In 2010, rumored talks between Legendary Pictures and Toho Studios on the production of an American Godzilla reboot were confirmed to be true, with Legendary announcing that they procured the rights to the franchise. These plans finally came to fruition with Godzilla (2014). Initially planned to be the start of a trilogy working in classic Toho monsters, plans shifted when Legendary and Warner Bros. rewrote Kong: Skull Island to be in continuity with the 2014 film and the proposed “Godzilla 3” morphed into Godzilla vs. Kong. Despite these ambitious plans, there have been several hiccups along the way and as the release date for the crossover film draws ever closer, the big questions is just how well will it do with all odds seemingly stacked against it.
Kong: Skull Island, then just known as Skull Island, had been in development at Universal as a King Kong prequel story until 2015. In September it was announced that Warner Bros would be developing the film with Legendary instead of Universal. The following month it was announced that the film would be retooled to tie into the current Godzilla series being worked on. Anticipation was high among kaiju fans. People were already excited to learn about legacy monsters Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah appearing in the films but the announcement that Kong and Godzilla would be crossing paths again for the first time since 1962 was tantalizing to fans. At the time the film was slated for a May 2020 release, but that would go on to change multiple times in the future.
In May 2017 it was announced that Adam Wingard would direct the film. At the time, Wingard had only really be known for the 2016 Blair Witch sequel that was only moderately received. In August of 2017, his Death Note adaptation released on Netflix to negative reviews. Many in the kaiju fan base and general internet users became wary of the film’s outcome, fearing that Wingard wouldn’t deliver on a solid film. Many were still willing to give him a chance though, and Wingard had more than proven his love for the genre through social media posts talking about his favorite Godzilla films.
The film had fairly quiet pre-production and production phases. Many actors were announced to return from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, with series newcomer Alexander Skarsgård being billed as the protagonist of the film. Details on the film were sparse as the focus was being put on the then upcoming King of the Monsters that was set to release in 2019 and serve as the next chapter in Godzilla’s story and also plant the seeds that would lead to Godzilla vs. Kong. When King of the Monsters released however, it was immediately hit with negative reviews from critics. Many took issue with the story, feeling it was paper thin and nonsensical, with the monster fights not faring much better either. Poor box office returns certainly didn’t help matters. Fans were split on the film, with some absolutely loving it and others hating it. Regardless of how one felt about the film, it made be people all the more anxious about Wingard’s stab at the franchise in the following year.
Even before the release of King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong had been subject to two changes in release. Shortly before Wingard was announced as the film’s director it was pushed up from May 29th to May 22nd. In February 2019 the film was pushed up yet again to March 13th of 2020. These changes were exciting for fans as it meant seeing the film earlier, but things took a turn not too long after the release of King of the Monsters. In November of 2019, it was announced that film was delayed until November 2020. Many speculated this had something to do with the negative response to King of the Monsters. The writing has been on the wall though as the lack of a trailer was becoming more and more apparent. In the interim, the moving release dates resulted in images of toys leaking on the internet. Some of the images confirmed a surprise legacy monster appearing in the film, spoiling a major plot point for several people.
Even with these delays, it seemed like the film was finally on track for its new intended release. However, as was the case with most films set to release in 2020, it ended up facing yet another delay with rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. This of course isn’t a situation unique to Godzilla vs. Kong. The entire film industry has felt the ramifications of the virus and the fate of movies and movie theaters have been put into question a lot recently. In June the film was delayed once again, this time to May 2021. This was still at a point in time when there was hope there would be some degree of normalcy at the end of the year and into 2021. As the year drug on though, there was still no sign of a trailer or any footage for the movie. Worry began to spread among fans, with many fearing that Warner Bros had no confidence in the movie and was essentially putting it out to die.
A new wrinkle came about in December 2020 when Warner Bros. announced that its upcoming slate would be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, including Godzilla vs. Kong. Following this it was reported that Legendary would take legal action against Warner Bros. as they had not been informed on these release plans for the film, despite their heavy involvement in its production. There had been earlier reports that Legendary was also considering releasing the film on Netflix and for a brief moment in time both Godzilla vs. Kong and Dune were in a state of limbo where there release remained uncertain.
Finally in January 2021, the issues between studios appeared to be squared away and the film was still set for the concurrent releases in theaters and on HBO Max. It was also announced out of nowhere that the film’s release date was yet again being shifted, this time two months ahead back to a March release date. The finalized date is March 26th, just over two months from the writing of this article. Despite excitement over the imminent release, many remained puzzled at the bizarre marketing cycle. There was still no trailer and little word from the studio on the film. It wasn’t until January 21st when they finally announced that the first trailer would be released that Sunday on January 24th. Aside from a few seconds of footage throughout sizzle reels, this trailer marks the first real look at the movie. At the time of writing this article, the trailer has not been released. Its reception could greatly shift things to come.
There are a lot of questions marks surrounding the marketing for the film. Are they keeping quiet due to lack of confidence? Or are they just taking a new, consolidated approach to their advertising. Marketing campaigns are expensive and it’s very costly to continue to advertise a film that keeps getting delayed and delayed. Video game companies such as Nintendo have taken this new approach to heart, only announcing and debuting games a couple of months before release. It’s proved effective there and it will be important to take note of how well it the film industry handles it, as this could easily become a new normal. Legendary’s subsequent marketing from trailer to release remains to be seen.
Godzilla vs. Kong is also in the unique position of having its cinematic universe riding on it. There have not been any announcements for any more installments in the MonsterVerse, and after the middling returns of King of the Monsters, many doubt its future. Additionally, the contract between Legendary and Toho is set to expire after this film’s release. Toho may opt not to renew and just produce Godzilla films on their own in Japan. It may all come down to the success of Godzilla vs. Kong but as seen in this article, it seemingly has every factor stacked against it. Even if it is a hit with critics, it’s hard for any film to do well in this current economic environment.
The MonsterVerse has been a big hit with many kaiju fans, and having Godzilla and Kong cross paths again has been a dream come true for many fans of the genre. Regardless of how well the film does it’s certain to leave a big impact among fans. Many want to see the film succeed so the MonsterVerse can continue on, others are perfectly content to go back to Toho produced Godzilla films. Whatever happens, Godzilla vs. Kong’s strained and bizarre development will certainly be something examined and looked back on in the years to come.