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King Kong (1976 film)

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John Guillermin
Dino De Laurentiis,

Federico De Laurentiis,

Christmas Ferry,
James Ashmore Creelman

Ruth Rose,

Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Jeff Bridges,

Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, Rene Auberjonois,

Rick Baker
Music by
John Barry
Ralph E. Winter
Paramount Pictures
Release Date
December 17, 1976
Running Time
134 minutes, 182 minutes (extended TV version cut)
Italy, United States

King Kong is a 1976 Italian-American fantasy film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. It is a remake of the 1933 classic of the same name, about how a giant ape is captured and imported to New York City for exhibition.

The remake's screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the original story written by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, which had been adapted into the 1933 screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose. It starred Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange, in her first movie role, playing a part similar to the one made famous in the original by Fay Wray.


In 1976, Kong's primeval world is invaded by Big Oil. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), an executive for the Petrox Corporation, is intrigued by the Indian Ocean island which is hidden by a permanent cloud bank. He figures it is the cork on a huge oil deposit, “the big one.” Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), a primate paleontologist, stows away with them. He warns Fred about Kong, "the creature who touches heaven." Fred has Jack locked up, afraid that he is spying for a rival oil major. Jack spots a life raft and convinces them to investigate. On board is the beautiful - and unconscious - Dwan (Jessica Lange). She is an aspiring actress, the sole survivor from a director's exploding yacht. Her name is really Dawn, but she spells it 'Dwan' to make it "more memorable." Jack and Dwan quickly become an item.

At the island, they discover that the oil deposit is worthless. In the process, they run into an isolated tribe that lives behind a gigantic wall. These natives worship a mysterious Kong - to whom they regularly offer 'brides' - and the explorers have stumbled into a "wedding rehearsal." The witch doctor is upset, until he sees Dwan. He offers to trade some of his tribal beauties for her. Rebuffed, he tries force, but they scare his men off with warning shots.

Under the full moon the natives return, snatching Dwan from the Petrox Explorer. They drug her and leave her at Kong's altar. Then they close the huge wall's only gate and begin to chant, "Kong! Kong!" As she slowly comes to, Dwan hears something massive approaching through the trees. Kong (Rick Baker, in ape costume) is "the creature who touches heaven", as he appears to be forty feet tall. He takes Dwan and retreats, just as Fred and the others arrive. Jack and the First Mate Carnahan (Ed Lauter) set out after him. Powerful and terrifying, Kong is quickly tamed by Dwan, whose rambling sweet talk fascinates him. Dwan tries to escape, but falls into a mud pit. Kong gives her a shower in a water-fall. The crew finally catch up at a log bridge over a huge chasm. Before they can retreat, Kong flips the log - and most of them - into the abyss. Jack and Boan (Julius Harris) are the only survivors. Boan goes back for help, while Jack - who had already crossed to the other side - continues following Kong and his unwilling bride. At Kong‘s lair, the ape begins to undress his 'bride.' Just before the film can get an 'R' rating, a giant snake attacks. Jack then arrives at Kong's mountaintop lair. He and Dwan escape, while Kong grapples with the serpent. Kong pursues them until they dive into the river. He then follows them all the way back to the native village. There he falls into a hastily-dug pitfall trap, where he is smothered with chloroform.

Without the oil he promised, Fred takes Kong back as a promotional gimmick, calling him 'the big one.' Brought to America in a supertanker, Kong is put on display in a beauty-and-the-beast farce in New York. After the show, Kong is angered when he sees the paparazzi mauling Dwan and goes berserk, breaking his chains. Kong roars at the crowd, causing the audience to panic and stampede. During the chaos, Fred trips and Kong squashes him like a bug. No blonde is safe as Kong roams around, searching for Dwan. Jack and Dwan attempt to escape aboard a subway train to Manhattan, but Kong sniffs Dwan on the train and derails it. The two manage to escape through the caboose before Kong smashes the train to the concrete, causing it to explode.

Jack and Dwan flee across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan. They think that they are safe. Little do they know that Kong can simply wade across the East River. They stop at an abandoned bar, where Jack looks up at the World Trade Center. He has seen that view before; it looks like the island's two large peaks, where Kong made his lair. Jack immediately calls the authorities. While he is distracted, Kong spots Dwan and plucks her through an open window. With Jack and the military in hot pursuit, Kong heads for the World Trade Center.

Kong climbs the South Tower of the World Trade Center. After being attacked with flamethrowers, Kong leaps across to the North Tower. There he is menaced by attack helicopters. The minute he puts Dwan down out of harm's way, they will open fire. Dwan tries to stop him, to no avail. Riddled with bullets, Kong falls 110 stories to the WTC plaza.

Finding Kong, Dwan is bombarded by a sea of photographers. Heartbroken and exhausted, she futilely calls for Jack. The crowd presses in on every side. Flashbulbs pop. Behind Dwan, Kong lies dead in a heap of broken concrete. She cries as the credits roll.

Differences from the 1933 film[]

More to be added...


  • Jeff Bridges .... Jack Prescott
  • Charles Grodin .... Fred S. Wilson
  • Jessica Lange .... Dwan
  • John Randolph .... Captain Ross
  • Rene Auberjonois .... Roy Bagley
  • Ed Lauter .... Carnahan
  • Julius Harris .... Boan
  • Jack O'Halloran .... Joe Perko
  • Dennis Fimple .... Sunfish
  • Jorge Moreno .... Garcia
  • Mario Gallo .... Timmons
  • John Lone .... Chinese Cook
  • John Agar .... City Official
  • Sid Conrad .... Petrox Chairman
  • Keny Long .... Ape Masked Man
  • Rick Baker (suit performance, uncredited) .... King Kong
    • Peter Cullen (uncredited) .... Voice of King Kong
  • Corbin Bernsen (uncredited) .... Reporter
  • Joe Piscopo .... Bit Part


Although the film is often described as being a financial flop, King Kong was commercially successful, earning Paramount Pictures back over triple its budget. The film ended up at #5 on Variety's chart of the top domestic (U.S.) moneymakers of 1977. (The film was released in December 1976 and therefore earned the majority of its money during the early part of 1977.) The film made approximately $80 million worldwide on a $24 million budget.

While the film received mostly mixed responses from critics at the time of its initial release, especially from fans of the original King Kong, it did obtain positive reviews from several prominent critics. Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, Richard Schickel in Time, Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, and 'Murf' in Variety, among others, responded favorably to the film's pathos and (often campy) sense of humor. Kael, in particular, truly loved the film, noting "I don't think I've ever before seen a movie that was a comic-strip great romance in the way this one is — it's a joke that can make you cry." The performances by Bridges and Grodin were generally well regarded, and even the film's detractors found Richard H. Kline's Academy Award-nominated cinematography and John Barry's musical score noteworthy.

Currently, critical response to King Kong continues to be mixed. Of the 36 reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes regarding the title, 50% reflect negative reactions. According to Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin, the film "...has great potential; yet it dispels all the mythic, larger-than-life qualities of the original with idiotic characters and campy approach."

The movie's success and notoriety helped launch the career of Jessica Lange, although she reportedly received some negative publicity regarding her debut performance that, according to film reviewer Marshall Fine, "almost destroyed her career".

Although Lange won the Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture - Female for Kong, she did not appear in another film for three years and spent that time training intensively in acting.

Other notable actors in the cast, some in early roles, include Rene Auberjonois (Benson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Boston Legal), Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law, Psych), Jack O'Halloran (Superman, Superman II, Dragnet) and Joe Piscopo.

The film received an Academy Award for Best Special Effects, an award it shared with Logan's Run (1976).

King Kong found new and sustained life on television. NBC bought the rights to air the movie and it was a rating success. NBC paid De Laurentiis $19.5 million for the rights to two showings over five years; the highest amount any network had ever paid for a film at that time. This led De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (with Canadian distribution by Paramount) to make a sequel called King Kong Lives (1986), starring Linda Hamilton. Unlike the 1976 remake, the sequel was a commercial failure.

DVD Release[]

Momentum Pictures released this film on DVD in 2001 on the Region 2 label with a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer. This has now been deleted according to the online retailer site Zavvi. Optimum Releasing has confirmed a new re-release of this film on Region 2 with deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer from the previous issue. There are only 2 deleted scenes on the DVD. This is the extended scene of the brawl between Kong and the Snake. The other scene is the demise of Wilson at the New York unveiling of Kong. The film has been released on Blu-Ray in Region B territories, however this disc is region free and will work in any Blu-Ray machine. in 2021, Shout Factory releasing both 4K-format of the 1976 film using original cut and extended cut as an Blu-Ray exclusive.

Extended television version[]

When King Kong made its network TV debut on NBC in 1978, a number of scenes deleted from the theatrical version were reinstated to make the film longer. Most fans of the remake agree that the extended version of the film works much better than the original truncated release. This version also features several changes to the John Barry score, including entirely alternate cues in places that no music existed in the theatrical version, as well as several different edits of cues. This may actually indicate that the version was an early workprint of the film, before it went through its final editing stages. While this is the first of the Kong films to have an extended cut, the second one is the 2005 remake of King Kong. The deleted/extended scenes are not yet released on DVD but 5, 9 and 10 have been included as extras in the deleted scene section on the current Region 2 DVD release.


The film score, composed and conducted by John Barry, was released on CD by both Mask and FSM in 2005. It is noticeably incomplete, however, missing at least two major cues from the film, notably the log rolling sequence, several extensions of cues already present on the soundtrack, and small restatements of the main theme. Otherwise, the track listing is as follows on both CDs:

1. "The Opening" 2. "Maybe My Luck Has Changed" 3. "Arrival on the Island" 4. "Sacrifice" / "Hail to the King" 5. "Arthusa" 6. "Full Moon Domain / Beauty Is a Beast" 7. "Breakout to Captivity" 8. "Incomprehensible Captivity" 9. "Kong Hits the Big Apple" 10. "Blackout in New York" / "How About Buying Me a Drink" 11. "Climb to Skull Island" 12. "The End Is at Hand" 13. "The End"


  • According to King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, director John Guillermin, known to have had outbursts from time to time on the set, got into a public shouting match with executive producer Federico De Laurentiis (son of producer Dino De Laurentiis). After the incident, Dino De Laurentiis was reported to have threatened to fire Guillermin if he did not start treating the cast and crew better.
  • On one of the nights of filming Kong's death at the World Trade Center, over 30,000 people showed up at the site to be extras for the scene. Although the crowd was well behaved, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (owner of the World Trade Center complex) became concerned that the weight of so many people would cause the plaza to collapse, and ordered the producers to shut down the filming. However, the film makers had already got the shot they wanted of the large crowd rushing toward Kong's body. They returned to the site days later to finish filming the scene, with a much smaller crowd of paid extras.
  • According to King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, Rick Baker, who designed the ape suit along with Carlo Rambaldi, was extremely disappointed in the final suit, which he felt wasn't at all convincing. He gives all the credit for its passable appearance to cinematographer Richard H. Kline.
  • According to King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, the only time that the collaboration of Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi went smoothly was during the design of the mechanical Kong mask. Baker's design and Rambaldi's cable work combined to give Kong's face a wide range of expression that was responsible for much of the film's emotional impact. Baker gave much of the credit for its effectiveness to Rambaldi and his mechanics.
  • According to the Internet Movie Database, seven different masks were created by the Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, and molded by Rick Baker to convey various emotions. Separate masks were necessary as there were too many cables and mechanics required for all the expressions to fit in one single mask. The masks were composed of a plastic skull over which were placed artificial muscle groups activated by cables which entered the costume through Kong's feet, with the outer latex skins molded by Baker placed over the top. The masks used hydraulics to provide movement, so much like the mechanical Kong and hands, the facial expressions were controlled by the team of operators working off-set with the control boards. To complete the look of a gorilla, Baker wore contact lenses so his eyes would resemble those of a gorilla.
  • The movie's propaganda disemninated that Carlo Rambaldi's mechanical Kong was 40 ft (12.1 m) tall and weighed 6½ tons. It cost $1.7 million, and is the largest mechanical creature ever built. Despite months of preparation, the final device proved to be impossible to operate convincingly, and is only seen in a series of brief shots totalling less than 15 seconds. In reality such a mechanical behemoth would have been impossible to build back then and even today it would be about impossible as well. But it worked beautifully in the sense that people did believe they were seeing a 40 foot mechanical ape stomping around. The mechanical arms were real all right though.
  • The Wall, which was constructed on MGM's Lot 2, was originally designed to be a stone structure, similar to the 1933 version. Director John Guillermin changed it to a wooden structure because it looked more primitive. It was 47 ft (14.3 m) tall and 500 ft (152.4 m) long; the total cost was $800,000.
  • Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis first approached Roman Polanski to direct the picture.[14]
  • According to King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, to film the scene where the Petrox Explorer finds Dwan in the life raft, Jessica Lange spent hours in a rubber raft in the freezing cold, drenched and wearing only a slinky black dress. Although Lange wasn't aware of it, there were sharks circling the raft the entire time. (Shooting of this scene took place in the channel between Los Angeles and Catalina Island during the last week in January 1976.)
  • Some posters advertised it as "The most exciting original motion picture event of all time," although it was a remake.
  • King Kong was voiced by an uncredited Peter Cullen. Cullen injured his throat and coughed blood after a recording session that took five to six hours

External links[]