Kaiju History: Hammer Films Almost Added ‘King Kong’ To Their List Of Prestigious Remakes

Kong meets his adopted son in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024), Legendary Pictures
Kong meets his adopted son in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024), Legendary Pictures

King Kong has had a monumental history and the property isn’t even a full century old – at least not yet. The original, a true classic brought to life with groundbreaking stop-motion, was popular in 1933 when it was out, and found a new audience when it premiered on TV in the 50s.

It was one of the films that mesmerized a young Martin Scorsese, inspiring him to become a filmmaker. The same is true for many other future directors, including Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson.

Kong holds Mecha-Godzilla's head in Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), Warner Bros. Pictures
Kong holds Mecha-Godzilla’s head in Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), Warner Bros. Pictures

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The film continues to marvel generations of kids and everyone of all ages – some who will go on to work in cinema, others who won’t. However, for all its grandeur, there was a period of drought where the character and his descendants – his Son and Mighty Joe Young – weren’t seen on the big screen in anything new.

A follow-up Kong movie by stop-motion master Willis O’Brien went nowhere, arguably due to sabotage by his producers. This opened the door for Toho to fill the void by pitting the giant ape against Godzilla for the first time. Soon after, they let him ‘escape’ to fight a robotic counterpart before the rights lapsed and the King returned to Skull Island until Dino De Laurentiis got a crack at retelling the story.

Kong fights a T-Rex in King Kong (1933), RKO Radio Pictures
Kong fights a T-Rex in King Kong (1933), RKO Radio Pictures

Surprisingly, that’s not the last word on Kong at the time as another studio making history with monsters from Hollywood’s Golden Age was trying to get a remake off the ground before De Laurentiis was ever involved. The House of Horror, Hammer Films, became a benchmark in the genre and international cinema by reinterpreting Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein, and other Universal monsters.

They turned their attention to King Kong around 1966 and endeavored to update the Eighth Wonder for the ‘Swingin’ 60s’ and the era’s groovy Boomer base. However, Hammer wanted to employ the same effects that animated Kong initially and tapped Ray Harryhausen to lead in that department.

Kong dominates Skull Island
A full look at Kong in the new Skull Island anime (2023), Netflix

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Harryausen teamed with his collaborator on Clash of the Titans Jim Danforth and David W. Allen (chief puppeteer for Willow, The Howling, and other classics) to put together test footage. The scene they chose to reenact was none other than the finale – Kong’s fatal fight with heavily armed planes atop the Empire State Building. Although the project stalled, portions of their test made it into a Volkswagen commercial spearheaded by Allen, which you can watch on YouTube. 

The full feature never came to be, according to WikiZilla, because RKO, the studio that owned and produced King Kong, had a strict policy against remakes. That was until De Laurentiis came calling, at least. No cast was ever locked down, but knowing Hammer’s penchant for reusing familiar talent, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would probably have been in it. Considerations might have also been given to Ralph Bates, Oliver Reed, and Veronica Carlson.

Hammer’s King Kong never materializing means it joins the long list of unmade kaiju movies that might have served up interesting viewing. Do you wonder what could have been? Answer below.

NEXT: Kaiju History: Sony’s Sole Godzilla Film Actually Received a Sequel – From Toho!