Meanwhile, the American submarine Seahawk gets caught in an iceberg. Unfortunately, this is the same iceberg that Godzilla was trapped in by the JSDF back in 1955, and the submarine is destroyed by Godzilla. As an American rescue helicopter circles the iceberg, Godzilla breaks out and heads towards a nearby Soviet Arctic base. The base alarm sounds as they deploy everything they have against him. Tanks were sent to stop Godzilla's advance, but to no avail. The base itself, of course is ineffective against Godzilla. He continues moving inland, razing the base to the ground, and sends the tank armory up in flames. Godzilla's appearance is all over the press and makes Tako angry.
Meanwhile on Faro Island, a giant octopus attacks the village. King Kong arrives and defeats the tentacled beast. Kong then drinks some "red berry juice" and gets drunk then falls asleep. Sakurai and Kinsaburo place Kong on a large raft and begin to transport him back to Japan. Back at Pacific Pharmaceuticals, Tako is excited because Kong is now all over the press instead of Godzilla. Mr. Tako arrives on the ship transporting Kong, but a JSDF ship stops them and orders them to return Kong to Faro Island. Godzilla had just come ashore in Japan and destroyed a train, and the JSDF doesn't want another monster entering Japan. Unfortunately, during all this, Kong wakes up and breaks free from the raft. Reaching the mainland, Kong meets up with Godzilla in a valley, Tako, Sakurai, and Kinsaburo have difficulty avoiding the JSDF to watch the fight. Eventually they find a spot. Kong throws some large rocks at Godzilla, but Godzilla shoots his atomic breath at Kong burning his fur, so King Kong retreats.
The JSDF try desperately to stop Godzilla from entering Tokyo. In a fielded area outside the city, they dig a large pit laden with explosives and try to lure Godzilla into it. They succeed and set off the explosives, but Godzilla is unharmed and crawls out of the pit. They next string up a barrier of power lines around the city filled with a 1,000,000 volts of electricty (300,000 volts had been tried in the first film, but failed to turn the monster back). The electricty is too much for Godzilla, who then moves away from the city towards the Mt.Fuji area. Later at night, King Kong approaches Tokyo. He tears through the power lines, feeding off the electricity which seems to make him stronger. Kong then attacks Tokyo and holds a woman from a train, named Fumiko, hostage. The JSDF explode capsules full of the berry juice from Faro Island and knock out King Kong. Tako approved of this plan because he "...didn't want anything bad to happen to Kong." The JSDF then decide to transport Kong via balloons to Godzilla, in hope that they will fight each other to their deaths.
The next morning, Kong is dumbo-dropped onto the summit of Mt. Fuji from the balloon air-lift, meets up with Godzilla and the two begin to fight. Godzilla has the advantage at first, eventually knocking Kong down with a vicious drop kick, and battering the giant gorilla unconscious with powerful tail swipes to his forehead. When Godzilla tries to kill his fallen foe with his atomic breath, an electrical storm arrives and revives King Kong, giving him the power of an electric grasp. The two begin to fight again, with the revitalized Kong swinging Godzilla around by his tail, shoving a tree into Godzilla's mouth, and judo tossing him over his shoulder. The brawl between the two monsters continues all the way down to the coastline. Eventually the monsters tear through Atami Castle and Kong drags Godzilla into the Pacific Ocean. After an underwater battle, only King Kong emerges from the water and begins to slowly swim back home to Faro Island. As Kong swims home, onlookers aren't sure if Godzilla survived the underwater battle, but speculate that it was possible.
The film had its roots in an earlier concept for a new King Kong feature developed by Willis O'Brien, animator of the original stop-motion Kong. In 1960, O'Brien came up with a proposed treatment, King Kong vs. Frankenstein, where Kong would fight against a giant version of Frankenstein's monster in San Francisco. After receiving approval from Kong creator Merian C. Cooper, O'Brien took the project (which consisted of some concept art and a screenplay treatment) to RKO and would rename the story King Kong vs The Ginko when it was believed that Universal had the rights to the Frankenstein name. (They actually only had the rights to the monster's makeup design). O'Brien was introduced to producer John Beck who promised to find a studio to make the film. Beck took the story treatment and had George Yates flesh it out into a screenplay. The title was changed to King Kong vs. Prometheus, returning the name to the original Frankenstein concept. (the "Modern Prometheus" was the alternate name of Frankenstein in the original novel). Unfortunately, the cost of stop animation prevented the film from being put into production. After shopping the script around overseas, Beck would eventually attract the interest of the Japanese studio Toho. Toho had long wanted to make a King Kong film and decided to replace the Frankenstein/Prometheus monster with their own monster Godzilla. They thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate their thirtieth year in production. Neither Willis O'Brien, nor Merian Cooper, were paid for their contributions. In 1963, Merian Cooper attempted to sue over the use of his character, but lost as it turned out he was not Kong's sole legal owner as he had previously believed.
Special effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya had a stated intention to move the Godzilla series in a lighter direction. This approach was not favoured by most of the effects crew, who "couldn't believe" some of the things Tsuburaya asked them to do, such as Kong and Godzilla volleying a giant boulder back and forth. But Tsuburaya wanted to appeal to children's sensibilities and broaden the genre's audience. This approach was favoured by Toho and to this end, King Kong Versus Godzilla has a much lighter tone than the previous two Godzilla films and contains a great deal of humor within the action sequences. The decision was also taken to shoot the film in a "Scope" ratio (2.35:1) and to film in color, marking both monsters' first color portrayals.
Toho had planned to shoot this film on location in Sri Lanka, but had to forgo that (and scale back on production costs) because they ended up paying RKO roughly $200,000 (U.S) for the rights to the King Kong character. The bulk of the film was shot on Oshima (an island near Japan) instead.
During pre-production, Ishiro Honda had toyed with the idea of using Willis O'Brien's stop motion technique instead of the suitmation process used in his film, but budgetary concerns prevented him from using the process except in a few, isolated scenes.
Godzilla's appearance was changed somewhat for this film. King Kong Versus Godzilla was made more as a comedy rather than having the "sense of terror" theme in the two previous movies. Because of that, Toho decided to make Godzilla less frightening. On this suit, Godzilla's ears were cut away, and instead of having four toes on each foot, Godzilla had three. The center dorsal fins were englarged and the two side dorsal fins decreased in size. The body of Godzilla was bulkier than the last two suits. The head was made longer, and a slight frown was added to the side the mouth, a feature that would be seen in some later suits. The pupils were enlarged, and the eyes sported a yellow-reddish color. The new features on Godzilla gave him an alligator-like appearance.
For the attack of the giant octopus, four live octopii were used. They were forced to move by blowing hot air on them. After the filming of that scene was finished, three of the four were released. The fourth became special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya's dinner.
Since King Kong was seen as the bigger draw (at the time, he was even more popular in Japan than Godzilla), and since Godzilla was still a villain at this point in the series, it led to the decision to not only give King Kong top billing, but also to present him as the winner of the climatic fight. While the ending of the film does look somewhat ambiguous, Toho confirmed that King Kong was indeed the winner in their 1962/63 press book Toho Films Vol 8, which states, A spectacular duel is arranged on the summit of Mt. Fuji, and King Kong is victorious.
After the film was completed, Beck was given a private screening of the film and didn't like the comedic aspect of the movie. (The Japanese version is a satire of Japanese commercialism). He went to work on his version and tried to turn the film into a straight sci-fi story. This resulted in what would be the most altered Godzilla film from its original Japanese version to the U.S version in the film series history. Beck removed much of the overt comedy from the original version of the film, cutting out huge amounts of Japanese dialogue which primarily comprised of character development. He replaced this footage with newly shot scenes of Eric Carter, a UN reporter who spends much of the time commenting on the action from a UN communication satellite, as well of Arnold Johnson, the head of the Museum of Natural History in New York, who tries to explain Godzilla's origin and his and Kong's motivations.. Several of the assertations made by the Johnson character in regards to Godzilla's origins and intelligence however, are erroneous, having been refuted either by the previous two films, or by later films in the series. The new footage was directed by Thomas Montgomery.
Beck was able to secure a deal with Universal Pictures International during this time as a distributor and was able to obtain from them library music from some of their older films (music tracks that had been composed by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, and even a track from Heinz Roemheld). These films include Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bend of the River, Untamed Frontier, The Golden Horde, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Man Made Monster, and The Monster That Challenged the World. He used these scores to almost completely replace the original Japanese score by Akira Ifukube.. Beck also obtained stock footage from the film The Mysterians from RKO (the film's U.S copyright holder at the time) which he used to not only represent the "UN communication satellite" but which he also used during the film's climax. Beck was unimpressed with the tiny tremor that occurs in the Japanese version when Kong and Godzilla are fighting underwater. He utilized stock footage of a massive Earthquake from The Mysterians, in order to make the Earthquake much more violent than the tame tremor seen in the Japanese version. This footage features massive tidal waves, flooded valleys, and the ground splitting open swallowing up various huts. None of this over the top carnage is seen in the Japanese version of the film.
Beck spent roughly $15,500 making his "U.S version" and sold the film to Universal Pictures International for roughly $200,000 on April 29, 1963.
The American version runs 91 minutes, seven minutes shorter than the Japanese version.
In Japan, this film has the highest box office attendance figures of all of the Godzilla series to date. It sold 11.2 million tickets during its initial theatrical run. After 2 theatrical re-releases in 1970 and 1977 respectively, it has a lifetime figure of 12,550,000 tickets sold.
In 1992 (to coincide with the company's 60th anniversary), Toho wanted to remake this film as Godzilla vs King Kong as part of the Heisei Series. However, according to Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ted Turner who's company Turner Entertainment, at the time owners of the original film, asked too much money for Kong's use. Next, Toho thought to make Godzilla vs Mechani-Kong but, (according to Koichi Kawakita), it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be very difficult. In the end, the film became Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II.
The Godzilla suit from this film was always one of the more popular designs for Godzilla. It formed the basis for some early merchandise in the U.S in the 1960's, such as a popular model kit by Aurora Corp, and a board game by Ideal. In Japan thie suit was the inspiration for the suit built for the films, Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs Megaguirus.
In Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, the special effects crew was instructed to watch the octopus scene to get reference for the Kraken.
For many years a popular myth has persisted that in the Japanese version of this film, Godzilla emerges as the winner. It isn't known where this myth of the dual endings actually originated, but it's been reported as far back as Famous Monsters of Filmland in the early 1960s. Decades later in the 1980s, the myth was still going strong. The Genus III edition of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit had a question that asked Who wins in the Japanese version of King Kong vs Godzilla, and states that the correct answer is Godzilla. As well, through the years, this myth has been misreported by various members of the media , and has been misreported by reputable news organizations.
But as more Westerners were able to view the original version of the film especially after its availability on home video during the late 1980s, the myth became dispelled. Both versions of the film end the same way. Kong and Godzilla crash into the ocean, and Kong is the only monster to emerge and swims home. The only differences between the two endings of the film are extremely minor and trivial ones.
This film was released in Germany as Die Rückkehr des King Kong (The Return of King Kong) and in Italy as Il Trionfo Di King Kong (The Triumph of King Kong)