Principal photography took place from October 2015 to March 2016 in Hawaii and various locations around Vietnam. Kong: Skull Island premiered on February 28, 2017, in London and was released in the United States on March 10, 2017, in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D and in Dolby Cinemas. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $566 million worldwide against its $185 million budget. A crossover sequel, Godzilla vs. Kong, is set for release on May 22, 2020.
In 1944, in the midst of World War II, two fighter pilots – American pilot Hank Marlow and Japanese pilot Gunpei Ikari – parachute onto an island in the South Pacific after a dogfight and engage in close combat, but the fight is interrupted by a behemoth ape that appears in Marlow's eye.
Twenty-nine years later, in 1973, U.S. government agent Bill Randa hires former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad, a skilled tracker, to guide an expedition to map out a recently discovered island known as Skull Island. Their military escort is the Sky Devils, a Vietnam War helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard and his subordinates, Major Jack Chapman and Captain Earl Cole.
The group is joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver, who believes the expedition is a secret military operation. Upon arrival at Skull Island, Packard's men begin dropping explosives developed by seismologist Houston Brooks to map out the island. However, the air unit is attacked by the same ape from 1944, who kills a number of military personnel and scatters the survivors across the island.
Packard's group begins making their way to Chapman, whose helicopter crash-landed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Chapman is ambushed and eaten by a Skullcrawler. Conrad's group helps Marlow complete a boat built from parts scavenged from Marlow and Ikari's downed planes. They ride the boat down the river, and manage to secure communication with Packard's group, but the boat is attacked by pterosaur-like creatures which kill Nieves. They regroup with Packard, who insists on searching for Chapman, though his true objective is to find and kill Kong, who he perceives as an enemy due to killing his men.
As Conrad and Weaver encounter Kong, Packard's group uses the remaining seismic explosives to lure him in. Kong charges to the lake, where they manage to incapacitate him with ignited napalm, though Woodward is killed. Conrad's group arrives and persuades the other soldiers to spare Kong, but Packard refuses to stand down. A massive Skullcrawler emerges from the lake and Packard is crushed to death by a recovering Kong. The Skullcrawler overpowers Kong and chases the humans. Cole is killed in a failed suicide bomb attempt to kill it, but Kong returns to rescue the others and battles the beast. Weaver gets knocked into the marsh during the fight but Kong saves her from drowning. Then, he kills the Skullcrawler by ripping out its innards and allows the survivors to leave the island.
During the credits, Marlow returns home, reuniting with his wife, meeting his son for the first time, and watching a Chicago Cubs game on television. In a post-credits scene, Conrad and Weaver are detained by Monarch and informed by Brooks and San that Skull Island is just the beginning and that Kong is not the only monster king to roam the world. As proof, they are shown archive footage of cave paintings depicting Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah.
- Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a broken but noble former British Special Air Service Captain who served in the Vietnam War with the Special Air Service Regiment, hired as a hunter-tracker for the expedition by Randa. Hiddleston described his character as a man who holds "no political allegiance in the conflict" but "understands conflict", further stating, "He’s a former soldier who has been formed by an understanding of war, but his specific skill set is something that's attached to the power of nature; and I think that's something people haven’t seen in a long time".
- Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard, a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel and leader of the Sky Devils helicopter squadron, assigned to escort the group of explorers on the expedition. Jackson compares his character to Captain Ahab from Moby-Dick, stating, "He does have to exact some measure of revenge for the people he's lost. That's just the nature of how we operate—eye for an eye!".
- John Goodman as William "Bill" Randa, a senior official in the government organization Monarch, who is in charge of the expedition.
- Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a photojournalist and peace activist. Larson stated that her character has her "own sort of motive" as to why she joined the expedition: "That's the interesting thing about this movie. It's a group of misfits that are all coming from different angles looking at the same thing. You get to see how many different views in regards to nature and how we should handle it are dealt with from many different perspectives". Larson further added that Weaver has an "interest and respect for nature" and "Through that she has a closer, more loving, and intimate relationship with Kong".
- Corey Hawkins as Houston Brooks, a young geologist and graduate of Yale University, recruited for the expedition by Monarch for his groundbreaking theories on seismology.
- Toby Kebbell as Jack Chapman, a United States Army major and Sea Stallion helicopter pilot who is Packard's right hand man.
- John Ortiz as Victor Nieves, a senior Landsat official on the expedition.
- Jing Tian as San Lin, a young biologist working for Monarch. According to Vogt-Roberts and Borenstein, her role was originally larger but had been reduced. Alison de Souza of the Straits Times wrote that in the final film Jing Tian's role would be described in Chinese as a "hua ping" (花瓶), meaning a vase, which refers to insignificant roles, and that she "hardly does or says a thing."
- Jason Mitchell as Glenn Mills, a young loyal warrant officer and helicopter pilot of the Sky Devils and close friend of Cole.
- Shea Whigham as Earl Cole, a seasoned Captain of the Sky Devils who wields an AK-47 instead of an M16 and close friend of Mills.
- Thomas Mann as Reg Slivko, a young warrant officer of the Sky Devils, known for carrying a portable record player.
- Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell as King Kong (motion capture performance), a 104-foot-tall ape who is worshiped as the king and god on Skull Island by the Iwi natives. Notary stated that this Kong is an adolescent and he tried to play Kong like a "14 year old that's trapped in the life of an adult", stating that it took three days to film the motion capture scenes. In addition to playing Chapman, Toby Kebbell also provided some facial references for Kong, stating, "I gave some facial reference — certain subtleties, certain looks. Terry and I worked on stuff together and created what Kong needed. I was just there as backup for pieces that Terry really wanted to get details on. It’s a real honor to be asked by someone who’s a great performer, to come and help support their performance."
- John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a wise and virtuous Chicagoan and U.S. Army Air Forces lieutenant of the 45th Pursuit Squadron who has been stranded for nearly 29 years on Skull Island since World War II. He knows the creatures of the island, and is a friend of the Iwi natives. Will Brittain portrays a young Hank Marlow, and also plays Marlow's son.
Initially announced by Legendary Pictures at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, Universal Pictures was to be the distributor. The job of distribution would, however in 2015 move to Warner Brothers in order for them to make a King Kong-Godzilla crossover film.
Legendary offered Joe Cornish the job of directing the film, while previous King Kong helmer Peter Jackson suggested Guillermo del Toro. In September 2014, the studio announced that Jordan Vogt-Roberts would direct the film.
The script saw a number of screenwriters attached before filming. Seeking the continuity between the King Kong and Godzilla worlds, Max Borenstein (writer of 2014's Godzilla) wrote the first draft, while John Gatins was hired to write the second draft. Borenstein's initial influence was Apocalypse Now, revealing, "What popped into my head for the paradigm of the movie was Apocalypse Now. That’s obviously a war movie, but I liked the idea of people moving upriver to face a misunderstood force that they think of as a villain, but ultimately they come to realize is much more complicated." It was later revealed that Dan Gilroy had also collaborated on the Borenstein and Gatins draft. On August 18, 2015, it was confirmed that Derek Connolly was also doing script rewrites. Borenstein worked a final pass on the screenplay before shooting began, and credited the screenplay to all of the writers, saying, "It was definitely collaborative in terms of what’s on the screen, though none of us worked together. There are pieces of my work in there as well as the work of the other two writers and John Gatins, who was credited for story. Everybody had a really good hand in it."
In April 2016, artist Joe DeVito sued producers of the film for using elements of his Skull Island universe, which he claimed that he created and the producers used without his permission.
Director Vogt-Roberts stated that he wanted Kong to look simple and iconic enough that a third grader could draw him, and the image would still be recognizable. Vogt-Roberts also wanted Kong to feel like a "lonely god, he was a morose figure, lumbering around this island," and took the design back to the 1933 incarnation, where Kong was presented as a "bipedal creature that walks in an upright position." Vogt-Roberts additionally stated, "If anything, our Kong is meant to be a throwback to the ’33 version. [Kong] was a movie monster, so we worked really hard to take some of the elements of the ’33 version, some of those exaggerated features, some of those cartoonish and iconic qualities, and then make them their own…We created something that to some degree served as a throwback to the inspiration for what started all of this, but then also [had] it be a fully unique and different creature that — I would like to think — is fully contained and identifiable as the 2017 version of King Kong. I think there are very modern elements to him, yet hopefully he feels very timeless at the same time."
Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke helped influence the design and approach of the monsters, Vogt-Roberts stated, "Miyazaki[‘s] Princess Mononoke was actually a big reference in the way that the spirit creatures sort of have their own domains and fit within that. So 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." However, biophysical analysis of Kong and other creatures concludes that although biophysically they are viable, the ecosystem of the island could not support them.
The two-armed pit lizard from the 1933 King Kong film was used as a reference for the Skullcrawlers. They were also inspired by a number of other cinematic creatures; Vogt-Roberts stated, "That creature, beyond being a reference to a creature from the 1933 film, is also this crazy fusion of all of the influences throughout my life – like the first angel from Evangelion, and No-Face from Spirited Away, and Cubone from Pokémon."
At the same time of the announcement of Vogt-Roberts as director, the studio also announced that Tom Hiddleston would play the lead role. For a time both, JK Simmons and Michael Keaton were attached to roles however both left due to scheduling difficulties. . On July 23, 2015, Brie Larson was cast in the film to play the female lead. On August 5, 2015, it was announced that Corey Hawkins was cast in the film to play a supporting role. On August 6, 2015, Deadline.com reported that the studio was in early talks with Samuel L. Jackson to replace the role which Simmons vacated, while John C. Reilly was being eyed for Keaton's role, but not offered it yet. Tom Wilkinson was also offered a role in the film.
On August 20, 2015, Toby Kebbell joined the cast of the film, while Jackson and Reilly were confirmed for roles. On August 25, 2015, Jason Mitchell joined the cast, to play a pilot. On September 25, 2015, John Goodman was cast to play Randa, a government official and leader of an expedition, and Thomas Mann was also cast. On October 1, 2015, John Ortiz and Shea Whigham were added to the cast in unspecified roles. On October 13, 2015, Eugene Cordero joined the film, and on November 2, 2015, it was announced Will Brittain had joined the cast, portraying a pilot, in one of the last key leads in the film. In May 2016, Toby Kebbell revealed that Terry Notary would portray Kong through motion capture, and that Kebbell provided some guidance for Kong's motion capture sequences.
Principal photography on the film began on October 19, 2015, and concluded on March 18, 2016. Filming took place in the northern portion of Vietnam, including Tràng An, Vân Long and Tam Cốc (Ninh Bình Province), Hạ Long Bay (Quảng Ninh Province), and at the entrance of Tú Làn Caves System (Tân Hoá, Trung Hoá Village, Minh Hoá District Quảng Bình Province), the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and Australia's Gold Coast. Locations included Honolulu's Chinatown, and at the Kualoa Ranch and Waikane Valley (Ohulehule Forest Conservancy) on Oahu. In mid-January 2016, filming started in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Vogt-Roberts has cited a number of films that inspired Kong: Skull Island, stating, "If I were going to break it down for people, I’d say you obviously have Apocalypse Now and just the era of ‘70s filmmaking, with films like The Conversation, too. Also Platoon was an inspiration, and the South Korean film The Host as well. The entire Neon Genesis Evangelion series was a big influence." Vogt-Roberts also cited Princess Mononoke as an influence on the approach and design of the monsters. He cited Sachiel from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cubone from Pokémon, No-Face from Spirited Away, and a creature from the 1933 King Kong as inspirations for the Skullcrawlers.
The film's score was composed by Henry Jackman. To fit the '70s period of the film, Jackman blended '70s psychedelic guitars into the score. Regarding the music used in the film, Vogt-Roberts stated, "I wanted to use songs from the Vietnam era and a myriad of hits from the '70s... this provides a striking dichotomy, sets the tone and gives us great moments of fun."
Kong: Skull Island was originally set for a November 4, 2016, release, but in December 2014, the date was moved from November 4, 2016 to March 10, 2017. The new release date coincides with the franchise's 84th anniversary. It was released in 3D and IMAX 3D, as well as in Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range, and Dolby Atmos sound in Dolby Cinemas. The film premiered at the Cineworld Empire Leicester Square in London on February 28, 2017.
Kong: Skull Island has grossed $168 million in the United States and Canada and $398.6 million in other territories for a worldwide gross of $566.6 million. Made on a production budget of $185 million, with about $136 million more spent on global marketing costs, the film needed to make at least $450–500 million worldwide in order to break even.
In the United States and Canada, Kong: Skull Island was projected to gross $40–50 million in its opening weekend, as well as a worldwide debut of $110–135 million. The film made $20.2 million on its first day from 3,846 theaters, including $3.7 million it made from Thursday night previews. In total, the film earned a better-than-expected $61 million on its opening weekend, defying the film's initial projection by 35%. In IMAX, it made $7.6 million from 382 theaters, repping 12.5% of the film's total opening weekend. In its second weekend the film grossed $27.8 million (a drop of 54.4%), finishing second at the box office behind newcomer Beauty and the Beast.
Internationally, the film debuted with $85.1 million from 20,900 screens in 65 markets. It opened in every market except Japan and China. In IMAX, the film scored the fourth-biggest March release with $4.8 million from 672 theaters (the second biggest without China in it). The biggest openings came from the United Kingdom, Ireland ($7.6 million), South Korea ($7.4 million), Russia ($6.2 million), Mexico ($5.7 million), France ($4.1 million), Taiwan ($3.6 million), Australia ($3.6 million), Brazil ($3.4 million), Germany ($3.4 million), Malaysia ($2.65 million), India ($2.4 million), Spain ($1.6 million) and Italy ($1.6 million), while in Vietnam (where the film was primarily shot and centered on), it scored the biggest opening of all time there with $2.5 million. This was a week following a huge model of the primate outside the theater caught on fire at the film's premiere. The film would eventually open in China with $71.6 million (its largest international market) and in Japan with $3.5 million, where the film was released as King Kong: Giant God of Skull Island (Kingu Kongu: Dokurotou no Kyoshin). After its overseas run, the film would gross US$398 million internationally.
Kong: Skull Island received generally positive reviews from critics. On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 76% based on 300 reviews, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Offering exhilarating eye candy, solid acting, and a fast-paced story, Kong: Skull Island earns its spot in the movie monster's mythos without ever matching up to the classic original." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 62 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune lauded the film, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four: "I saw little in [Vogt-Roberts'] first feature to indicate the deftness and buoyant spirit he brings to Skull Island. This time, the money's on the screen, but it bought a really good movie, too." Mike Ryan of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, noting, "Kong: Skull Island is still a hoot. It was a movie that was not at all on my radar as something I was dying to see and yet I had way too much fun watching it. I just wished it had embraced its craziness just a little bit more. (But, yes, there’s still plenty of crazy to go around.)" Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review as well, stating that "all the requisite elements are served up here in ideal proportion, and the time just flies by, which can rarely be said for films of this nature." Kyle Anderson of Nerdist News found the film entertaining but flawed, saying, "It's certainly not a perfect movie, and a lot of the characters feel like sketches more than fully-fledged people, but it roars along enjoyably from start to finish." Math Blaster of actionawards.blogspot.com gave the movie 3.5 stars out of 4 praising the films cast and CGI naming the film superior to Godzilla.
Conversely, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film one out of five stars. In his negative review, he described the movie as a "fantastically muddled and exasperatingly dull quasi-update of the King Kong story." Matthew Lickona of The San Diego Reader also gave the film one out of five stars, writing: "It’s fun to watch [the monsters] in action, but on the human side, the film is clumsily written, over-cast and underacted, with only frustrated soldier Samuel L. Jackson striking the right tone of crazy amid the chaos." Chris Klimek of NPR mentions how "Kong is at its mediocre best when it pretends to be a nature documentary about Skull Island's bizarro flora and fauna," but lamented how "every time the movie threatens to get interesting, one of its hordes of ersatz, non-animated characters shows up and starts talking again." Anthony Lane of The New Yorker noted that what the film "yearns to be, is a pop-culture Apocalypse Now, with the human foe removed, the political parable toned down, and the gonzo elements jacked up." J.R. Jones questioned the film's setting, saying "this Jurassic Park knockoff takes place neither in the Depression era, which gave us the original King Kong, nor in the present, when satellite photos would surely alert us to the existence of a 100-foot gorilla. Instead—and for no reason I can fathom, except perhaps the classic-rock tunes desired for the soundtrack—the story takes place in 1973, when the Vietnam war is winding down and President Nixon is being driven from office."
Several critics have commented on Larson's role in the movie, having recently won an Oscar for Room, with Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal remarking that "a starring role in a popcorn movie on the heels of a passion project can open up an actor to ridicule."
Kong: Skull Island was released on HD Digital on June 20, 2017, and on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on July 18, 2017. The film debuted at the top of the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc chart for the week ending on July 23, 2017. As of August 2017, Kong: Skull Island sold $26.7 million worth of DVD's in North America.
The magnificent scenes of mountains, rivers, and grass field were mostly shot in Vietnam (including Ninh Binh and Quang Binh). Jordan Vogt-Roberts and the cast members said they were the most beautiful places that they've ever been.
Sets were built at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, near the same filming locations as Jurassic World (2015).
The names of Marlow and Conrad are likely references to Joseph Conrad and the lead character, Marlow, from Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness. The novella, as well as the Vietnam War film it inspired, Apocalypse Now (1979), are thematic and visual inspirations for this movie. Heart of Darkness was also read by a character in an earlier King Kong (2005).
Marlow's mention of "really big ants that sound like birds" is undoubtedly a reference to Them! (1954), a science fiction film about giant ants. Clips of another 50's sci-fi movie about extra-large insects, The Beginning of the End (1957), are shown in the exposition. The latter movie features grasshoppers filmed walking across a photograph of a building, in an attempt to depict a plague of gigantic insects invading Chicago.
The Sker Buffalo resembles a larger version of a Yak but its horns resemble moose antlers and it bears close similarities to Cape Buffalo and the Philippine Water Buffalo (also known as a carabao).
Actor and stuntman Terry Notary motion-captures an ape in both this and the "Planet of the Apes" series where he plays Rocket.
Toby Kebbell did motion capture work as an ape (Koba) in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) with Andy Serkis, who did motion capture work as Caesar. Andy Serkis played King Kong in King Kong (2005).