ByMichael Patterson, writer at
I Write. Sometimes. Follow me on Twitter: @MichaelP93
Michael Patterson

To say that King Kong is a hot property in Hollywood right about now would be a major understatement. After all, next year will see the release of the highly anticipated prequel , which will bring the movie icon to the big screen for the first time in 12 years. Moreover, Kong will then meet fellow monster in 2020 for .

So King Kong sequels are a huge deal right now. But that's not the only Kong sequel we should be talking about. This week marks the 30th Anniversary of King Kong Lives, the sequel to the 1976 remake of King Kong — which just celebrated its own 40th Anniversary — opened in theaters on Decemeber 19, 1986.

Happy 30th Anniversary 'King Kong Lives'. (via DEG)
Happy 30th Anniversary 'King Kong Lives'. (via DEG)

However, unlike its predecessor, was both a critical and box-office failure. And while many attribute that to the film itself, I disagree. Personally, I loved watching this film when I was growing up and now, I can easily say that I am still a fan. But besides that, it was a sequel to the monstrously successful King Kong, and starred Linda Hamilton who was just fresh off The Terminator. Simply put — this film shouldn't have failed. So, as we celebrate the cult classic that is King Kong Lives on its 30th Anniversary, let's take a look at how it could have been a much more successful sequel.

The Marketing

In order for any film to be a success, it must have a solid marketing campaign — after all, nobody's going to go and see a film if they don't know it's coming out, right? And part of the release process is the critic screenings, in which critics decide if they like the film or not. However, back in 1986 the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group chose not to screen King Kong Lives to critics, citing that they wouldn't like it. It was an admirably bold move, but it ultimately may have hurt the film as the company chose to rely solely on trailers, and TV spots — which included this trailer:

Now, I absolutely loved King Kong Lives, but I have to admit — I'm not too impressed with this trailer. The film may have had a somewhat comedic tone, but it actually took its premise very seriously. After all, if you bring a prehistoric ape back to life, you better take it seriously. Moreover, from Kong's breakout to his struggle to find Lady Kong — the film dealt with most of its storylines very seriously. And this made it quite reminiscent of its 1976 predecessor which told a serious story with a hint of comedy.

However, if the film's marketing campaign and subsequent success relied solely on this trailer, then it's not really a surprise that it didn't do very well. Gone from it, is the threat of a giant ape, the strong actor performances and any sense of a story. Everything that made the original a success — which the sequel actually did entail — was absent from this trailer. Instead, we get a comical trailer which repeats the same catchphrase over and over again. With the cheesy music and the bright colors, this trailer did the film absolutely no favors.

If King Kong Lives actually had a serious trailer that built up to Kong's shocking return to life, it might just have shocked and intrigued people into going to see it in the theater.

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More Direct References To King Kong

At the end of the day, King Kong Lives is primarily a sequel to the 1976 King Kong — the most unique of all the Kong stories. And we are reminded of that by the Prologue which is essentially a trimmed version of the ending of King Kong. But perhaps King Kong Lives could have included a few more direct references to the first film, because without the Prologue, it may as well have been a sequel to any of the King Kong films.

King Kong in 'King Kong Lives' which turns 30 this week! (via DEG)
King Kong in 'King Kong Lives' which turns 30 this week! (via DEG)

I know it's set ten years later, but during the film we heard nothing about what happened Jack Prescott or Dwan and if Fred Wilson was actually still alive. In fact, we never even heard the word Petrox used. With Kong himself being brought back to life, you would think that news broadcasters would mention something about his rampage through the city a decade prior.

Moreover, Kong himself just seemed significantly different. For starters, the Kong outfit had a different — although vaguely similar — face. Despite sharing some similarities with the original, the nose in Lives was sharper and more pointed while the mouth didn't articulate anywhere near as much as Rick Baker's did in the 1976 film. Baker's revolutionary animatronics in the 1976 film would have greatly benefited the sequel.

Despite similarities, Kong looked quite different than before in 'King Kong Lives'. (DEG)
Despite similarities, Kong looked quite different than before in 'King Kong Lives'. (DEG)

Furthermore, Kong walked like a man — totally upright — in the original film, yet in the sequel he walks like a gorilla. These continuity errors were certainly not responsible for the film's failure, but they certainly didn't help it become the sequel it should have been.

A More Star-Studded Cast

The 1976 King Kong had it all — the strong source material to work with as well as starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and introducing the world to the legend that is Jessica Lange. However, King Kong Lives didn't have the iconic story to remake, so it had to come up with its own. And in order to do so, it needed a star-studded cast. But they shed all of the cast from the first film and started from scratch.

New faces: Linda Hamilton and Brian Kerwinin 'King Kong Lives' (DEG)
New faces: Linda Hamilton and Brian Kerwinin 'King Kong Lives' (DEG)

While they got their female lead perfect with 's incomparable Linda Hamilton and Brian Kerwin gave us a strong performance as the male lead, there weren't any other household names attached to the project. And even recognizable ones were left out of the promotion. Perhaps if the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group had added more renowned stars to the supporting cast, the film may have performed better financially and seemed much less like a film. Or, they could have reached out to Bridges, Grodin and Lange to reprise their roles.

Speaking of which, Rick Baker's absence as Kong was felt here. He did a phenomenal job of not just bringing Kong to life in the suit, his special make-up effects were revolutionary, and the Eight Wonder Of The World would have surely benefited from Baker's expertise and reprisal.

The legend himself in 'King Kong Lives'.
The legend himself in 'King Kong Lives'.

But having said all that, even if it wasn't a box-office or critical success, King Kong Lives is actually a really entertaining film that thoroughly deserves its place as part of the King Kong franchise. Of course, if the marketing had been better and it was portrayed as more of a direct sequel to the original, it may well have done much better financially. But what's done is done. And this doesn't take away from the fact that 30 years on, King Kong Lives still has the power to make us scream in , make us laugh and perhaps most of all, make us cry — the ending gets me every time! And that is a testament to this classic — and highly underrated — film. So as we celebrate its 30th Anniversary, kick back, relax and break out the DVD of this classic film!

Happy 30th Anniversary King Kong Lives!

Are you a fan of King Kong Lives? Let us know in the comments!


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