King Kong and the Beginning of Movie Characters Jumping to Other Studios

By  · Published on September 11th, 2015

Universal Pictures/Toho

We all saw it coming. Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla are both a part of Legendary Pictures, after all. Yet the recent Godzilla was made while the production company still had a distribution deal with Warner Bros. and now Legendary is with Universal. Therefore, Skull Island was going to be made for Universal, while Godzilla sequels would remain with Warners. Our dreams of another, more respectful, Hollywood-sized match between King Kong and the King of the Monsters seemed unlikely to come true. But now they have been – or will be – fulfilled with the news that Skull Island has jumped studios to join Godzilla at Warners for an eventual crossover.

King Kong is the perfect beast to influence other movie characters to change studios to join other mega-franchises, as he was one of the first to legitimately cross into another series and may have been the first to officially be licensed to another studio for the opportunity. And, as a matter of fact, it was for the original Godzilla franchise and Toho Studios in Japan. King Kong vs. Godzilla, released in 1962, even originated with an idea for a movie at Universal pitting King Kong against a giant-sized Frankenstein’s Monster. Toho also got to make another, unrelated movie (it was based on an animated series), titled King Kong Escapes, in which he battles a giant robot version of himself (Mechani-Kong).

Plus, King Kong has never really had a studio to fully call home. His first movie and its sequel, both in 1933, were made at RKO, the 1976 remake was at Paramount, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, its 1986 sequel was independently released by De Laurentiis’s own company and Peter Jackson’s 2005 version was finally at Universal, which had managed to secure rights to the character since a legal battle with De Laurentiis in the mid-1970s and had been featuring the giant ape in theme park attractions since the mid-1980s (Universal also put out Toho’s two King Kong movies in the US). Warners even already has one of their own, an animated musical remake. Eventually we’ll have to see Sony, Disney, Fox and MGM make King Kong movies, too.

What I had been expecting before the move to Warner Bros. was that King Kong, if not able to have a rematch with Godzilla, could finally find his way officially into the Universal Monsters stable. Maybe because of the King Kong Universal Studios attraction, I had long figured the character had become integrated into that brand with Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, etc. But his only real tie-ins seem to have been a 1974 Super Monsters Bend Ems set of rubber toys. The 1967 Rankin/Bass animated monster mashup movie Mad Monster Party? and the semi-related TV series The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters sort of included Kong, but not by name.

At Warners, Kong will interact with Godzilla and whichever other giant monsters Legendary imports from the Japanese classics (they’ve already confirmed Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, possibly all for 2017’s Godzilla 2). There’s also the giant Kaiju and Jaegers of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, though that’d have to be a very forced crossover given that there’s no way their worlds already coexist based on their first installments. The studio also has a giant shark movie, Meg, in the works, so perhaps that could be a part of what’s unofficially being labeled the Monster Movie Universe. They can also resurrect old Warner Bros. properties like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, which offers giant ants, and Gremlins, which can bring lots of little critters into the fold.

It doesn’t have to be all monsters, though. Warners should finally realize Merian C. Cooper’s plan from 1935 for a Tarzan vs. King Kong movie (never mind the 1965 Bollywood one), since they do have a big new Tarzan movie out next year starring Alexander Skarsgard as “the ape man.” Warner Bros. also has a Sherlock Holmes franchise, and that character has been no stranger to crossovers. Then eventually, all these monsters and pulp characters can find their way into a crossover with the DC Cinematic Universe. Superman has already basically fought Kong in the comics, or a rip-off called Titano, anyway.

That’s all under the same studio umbrella, but what the Skull Island jump has us wondering is, will this inspire more inter-studio mingling and studio swaps to accommodate in-demand team-ups? Spider-Man’s deal to overlap between its own Sony pictures and Marvel’s cinematic universe (and the Hulk’s arrangement to be in Avengers movies despite also being a Universal property) is one thing, but it’s an expected brand-appropriate situation. Kong and Godzilla also have their history together. When Fox decides to hand Bruce Willis as John McClane over to Universal in order to loop him into the Fast and Furious or Jurassic World franchises, though, that will just seem like a logical next step.

I continue to believe that characters (intellectual properties) are today’s movie stars and they’ll continue to be lent out and traded between studios for different movies the way actors and actresses were in the old days of Hollywood. What will be interesting to see is if somehow all these IPs can eventually become independent of the studios in the way stars eventually did and then it’s a total free-for-all as far as movie mashups go. Our grandkids’ blockbusters are going to be a lot like the crossovers only found in fan fiction form today, only they’re not going to seem such a big deal. Batman starring opposite Katniss Everdeen is going to just as normal as Christian Bale starring opposite Jennifer Lawrence.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.