middle finger in his direction before completely breaking.
6. The Japanese Versions
There are three versions of King Kong that people are familiar with: the original stop-motion Kongs, the modern CGI Kongs (from the 1980s-today) and the “man-in-a-monkey suit” Kong. The latter image is from when Toho, a Japanese film studio, licensed King Kong in the 60s. In King Kong vs. Godzilla the two beasts battle it out on Mt. Fuji before falling to their supposed deaths. In King Kong Escapes the ape fights a robotic version of himself, called Mechani-Kong. Both movies also gave the king of the jungle a new superpower: the ability to harness electricity.
7. Kong vs. Other Reptiles
The original 1933 film featured pre-historic scenes. Naturally, director Cooper wanted real Komodo dragons to stand-in as dinosaurs in the background. Unfortunately, the dragons perished en route to the filming location. Merian C. Cooper was saddened by their deaths and decided to include a stop-motion battle with a T-Rex in the film’s final cut.
8. King Kong vs. Frankenstein
Willis O’Brien, the original stop-motion animator of the 1933 film, was an innovator. After working with Thomas Edison, yes, inventor of the lightbulb, O’Brien pioneered stop-motion animation and other special effects in Hollywood. But his true dream was to make a movie titled King Kong vs. Frankenstein. When nobody was interested, O’Brien and his writing partner changed Frankenstein to Prometheus, but no studio was interested in such a bizarre project.
9. Is King Kong a Gorilla or Something Else?
In both the 1933 and 1976 versions, King Kong is described as a “prehistoric ape” with semi-human intelligence and extreme strength. He walks on both his knuckles, like a real ape, and on two feet, but expresses human emotions. Peter Jackson’s 2005 reboot scaled the beast down, and opted to make King Kong a larger-than-life, aging silverback gorilla who is the last of his species. But, Kong: Skull Island isn’t interested in grounding their King Kong in this kind of biological reality. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts says his Kong is a “classic movie monster” who is part of a super race of larger-than-life beasts, not an oversized gorilla.
10. King Kong Will Battle Godzilla Again
Moviegoers love crossovers and Legendary Pictures, the production company behind Skull Island has already signed on to two more monster movies. Godzilla 2 comes out in 2018 and Godzilla Vs. King Kong is set to release in 2020. It’s awhile away, but no doubt this throw down is going to be epic.
Watch: Was This City Destroyed By Godzilla?