Godzilla vs. Kong is a 2021 American monster film directed by Adam Wingard. A sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), it is the fourth film in Legendary's MonsterVerse. It is also the 36th film in the Godzilla franchise, the 12th film in the King Kong franchise, and the fourth Godzilla film to be completely produced by a Hollywood studio. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir. In the film, Kong clashes with Godzilla as humans lure the ape into the Hollow Earth to retrieve a power source for a weapon to stop Godzilla's mysterious rampages.
The project was announced in October 2015 when Legendary announced plans for a shared cinematic universe between Godzilla and King Kong. The film's writers room was assembled in March 2017, and Wingard was announced as the director in May 2017. Principal photography began in November 2018 in Hawaii, Australia and Hong Kong, and wrapped in April 2019. After being delayed from a November 2020 release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Godzilla vs. Kong was theatrically released internationally on March 24, 2021, and in the United States on March 31, where it was released in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise for the visual effects and action sequences, but criticism towards the script and human characters. It broke several pandemic box office records, and has grossed $406.6 million worldwide against a break-even point of $330 million, making it the third highest-grossing film of 2021. The film was also a streaming hit, becoming the most successful launch item in HBO Max's history.
Nathan meets with Ilene and convinces her to let Kong guide them through the Hollow Earth via an outpost in Antarctica. Nathan, Ilene, and an Apex team led by Walter's daughter Maia board a modified barge escorted by the U.S. Navy that carries a sedated and restrained Kong. Godzilla attacks the convoy and defeats Kong, but retreats after the ships disable their power and trick him into thinking they are destroyed. To avoid alerting Godzilla, Kong is airlifted to the Hollow Earth entrance, and Jia convinces him to enter the tunnel while the team follows him in the HEAVs.
Madison and Josh find Bernie, who joins their investigation. They sneak into the wrecked Apex base, discover a secret facility underground, and are inadvertently locked into an underground monorail transport to Apex headquarters in Hong Kong, where they unwittingly stumble on a test of Mechagodzilla. It is telepathically controlled by Ren Serizawa, the son of the late Ishirō Serizawa, through the neural networks from the skull of a severed Ghidorah head, but is hobbled by its power supply's limitations. Walter intends to harness the Hollow Earth's energy to overcome Mechagodzilla's limitations.
Inside the Hollow Earth, Kong and the team find an ecosystem similar to Skull Island. They discover his species' ancestral throne room, where they find remains of an ancient war with Godzilla's kind and a glowing axe made from another Godzilla's dorsal plates. As they identify the power source, the Apex team sends its signature back to their Hong Kong base despite Ilene's protests. Attracted by Mechagodzilla's activation, Godzilla arrives in Hong Kong, and sensing Kong, he directly drills a shaft to the throne room with his atomic breath. In the ensuing mayhem, Maia and the Apex team attempt to escape but their HEAV is crushed by Kong. Kong, Ilene, Jia, and Nathan ascend to Hong Kong, where Godzilla and Kong battle. Godzilla is initially overpowered by Kong, but Godzilla emerges victorious while Kong loses consciousness.
Madison, Josh, and Bernie are caught by security and taken to Walter. Despite Ren's concerns over the power source's volatility, Walter orders him to activate Mechagodzilla. They lose control of Mechagodzilla, who kills Walter, electrocutes Ren and then attacks Hong Kong. Godzilla and Mechagodzilla battle, but Godzilla is overwhelmed. Nathan revives Kong by destroying the HEAV, and Jia convinces him to help Godzilla. As Mechagodzilla overpowers both Titans, Josh short-circuits Mechagodzilla's controls with Bernie's flask of liquor, momentarily interrupting the mech. Godzilla supercharges Kong's axe with his atomic breath, allowing Kong to destroy Mechagodzilla. Madison, Bernie, and Josh reunite with Mark Russell, while Godzilla and Kong acknowledge each other before the two go their separate ways.
Sometime later, Monarch has established an observation post in the Hollow Earth, where Kong now rules.
Adam Wingard – director
Jay Ashenfelter – executive producer
Herbert W. Gains – executive producer
Dan Lin – executive producer
Roy Lee – executive producer
Yoshimitsu Banno – executive producer (posthumous)
Kenji Okuhira – executive producer
Jen Conroy – co-producer
Tamara Kent – co-producer
Owen Patterson – production designer
Tom Hammock – production designer
Ann Foley – costume designer
John "DJ" DesJardin – visual effects supervisor
In September 2015, Legendary moved Kong: Skull Island from Universal to Warner Bros., which sparked media speculation that Godzilla and King Kong would appear in a film together. In October 2015, Legendary confirmed that they would unite Godzilla and King Kong in Godzilla vs. Kong, at the time targeted for a May 29, 2020, release. Legendary plans to create a shared cinematic franchise "centered around Monarch" that "brings together Godzilla and Legendary’s King Kong in an ecosystem of other giant super-species, both classic and new." Producer Alex Garcia confirmed that the film would not be a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla, stating, "the idea is not to remake that movie." In May 2017, Adam Wingard was announced as the director for Godzilla vs. Kong. Wingard had previously been considered by Peter Jackson to direct a sequel to his 2005 version of King Kong that was ultimately unproduced.
In July 2017, Wingard spoke about the outline created by the writers room, stating, "We're going in very great detail through all the characters, the arcs they have, how they relate to one another, and most importantly how they relate to the monsters, and how the monsters relate to them or reflect them." He also stated that he and his team are going "beat by beat" on the outline, stating, "So once again, it's a discussion, and about feeling out how to make it as strong as possible, so that when Terry [Rossio] goes to write the screenplay, he has a definitive breakdown of what to include." In August 2017, Wingard spoke about his approach for the monsters, stating:
"I really want you to take those characters seriously. I want you to be emotionally invested, not just in the human characters, but actually in the monsters. It’s a massive monster brawl movie. There’s lots of monsters going crazy on each other, but at the end of the day I want there to be an emotional drive to it. I want you to be emotionally invested in them. I think that’s what’s going to make it really cool."
Wingard expressed his desire for the film to have a definite winner, stating:
"I do want there to be a winner. The original film was very fun, but you feel a little let down that the movie doesn’t take a definitive stance. People are still debating now who won in that original movie, you know. So, I do want people to walk away from this film feeling like, Okay, there is a winner."
Wingard also confirmed that the film would tie in with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, be set in modern times, and feature a "more rugged, a bit more aged Kong."
In March 2017, Legendary assembled a writers room to develop the story for Godzilla vs. Kong, with Terry Rossio (who co-wrote an early unproduced script for TriStar's Godzilla) leading a team consisting of Patrick McKay, J. D. Payne, Lindsey Beer, Cat Vasko, T.S. Nowlin, Jack Paglen, and J. Michael Straczynski. On his experience with the writers room, Rossio stated:
"Godzilla vs. Kong was my first experience running a writer's room, and it was fantastic. It was a blast reading samples, meeting different writers, and crafting a story in a group setting. It felt similar to animation, where the film is happening up on the walls, and the end result is better than any one person could accomplish on their own."
Michael Dougherty, who directed Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Zach Shields, who co-wrote the film with Dougherty, provided rewrites to ensure that certain themes from King of the Monsters were carried over and that some characters were properly developed. Dougherty revealed how he wrote for the title characters, and how the film would address their differing interactions with people. For Kong, Dougherty stated the film would feature "those very unique, and even warm, bonding moments" between Kong and humans since they have been a staple of the character since the original 1933 film. For Godzilla, his connection to humans would be "more implied" as his softer side is rarely shown. Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein received a Screenplay By credit, while Rossio, Dougherty, and Shields received a Story By credit. Wingard became "very involved" in developing the world-building behind the Hollow Earth plotline.
In June 2017, it was announced that Zhang Ziyi had joined Legendary's MonsterVerse, having a reportedly "pivotal" role in both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong, though she ultimately starred only in the former. In June 2018, Julian Dennison was cast, while Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler were set to reprise their roles from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Legendary also sent an offer to Frances McDormand for a role. In July 2018, it was revealed that Danai Gurira was in early talks to join the film.
In October 2018, Brian Tyree Henry, Demián Bichir, Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González, and Rebecca Hall were added to the cast. In November 2018, Jessica Henwick, Shun Oguri, and Lance Reddick were cast, with Oguri making his Hollywood debut. Gurira was briefly named amongst the cast by Collider and ScreenGeek, though neither she nor Henwick appeared in the finished film. Youtuber and filmmaker James Rolfe was offered a cameo by Wingard, but production pressures and the birth of his second daughter made it unworkable.
Principal photography began on November 12, 2018 in Hawaii and Australia, and was expected to end in February 2019, under the working title Apex. Production was initially slated to begin on October 1, 2018. For the Hawaii shoot, the crew filmed on the USS Missouri, at Manoa Falls, and in Downtown Honolulu. The crew established a camp in the Kalanianaole Highway, closing Lānaʻi Lookout parking until November 21. Local crews and extras were used for the film. In January 2019, filming resumed in Gold Coast, Queensland at Village Roadshow Studios for an additional 26 weeks. Filming locations in Australia included Miami State High School and parts of Brisbane such as the Newstead suburb, the Chinatown Mall in Fortitude Valley, and the Wickham Terrace Car Park. In April 2019, Wingard confirmed via Instagram that filming in Australia had wrapped. That same month, Wingard revealed Hong Kong as one of the final shooting locations and that principal photography had wrapped.
In June 2020, Tom Holkenborg was announced as the film's composer. Wingard met with Holkenborg in 2018, where Holkenborg admitted to recreationally writing music for Godzilla years prior due to being a fan. Holkenborg subsequently began communicating with the director, tweaked the material, and played it for the director, stating that Wingard was "totally in love." Holkenborg requested a bass drum roughly ten feet in diameter, but the builder was only able to scale it down to eight feet. As with Legendary's previous Godzilla trailers, György Ligeti's "Requiem" was used, followed by "Here We Go" by Chris Classic. The song "The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies was used in the credits scene. The soundtrack was released by WaterTower Music on March 26, 2021.
Wingard felt it was "insincere" to repurpose the themes by Akira Ifukube because he associated them with Toho's Godzilla. Instead, Wingard wished to go in a different direction to create themes that were unique to the MonsterVerse's Godzilla, while paying homage to its influences.
All music is composed by Tom Holkenborg.
In May 2019, the first promotional one-sheet poster was revealed at the Licensing Expo. In June 2019, Warner Bros screened an early look to European exhibitors at CineEurope. In August 2019, it was announced that Disruptor Beam would develop a mobile game to tie-in for the film's release. In December 2019, a brief clip was revealed during a Warner Bros. reel at Comic Con Experience, and later leaked online. In January 2020, images from the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair displaying figures related to the film were leaked online. In February 2020, Toho and Legendary announced the Godzilla vs. Kong Publishing Program and licensees. Through the publishing program, Legendary planned to release two graphic novels, one following Godzilla and the other following Kong, an art book, novelizations, and a children's book. Amongst the licensees named were Playmates Toys, Bioworld, Rubies, Funko, 60Out, and the Virtual Reality Company.
In April 2020, images of toy figures were leaked online, revealing different forms for Godzilla and Kong, Mechagodzilla, and a new monster named Nozuki. In July 2020, images of Playmate figures and packaging with concept art were released online. In December 2020, brief clips from the film were shown during Comic Con Experience. In January 2021, more brief footage was included in a preview for HBO Max. That same month, the first teaser poster was released online, along with confirmation of the trailer's release date. The first full trailer was released on January 24, 2021. It became Warner Bros' biggest trailer debut, earning 25.6 million views in 24 hours on YouTube; 15.8 million from Warner's channel and an additional 9.8 million views from the studio's secondary channels.
Theatrical and streaming
Godzilla vs. Kong was theatrically released internationally, beginning on March 24, 2021, and was then released in the United States on March 31, where it was simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, where it will stream exclusively for a month. It was theatrically distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho on May 14, 2021. Regal Cinemas began exhibiting the film with a limited release upon its reopening on April 2, 2021, following its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was delayed several times, and was previously scheduled to be released in 2020 on March 13, May 22, May 29, November 20, and later pushed to May 21, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, Warner Bros. hosted an unannounced test screening which received a "mostly positive" response.
In November 2020, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that the film was being considered for a streaming release. Netflix had offered $200–250 million but WarnerMedia blocked the deal in favor of their own offer to release the film on HBO Max. However, Warner Bros. iterated that their theatrical release plans will proceed as scheduled. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar and Warner Bros. chairman Ann Sarnoff considered options that included a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release, a strategy that Warner Bros. had done for Wonder Woman 1984. In December 2020, Warner Bros. announced that the film, along with their other tentpoles scheduled for 2021, will be given same-day simultaneous releases in theaters and HBO Max, with a one-month access for its streaming release.
In December 2020, Variety and Deadline Hollywood reported that Legendary Entertainment, financiers, and talent with backend deals were not pleased with WarnerMedia's multi-release plans and non-transparent intentions. Legendary was not given advanced notice of the multi-release decision nor given a say in how Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong would be distributed. The studio planned to have discussions with Warner Bros. regarding a more "generous deal" however legal action was considered. A few weeks later, Deadline reported that the film could keep its HBO Max release but only if Warner Bros. matches Netflix's $250 million bid. In January 2021, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that a legal battle was averted due to Legendary and WarnerMedia nearing an agreement to keep the film's simultaneous release.
Following its opening weekend, Warner Bros. said the film had a "larger viewing audience than any other film or show on HBO Max since launch." Samba TV reported that 3.6 million households watched at least the first five minutes of the film in the U.S., and 225,000 in the U.K.
As of April 25, 2021, Godzilla vs. Kong has grossed $86.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $320 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $406.7 million. Variety reported the film needed to gross at least $330 million in order to break-even, with Deadline Hollywood estimating it would turn a net profit of $96.4 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenue.
A week prior to its United States release, the film was released in 38 overseas countries and was projected to gross around $70 million over its first five days. In China, where it was projected to debut to around $50 million, the film made $21.5 million (RMB 140 million) on its first day. The film exceeded predictions and debuted to $123.1 million worldwide, the biggest worldwide opening of the pandemic. Its largest markets were China ($69.2 million; RMB 450.5 million), Mexico ($6.5 million), Australia ($6.3 million), Russia ($5.9 million), Taiwan ($5.3 million), India ($4.9 million), Thailand ($3.3 million), South Korea ($2.8 million), Vietnam ($2.5 million), Malaysia ($2.1 million), and Spain ($1.7 million). In Indonesia, the film earned $850,000 (Rp. 12.3 billion).
In the United States and Canada, Godzilla vs. Kong was initially projected to gross around $23 million over its five-day opening weekend, compared to debuting to around $68 million in a pre-COVID marketplace. It made $9.6 million from 2,409 theaters in its first day, the best opening day figure of the pandemic. After grossing $6.7 million on its second day, five-day projections were increased to $30–40 million. Playing in 3,064 theaters by Friday, the film went on to debut to $32.2 million ($48.5 million over the five days), the best opening weekend of the pandemic. Collider attributed the film's box office results to "positive word-of-mouth." The film grossed $13.3 million in its second weekend, remaining in first and becoming the highest-grossing domestic release of the pandemic (passing Tenet's $58.5 million).