He’s big. He’s hairy. And he’s more than 80 years-old.
I’m talking about giant ape King Kong, equal parts tragic hero and villain, who first appeared in a classic film in 1933 and recently hit theatres in Kong: Skull Island. But which of his eight film appearances are the best? Let the count down begins:
#8 King Kong Escapes (1967)
When the Japanese got their hands on King Kong they first paired him with Godzilla. In this second film they had him fight MechaGodzilla, sorry, Mechani-Kong. King Kong Escapes is cheesy, has awful, dated effects and is not even bad in a “so bad it’s good” way. In this film evil scientist Dr Who (not the British time traveling alien) creates a robot version of Kong to dig up “Element X”. And for some reason there is a Japanese woman who can easily communicate with Kong. So very dumb.
#7 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
As Godzilla rampages through Tokyo the only hope is for Kong to stop him. And what could be more awesome than seeing these two movie monster titans battling onscreen? Well there is some novelty to be had with the battles and ridiculous miniature effects (my wife laughed at them while I was watching it). It is weird, though, seeing Kong suddenly develop electricity powers. But it’s a decent kaiju film and the US scenes do lend some seriousness to the affair. As far as Kong films go, though, it is just above the bottom of the barrel.
#6 Son of Kong (1933)
Just seven months after the original film Radio Pictures put out this sequel. Robert Armstrong returns as Carl Denham and his charm is one of the high points of the film. He is forced to return to Kong’s island and meets Kong’s son who is a smaller, albino and puppy dog friendly version. They try to inject some humour with Jr Kong’s hijinks and wacky theme music but it is very annoying. It is not a bad film but without a powerful, menacing Kong it feels disappointing.
#5 King Kong Lives (1986)
A decade after the 1976 remake we got this sequel. The only link between this and the previous film is that after Kong gets shot down by helicopters he goes into a coma, yes a coma. An adventurer named Hank Mitchell discovers a Lady Kong who gives the original Kong a blood transfusion. Kong inevitably gets loose and goes ape crap and it is up to Mitchell and a doctor, played by a charming post-Terminator Linda Hamilton, to protect the two big apes from the military. The scenes between Kong and his lady are sappy but there is solid action and the story is easy enough to follow. And we get to see Kong eat people and rip hillbillies in half, and who doesn’t want to see that. Those Lady Kong boobs though, are from Wrong Street, Wrongville, USA.
#4 Kong: Skull Island (2017)
More a reimagining than a remake, Kong: Skull Island is set following Vietnam and features a British tracker, a photojournalist, a government official and some military guys heading to the eponymous island to discover the big ape. The effects for Kong and the other creatures are well done and the action scenes are spectacular. But sadly the ensemble cast of Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman are completely wasted and the film lacks depth and a soul. John C. Reilly is fun, though, as an eccentric WWII soldier who had been trapped on the island for almost three decades. Kong: Skull Island is part of a shared universe with Godzilla and he is scheduled to return for Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020.
#3 King Kong (2005)
Director Peter Jackson’s love for the 1933 original clearly shows in this remake and this is the one that sticks closest to the first story. Filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) takes a struggling actress (Naomi Watts), a screenwriter (Adrien Brody) and a film and ship crew to the mysterious Skull Island to film a movie. Watts is charming and Brody is cool but Black is sadly miscast and should stick to comedy. When he said “it was beauty that killed the beast” at the end it fell flatter than a pancake that had been run over by a steam roller. There are some great effects and battles but the movie drags at the beginning and feels bloated compared to the first film.
#2 King Kong (1976)
The very first remake still holds up well to this day. In this version instead of a film crew we get a team searching for oil. They are joined by a stowaway, primate paleontologist Jack Prescott (a very hairy Jeff Bridges) and aspiring actress Dwan (an alluring Jessica Lange). The story follows the basic pattern from then on and is lifted by solid performances by both leads. The effects are not bad for the time period that the movie was made, and the final killing of Kong (by helicopters instead of planes) is one of the most heartbreaking of any of the Kong films.
#1 King Kong (1933)
Sometimes you just cannot beat a classic and this is one of those cases. Eight decades later and the original King Kong is still an epic, fun, well-paced adventure with imaginative stop motion special effects. Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot overflow with chemistry as actress Ann Darrow and screenwriter Jack Driscoll respectively and Armstrong oozes with likability as Carl Denham. The film is required viewing for any movie fan and when it comes to Kong films you ain’t got nuthen on this one.
So that’s my list. Do you agree or am I bananas? Feel free to comment below.