The Legacy of “King Kong” and How It Led to “Rampage”
Just how many movies has the King of the Apes inspired?
It’s been 85 years since King Kong scaled the Empire State Building and forever cemented his place in our hearts and in the halls of pop culture immortality. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the trendsetting monster movie—about a film crew who capture a gargantuan gorilla from an uncharted island and bring it to New York City, where all hell breaks loose—set the gold standard for monster movies. But King Kong is so much more than a story about a wild beast causing chaos in the Big Apple; the heart of the tale is the kinship between the possessive titular primate and the human woman he falls in love with from the moment he first kidnaps her.
In the decades since, King Kong’s influence has remained as enormous as the creature himself. From sequels to reboots, knock-offs and spoofs, and the ongoing surplus of the giant monster stories that conquer (Kong-quer, anyone?) box offices all over the world, the legacy of cinema’s most impressive primate cannot be understated.
Rampage, the latest collaboration between director Brad Peyton and actor Dwayne Johnson, is further proof that the Eighth Wonder of the World continues to leave his giant paw prints on entertainment. As we’ll explore later on, Peyton’s film is quite reminiscent of Cooper and Schoedsack’s trailblazing blockbuster in more ways than one. That being said, it’s far from the only movie connected to King Kong, so we’ve compiled a list of very enjoyable monster capers that exist thanks to the granddaddy of them all.
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Following the success of King Kong, the film’s creators unleashed the earliest example of its many knock-off movies. Similar to its predecessor, Mighty Joe Young tells the story of a gorilla who’s brought to America from its native continent to entertain paying crowds so his friend and owner, Jill, can make her fortune and save their home. But when a drunken incident leads to the gorilla lashing out, Jill must find a way to return him to his home continent before he’s executed. Like Cooper and Schoedsack’s primate picture, Mighty Joe Young is about a friendship, love, and a gorilla being shunned for man-made mistakes. The 1998 remake is also well worth your time.
The success of King Kong and 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms inspired Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to create the studio’s very own monster-verse. Inspired by the horrors of his country’s nuclear past, as well as the aforementioned Hollywood creature pictures, he proposed the idea for Godzilla to the studio in 1954 and the rest is history. Directed by Ishiro Honda, Godzilla follows an ancient gargantuan sea monster, fueled by nuclear energy, as it brings terror, destruction, and death to Tokyo. King Kong paved the way for these big monster movies in the first place, but it’s also well-documented for sparking an epiphany in Eiji Tsuburaya—Godzilla’s special effects wizard—which lead to his chosen career path. Without the King of Skull Island, we might not have the King of the Monsters. And without Godzilla, we wouldn’t have the almighty Gorgo.
The only thing more dangerous than chaotic creatures on the loose are ones that are under the control of a mad scientist with his own laundry list of enemies. In Konga, a chimpanzee is injected with a serum that turns it into a gorilla-hitman tasked with eliminating his master’s competition. That is until the scientist's angry girlfriend gives the gorilla an unhealthy overdose, which causes it to grow to monstrous heights and embark on a rampage through London. As far as campy, exploitative knock-offs of cinematic masterworks go, Konga is top-tier entertainment. The film also inspired its own comic book series, which is well worth a read if you can find it.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Monster royalty collided for the first time in 1962 when Toho came up with the genius idea of pitting two titans against each other in a battle for the ages. In King Kong vs. Godzilla, Kong is brought to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who wants to use the beast for their own publicity. Elsewhere, Godzilla has resurfaced and is set on destroying civilization. However, when Kong escapes and inevitably crosses paths with the big lizard, the two behemoths duke it out, culminating in an epic showdown on Mount Fuji. The pair are set to go head-to-head once again in 2020 in Adam Wingard’s Legendary Pictures installment.
Queen Kong (1976)
What’s a King without a Queen? In 1976, Kong received a hilarious gender-swapped spoof to coincide with the buzz of John Guillermin’s remake of the original, which was also released that year. Here, a female film crew land on a jungle island to finish their latest movie. What they don’t expect to find is Queen Kong, the huge gorilla who falls in love with the film’s only male star (who the crew just so happened to kidnap). Like the original King Kong story, the crew captures the beast and brings her back to the big city. This leads to chaos, as the lovelorn Queen rampages through London looking for her man.
The Mighty Peking Man (1977)
Few shameless copycats are as unabashedly entertaining as The Mighty Peking Man, a Shaw Brothers production, which saw Hong Kong get in on the monster action. The film follows a jungle woman and her enormous Yeti compatriot who leave their home in the Himalayan wilderness for the glamour of the big city to pursue a new life in showbiz. But when the woman nearly gets raped, her monster guardian has a meltdown and the army is called in to stop him. Those familiar with King Kong know this premise well, but The Mighty Peking Man adds a lot more sleaze and lunacy to the proceedings.
Based on the eighties arcade game, which features anthropomorphized monsters crushing cities, Rampage centers around a primatologist who must prevent his best friend George—an albino gorilla—from destroying Chicago when he’s exposed to a genetic engineering serum that causes him to grow enormously and act aggressively. A giant alligator and flying wolf are also tossed into the equation for good measure, and large-scale mayhem ensues. It’s great fun. At its heart, though, Rampage is a buddy movie about the friendship between a guy and his gorilla. King Kong was the first movie to explore these themes in the form of a monster extravaganza, and Peyton’s blockbuster is further evidence that its influence still permeates contemporary pop culture.