The film industry has been churning out creature features for as long as its been around. There’s something about a monster tearing through downtown Manhattan that packs people into theaters, transcending decades and generations. The filmgoers of 1933’s King Kong got the same pleasure from that movie as the people who caught Pacific Rim on opening weekend, with the only difference being the massive leaps in CGI and special effects. There’s a visceral appeal to seeing humanity’s pride get toppled by that rare creature above us on the food chain, and in a nutshell, that is what we get out of the genre.
What’s perhaps most interesting about all this is the fact that amidst all the growth and change of Hollywood, monster movies have largely remained the same spanning a 50 plus year tradition. The story behind the original King Kong: Humanity’s own hubris leads to their downfall at the hands of a monster they can neither control nor understand. Every installment in both the Japanese and American Godzilla films paints a similar picture, as well as just about every modern monster flick we’ve seen over the last decade.
Nowhere is this most evident than with the plans Warner currently has for the King Kong and Godzilla franchises. We’ve talked briefly in the past about the plans for the former, but since then, an even more ambitious undertaking has been proposed. Yes, King Kong: Skull Island is still happening, acting as the prequel for our favorite giant ape. Meanwhile Godzilla is getting a sequel, following a successful reboot effort that made over half a billion dollars. All this will culminate in the massive King Kong vs. Godzilla, acting as a sort of Avengers equivalent for movie monsters.
If all that sounds oddly familiar to you, that’s because this has all already happened before. The original King Kong vs. Godzilla came out in 1962, bringing together two monsters who even back then, were already iconic in pop culture. Alongside rumors that Godzilla 2 will feature Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah, what we have is a full-court press from Warner to re-establish the classic monster franchises that dominated the mid-20th century. It’s entirely possible to chalk this up to merely another broad-scoping attempt at moneymaking reboots, but what it represents is something far more profound.
Sure, Warner’s motivation is entirely driven by the potential for box office appeal, and that’s their prerogative as a movie studio. Thematically though, we’re seeing the exact same elements that wowed audiences in 1932 translating over to the modern era. The basic stories and themes behind our favorite monsters has changed very little if at all, with Hollywood poised to take us back around the block for another ride aboard the Godzilla/King Kong train. Other box office hits like Pacific Rim are employing a similar strategy, acting as almost carbon copies of their predecessors within the genre.
This may be an age of filmmaking dominated by comic book adaptations and YA novels, but the cinematic appeal of creature features is something that will never go out of style. Sometime in the future, people will get tired of superheroes and The Hunger Games, and inevitably they’ll move on to the next big craze. While all this happens though, monster movies will continue to survive the way they always have before. They’ll be packaged with bigger and flashier special effects, and sold differently to account for evolving tastes, but at their core, they’ll never truly be different. Call it boring, but it’s what’s worked before, and probably always will.
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