A still from the 1933 film King Kong

1933’s King Kong wasn’t the first giant monster movie, but it’s probably the reason the genre has remained iconic. Its influence spans generations, from Godzilla (1954) and Jurassic Park (1993) to Nope (2022). Revisiting the film more than 90 years after its debut, it’s not hard to see why. The visual effects, driven by miniatures, trick photography, and rear projection are still wildly visceral. The sounds of Kong’s anguish and rage, created by recording and reversing the roars of lions and tigers, are chilling, and the action scenes still hit. In fact, all the monster fights in Kong ’33 are at least as exciting as the brawls in Peter Jackson’s exhaustingly faithful 2005 remake, or in the admittedly entertaining Godzilla vs. Kong franchise. It’s no wonder that this film smashed box office records despite the fact that it was released at the height of the Great Depression. In fact, some say Kong single-handedly saved RKO Radio Pictures from declining into bankruptcy. One unfortunate footnote that ought to be acknowledged: the film’s portrayal of the native people with whom Kong shares his island home is … very 1933. Meaning bad. To cringe away from the scene where Fay Wray is kidnapped by island locals as a sacrifice to Kong is natural, and healthy. It’s a sequence almost reminiscent of Birth of a Nation. (The gate that separates the islanders from Kong’s realm is actually a reused prop from D.W. Griffith’s film Intolerance and Griffith made The Birth of a Nation.) That said, films aren’t just art and entertainment—they’re also history. Taking into account that this is a movie upon whose foundation we’ve built a sizable section of contemporary pop culture, it’s worth revisiting as all three. To mark its 90th anniversary, the original King Kong opens at noon on April 21 and runs through April 27 at AFI Silver Theatre. silver.afi.com. $10–$13.