The King of Kong
|The King of Kong|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Seth Gordon|
|Music by||Craig Richey|
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a 2007 American documentary film. Highlighting the popular 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, it follows Steve Wiebe in his attempts to take the world high score for the arcade game from Billy Mitchell, whom the film presents as reigning champion. The film premiered January 22, 2007, at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival and has been shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, the SXSW Film Festival, the TriBeCa Film Festival, the True/False Film Festival, the Aspen Comedy Festival, and the Fantasia Festival. The film opened in limited release in the United States on August 17, 2007 in five theaters, and by September 9, 2007, the film had expanded to 39 theaters in the U.S.
The film's original title was simply The King of Kong but later received the subtitle A Fistful of Quarters. A scripted film adaptation is also in the works. Director Seth Gordon has said that the movie might be a sequel instead of a remake, telling the story of how the documentary changed both men's lives, as well as their continuing rivalry. The film's DVD release was on January 29, 2008.
In 1980s Ottumwa, Iowa, Walter Day founds Twin Galaxies, an organization formed to keep track of high scores achieved on arcade games. The organization rises to national prominence after it and several high-scoring players are featured in a Life Magazine spread. One of those players is Billy Mitchell, who, having achieved the highest ever recorded scores on Donkey Kong and Centipede in the 1980s, remains a video game legend in 2005. Mitchell, a restaurateur by trade, maintains a strong relationship with both Day and Twin Galaxies, which has now become a global organization. Mitchell is portrayed as unabashedly cocky and fond of self-promotion, proclaiming himself the "Sauce King" of Florida for his successful line of homemade hot sauces. Next to his family, Mitchell considers his arcade scores to be his greatest life achievements.
On the other side of the country, in Redmond, Washington, Boeing engineer Steve Wiebe has recently been laid off. His friends and his wife, Nicole, describe him as an unfortunate figure who always comes up short due to his obsessive compulsive disorder, despite being proficient at music, sports, art, and mathematics. He was a star baseball pitcher but was injured and unable to pitch in the state championship; he is a gifted drummer but will only play music at home. Preparing to get back into the workforce, Wiebe begins going to night school to get a master's degree and obtains a Donkey Kong machine to play in his garage to relax in between studying. After reading about Mitchell's world record of 874,300 on the internet, Wiebe focuses on mastering Donkey Kong. Using his knowledge of mathematics to identify certain patterns and timing intervals in the game, Wiebe successfully achieves a score of 1,006,600 points. Wiebe submits a tape to Twin Galaxies, which propels him to becoming a local celebrity and news topic as the new world record holder for a few weeks.
Mitchell sends his self-styled protege, retired banker turned pro-gamer Brian Kuh, to investigate Wiebe's machine. Kuh learns that the machine's circuit board was provided by Roy Shildt, a self-proclaimed fitness guru and pickup artist who claims to hold the high score for Missile Command. Unbeknownst to Wiebe, Shildt and Mitchell have been nemeses for years ever since Mitchell caused Shildt's high score to be brought under scrutiny, preventing him from receiving official recognition from Twin Galaxies. Since then, Shildt has been looking for a way to exact clandestine revenge on Mitchell. Based on Wiebe's association with Shildt, the staff of Twin Galaxies suspects that Wiebe's board might have been tampered with and that he may have achieved his score dishonestly.
In order to prove his gaming skills, Wiebe travels to Funspot Arcade in Laconia, New Hampshire, to perform a high score live for Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day and other high-ranking members of Twin Galaxies, hoping to confront Mitchell and play head-to-head. Although Mitchell does not attend, he sends Kuh to observe Wiebe's play. Just prior to the kill screen, Kuh gathers a large crowd to witness Wiebe's achievement. Wiebe reaches the kill screen and also achieves a new world record. Contrary to his own assertion that scores achieved in public carry more validity than videotaped scores, Mitchell immediately sends a low-quality VHS to Funspot, depicting himself achieving a higher score of 1,047,200 points. Despite Wiebe's protests that his own first score was disqualified for being submitted via unsupervised videotape, Twin Galaxies accepts Mitchell's score over Wiebe's and proclaims that Mitchell's new score makes Mitchell the record holder once again.
Nine months later, Wiebe learns that Guinness World Records wants to publish several of Twin Galaxies' records — including Mitchell's latest score. Wiebe and his family travel to Hollywood, Florida, near Mitchell's home, to challenge him in a public competition, but Mitchell refuses to accept the challenge, and Wiebe fails to surpass a million points. Nevertheless, Day, on behalf of Twin Galaxies, finally acknowledges Wiebe's integrity and credibility and apologizes for how Wiebe was treated. Day presents Wiebe with a special award and welcomes him to continue submitting scores to Twin Galaxies.
- Steve Wiebe, the challenger
- Billy Mitchell, described in the film as "the world's best gamer"
- Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies
- Robert Mruczek, the chief referee of Twin Galaxies
- Brian Kuh, friend of Billy Mitchell and Donkey Kong player
- Steve Sanders, friend of Billy Mitchell and Donkey Kong player
- Dwayne Richard, classic gaming World Champion
- Roy Shildt (aka "Mr. Awesome"), Billy Mitchell's "nemesis"
- Todd Rogers
- Greg Bond, Mappy champion
- Doris Self, previous holder of the Q*bert record and title of oldest game champion
- Wiebe Family
Robert Wilonsky of the Village Voice called the film a "miniature masterpiece" and in August 2007 said it was "[his] favorite movie of the year" up to that point. Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat gave the film 5 stars and said "It’s not just one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Period." Keith Phipps of The Onion AV Club gave the film an "A-" and said at one point it "turns into a film about what it takes to make it in America." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, wondering "Who would have guessed that a documentary about gamers obsessed with scoring a world record at Donkey Kong would not only be roaringly funny but serve as a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization?" Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times similarly gave the film 3 stars and called it "a documentary that is beyond strange."
Among critics who gave the film negative reviews, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said "Is there anything more tiresome than watching people play video games?" and "The competition is so vicious because the stakes are so low." Stephen Garrett of Time Out New York called it "moderately entertaining and ultimately kind of pathetic" and said that the early-1980s arcade subculture is explored in greater depth in the documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade.
Film critic Richard Roeper stated that the film "deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary" in 2007 on At The Movies. The North Texas Film Critics Association named it Best Documentary for 2007. The Boston Society of Film Critics named it the runner-up for Best Documentary Feature of 2007. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature of 2007 by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature by the Chicago Film Critics Association, but lost to Sicko.
Top ten lists
The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.
- 4th - Dennis Harvey, Variety (tied with Gone Baby Gone)
- 5th - Empire
- 6th - Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
- 7th - Mike Russell, The Oregonian
- 10th - Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
World Record status since the film's release
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On July 13, 2007, in celebration of the film's release and the 25th anniversary of Mitchell's first record-setting performance, Mitchell again played and retook the Donkey Kong record with a score of 1,050,200. Inspired to attempt the record because of the movie, a new King of Kong was crowned on February 26, 2010, when Queens, New York-based plastic surgeon Hank Chien surpassed Mitchell's high score by scoring 1,061,700.
On August 7, 2010, Twin Galaxies once again certified Billy Mitchell as the record holder with 1,062,800 points. This coincided with the first induction ceremony for the International Video Game Hall of Fame. Mitchell set the new record playing at the Boomers-Grand Prix Arcade in Dania, Florida where he played for two hours and forty two minutes before quitting once he topped Chien's score. When asked why he quit early, Mitchell said, "Some say I'm being cocky. Some say I'm being lazy. I say, I'm being Billy Mitchell." He also once again set the record in Donkey Kong, Jr but on September 9, 2010, he again lost the title, this time to Mark L. Kiehl.
Steve Wiebe once again regained the world record in September 2010, with a score of 1,064,500. This score was broken by Hank Chien in January 2011, with a score of 1,068,000. Chien beat his own record a month later with a score of 1,090,400 and then again in May 2012 with a score of 1,110,100 in a non-killscreen game.
Chien again topped his own score on July 25, 2012, with the new score being set at 1,127,700.
On January 4, 2016, Wes Copeland struck back with a score of 1,190,000.
On April 11, 2016, Robbie Lakeman scored 1,190,200, beating Wes Copeland's record by 200 points. Copeland announced he would "grind like nothing ever before seen on the face of this earth", and reclaimed the world record a week later on April 19, 2016 with a score of 1,195,100.
On May 5, 2016, Wes Copeland livestreamed a score of 1,218,000. The significance of this score is that Copeland was able to make it to the final barrel board on his first man, making it a "perfect game". This surpassed his original goal of 1,200,000 by a large margin. Afterwards, Copeland announced his retirement from competition.
- "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- The King of Kong - Slamdance Film Festival 2007. Slamdance.com. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007) - Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
- 'King of Kong' Movie Might Be a Sequel? Nathan Fillion vs Johnny Depp? justpressplay.net. Retrieved 2014-08-03
- "IGN DVD: Trailers, Wallpaper, Pictures, and Reviews". Dvd.ign.com. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- According to the director, this happened while the film was already finished: http://www.thefilmlot.com/interviews/INTsgordon.php
- "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, The (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
- "The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
- Robert Wilonsky (2007-08-14). "Tracking Shots: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". Village Voice. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "Ebert & Roeper - August 17, 2007 episode". Ebert & Roeper. 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2007-09-12.[dead link]
- Pete Vonder Haar (2007-08-18). "THE KING OF KONG". Film Threat. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Keith Phipps (2007-08-17). "The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters". The Onion AV Club. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Peter Travers (2007-08-07). "The King of Kong : Review : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Ebert, Roger. "Review: 'THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS'." Chicago Sun-Times, August 23, 2007. Retrieved: June 29, 2017.
- Ann Hornaday (2007-08-24). "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Stephen Garrett (August 16–22, 2007). "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters". Time Out New York Issue 620. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "At the Movies- King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)". YouTube. 2010-08-10. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- Meyer, John P. (January 17, 2008). "North Texas Film Critics Association picks the best of 2007". Pegasus News. Dallas, TX. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
- "Metacritic: 2007 Film Awards & Nominations". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2007-12-31. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
- "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2008-02-23. Retrieved 2008-02-25.
- "Man Shatters Donkey Kong World Record Exactly 25 Years After First Setting It in 1982"
- "New King of Kong" NY Daily Newsl
- "Billy Mitchell Again Is Champion Of Donkey Kong — And Jr. Too". Kotaku.com. 2010-08-07. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- Welcome to Twin Galaxies. Wayback.archive.org (2008-03-28). Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
- "The King Of Kong Once Again The King Of Kong". Kotaku.com. 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- Welcome to Twin Galaxies. Wayback.archive.org (2011-01-14). Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
- Kee, Edwin (2012-05-29). "New Donkey Kong high score of 1,110,100 points". Ubergizmo. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- "Dr Hank Chien Breaks His Own Donkey Kong World Record - Retro News @ Nintendo Life". Nintendolife.com. 2012-08-23. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- "NEW WORLD RECORD! Robbie Lakeman Finally Topples Hank Chien For The Donkey Kong Title!". Donkey Blog. 2014-09-06. Retrieved 2014-09-06.
- Official website
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters on IMDb
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at AllMovie
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at Rotten Tomatoes
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at Metacritic
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at Box Office Mojo
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters at slamdance.com
- Trailer at Apple.com
- King of Kong at DVDtalk.com
- on YouTube
- In depth article/interview from Ignore Magazine at the Wayback Machine (archived February 16, 2009)
- The American Classic Arcade Museum