In 2019, King Kong is an ape who needs no introduction. The name conjures up images of a huge gorilla rampaging through the streets of New York, falling for a beautiful blonde, and fighting off planes atop the Empire State Building. Since his debut in 1933, King Kong has continued to capture the hearts and minds of pop culture audiences everywhere, inspiring big-screen remakes, sequels, and reimaginings.
Every big-screen King Kong outing means a new poster that gives fans a glimpse of the latest iteration of the character. Here, we’re ranking the posters announcing every live-action theatrical Kong release, from 1933’s classic to the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong scheduled for 2020.
10 QUEEN KONG (1976)
As you probably guessed from the title, 1976’s Queen Kong is a gender-swapped version of King Kong made to cash in on the popularity of the character. The film was intended to convey a feminist message, however the execution was so ham-handed, Queen Kong is mostly just remembered as an oddity — if it’s remembered at all. King Kong copyright holder Dino de Laurentiis sued to block the movie’s release in a majority of the world.
The poster certainly conveys the gender reversal that is the movie’s reason for being, showcasing Queen Kong terrorizing her male paramour, the subtly named Ray Fay. The poster’s stylized drawing reads like a parody, which is appropriate for the movie. However, the extremely questionable undertones of the image make it hard not to imagine the protests and boycotts the poster would elicit in this day and age.
9 KING KONG ESCAPES (1967)
The second Kong film produced by Japan’s Toho Studios, 1967’s King Kong Escapes features the robot Mechani-Kong. It also has a very James Bond-like set-up involving the evil Dr. Who (who has no relation to the timey-whimey BBC version) and his plan to use Kong to extract the radioactive Element X from the North Pole.
It’s a busy movie and the poster is busy too. However, the imagery does a poor job conveying the most exciting element of the story: the battle between Kong and his robot doppelganger. Instead, the poster puts Gorosaurus front and center. While Kong does fight that character in the movie, it’s definitely not the main attraction. Plus, it’s hard to tell from the poster if Mechani-Kong is targeting his biological counterpart or helping him fight Gorosaurus.
8 KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)
King Kong predated Godzilla at the movies by a good 20 years. Still, the match-up of the oversized lizard and gigantic ape seems pretty much inevitable in hindsight. In 1962, Toho Studios brought that fight to the big screen with King Kong vs. Godzilla.
The poster makes sure to show the two in action. However, they’re only given about half the space. The rest is dominated by the human characters who appear in the movie. But let’s face it, no one’s going to see King Kong vs. Godzilla for the people. This poster should be dominated by the monsters.
7 KING KONG (1976)
The 1976 King Kong is the first remake of the 1933 original. The story stuck to the basic outline of its source material but modernized it with a more humorous vibe and updated effects. Also, the final battle takes place on the Twin Towers instead of the Empire State Building.
The poster for the remake has a lovely painterly quality. Unfortunately, the depiction of Kong doesn’t do him any favors. His odd proportions and his stance across the Twin Towers looks more awkward than intimidating.
6 SON OF KONG (1933)
The original King Kong from 1933 is still widely regarded as one of the finest movies ever made. What you may not know is that the success of that film spawned a sequel that came out the same year a mere nine months later. The follow-up was a hastily thrown together cash grab that centered on the character Carl Denham’s return to Skull Island after the loss of King Kong, and his discovery of the ape’s more diminutive — but still pretty tall — son.
While King Kong’s son doesn’t show up until well into the movie, the poster does a good job of emphasizing the ape. In addition, his cradling of a woman references King Kong’s relationship with Ann Darrow. The detailed drawing and the colorful style make the movie look vibrant and interesting, whether it really was or not.
5 GODZILLA VS. KONG (2020)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters repeatedly teases a coming throw-down between Godzilla and King Kong. And in 2020, Legendary Pictures is scheduled to make good on all the foreshadowing with the release of Godzilla vs. Kong.
The centerpiece of the film will be the brawl between the two giants. How it happens and why is beside the point. And the poster gives fans exactly what they want by emphasizing the two monsters squaring off. Nothing more, nothing less. Plus, the tagline, “God vs. King” drives home the oversized nature of this showdown even more. There’s no mistaking what the poster is conveying about the movie
4 KING KONG LIVES (1986)
King Kong Lives from 1986 was a sequel to the 1976 version of King Kong. According to the movie, Kong hadn’t perished when he fell off the Twin Towers, he'd simply gone into a coma. However, he gets better when a doctor gives him an artificial heart and a blood transfusion courtesy of the newly discovered Lady Kong. From there it turns into an ape love story, with King Kong and Lady Kong falling for each other and having a baby. There’s a reason this title rests on the scrap heap of pop culture history.
That said, the poster is surprisingly successful. It focuses on Kong’s battles against the military, but it also shows him reaching for another gorilla’s hand, hinting that there’s more to this story than just Kong's battles. While that story wasn’t very good, the drawing of Kong on the poster makes the movie look like it had more potential.
3 KING KONG (2005)
When Peter Jackson decided to take on King Kong after wrapping up The Lord of the Rings trilogy, fans knew the special effects would be top notch. And Jackson didn’t disappoint. This second remake of the 1933 touchstone was more successful than the 1976 version. And the poster is more successful too.
The poster is dominated by the photorealistic Kong seen in the movie. His menacing facial expression is just a hint of what's in store for viewers who longed to see the giant ape as something more than a guy in a suit. The only other individual on the poster is Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, who clearly isn’t intimidated by Kong’s size or roar. The poster’s background also nods to the natural beauty and danger of Kong’s home, Skull Island.
2 KING KONG (1933)
The movie that started it all, 1933’s King Kong was a smash hit when it premiered and is still considered a cinematic masterpiece decades later. To bring the giant gorilla to life, the movie employed groundbreaking stop-motion animation. Instead of a still from the movie itself, though, the poster uses an illustration to advertise the film.
That illustration depicts Kong’s last stand on the Empire State Building, with his beloved Ann Darrow in one hand and a crushed fighter jet in the other. The poster uses color and size to make sure Kong is what attracts the eye, but the buildings and planes in the background help give the poster dimension. It even plays with perspective by arching the silhouette of the New York skyline and the movie’s title to the left of Kong. It’s a gorgeous, classic movie poster.
1 KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
In 2017, Legendary Pictures brought King Kong back in Kong: Skull Island, which reimagined the story of Kong’s discovery. While the film featured major stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson, the only one who really made an impression was John C. Reilly. His character Marlow had been stuck on Skull Island since World War II and understood the importance of Kong to the place. The movie also featured the most sympathetic version of Kong to be captured on film to date, although that didn’t remove any of the danger he embodies.
Of all the posters on this list, this one is perhaps the most subtle. Yet at the same time, there’s no mistaking what this visually interesting image is communicating. The silhouette of Kong, framed by the setting sun, towers above Skull Island and faces off against the silhouettes of approaching soldiers and helicopters. The poster makes it clear there will be a battle between the formidable Kong and these men. The visual is intriguing and draws the viewer in, piquing their curiosity about the film.