Nearly 60 years ago in 1962, King Kong and Godzilla squared off in Japan, and King Kong shoved a giant tree into Godzilla’s mouth. The two would engage in a back-and-forth battle that featured atomic breath and lightning strikes, and King Kong would ultimately leave the grueling brawl victorious. The Ishirō Honda-directed film, King Kong vs. Godzilla, was the third Godzilla film produced by Toho Studios, and it was a wildly ambitious crossover event that was a smashing success in Japan, as it sold 11.2 million tickets during its initial theatrical run. In other words, audiences went bananas for it.
Decades later, both Godzilla and King Kong have appeared in dozens of movies and animated series that have seen them battling three-headed monsters, genetically-modified roses with sharp teeth, and New York concrete. The two haven’t shared a screen together since that colossal battle in 1962, which is why the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong feels like such an epic event. To get to this brawl, Legendary Studios embarked on a kaiju-sized film series called the “MonsterVerse” that kicked off in 2014 with Godzilla (2014), then continued with Kong: Skull Island (2017) and, most recently, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). The three films have set the chess pieces, and now the two gigantic titans will tussle for the ultimate checkmate.
(Photo by Everett Collection)
In honor of their rematch, we rewatched the King Kong vs. Godzilla Versus episode that was released in 2019 and analyzed their filmographies in an attempt to crown a statistical champion based on box office receipts, property destruction, amount of screen time, and Tomatometer and Audience scores. Two monsters (and their many variations) enter, and only one leaves (unless there’s a tie, in which case, come back for the rematch).
*Quick note – Not all of the King Kong and Godzilla films have Tomatometer scores or reliable box office data. That’s why the numbers fluctuate in each round. Also, we’re sticking to feature-length films, and leaving out the animated series that both have appeared in.
(Photo by TriStar courtesy Everett Collection)
It’s only fitting that we kick off the battle with an incredibly close match-up in which the Tomatometer averages are separated by a measly 3.8%. Both franchises started off really well as 1933’s King Kong (Certified Fresh at 98% on the Tomatometer) and 1954’s Godzilla (Certified Fresh at 93%) were both blockbusters that wowed people with their innovative photography and beautiful miniature sets. However, the quality of the films began to mirror one of Godzilla’s fights — He’s winning! He’s losing… He’s winning! He’s losing…
What sealed the deal for Godzilla’s victory is the 0% score for 1986’s King Kong Lives. The movie famously tells the story of what happens after Kong survives the fall from the Empire State Building. In short, he gets a heart transplant, eats some alligators, finds a soulmate, and fathers a child. The dreaded 0% Tomatometer score reeks about as much as Godzilla’s atomic breath, and it took 29 years before Peter Jackson’s Certified Fresh King Kong put the titan back on the big screen in 2005.
Godzilla: 1 – Kong: 0
(Photo by TriStar courtesy Everett Collection)
With an almost Fresh 59.5% Audience Score average, Godzilla wins another round. With a 2-0 lead, this competition is starting to feel like the first matchup between Godzilla and King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla, in which King Kong brought rocks to an atomic heat ray fight.
Godzilla’s deeper bench once again proved to be the game changer, as low-rated movies like Godzilla (1998), Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2019), and Godzilla’s Revenge (1971), were offset by beloved films like Shin Godzilla (2016), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). What’s slightly surprising is that Peter Jackson’s King Kong has a 50% Audience Score, and only Kong: Skull Island (2017) and King Kong (1933) have scores above 65%. There’s not much audience love for Kong, but based on the 72.6% Audience Score average for the MonsterVerse films in general and early critical buzz for Godzilla vs. Kong, it’s possible that both of the big fellas could add another solid Audience Score to their tallies.
Godzilla: 2 – Kong: 0
(Photo by (c)Universal courtesy Everett Collection)
We have ourselves a match! This round was difficult to tally because the majority of Godzilla and Kong films did not have reliable box office data. This meant we had to stick with domestic earnings for the eight films that received wide theatrical releases. It’s nice that the two were finally on a level playing field, and that allowed Kong to pull the victory.
The win in this round wasn’t a fluke, as the “Kong Big Three” — King Kong (1976), King Kong (2005), and Kong: Skull Island — pulled in over $710 million domestically (adjusted for inflation). The $710 million total easily bests the $590 million that Godzilla (1998), Godzilla (2014), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters grossed in the United States. The lone highlight for the Godzilla squad is that its lowest-grossing film, Godzilla 2000, earned a $17 million dollar box office which was more than the $11 million that King Kong Lives grossed.
Godzilla: 2 – Kong: 1
(Photo by ©DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group courtesy Everett Collection)
We broke this round up into percentages of screen time. If a monster is on-screen for 30 minutes of a 100-minute film, it means they’re on-screen for 30% of the film’s running time. If we simply added up screen time it wouldn’t be fair as Godzilla has been in many more movies. So, we found and utilized some very reliable sources and prior Rotten Tomatoes editorials to come up with our numbers (the latter also explains why more on-screen time is better in monster movies).
Godzilla and Kong’s first films gave us a clear clue as to who would be victorious in this round. In 1933, King Kong ran amok for 18 of the film’s 125 minutes. In comparison, Godzilla was only on-screen for eight minutes of his 98-minute debut in 1954. Then, in 1962 when they battled, King Kong appeared for 16 minutes while Godzilla only popped up for nine. Historically, Kong has always enjoyed more screen time, and the trend continues in the MonsterVerse, as Kong is on-screen for 14 minutes in Kong: Skull Island, while Godzilla can only be seen for 22 combined minutes in Godzilla (10) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (12). Kong wins!
Godzilla: 2 – Kong: 2
(Photo by ©Warner Bross. Pictures)
Between Tokyo, San Francisco, Hawaii, New York City, Fukuoka, Tokai, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya, Paris, Kyoto, Tateyama and about a dozen other cities, Godzilla has done his best to keep construction crews working around the world. His worldwide tussles and rampages have caused trillions of dollars in damage, as multiple cities, bridges, and skyscrapers have had to be rebuilt (multiple times). On top of destroying cities, Godzilla has also laid waste to expensive Antarctic laboratories, nuclear submarines, and iconic bridges that cost billions to build. Every time Godzilla takes a step, he leaves a massive footprint in the concrete, which is impressively costly in itself. The trillions of dollars in repairs are no exaggeration, as analysts suggest that just one attack on Tokyo would cost up to $815 billion in damages.
While vastly mismatched here, though, King Kong is no slouch, as he’s wrecked his fair share of buildings and helicopters. His battle with Mechani-Kong in King Kong Escapes wreaked havoc on Tokyo, as skyscrapers, houses, and other buildings were flattened. Also, his destruction of the Atami Castle in King Kong vs. Godzilla cost a lot of money, as Japanese castles can cost up to $766 million to build. Let’s not forget that he’s caused a ton of damage in New York City on multiple occasions, as he’s left skyscrapers in need of repair and cable cars flattened. So, while he hasn’t come anywhere near Godzilla in regards to destruction, he has nothing to feel bad about. He’s smashed a lot of things, too.
Godzilla: 3 – Kong: 2
(Photo by Everett Collection)
Despite the fact that Godzilla has battled dozens of monsters and won, King Kong gets the point here for actually defeating Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla. What makes Kong’s win impressive is that he got the win away from home against a larger, stronger opponent. Not only that, he was drugged before the fight to make his transportation easier, which means he was probably drowsy and dehydrated after the long journey. Do yourself a favor and watch the original fight. It’s a legit bunkhouse brawl that features the two monsters rolling in the dirt and winging sloppy punches at each other — it’s beautiful.
It’s worth noting that Godzilla has the greatest bragging rights here because of what he did in Godzilla: Final Wars. The 2004 film features him defeating Gigan, Zilla, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Rodan, King Caesar, Anguirus, Ebirah, Hedorah, and Keizer Ghidorah. Godzilla ran through a who’s-who of monsters, and the movie ended with him pulverising Keizer Ghidorah with the deluxe version of his red spiral atomic breath.
Kong’s victories against Mechani-Kong, the skullcrawlers, dinosaurs, water creatures, and snakes are all super impressive, and he deserves to win this round for the upset he pulled on Godzilla. That said, Godzilla knows that what he accomplished in Final Wars is legendary, and we don’t think he’ll lose any sleep over this one.
Godzilla: 3 – Kong: 3
Best Fight: King Kong vs. the Tyrannosaurus Rex in King Kong (1933)
(Photo by Everett Collection)
You might be thinking we’re joking, but the Kong vs. T-Rex brawl in King Kong is a legendary piece of work — and it features the first time Kong is seen fighting… anything. Also, props to Kong for landing a sweet single-leg takedown during the fight. It’s actually quite realistic, and still looks great today.
Godzilla: 3 – Kong: 4
Better Evolution: Godzilla
(Photo by ©New World courtesy Everett Collection)
Kong has always been something of a sympathetic, misunderstood character, but since his first appearance in 1954, Godzilla has gradually progressed from angry irradiated sea monster to Earth’s protector. Not bad, and his turnaround wins him the round easily.
Godzilla: 4 – Kong: 4
Best Villain: Godzilla – Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
(Photo by ©Warner Bros.)
We know that the humans in King Kong are horrible, and their greed leads to the death of Kong (many times in the various films). However, no human is as villainous as Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, who made his first appearance in the 1964 film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Ghidorah is the ultimate villain because it would destroy the world and laugh about it while Godzilla lies defeated at its feet. It’s an easy win, and it seals the deal for Godzilla.
Godzilla: 5 – Kong: 4
There you have it! After a grueling battle, Godzilla emerges victorious and wins the decision. Will the new film mirror these results? Could it change the outcome? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Godzilla vs. Kong is in theaters and on HBO Max on March 31, 2021.