King Kong in popular culture
King Kong is one of the best-known figures in cinema history. He and the series of films featuring him are frequently referenced in popular culture around the world. King Kong has achieved the stature of a pop-culture icon and modern myth. King Kong has inspired advertisements, cartoons, comic books, films, magazine covers, plays, poetry, political cartoons, short stories, television programmes, and other media. The forms of references to King Kong range from straight copies to parodies and humorous references.
King Kong in 1930s and 1940s popular culture
The 1933 release of King Kong was an immediate hit at the box office, and had a huge impact on the popular culture of the 1930s. It was the first film to play in two of New York City’s largest theatres at the same time, and the first in the 1930s trend for horror films. The combination of advanced special effects and primitivist content in the film made it popular among American and European intellectuals, especially the surrealists. Ray Bradbury remarked that when King Kong was released, “a mob of boys went quietly mad across the world, then fled into the light to become adventurers, explorers, zoo-keepers, filmmakers.” There was a version of King Kong in the 1933 animated Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Pet Store" (also known as "Mickey and the Gorilla Tamer"). In the cartoon, the ape falls in love with Minnie Mouse and climbs to the top of a stack of boxes while holding her. Mickey and a group of birds, imitating the biplanes at the climax of King Kong, defeat the ape. In the 1933 animated Mickey Mouse short film, "Mickey's Mechanical Man", Mickey's invention, a robot, is engaged in a boxing match against an ape known as "Killer Kong."
In 1938, King Kong received its first re-release, although some shots, such as King Kong removing parts of Ann Darrow’s dress, and his chewing and stomping various extras, often in graphic close-up (via use of full-scale mechanical head and foot props), were removed because they were now considered unacceptable under the Production Code. King Kong was again re-released in 1942 and 1946. Despite its success, King Kong was not yet as important a part of popular culture as it would become in the future.
The controversial World War II Dutch resistance fighter Christiaan Lindemans – eventually arrested on suspicion of having betrayed secrets to the Nazis – was nicknamed "King Kong" due to his being exceptionally tall. Among Dutch people, the name "King Kong" is still often associated with him rather than with the fictional ape.
King Kong from the 1950s to the 1970s
The film was re-released in 1952, becoming one of the media events of that year. Time magazine named it “Movie of the Year”. The film’s studio RKO tried an experimental reissue of King Kong in the Midwest United States in 1952. In an unprecedented move they committed most of King Kong’s promotional budget to television spots. The re-release was an enormous success, with the film attracting triple the usual business in its markets. This showed that television was a powerful tool for promotion. King Kong generated more box office receipts than the original 1933 release had. Theatre owners named it Picture of the Year. It was at this time that King Kong acquired its reputation as a popular culture phenomenon. The two most significant spinoffs of King Kong in this period were Mighty Joe Young (1949) and Godzilla (1954). Godzilla was inspired by King Kong’s popularity in Japan. Godzilla revived and reconfigured parts of the King Kong story more powerfully than any other spinoff has. RKO theatrically re-released King Kong for the last time in 1956.
King Kong was sold to television after the conclusion of the 1956 release. One channel in New York showed the film seventeen times in a single week, with each showing topping the ratings. From then on, the film was a television mainstay that captured many new fans.
There is a reference to the real-world revival and massive success of King Kong in the 1950s in the 1959 movie A Summer Place. In the movie, two teenagers, Molly and Johnny, tell their parents that they are going to a classic movie showing of King Kong, when they are actually going to an abandoned lookout. Molly calls King Kong “one of those wonderful old horror numbers.” Johnny frets that if he doesn't watch the movie, he might not be able to answer his parent's questions, but Molly tells him, "It's kind of sad dreams If anybody asks, just tell 'em about the end. That's the part everybody remembers.". In 1974's Herbie Rides Again Alonzo Hawk has been having nightmares about Herbie. During his nightmare sequence there is a King Kong-themed dream. Alonzo dreams he's Kong with Herbie-like planes flying around him and squirting oil until he falls off the Empire State Building. In a Superman story, an ape grew to giant size and gained kryptonite vision due to meteors of kryptonite and uranium, and was called Titano the Super-Ape. This ape had a liking to Lois Lane, and in one story climbed up the Daily Planet building.
King Kong reached the height of its public visibility in the twentieth century in the 1960s and 1970s, as part of a nostalgic trend to 1930s Hollywood. King Kong was becoming a cult film with nostalgia value. During this period the character and story of King Kong was most frequently used as a parody in popular culture. The frequency of its use as a parody at this time shows how significant it had become in popular culture. In the 1968 film Yellow Submarine, the characters look in a room where a monster ape smashes through a window to get at a screaming woman on a bed. "Do you think we're interrupting something?" George nonchalantly comments of it, to which John replies, "I think so."
In the mid-1960s RKO began to license a series of King Kong-related products in response to a heavy demand from the public. These products included comic books, games, models, and posters. In 1969 most of the censored shots were found. In 1971 a version of King Kong with these long-missing portions returned to their proper places was released to art houses.
References to King Kong in popular culture have been widespread since the 1960s. The references have different tones, with some being parodies while others are parodies or oppositional critiques. Some of these references are fleeting (for example, Frank Zappa named one of his more complex compositions with the Mothers of Invention after Kong), but nevertheless are evidence of King Kong’s importance in popular culture. King Kong has been cited in films such as Morgan! (1966), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Amazon Women on the Moon (1987). In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the song "Science Fiction/Double Feature" pays homage to King Kong with the lyric: "Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong ... they got caught in a celluloid jam." At the end of the film, Rocky carries Dr. Frankenfurter on the RKO logo, replicating what King Kong carrying Fay Wray in the climax of King Kong.
In 1965 Monocle, a political satire magazine, cohosted a publisher’s party at the Empire State Building with Bantam Books, who were reissuing Delos W. Lovelace's novelization of King Kong. A panel of Monocle satirists was due to give an ironic commentary on King Kong, followed by a screening of the film. One of the titles on the satirists’ program was “King Kong to Viet Cong: Thirty Years of Gorilla Warfare”. Andy Warhol, who was not on the guest list, used the occasion to generate publicity and create a performance by complaining to the press that King Kong should be screened with his own film Empire (1964). Warhol was permitted to show three minutes of Empire after King Kong. Empire was then criticized in the press for being too dull and being upstaged by King Kong.
By the 1970s the character of King Kong was constantly referenced in cartoons and jokes. In a 1972 New Yorker cartoon, a man at a cocktail party atop the newly constructed World Trade Center comments that he is impressed that it was "finished so quickly and without incident," while King Kong climbs up the building below him. It was at this time that the film began to be studied by academics and film theoreticians, who found hidden subtexts and symbolic meanings in the film. However, Merian C. Cooper maintained that the film was nothing more than a simple adventure story.
Thomas Pynchon, in his post-modern 1973 novel, Gravity's Rainbow, treats the King Kong/Ann Darrow relationship as an obvious metaphor for Americans' historical racist paranoia of black men dating white women. He quotes the fictional film reviewer, Mitchel Prettyplace, from his "definitive 18-volume study of King Kong", which includes "even interviews with King Kong Kultists, who to be eligible for the group must have seen the movie at least 100 times and be prepared to pass an 8-hour entrance exam."
After the highly promoted but vastly inferior 1976 remake of King Kong, Elliot Stein wrote a nostalgic fan homage essay to King Kong called “My Life with Kong” in Rolling Stone magazine. Stein was one of the most famous of the “Kongophiles” along with Forrest J. Ackerman and Jean Boullet. In the essay Stein talks about the contexts in which he has seen King Kong during his life, including in the 1930s in New York picture palaces like Radio City Music Hall, and the RKO Roxy and in Paris with Jean Boullet in the 1950s. There was an art deco retrospective of King Kong at the Radio City Music Hall in the 1974 and a King Kong homage was staged for the Telluride Film Festival in the 1970s. King Kong was also mentioned by name by Kermit the Frog in lyrics from the song "I Hope that Something Better Comes Along" from The Muppet Movie: "She made a monkey out of old King Kong/I hope that something better comes along."
King Kong from the 1980s to the present
King Kong was the first film to feature a giant monster running amok in civilization (the silent The Lost World was actually the first—although it featured a rampaging Brontosaurus rather than a non-science-based monster—but was rarely seen after its first release until the video and cable-TV booms of the 1980s); there are echoes of the original King Kong film in every giant-monster film that has been made since 1933. These include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Godzilla (1954) and Jurassic Park (1993). The dinosaur scenes from King Kong are referenced or mimicked in the three Jurassic Park films, especially the second film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). In the third act of the film, a creature (a Tyrannosaurus rex) is brought to civilization from a remote island where it runs amok in a city (the ship that transports the beast is even called The Venture, which is the name of the ship in King Kong). Kong is even mentioned directly in the first one: as the tour group approaches the massive Jurassic Park gate that is reminiscent of the gate in King Kong, Jeff Goldblum's character asks, "What have they got in there, King Kong?" In the third film in this series, a Spinosaurus vs. Tyrannosaurus rex fight is similar to the Kong–rex battle in the original and the second remake.
One of the most frequently used images of King Kong in popular culture is the scene where King Kong and Ann Darrow are on top of the Empire State Building. This image has been copied or parodied in cartoons, comic books, horror films, and television commercials. A popular television spoof was the segment 'King Homer' from The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror III", in which the King Kong story was retold featuring Simpsons characters, with Homer as Kong, Marge as Ann Darrow and Mr. Burns as the Carl Denham analogues. The spoof follows the plot of the 1933 film closely; however, it ends with Marge marrying King Homer after he collapses in exhaustion, failing to climb beyond the second story of the Springfield State Building. King Kong's family, consisting of smaller apes, appear at the wedding, and Homer has a habit of eating people, at the end he eats Marge's father. King Homer also has a cameo in the music video for "Deep Deep Trouble" from The Simpsons Sing the Blues CD, and years later, makes another appearance in the opening couch gag of "Jazzy and the Pussycats." Homer grabs Marge from the couch and scales the Empire State Building, all while fending off 1930s-style airplanes. King Homer (or Homer Kong) would reappear battling Bridezilla (a Godzilla version of Marge Simpson) in the episode Wedding for Disaster. The character also appeared in video games such as Bart's Nightmare and Treehouse of Horror (video game) as well as various merchandise such as toys and T-shirts. The original film was referenced again on The Simpsons in the episode "Monty Can't Buy Me Love", where Mr. Burns captures the Loch Ness Monster and brings him back to America to entertain an audience; however, instead of the Monster going berserk during its debut, Burns himself is startled by the flash photography and causes the carnage.
King Kong is often used in commercial culture, for example in advertisements for Coca Cola and Energizer Batteries. A New York insurance company used clips from the film to persuade people of the hazards of city life. A two-part Energizer Battery commercial had the 1933 Kong himself contracted by a rival battery corporation (SuperVolt) to get rid of the Energizer Bunny for them. The commercials were done in black-and-white, and used cleverly edited 1933 Kong sequences (possibly combined with new computer-generated Kong shots). The concluding second-part had Kong cornering the Bunny on the roof of a New York City building, complete with biplanes flying in the sky. His foot in an open window interrupts a couple that resemble Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll having a romantic moment. The woman, extremely annoyed, slams the window on Kong's toes, making him lose his balance and grip, sending him falling. In 1990 Kongfrontation became one of the original rides at Universal Studios Florida.
The film character was the inspiration for the 1981 Nintendo video game Donkey Kong and subsequent spin-offs. In the game, the hero must rescue his girlfriend from the eponymous ape. The marauding ape climbs a huge structure after kidnapping the woman, as in the film. The game's creator Shigeru Miyamoto, intended the name "Donkey Kong" to mean "stubborn gorilla". MCA/Universal attempted to sue Nintendo for copyright infringement in Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd., claiming that the game infringed its copyright for the film. However, they lost and had to pay Nintendo $1.8 million in damages when it was discovered that King Kong was in fact in the public domain at that time and that MCA/Universal knew this when they filed the lawsuit. They did not own the copyright to King Kong and had not trademarked the name "King Kong". They had even argued in the past that the name "King Kong" was in the public domain in Universal City Studios, Inc. v. RKO General Inc., et al.
The music video for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Runnin' Down a Dream" references the Empire State Building fight scene against the biplanes, where a giant Tom Petty swats at giant mosquitoes in the same manner as King Kong.
In the film The Nutty Professor (1996), Sherman Klump has a nightmare where he is a giant, horrifically obese man. Reggie Warrington (a comedian from earlier in the film) exclaims, "Run for the hills, it's Fatzilla! Brother here looks like King Kong with titties!"
The film was featured in the 1999 film, The Cider House Rules, as the film that the orphans and the children of unwed mothers try to watch before the film cuts out on the projector.
In the video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, an argument over which building King Kong climbs in the climax blossoms into the beginning of the relationship between the main character Raiden and his girlfriend Rose.
The Family Guy episode "Hannah Banana" includes an extended spoof of the famous Empire State building scene from the original film. However the roles are reversed as a malevolent, robotic Hannah Montana holds the Evil Monkey from Chris Griffin's closet hostage.
In the Total Drama Action (2009–2010) episode "Celebrity Manhunt's Total Drama Action Reunion Special", the character Izzy plays a role as Ann Darrow and a monkey plays King Kong portraying a scene on the empire state building.
In the 25th Anniversary Super Sentai Series "Hyakujuu Sentai GaoRanger" (2001), one of the living Power Animal mecha is a large green gorilla called Gao Gorilla, which stands over 100 ft tall and is regularly seen in the series against the GaoRanger's enemy, the kaiju Orgu. The toy repaint of Gao Gorilla is featured prominently in the GaoRanger theatrical film in the same year, "Hyakujuu Sentai GaoRanger- The Movie: Fire Mountain Howls", and is called Gao Kong. The primarily-red colored Gao Kong makes his debut from out of the crater of an erupting volcano, and forms the torso & head of the Hyakujuu Gattai Gao Knight giant robot combination. Both Gao Kong and Gao Knight are only seen in the movie, but are not mentioned or seen in the TV series.
In the anime-manga series Toriko, the protagonist is a gourmet hunter whose job is to travel around the world to hunt the most delicious animals and creatures. One of the first animals Toriko faces is a group of giant four-armed gorillas named Trollkongs that are led by an elder and even larger one named Silverblack Trollkong. The name of these creatures and the idea of a giant ape are based on King Kong's concept.
In an episode of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures "Jurassic Pac" It was shown in a parody where Pac-Man (In the style of King Kong) was seen carrying Cylindria up to a building (Empire State Building).
In The Fairly Oddparents from the episode 'The Good Old Days', that King Kong was arrested by Carl Denham and others and the another episode, King Kong dealt that banana is for Remy Buxeplenty's get from scavenger hunt.
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