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Film / King Kong (1933)

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"And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive—a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!"

The original version of King Kong, released in 1933, and generally agreed to be not just the very first Kaiju movie of the sound era but one of the greatest American films of all time.

Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a filmmaker known for his exotic animal pictures shot in the wild, brings out-of-work actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on a hurried expedition to find an uncharted island, where he hopes to work on his next film. Ann will provide the "love interest" angle, while an unknown entity called "Kong" will provide the excitement. The ship's crew finds the island inhabited, its natives in the midst of an elaborate ritual where a girl is being ceremoniously decorated. The natives note fair-haired Ann and wish to decorate her instead, and when the crew refuse the natives resort to sneaking aboard the ship and kidnapping her. Tying her to an altar, they resume their ritual, chanting, "Kong! Kong! Kong!" until an enormous something comes crashing through the trees...


First mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), who has developed feelings for Ann, leads the ship's crew on an expedition through the island's interior, where Kong has taken her. Along the way, nearly the entire crew is killed by the prehistoric creatures and other dangers. Meanwhile, Kong defends Ann from attack from a T. rex and shakes the remainder of the crew off a log into a deep crevasse. Jack evades death and continues after Kong, finally reaching the beast's lair in the island's mountain peak. There, while Kong battles a huge pteranodon, Jack and Ann escape and return to the native village. Kong pursues them, intent on retrieving Ann. He crashes through the hundred-foot gate that protects the village, but Denham subdues the monster with gas bombs.

Bringing Kong back to the United States instead of a movie, Denham puts the amazing creature on display in Manhattan. However, misinterpreting the intentions of newsmen trying to photograph Ann, Kong breaks loose from his bonds and begins a rampage through the city seeking the "woman of gold." Finally retrieving her from a hotel, Kong proceeds to climb to the highest point in Manhattan—the Empire State Building. There he attempts to fight off a squadron of biplanes, and Ann makes her escape. While Kong knocks down several that circle too close, the modern war machines finally get the better of the monster, and he plummets to his death. Yet Denham asserts that it wasn't the bullets that truly killed Kong... it was Ann's rejection of him: "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."


Co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and featuring groundbreaking stop-motion animation effects by Willis O'Brien, Kong is an all-time classic. Followed later that year by The Son of Kong. Mighty Joe Young explored the same idea with a large but not giant ape.

Tropes in King Kong include:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Kong's death is intentionally presented as being as much a tragedy as it is a triumph. He may have killed many innocent people both on Skull Island and in his rampage of New York, but he's not a pure evil monster out to cause destruction for the hell of it—he's just an animal taken out of his natural environment and into a world he didn't belong in. He was a both a monster and a victim of circumstances out of his control when he's killed in the climax.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Safari and wildlife travelogues were pretty popular at the time, and a filmmaker like Carl Denham would have been famous. In Real Life, King Kong directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did in fact initially become famous by making the travelogue documentary features Grass and Chang.
  • Always Save the Girl: Half the crew ventures into the jungle to rescue Ann when she's kidnapped by the natives.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Kong has no nipples.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: One of if not the earliest film example, too.
  • Behemoth Battle: Kong's fight with a Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • Beware the Skull Base: Though primarily an Island of Mystery, several fictional homages to the original King Kong (1933) have taken Skull Island's name literally, depicting either its central mountain peak or the actual shoreline as skull-shaped. One could also consider Skull Island to be the base of Kong himself.
  • Big Bad: King Kong, a giant gorilla who terrorizes a native tribe and later New York City.
  • Bittersweet Ending: New York is saved from Kong's wrath, but Kong is ultimately as much a victim as the people he tormented—he was simply an animal brought out of his environment into a world he didn't belong in, making his death as much a tragedy as it is a triumph.
  • Bowdlerize: From the late '30s until the early '70s, audiences were treated to versions of King Kong that were censored in some places. Among the most notable cuts are Kong peeling off pieces of Ann's dress like a banana and sniffing them before tickling her with his fingers and the closeup of him chomping down on a native. Another edit removes the scene of Kong grabbing a woman from a hotel window and upon realizing it's not Ann, dropping her to her death.
  • "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" Debate: The original film is a quite literal depiction of the Trope-naming argument. Merian Cooper was a man fascinated by both the past and the future. He traveled the world studying primitive societies that had not changed for hundreds of years. He was also a bold innovator who made important advances in aviation and motion pictures, and talked in his later life about his wish that he could live long enough to travel in space. In King Kong this duality becomes a violent conflict between the mighty but savage Kong and the technology of the modern world. Cooper recognized that the modern world would eventually win, but in many ways his sympathies lay with the primitive.
  • Character as Himself: Kong is credited with the rest of the cast in the opening titles.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The reason that they must sail immediately is given early in the film: the ship is loaded with explosives, which will be confiscated if the harbormaster or the police happen by. The explosives are used against the monster (see Stun Guns below).
  • Clothing Damage:
    • Kong peels some of Ann's dress off.
    • Jack and Carl both sport ripped sleeves after their time in the jungle.
  • Creator Cameo: Ernest B. Shoedsack and Merion C. Cooper play the flight commander and his observer.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: When Ann is offered up as a sacrifice, she's tied up with her arms outstretched. Later, the captured Kong is exhibited on Broadway with his hands shackled to a crossbeam.
  • Disney Villain Death: Kong is already mortally wounded by the gunshots from the planes, but what deals the final blow is the long fall from the top of Empire State Building.
  • Dire Beast: Kong is one big-ass ape.
  • Dirty Coward: Tim, the sailor who tries to run when the natives notice them, comes off as this. He's also The Load, since he always brings up the rear of the rescue party later and is constantly falling behind (especially when they're running from the brontosaurus). He does, however, save Jimmy from drowning by helping him take off his backpack after the raft overturns.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A savage is taken to America in chains, threatens a white woman and causes mayhem in the city. Some people see a racist subtext here, which is actually unintentional on behalf of the creators. The story was inspired by some Komodo dragons that had been brought to the Bronx Zoo from their native homeland and died in captivity, with Merian C. Cooper believing they were destroyed by civilization, and the threatening women bit comes from "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa," which depicted gorillas threatening women in general regardless of skin color.
  • Dumb Dinos: All the dinosaurs are stupid and violent, actively targeting the humans with no provocation. This includes the herbivores.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: A brontosaurus emerges from the water in this manner to attack Denham's crew on their raft.
  • Exact Words: Fay Wray herself confirms the story that Merian Cooper invited her onto the project by promising her she would have "the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood."
  • Expo Speak: The opening lines are rather painful.
  • Fanservice: Ann wears a rather thin and clingy dress in the screen test scene, and suffers a great deal of Clothing Damage on Skull Island.
  • For the Evulz: Unlike the other creatures in the film, the brontosaurus really has no apparent reason to be attacking those sailors (unless getting hit with a few of the sailors' bullets made it really angry), especially since he actually bites down on them before either leaving them to die or tossing them aside. The vicious grin he wears as he corners Tim in the tree makes it even clearer.
  • Giant Animal Worship: Possibly the Trope Codifier. The natives of Skull Island periodically leave a sacrifice (the "bride of Kong") behind a wall so the giant gorilla will leave their village alone.
  • Giant Spider: Hoo boy, the spider pit has got many of them. Too bad it got deleted.
  • The Great Depression: The reason that Carl Denham is able to hire Ann with little difficulty is that he first sees her stealing food.
  • Implacable Man: The Tyrannosaurus rex fought by Kong shrugs every attack by him, and even gets back on its feet when toppled more than once. It only goes down when Kong breaks its jaw.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: A native baby is seen screaming on the ground as Kong approaches. It's immediately saved by someone.
  • Kaiju: Largely agreed to be the Trope Maker, predating Trope Codifier Godzilla by two decades.
  • Killer Gorilla: Kong is portrayed as this to everyone who isn't Ann.
  • Living Dinosaurs: The Skull Island's fauna.
  • The Load: Tim, who contributes nothing to the search for Ann but lagging behind and falling down. A lot. After he dies, the heretofore reliable Jimmy (Denham's bomb carrier) takes up the mantle of constantly tripping and needing to be helped up.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • Kong's climb up the Empire State Building in the leadup to the climax is shown at a distance rather than being done closeup.
    • As Kong reaches the top, the airplanes sent to dispatch him can be seen approaching from the far right of the scene, heightening the tension and anticipation of the quickly impending showdown.
  • Mickey Mousing: An ominous example when the islander chief advances on the landing party.
  • Mighty Whitey: An unusual variant; Kong killed all the native women sacrificed to him, as far as we know, but chooses to keep and spare the white Ann Darrow, to the point that not only does he chase after her when she gets rescued, but in New York, his first thought upon breaking free is to find her and take her away again.
  • Moe Greene Special: How they take out the stegosaurus; they bomb it until it falls over, then finish it by shooting it through the eye.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: By implication, most filmmakers are filmmakers. Cooper is given a "story by" credit, and he applies a great deal of his experience creating films on location to the story. In creating the story he focuses on his experience as a filmmaker who creates stories.
  • Novelization: Written by Delos W. Lovelace and including many of the deleted scenes, such as the insect pit scene. It was popular enough to be one of the very few movie novelizations consistently reprinted, even to this day (its being in the public domain, unlike the movie, certainly helps). Despite this, it was subject to a rather pointless rewrite by Joe DeVito with art by Brad Strickland, which gave no credit whatsoever to Lovelace. About the only change DeVito made was having Jimmy (the sailor who carries Denham's gas bombs) survive. Strickland's artwork, though touted heavily, amounts to very little. Mostly just landscapes and one picture of Kong's battle with the Tyrannosaurus.
  • Plot Hole: If the purpose of the giant wall is to keep Kong away from the natives, why did they make the doors big enough for Kong to fit through?! Besides which, if he can climb New York skyscrapers, he should easily be able to scale the wall if he so chooses.
  • Plucky Girl: A screamer she may be, but one has to at least give Ann credit for repeatedly trying to escape Kong on her own, even if her attempts are met with failure.
  • Punny Name: Ann's last name is a Shout-Out to famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, best known for his participation in the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial".
  • Red Shirt Army: The sailors who volunteer to join Carl and Jack to rescue Ann from Kong can certainly count as this.
  • Screaming Woman: As Ann, Fay Wray is one of the all-time champs.
    Bible Variety: It's a film-long screaming session for [Wray], too much for any actress and any audience.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Male example. Carl and Ann praise Jack for looking good in a tuxedo in the third act. He remarks he's never worn one before.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Jack has his shirt fully buttoned up at the start. When he softens towards Ann, he now has an Intimate Open Shirt. He also loses his sailor's hat around the time half the crew get killed and he has to rescue Ann alone.
  • Soft Water: Ann and Jack try to climb down a vine to escape the giant ape. Kong pulls the vine up, trying to catch them, and they fall off the vine and into the water that appears to be 100+ feet below them. They suffer no injuries.
  • Stun Guns: The gas bombs that Denham loaded on the ship work very quickly, and seem to pose no threat to the giant ape. In real life, anesthetics work slowly on large animals, and getting the exact dose so as to knock out the animal without killing is difficult. In this movie, the bombs were loaded on the ship with no specific knowledge of what type of animal they would be used on, and when they are used there is little chance to estimate the mass of the animal.
  • Tagline: "The Eighth Wonder Of The World!" for the 1933 release. Jackson's remake quotes it in dialogue.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film was inspired by an actual expedition to Komodo Island led by W. Douglas Burden in 1926, to collect and study the isle's giant lizards. It's pretty much what sensational newspapers of the day half-jokingly speculated Burden's venture might run into. When a few were brought back to the Bronx zoo, they ultimately died in captivity, with Merian C. Cooper, whom Burden told the story of his expedition to, believing they were destroyed by civilization.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The spider pit sequence was cut to avert this.
  • Your Size May Vary: As Roger Ebert noted in his essay, "[Kong is] 18 feet tall on the island, 24 feet on stage, 50 feet on the Empire State Building." The novelization refers to him as twenty at one point in the 18th chapter, the second to last chapter and the only chapter in the entire book to identify his exact height.


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