The upcoming action epic Godzilla vs. Kong is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. The fourth entry in the Legendary Monsterverse pits the two cinematic legends against each other in what promises to be a worldwide brawl, but this isn’t the first time Godzilla and King Kong have butted heads. The rich histories of both icons have crossed paths before, resulting in one of the most significant and formative films in both of their filmographies.
When Kong Met Godzilla
The 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla is as bonkers as you’d expect. Looking to exploit a rare berry, the head of a pharmaceutical company sends some of his representatives to the remote island where they are grown. Once there, the representatives uncover that the locals worship the mighty King Kong, whom the head of the company also wishes to exploit. After Godzilla is revived from being frozen in an iceberg, he goes on a rampage across Japan, with Kong being the only one who can stop him. Eventually, their rivalry culminates in a fierce battle at the base of Mt. Fuji.
The story of how these two met behind the scenes is as interesting as the story in the film, because originally this wasn’t intended to be a fight between Godzilla and Kong. Following the success of the original King Kong in 1933, special effects artist Willis H. O’Brien wished to revisit the character. O’Brien started developing a story dubbed King Kong Meets Frankenstein, where Kong would have fought a reanimated monster made up of other prehistoric beasts.
O’Brien outlined the story and submitted his idea to producer John Beck for further development. After not garnering any interest in the US, Beck started pitching the idea overseas without O’Brien’s knowledge. It was then that the film crossed paths with Toho, the studio responsible for the Godzilla series. With the growing popularity of monster epics in Japan, Toho immediately jumped on the idea, altering it so that it wouldn’t be an undead creation, but Godzilla himself that Kong fought.
The circumstances of this movie are still very controversial, with O’Brien not receiving any credit or input on the final project, and Beck receiving sole credit for his contributions. O’Brien would also pass away the year the finished film was released, dying at age 76. In spite of the less than honest methods by which the film was created, the original King Kong vs. Godzilla is a noteworthy entry into the kaiju genre, taking place at an odd crossroads in the careers of both Godzilla and Kong.
A Turning Point for Superstars
King Kong was featured in the 1933 original and Son of Kong, released that same year. Godzilla likewise featured in both the original Gojira and its sequel Godzilla Raids Again. This was also the first time either monster appeared in color.
This would also mark an odd period in the history of King Kong where he would briefly be among the stars of the Toho lineup. Although he wouldn’t appear in any other Godzilla films until today, King Kong did appear in another Toho helmed epic, King Kong Escapes, directed by original Godzilla creator Ishiro Honda. He was originally slated to be the star of Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, but concerns about marketability lead to the character being switched out for Godzilla.
This was also an interesting period for Godzilla. By this stage in his career, he was still very much the villain of Toho’s series, his turn into a hero not due for another few years. As in the original, the plot is centered mainly around the heroes stopping him. King Kong is clearly billed as the underdog and hero of the film, which looks to be the direction the new film is going based on the trailers. Still, this film did contain many elements that would become staples of later Godzilla films.
While Godzilla did fight another monster in the previous film, it was something largely beyond the control of the human heroes. King Kong vs. Godzilla marked the first time the human characters decided to pit one monster against another for the good of the world. This formula would be used in the next film, Mothra vs. Godzilla to defeat the King of the Monsters once more. This formula would be used again in Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, where this time it was Godzilla himself, along with Mothra and Rodan, who needed to protect Japan and the world from a new, deadlier threat. King Kong vs. Godzilla may not have been the Big Guy’s turn into a leading man, but it did plant the seeds of what would be a very common formula for the rest of the series. To quote the 2014 film, let them fight.
About That Ending
So what exactly happens in the original Toho film? About what you’d expect. Godzilla destroys much of Japan, but eventually, he and Kong Kong face-off. Now, I’m not saying I was reduced to tears, but as a six-year-old child and a Godzilla fan, I was devastated by the ending where Godzilla was defeated and King Kong returned to his home island. King Kong vs. Godzilla was the first film that made me rage. Many people told me that there was an alternate version, and that in Japan it was Godzilla who won the fight. I was eager to see this ending, but it turns out this is one of cinema’s most enduring urban legends.
The myth was first started by an article in Spacemen Magazine, a popular publication for fans of science fiction and monster movies. In the article, the magazine claimed there were region-specific winners for the film, and that Japanese audiences would see the King of the Monsters reign supreme. The idea was widely circulated following the release of the article and even made it into trivial pursuit.
It is true that there are two different cuts of the film, which is common in the Godzilla series. Right from the original, the films were edited for US releases, incorporating the now-famous dubbing, and in some cases inserts of American actors. Raymond Burr, famous as TV’s Perry Mason, would appear in two such edits of Godzilla films, once in the edited version of the original, and again in its 1984 sequel. King Kong vs. Godzilla includes similar inserts with English-speaking actors, although they do little more than offer commentary on the fight.
King Kong vs. Godzilla is also one of the most poorly preserved films of the original Godzilla series, so much that the Americanized version was the only one available for quite a while. However, a print of the Japanese version has been found. So what differences are there? When it comes to the ending, not that much. There are slight differences in dialogue, with the characters saying Godzilla might still be alive. There is also a sound byte of Godzilla and Kong both roaring during the end credits, though this was more intended as a stage bow to the audience. Apart from that, the ending is the same. Godzilla vanishes, and it’s only Kong who is seen beginning his journey home.
I want to see Godzilla win just as much as anyone. I’m Team Goji all the way. But facts are facts. Godzilla loses in both cuts. I will happily change this position is someone sends us a cut of the ending where Godzilla wins.
A Rematch 59 Years In The Making
King Kong vs. Godzilla is a flawed film. It’s not one of the best in the series and is generally not regarded well amongst the fans. Still, it is one of the most iconic and important films in the series, setting both the tone and the formula for the Godzilla franchise for years to come. The film was a hit in both Japan and overseas, which further introduced American audiences to Japan’s budding superstar. Both Godzilla and Kong have seen a resurgence in recent times, with Kong appearing in two theatrical films including one by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, and Godzilla himself appearing in three theatrically released films since 2014. Once fading celebrities, both Godzilla and Kong are back in the spotlight to conclude this rematch. Who will win? It’s hard to say.
One thing is for sure. When Cinema’s two literal biggest stars vie for supremacy, it promises to be quite the spectacle.
But Godzilla better win this time.
Like this article? Check out these other similar pieces by some of our top contributors!