Considered by many to be one of cinema’s greatest icons, King Kong has undoubtedly left his mark on the world of pop culture. From his groundbreaking introduction in 1933 all the way to his most recent monster rumble, Kong continues to inspire filmgoers across the globe. And with his impressive height, signature skyscraper-busting moves, and a stare that can cut most adversaries down to size, Kong proves that even if you’re a creature of few words, you can still leave a memorable impact.
Yet, with almost 90 years’ worth of content to view, it can feel overwhelming to dive into the rich world of King Kong. That’s why lists like this one come in handy! From his most awkward, cringe-worthy appearances to the movies that made him the legendary monster he is today, here is a full ranking of the feature-length films starring the Eighth Wonder of the World, Kong!
11. The Mighty Kong
Though the “King Kong” franchise is no stranger to musical adaptations, this tune-filled animated adventure is the definition of bad. Directed by Art Scott, “The Mighty Kong” retells the story of the classic 1933 film, but with original music by both the Sherman Brothers (yes, the “Mary Poppins” ones) and David Siebels to fill in the awkward gaps. And though this version features the voices of Dudley Moore and Jodi Benson, their talent can’t save the sinking ship (or giant gorilla) that is “The Mighty Kong.”
First, like many other direct-to-video productions of the time, “The Mighty Kong” contains some of the most questionable animation to ever grace a VHS tape. Some sequences seem to come from a five-year-old’s discarded doodles. When combined with lackluster songs, poorly directed voice work, and clumsy dialog, it makes this movie nowhere near a fitting tribute to the original RKO film.
But this “King Kong” adaptation’s worst crime is that it takes 40 minutes of its 68-minute runtime to even show the title character. While it’s nice that this version gives Kong a happy ending, “The Mighty Kong” is easily the worst version of his iconic story. Overall, for a movie that claims that it’s mighty, it’s certainly far from it.
10. Kong: King of Atlantis and Kong: Return to the Jungle
Released in 2001, “King Kong: The Animated Series” centers around Jason, a young man who happens to be best friends with not only a guy who loves pineapple pizza, but a clone of Kong himself. In addition, with the help of Cyber-Link technology, Jason can fuse his mind with Kong. The result? An over-the-top monster brawl in which Jason, Kong, and their friends must protect Skull Island from various bad guys. While the show only lasted two seasons, it received two movie adaptations, “Kong: King of Atlantis” and “Kong: Return to the Jungle,” in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
Though this take on Kong can be fun, there’s no denying that both of the films are right on the edge of cringe. One movie has Kong fighting in the mysterious world of Atlantis, while the other features Kong and his prehistoric friends getting trapped in a futuristic zoo. And though both films have entertaining elements (including absolutely out-of-nowhere musical numbers), most fans will remember them for their awkward dialog, confusing plot lines, and messy animation.
9. King Kong Lives
A sequel to the 1976 remake, “King Kong Lives” is an odd film. Its story focuses on a group of doctors who attempt to bring Kong back to life. They go to great lengths to do this, even creating a Kong-sized heart to achieve their goals. And though they do succeed (thanks to a blood transfusion from Lady Kong), as in any movie of this nature, nothing ever goes according to plan — especially when love is in the air.
Though this movie contains the talents of Linda Hamilton and John Ashton, along with John Guillermin, who returns to direct, this sequel is missing one key ingredient: Rick Baker. While some of the 1976 movie’s effects haven’t aged perfectly, there’s no denying that Rick Baker’s skill as both a make-up artist and a performer makes the ’76 adaptation a treat for filmgoers. The same can’t be said of “King Kong Lives,” which takes the laughable qualities of its predecessor and turns them up to 11.
And though this “Kong” has a fascinating final battle, the climax can’t save it from its messy mistakes. When you consider the pointless narrative, unremarkable characters, and the depressing conclusion, you’ll understand why “King Kong Lives” is still considered a critical and financial disaster.
8. King Kong Escapes
Do you like your “Kong” movies with a bit of cartoonish insanity? Then Toho’s “King Kong Escapes” will check all of your boxes — and more. Serving as a loose continuation of the animated Rankin & Bass “King Kong” series, this movie gives the Eighth Wonder of the World a wacky Toho aesthetic that, while bonkers, is also wildly entertaining.
The story revolves around the evil doings of Dr. Who, a Bond-inspired bad guy who is determined to find the radioactive Element X. To accomplish his task, Dr. Who creates Mechani-Kong, a giant robot version of, you guessed it, King Kong. Yet when Mechani-Kong can’t fulfill Dr. Who’s goals, the not-so-good doctor goes in search of the real Kong, hoping the ape will help him complete his evil task. As any film fan can guess, Kong won’t go along with Dr. Who’s plans without a fight, leading to one epic Toho-style battle.
Though silly from beginning to end, the final Toho-produced “Kong” film is charming simply because it refuses to take itself seriously. It has an off-the-wall premise, with even wackier human characters balancing out the kaiju chaos. Plus, it contains a ’60s spy aesthetic, memorable fight sequences, and one of the most laughably bad Kong suits ever put to screen. Sure, it isn’t a quality piece of cinema, but it sure is a fun one.
7. Son of Kong
While most sequels have a pretty long production schedule, “Son of Kong” has the unique distinction of being released the same year as its predecessor. And though it might not have the most inventive plotline in all of Kong history, it serves as a much better sequel than similar entries in the franchise.
The plot focuses on Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) once again, as he attempts to save himself from bankruptcy after the events of the first film. In an act of desperation, Denham and a crew of both familiar and new adventurers return to Kong’s home, hoping to find a sought-after jewel of great fortune. But like in any “Kong” movie, no visit to Skull Island ever goes as planned. Carl and his band of scavengers discover more mind-blowing creatures, along with the biggest surprise of them all: Little Kong, Kong’s son.
Though “Son of Kong” doesn’t feature the same level of effects as “King Kong,” it’s impressive to see what Willis O’Brien and his team were able to accomplish in just under nine months. It’s an achievement that should be celebrated more in movie fandom than it is. Yet the actual downside to “Son of Kong” is that it had the potential to be greater than what the audience eventually got. If RKO had allowed for a longer production time, perhaps this sequel could have been just as good as the original.
6. King Kong vs. Godzilla
When it comes to the greatest monster movies, none of them are quite as iconic as Toho’s 1962 epic, “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” Not only do you have two of the most significant movie creatures of all time battling it out for dominance, but you also have Toho’s signature brand of ridiculous storytelling at the forefront.
The story is a reasonably familiar one to Kong fans. The head of a TV network is frustrated that his shows are getting low ratings and wants to spice things up. And so, when he finds out that a giant monster (Kong) is living on a remote island, he sends a small crew to capture the creature to give his channel some publicity. At the same time, a nuclear explosion goes off near an iceberg, awakening Godzilla. This chain of events sets up the ultimate kaiju rumble between the two classic titans.
Filled top to bottom with cheesy goodness, there’s a lot to like about “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” Yet, no number of incredible battles can repair what is perhaps the film’s biggest flaw: Kong’s design. From the first frame, the Kong suit is nothing short of a disaster, especially in comparison to Godzilla’s appearance. While the events in the film are a blast, the eyesore that is Kong is hard to ignore.
5. King Kong
In 1976, remaking the 1933 classic “King Kong” seemed like an impossible task. But producer Dino De Laurentiis and the executives at Paramount Pictures felt like they could add something to King Kong lore, and so, with the help of director John Guillermin and an incredible cast, this ’70s-powered team went on to attempt the impossible.
The film tells essentially the same story as the original, with a few tweaks here and there. The plot focuses more on the greedy side of oil companies, while Kong and Ann’s relationship has a bit more of a lovable nature to it. While some changes to the narrative make the overall story stronger in certain areas, other additions slow down the perfectly-paced original tale.
However, despite its messy qualities, what makes this one of the greatest Kong films of all time is Rick Baker. Kong only works if he feels believable, and Baker’s talents make this rendition of the iconic monster a fascinating character study. Perhaps not every effect holds up, but Baker’s efforts will always be, just like Kong, a wonder to behold.
4. Godzilla vs. Kong
Legendary’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” might seem like an uneven monster free-for-all, especially when it comes to its overwhelming cast of human characters. But, at its core, this is a movie that wears its love of giant monsters on its sleeve — and there’s no monster the movie loves more than King Kong.
From the hero-angle Kong is given to the focus on his species’ legacy, this movie adores King Kong from top to bottom. That aspect can be frustrating for some viewers, considering that Kong’s co-star has quite the fanbase. Yet, for those coming to see the Eighth Wonder of the World get the love and respect he deserves, this monster rumble delivers tenfold.
What really makes “Godzilla vs. Kong” one of Kong’s best films, though, are the fights. Not only are these sequences a kaiju fan’s dream come true, but director Adam Wingard showcases Kong’s personality (along with his vulnerability) in ways that no other Kong feature has entirely captured before.
3. Kong: Skull Island
When introducing King Kong to new audiences, keeping the character fresh rather than repeating what came before is essential. And “Kong: Skull Island” does exactly that, giving filmgoers a chance to see Kong through a different cinematic lens. With B-movie-style insanity, over-the-top violence, and even more ridiculous human co-stars, this movie has it all.
The film centers around a group of ’70s-era scientists on a mission to visit the mysterious Skull Island. They hope they’ll discover the monster who lives there, Kong. But, while they do find the Eighth Wonder of the World, this odd crew uncovers even more secrets. From a stranded World War II pilot to a species of monsters called “Skullcrawlers,” this team needs more than weapons to get through this adventure, including Kong’s help.
While there’s no denying that this may not be for everyone, what makes “Skull Island” one of the greatest Kong movies is how it has fun with its genre. While “Skull Island” doesn’t take itself seriously, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts adds a distinct visual flair that pays respect to Kong’s legacy while breathing new life into the iconic monster.
2. King Kong
Directed by Kong-fan Peter Jackson, the 2005 remake is a loving tribute to the 1933 classic. But just like every new version of “King Kong,” Jackson’s take offers a fresh look at the creature, both from a technological perspective and an emotional one. And when combining that element with an incredible cast, stunning cinematography, and a majestic score by James Newton Howard, the end result becomes pure movie magic.
The film replicates much of the plot of the 1933 movie, but with some different narrative angles that lead to, unfortunately, the film’s messiest element — its runtime. As lovely as it is to explore aspects of this world and these characters that the original “Kong” couldn’t, all of those new elements delay the trip to Skull Island; all in all, this is a story that shouldn’t take three hours to tell.
But, length aside, what makes the 2005 remake one of the greatest Kong movies is Andy Serkis, who provided motion capture for the titular ape. Not only does Serkis bring a beautiful sensitivity to the role, but he gives Kong a full emotional arc — one that doesn’t need dialog, but can be taken in solely through Serkis’ physical performance, making Serkis’ (and Jackson’s) Kong one for the ages.
1. King Kong
Only a few films can be called masterpieces. 1933’s “King Kong” is one of them. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, with special effects by Willis O’Brien, this is the movie that set the gold standard for so many more to come. It broke the mold of what Hollywood could do with storytelling. And, of course, it introduced the world to one of the most iconic creatures in pop culture history.
It might seem obvious that the 1933 film is the best Kong movie on this list, and there’s a reason for that — no other “Kong” reimagining has come close to capturing the utter perfection of the original. From the flawless pacing to its exploration of man’s greed to its heart-wrenching finale, “King Kong” achieves a level of magic that very few films have accomplished since.
And while there is no denying the problematic aspects of the film’s Skull Island sequences — among many other dated elements — the most substantial part of “King Kong” is its cast of memorable actors, as well as the talents who brought an unimaginable beast to life. “King Kong” is a movie that changed the landscape of filmmaking, and still reigns supreme.