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6 Ways Kong Is Better Than Godzilla And 6 Ways He's Not

Bow down to the king — but who? Kong, the King of Skull Island, whose first name is literally "King?" Or Godzilla, the King of the Monsters, who trumps King Kong by making the first syllable of his name "god?" You'll find passionate defenders on both sides of the debate. So much so that the monsters' epic rematch, Godzilla vs. Kong, doubled box office tracking and industry expectations to deliver a pandemic-era best, earning nearly $50 million over its five-day opening while also being available for basically free to HBO Max subscribers. 

Not bad for two characters whose combined cinematic ages are more than 150 years (in the films, Godzilla is millions of years old), making their battle a sort of Kaiju Grumpy Old Men. While their famous feud has taken place twice on the big screen (the first time in 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla), we're not going to debate who would win in a fight — we're wondering which character is a bigger pop culture icon? We'll debate, and you decide. All hail to the king ... but which one? Here are six ways Kong is better than Godzilla and six ways he's not!

Whoever is the winner, there is no loser

While we can (and will) debate the tale of the tape so you can decide who's the bigger pop culture icon, there's no denying one thing — both King Kong and Godzilla are really popular. You could argue Godzilla vs. Kong's incredible pandemic-era opening weekend was just a case of people dying to go to the movies again, but how does that explain the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer becoming Warner Brothers' biggest trailer debut and the fourth most-liked trailer ever? Or the film scoring HBO Max's best-ever viewership, doubling Zack Snyder's Justice League and even Wonder Woman 1984

Besides the big screen, Kong and Godzilla have had their simian and reptilian mugs slapped on toys, games, comics, cartoons, T-shirts, and enough bootleg merchandise to match the GDP of a developing nation. Visit Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, and you can even ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Or if you go to Godzilla's native Japan, you can visit tons of Gojira-themed attractions, including slides, rides, and even a hotel! Plus, both Kong and Godzilla have received more than their fair share of (how do we put this nicely?), blatant, shameless rip-offs. Whichever monster you decide is the winner, one thing is for certain — neither one is a loser.

Kong's biggest box office hits are bigger

Both monsters make bank, but King Kong is bigger monkey business at the box office — at least when it comes to his biggest flicks. King Kong was a hit right out of the gate, earning $10 million in 1933, over $200 million in today's dollars. King Kong's biggest hit, not adjusting for inflation, is his 2017 MonterVerse debut, Kong: Skull Island, which earned $561 million worldwide on a $185 million production budget. Peter Jackson's King Kong remake is arguably even more impressive, earning $550 million worldwide in 2005, roughly $745 million adjusted for inflation, though its $207 million budget and Lord of the Rings-level expectations give this movie an undeserved reputation as an underperformer. 

For a time, Jackson's King Kong was even Universal's biggest hit after the Jurassic Park movies and E.T. (and is still in the studio's top 20). If anything, King Kong has often suffered from too high expectations. In order to plug his King Kong remake, producer Dino De Laurentiis famously boasted, "No one cry when Jaws dies." It was an over-promise to be sure, but the 1976 film still made $90 million worldwide, over $415 million today. Of course, that isn't to say the big ape hasn't bombed, as 1986's King Kong Lives tanked with $4.7 million, and it's also the series' worst movie by far. 

Godzilla has much bigger opening weekends

King Kong's biggest hits are bigger, but when it comes to generating anticipation — and the opening weekends to match — Godzilla is the true king. Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla was one of the most anticipated (and arguably overhyped) movies of the 1990s. With the creative team behind Independence Day taking the reins, Godzilla was met with sky-high expectations and, for its time, a jaw-dropping budget to match — $125 million. Godzilla's $44 million opening is low by today's standards, but it was the biggest opening weekend of 1998, despite opening on a Wednesday and suffering from abysmal reviews and word-of-mouth. And with $376 million worldwide, Godzilla was a modest hit, despite being universally reviled. 

Over 15 years later, anticipation was once again at a nuclear-fever pitch for 2014's Godzilla, following the awe-inspiring trailer. Godzilla's $93 million haul was the best non-sequel, non-Marvel opening weekend of the year, though its $200 million domestic haul suggested moviegoers weren't crazy about it (which its mediocre 66% audience Tomatometer score backs up). Also, contrary to popular belief, Godzilla: King of the Monsters didn't bomb — it earned a slim profit of $383 million worldwide on a $170 million budget. Not great, but not the worst considering it opened within weeks of Avengers: Endgame and the Game of Thrones series finale, the two biggest pop culture events of the decade, which sucked up all the oxygen. Are we being Godzilla apologists? Perhaps, but there's no denying Godzilla's opening weekends top Kong's.

Kong's movies earn more on average

King Kong has officially been in nine films, but The Numbers only has reliable box office data for six. Given the data goes from 1933's King Kong to 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong, there's a lot of inflation to account for. Still, based on these figures, King Kong's box office average is higher than Godzilla's — a $262 million worldwide average across six films versus a $216 million average over nine films. King Kong's average production budget ($114 million) is also lower than Godzilla's too ($122 million), so it may seem like King Kong is therefore a more profitable character. However, this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. We have more accurate data for Kong's movies because most of Godzilla's films were made in Japan, so their budget information isn't as readily available, which is why The Numbers only has info for nine Godzilla flicks.

Also, the cost of the original 1933 King Kong ($672,000) wouldn't cover the modern-day catering budget, but it translates to $13.6 million today ... which honestly, still wouldn't cover the catering budget. To be fair, Kong's two most expensive movies (Peter Jackson's $207 million remake and the $185 million Kong: Skull Island) cost more than Godzilla's ($160 million for 2014's Godzilla and $170 million for Godzilla: King of the Monsters.) Point being, there's a lot of parity between the characters' box office returns, but there's also no denying that Godzilla vs. Kong is on track to far eclipse Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The X factor? King Kong.

Godzilla is king for total box office

King Kong's movies make more money on average ($262 million worldwide vs. $216 million worldwide), but Godzilla's movies have made more total than Kong's — $1.7 billion worldwide versus $1.5 billion. However, Godzilla has also been in a lot more movies — nine on The Numbers' list compared to Kong's six. Even casual fans know Godzilla has been in a lot more than just nine movies (like over 30). It's just that many didn't receive an American theatrical release, were on double bills with other films, or don't have readily available data. 

So if you include all of the Godzilla movies, the total box office figure is much higher, which isn't fair given Godzilla has been in nearly four times as many movies as Kong. Godzilla's total over nine films being higher is still impressive though, as four of his films (Godzilla 1985, Godzilla 2000, the 2004 re-issue of 1954's Gojira, and Shin Godzilla) were essentially limited, borderline art house-level releases in the U.S., so they didn't contribute much to the total. For example, $75 million of Shin Godzilla's $77 million total came from Japan. Point being? Kong and Godzilla are neck and neck when it comes to box office, which makes sense, as their audience is basically the same. If you like Marvel movies, you may not like Transformers movies, but if you like King Kong, you probably like Godzilla and vice versa.

Kong has lots of famous fans

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Or to put it another way, you can tell a lot about a giant ape by the famous people who think he's awesome. During his nearly a century of cinematic stardom, King Kong has picked up some very famous fans. Stop-motion maestro and special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen said the original 1933 King Kong "changed his life." After seeing King Kong with his mom and aunt, Harryhausen immediately began experimenting with stop-motion like his idol, Kong animator Willis O'Brien. And by 1949, Harryhausen even got to work with him on Mighty Joe Young

Harryhausen wasn't the only Kong stan. The big gorilla's most famous fan is Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson. King Kong is Jackson's favorite film, and it's the movie that got him interested in filmmaking in the first place. In fact, his 2005 remake is really the biggest, most expensive fan film in movie history. If you really want to see proof of how popular Kong is with famous people, consider King Kong's #41 ranking on the American Film Institute's "100 Years, 100 Movies" list. Obviously, there's a lot of love for the big ape.

Godzilla has his own celebrity supporters

Godzilla is no slouch when it comes to celebrity love. Steven Spielberg, probably the most famous filmmaker ever, reportedly said the 1954 original was "the most masterful of all dinosaur movies because it made you believe it was really happening." Yep, the guy behind Jurassic Park said Godzilla was the most masterful dinosaur movie. Speaking of Jurassic Park, Spielberg included a Godzilla homage in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, showing Japanese people running in fear during the T. rex attack on San Diego. Over 20 years later, Spielberg included another Godzilla homage, this time during the MechaGodzilla scene in Ready Player One

Speaking of homages, Tim Burton included a Godzilla reference in his debut Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and Guillermo del Toro made an entire movie — Pacific Rim — as an homage to Godzilla and the kaiju genre. Quentin Tarantino reportedly had an idea for a Godzilla movie in which the big guy would be worshipped as a god, and he even told Juliette Binoche he cried during the 2014 Godzilla movie. While there are only four American Godzilla movies, we imagine there'd be a lot more if these famous filmmakers got their way.

The original Kong is king when it comes to critics

Mozart vs. Beethoven, Michelangelo vs. Donatello (the sculptors, not the turtles), Charles Dickens vs. Herman Melville ... how do you possibly compare great artists or the works of art they created? With an arbitrary ranking website, of course! While it may be a stretch to include King Kong and Godzilla on a list with the greatest art and artists ever, remember it's one thing to produce quality work when your topic is heaven itself and another when your topics are giant apes and radioactive reptiles, respectively. 

Both the 1933 King Kong and the original Japanese 1954 Godzilla — not 1956's re-edited, American Godzilla: King of the Monsters — are widely regarded as genre masterpieces ... but which is masterpiece-ier? For that, we have to go to Rotten Tomatoes, which gives Godzilla a 93% critics' score and an 89% audience score. Great numbers ... but less than King Kong, which boasts a near-perfect 98% critics' score, though a slightly lower audience score at 86%. However, the King Kong series has the only 0% in either franchise, with 1986's King Kong Lives, while the Godzilla series has the only 100%, 1995's Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, whose six critics were clearly into it. Both characters have their share of good and bad, but where it matters the most — their original, respective masterpieces — Kong bests Godzilla.

A Godzilla movie took home Best Picture

King Kong didn't win any Oscars in 1933. In fact, it wasn't even nominated. Yep, one of the greatest movies ever ... zero awards. The Best Picture that year? Cavalcade. Okay, then. Anyway, while that's a travesty of cinematic justice, the fact remains that no King Kong movie has ever won (or has even been nominated for) the big one. You're probably thinking, "So? It's not like Godzilla has ever won gold." Au Kong-traire. 

Shin Godzilla was the big winner at the Awards of the Japanese Academy in 2017, winning seven out of 11 awards and not just in the technical categories either. Shin Godzilla won Best Editing, Best Directing, and even Best Picture. Yep, a Godzilla movie won the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars. Before you roll your eyes and think this is just "homerism," remember that Japan has produced some of the greatest films and filmmakers of all time. The Japanese film industry takes the cinematic arts seriously, so bestowing their highest honor on Shin Godzilla is a big deal.

Kong inspired Godzilla, not the other way around

Godzilla inspired an entire genre of film — the kaiju eiga. Or, in layman's terms, "giant monster movies." But as influential as Godzilla was to filmmakers around the world, the fact remains that King Kong was first. Godzilla was released in 1954, two decades after King Kong in 1933. While one giant monster movie influencing another seems obvious (in the same way Star Wars influenced all sci-fi after 1977), the big ape influenced his reptilian enemy in more tangible ways

The biggest impact involved Godzilla's longtime special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya, who once recounted, "King Kong came to Kyoto, and I never forgot that movie. I thought to myself, 'I will someday make a monster movie like that.'" Over 20 years later, Tsuburaya did. It's not a shock that King Kong influenced Godzilla though. Kong is probably the most influential action/sci-fi/fantasy movie ever, eclipsing even Star Wars. Even for those who've never seen the film, its tropes are etched into our cultural psyche. And the giant ape holding the screaming blonde atop the Empire State Building while biplanes swoop by is one of the most iconic cinematic images ever. Godzilla is an influential monster, no doubt, but make no mistake — King Kong inspired Godzilla, not the other way around.

There have been way more movies starring Godzilla

Godzilla has starred in over 30 movies. Not even James Bond or Ernest matches him. And with nine films on his resume (not including animated features), King Kong doesn't even come close. It's also worth noting that most Kong films are remakes of the original and just tell the same story over and over again. Even Kong: Skull Island retells the familiar story of humans journeying to the mysterious island. Meanwhile, Godzilla has fought Mothra, Rodan, a three-headed space dragon, smog monsters, giant shrimp, his mechanical double, his plant clone, his space clone, and on and on down the list. 

Godzilla's rogues' gallery is in the same category as Batman's or Spider-Man's — and he doesn't even wear tights! Who would've thought that a giant radioactive reptile meant to represent nuclear annihilation would be a more versatile character than an ape? You may argue that Godzilla has been in so many movies simply as a shameless cash grab, but that thesis is predicated on one thing — his movies still make cash. With over 30 films over the course of nearly 70 years, Godzilla's cinematic output puts the simians' to shame.

King Kong is (probably) smarter

There's a great moment in the American version of King Kong vs. Godzilla in which a scientist claims Kong's brain is about ten times the size of a regular gorilla's while he holds up a marble to represent Godzilla's brain. While we can quibble with the likelihood that a 180-foot-tall reptile could be powered by a brain smaller than a squirrel's, the good doctor's point still stands. King Kong is (probably) smarter than Godzilla. Perhaps this is just our prejudice for our fellow primate, but chimps and gorillas are the smartest animals after human beings. 

Reptiles by contrast are more primitive (there's a reason the oldest part of the human brain is jokingly referred to as "the reptile brain"). You probably will never see a crocodile speaking sign language or a gecko using tools. However, Godzilla is no normal reptile, and in past films, he's solved problems, learned to fly, and even "talked." Still, in Kong and Godzilla's two big-screen encounters, Kong outsmarts Godzilla. Granted, this is a fight, not a chess match, and atomic breath tends to be a great equalizer.

Godzilla would (probably) win in a 'real' fight

In this corner, we have a giant ape, who in some interpretations gains strength from electricity (King Kong vs. Godzilla) and in some wields a radioactive axe (Godzilla vs Kong). But ultimately, he's still a giant ape. In the other corner, we have a literal god who possesses the power of an atomic bomb, whose body is a living nuclear reactor, who can fire a beam from his mouth hot enough to burrow a hole to the Earth's core, and who can vaporize a three-headed space dragon. 

Uh, who do you think would win? Well, in 1962, it was King Kong, albeit in controversial fashion, while in 2021, it was handily Godzilla. Kong gave it his best, but it was Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago, only if that fight happened in real life and not the world of Rocky IV. No, neither character could actually exist, but if they could, Godzilla would (probably) win. Scientists have even debated this topic, with some siding with King Kong, while others chose Godzilla. While we're confident that Godzilla would win nine times out of ten, there's only one way to be sure — Godzilla vs. Kong: Round 3!