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12 Movies to Watch After You See ‘Kong: Skull Island’

By  · Published on March 10th, 2017

Besides all the previous King Kong movies, that is.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts is another filmmaker who makes this column too easy, not just by littering his movies with references to its influences but also by acknowledging many of them in interviews. His sophomore feature and first big tentpole release, Kong: Skull Island, has so much history within, from its origins in the 1933 monster movie classic King Kong and its remakes to the tons of personal favorites that reveal JoVoRo’s upbringing.

I’m skipping over the obvious King Kong recommendation (though I should note that the first half of the 1976 version is also great and a better comparison to Skull Island), and I can’t possibly include all of JoVoRo’s admitted “Easter egg” allusions, many of which are to video games and anime series anyway. Plus I’ve added in some of my own picks for post-Skull Island viewing, including something JoVoRo never would: his own movie.

Ulysses and the Giant Polyphemus (1905)

Let’s start, as I like to do for fantasy films, with something by Georges Melies. Also known as L’ile de Calypso or The Mysterious Island, this is probably the first existing movie about someone encountering a giant creature on a strange island, and it comes from the classic Homer epic poem “The Odyssey.” While it’s hardly one of Melies’s best ‐ it’s actually got some of his most disappointing visual tricks ‐ it is worth checking out to see how far special effects have come in 112 years. Watch it below.

Mysterious Island (1961)

Based on the Jules Verne novel “The Mysterious Island,” about Civil War soldiers who escape prison only to wind up on an island full of monsters, this is cited by JoVoRo as a definite influence on Skull Island when he talks about wanting to make something crossing a Vietnam War movie and a Ray Harryhausen film. “That was my shit growing up before I experienced the amazing 1933 Kong movie,” he told The Playlist, “it’s an absolute masterclass in filmmaking actually. It’s like the origin of VFX.” He also acknowledges Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans for their variety of beasts and “weird shit,” but what I find more apt with Mysterious Island (which I just recommended last fall with Moana) is how it’s also a monster movie set during wartime and, yes, that’s thematically significant to the story.
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Aliens (1986)

Of course, James Cameron already pretty much did the mashup of a Vietnam War movie and creature feature with his Alien sequel, which throws a military platoon into the mix. Aliens is a war movie set during alien encounter time. It’s also an actual influence on Skull Island itself, most apparent in Brie Larson’s character sharing a last name with actress Sigourney Weaver. He has also compared his decision to only give us the humans’ POV to how Cameron does the same.
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Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

Instead of recommending Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which is the most blatant of influences, especially evident with one of the poster designs, or any other Vietnam War movie (JoVoRo also cites Oliver Stone’s Platoon), I’m spotlighting this documentary about the making of the classic as my obligatory nonfiction pick. Featuring footage shot by Coppola’s wife and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, it’s a remarkable look at how much of a miracle it was that Apocalypse Now ever got finished let alone wound being so brilliant. JoVoRo told /Film he had cast and crew members watch Hearts of Darkness “Just ’cause I kept joking, I was like ‘I wanna go have our Apocalypse Now in the jungle and lose their fucking minds.’”
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Jurassic Park (1993)

Skull Island is basically Jurassic Park without any of the interesting sci-fi stuff and about a tenth of the ethical intrigue. Not that Jurassic Park isn’t also very light in substance compared to its source material, but it’s also impeccably crafted to make up for any shortcomings in the script. Both movies involve a group of strangers taken to an island they don’t know has enormous man-eating beasts, and both movies feature Samuel L. Jackson saying “hold onto your butts.”
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The Rock (1996)

In Michael Bay’s best movie, Ed Harris plays a guy like Samuel L. Jackson’s in Skull Island. He’s a leader of a team of soldiers who will not let his fallen brothers die in vain or without proper recognition by his government. Then there’s Sean Connery, who much like John C. Reilly’s part in Skull Island, is a time traveler from the past with his unkempt appearance after being hidden from the world for decades. And they’re clashing on an island. The only thing missing in Skull Island, it’s now clear, is Nicolas Cage.
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Princess Mononoke (1997)

One of Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest animated features, this film was one of the first to make the rounds as being a huge influence on Skull Island. JoBlo had that initial scoop, quoting JoVoRo as stating “If Kong is the God of this island, we wanted each of the creatures to feel like they’re individual gods of their own domain. Miyazaki and Princess Mononoke was actually a big reference in the way that the spirit creatures sort of have their own domains and fit within that. A big thing was trying to design creatures that felt realistic and could exist in an ecosystem that feels sort of wild and out there, and then also design things that simultaneously felt beautiful and horrifying at the same time. Where if you look at this giant spider or water buffalo…a part of you says, ‘that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen’ and ‘oh my god, that’s going to kill me right now, I need to run for my life!” Also, JoVoRo added a very subtle Mononoke Easter egg in putting two triangles on John C. Reilly’s sword matching it with Princess Mononoke’s blade. Other Miyazaki movies influenced Skull Island, too, with one example being the design of the Skull Crawlers being a “rip-off” of Spirited Away’s No-Face.
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Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Who doesn’t love seeing Samuel L. Jackson in monster movies? I mean, who doesn’t love seeing Samuel L. Jackson get killed in monster movies? I’ve already recommended Jurassic Park, where his death is off screen, and to make up for that, here’s a movie where his death is front and center and the most memorable thing ever. Skull Island’s scientists may be even dumber than the ones in Deep Blue Sea who heighten the intelligence of sharks in order to use them for brain disease research. Not to be confused with The Deep Blue Sea, which features Skull Island star Tom Hiddleston.
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The Host (2006)

Among JoVoRo’s favorite things, in addition to video games and anime, is South Korean cinema. He says the moment where Kong eats a giant octopus is a nod to Oldboy, and he also recognizes this Bong Joon-ho monster movie as being important. The Skull Crawlers were initially inspired by a minor creature in the 1933 King Kong by way of the monster from The Host. “[It] had such an oddness to the way it moved,” he told Den of Geek! “I liked the way that creature had an inelegance, as though it had somehow evolved poorly. Because it was a mistake.”
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Instead of using sharks, the smarter scientists of the first of the new Planet of the Apes series heightened the intelligence of chimpanzees in the effort to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not why it’s on this list. RotPotA is the link between Skull Island and Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake. Andy Serkis, the king of performance capture, who played Kong in that movie, also plays the main ape here. Joining him in technique as another ape is Terry Notary, who is the primary actor playing Kong in the new movie. Toby Kebbell, another performance capture expert who joined the Planet of the Apes movies with the first sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, appears on screen in Skull Island, and he also was involved in the new Kong’s facial expressions. It’s an evolution of ape performances. You need to see this before War for the Planet of the Apes arrives this summer anyway.
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The Kings of Summer (2013)

I’ve been a fan of JoVoRo for a while, and I kind of figured he’d have a different career path than he’s having, given his comedic background. And also his love for Star Wars. You should go back and check out his shorts, including Successful Alcoholics, and his pop culture mashups like Bad Boys II Men. I still hope he can find time for more shorts on the side of doing stuff like Skull Island. Also check out this debut feature of his, a coming-of-age movie which is very different from his follow-up but which similarly is influenced by numerous other movies. For Skull Island, JoVoRo had a lookbook to show people what he had in mind. For The Kings of Summer, he started off with a “Rip-O-Matic Tone Reel” mixing together stuff like Stand by Me and Superbad that he intended to bite. Watch that video, too, if you can find it.
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Godzilla (2014)

This may seem as obvious as the original King Kong to be included on this list, but as far as I can tell not a lot of people are aware that Skull Island is related to Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla reboot (some people I’ve talked to seem to think it’s a sequel to Peter Jackson’s movie). Fortunately, you don’t have to see this before seeing Skull Island, since the latter takes place 40 years earlier and is only tied in during a post-credits scene. But you do have to see it after if you’re going to follow the “MonsterVerse” franchise up to Godzilla vs. Kong, which is due in 2020. I prefer Godzilla, though I think the two movies go very well together in their obscured POV shots and their characters’ last name homages and their lack of anything in the way of interesting characters, human or monster. They’re great dumb spectacles.
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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.