In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section King Kong

  • Introduction
  • Books and Articles on King Kong
  • Biographies and Interviews
  • Reviews of King Kong
  • The Horror Genre and King Kong
  • Books on Monstrosity and Teratology
  • Histories of Hollywood
  • Early Films by Cooper and Schoedsack
  • Douglas Burden and the Quest for the Komodo Dragon
  • History of Documentary and Ethnographic Film
  • The Most Dangerous Game and the Monster Within Us
  • Feminist Theory and King Kong
  • King Kong and Asian American Representation
  • Race and Otherness
  • The Ape, Science, and Teratology
  • Animation and Dinosaurs
  • Kong as Allegory for the Outsider and the Other
  • Technology, War, and King Kong
  • Surrealism and King Kong
  • Exhibition of Native People, Theories of the Silenced
  • Film Music and Film Score
  • King Kong, Modernism and the Skyscraper

Cinema and Media Studies King Kong
Fatimah Tobing Rony
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0111


When the fantasy/adventure movie King Kong, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, was released in 1933, the film immediately became more than just a big movie hit for the studio RKO. The movie, and its archetypal image of the giant prehistoric gorilla King Kong rampaging through New York City and carrying off the screaming blonde heroine to the top of the Empire State Building, has had a profound hold on the US cultural imagination, and its legacy continues to the present day. With a screenplay co-written by James A. Creelman and Ruth Rose (who was married to Schoedsack), from an idea conceived by Cooper and Edgar Wallace, King Kong used new technology such as stop-motion animation, traveling mattes, and back projection, as well as dramatic music, and startling and strange sound effects, to elevate a story about travel and adventure to the level of spectacle and horror. The screams of the Manhattanites on Broadway running away from Kong were meant to reflect our own horror and fascination with the great savage beast. Starring Robert Armstrong as the jungle filmmaker Carl Denham, Bruce Cabot as first mate Jack Driscoll, and Fay Wray as would-be starlet Ann Darrow, King Kong tells the tale of how these three sail toward Indonesia to make a jungle picture, and end up finding Kong “way west of Sumatra.” Ultimately the biggest star of the film was Kong, who endures as a cult cultural icon, inspiring other Kong films, such as the sequel Son of Kong, and the Toho Studios 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla, and two major remakes, one in 1976 produced by Dino De Laurentiis, and one in 2005 by Peter Jackson. Yet culturally, King Kong is more than just an amusement park ride or a national monster fetish. There is something about the film and its story that entices viewers and interpreters to read it in diverse and sometimes perverse ways: as Surrealist dream, capitalist fairy tale, campy horror genre movie, imperialist metaphor, allegory for the unconscious, history of ethnographic spectacle, and repressed spectacle for racial and sexual taboos. As Cynthia Marie Erb writes (Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture, 2009), the monster figure evokes an ambivalent response: Kong is interpreted as both a catalyst for anarchy, and a container for conservative values about the racialized Other.

Books and Articles on King Kong

In general, books on King Kong tend to be fan books, but many like Gottesman and Geduld 1976 have useful articles on production and interviews of the cast and crew, and some, like Goldner and Turner 1975 and Morton 2005, have information on sequels and remakes. In particular one looks to these books for background information on the history of the film, its reception, marketing, and the cast and crew, as well as for historiography. They also contain detailed information on the animation process headed by Willis O’Brien as well as the making of the lush Wagnerian musical score by Max Steiner. Erb 2009 provides the most comprehensive book discussing the role of King Kong in popular culture. Cashill 2006 provides a critique of what is altered with computer-generated imagery (CGI) and the Peter Jackson version of King Kong. Lovelace, et al. 1976 is the novelization of the film.

  • Cashill, Robert. “All things Kong-sidered.” Cinéaste 31.2 (Spring 2006): 39–43.

    In this scholarly and thoughtful article, Cashill theorizes about the Peter Jackson remake and argues that the realism of the CGI dissipates the mythic image of King Kong.

  • Erb, Cynthia Marie. Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Detroit: Wayne State University, 2009.

    Erb’s book, revised from her earlier 1998 version, comprehensively details global and national interpretations and analyses of King Kong, and includes a section on Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It is indispensable for film studies scholars who want to situate the film within competing discourses.

  • Goldner, Orville, and George E. Turner, eds. The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic. South Brunswick, NJ, and New York: A. S. Barnes, 1975.

    Although uncritical, this fan book still offers useful notes on production history, as well as appendices on related films by Cooper and Schoedsack including Grass, Chang, The Four Feathers, Rango, The Most Dangerous Game, and Son of Kong, or films known for the work of animator Willis H. O’Brien, such as The Lost World, Creation, and The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.

  • Gottesman, Ronald, and Harry Geduld, eds. The Girl in the Hairy Paw: King Kong as Myth, Movie, and Monster. New York: Avon, 1976.

    Provides the reader with information on the production of King Kong and reception of the 1933 film, including animation of Willis O’Brien. Includes reviews, discussions of the writing, interpretations, animation, and an interview with Fay Wray.

  • Lovelace, Delos W., Edgar Wallace, and Merian C. Cooper. King Kong. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

    A novelization of the film that also includes stills from the 1933 movie.

  • Morton, Ray. King Kong: the History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema, 2005.

    The most recent book on the making of the 1933 King Kong, which includes the production, exhibition, and distribution of its sequels including The Son of Kong, King Kong Versus Godzilla, the John Guillermin remake of King Kong (1976), his King Kong Escapes (1986), and Peter Jackson’s remake of 2005.

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