Skull Island

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The Map of Skull Island as seen in the 1933 King Kong film.

Skull Island is the name most often used to describe a fictional island that first appeared in the 1933 film King Kong and later appearing in its sequels, the two remakes, and any other King Kong-based media. It is the home of the eponymous King Kong and several other species of creatures, mostly prehistoric and in some cases species that should have been extinct long before the rise of mammalian creatures, along with a primitive society of humans.

In the 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla and the 1967 film King Kong Escapes, the comparable islands are called "Farou Island" and "Mondo Island", respectively. Kong plays a similar role in these islands as the god-like being of the land, a role he plays in all versions of the King Kong story. Skull Island's origins are unknown, but Kong appears to be the only giant gorilla known to exist on the island. However, the 2005 remake shows other skeletons of Kong-sized gorillas, indicating that there was once a group of such creatures of an unknown number living on the island. Additionally, 2017's Kong: Skull Island depicts the skeletons of Kong's parents.


Appearance in the 1933 films[edit]

In King Kong, the island is never mentioned by name and is located at approximately 12°S 78°E / 12°S 78°E / -12; 78 – somewhere off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. There is a distinctive rocky knoll in the center of the island that is shaped like a human skull, which is referred to as "Skull Mountain".

According to the first movie the captain of a Norwegian bark discovered a canoe blown off course with only one native left alive. Before the native died the captain of the bark was able to get a rough location of the island and some details on the island including its most distinctive feature - a huge wall built by the ancestors of the natives back when they had high civilization. When the protagonists of the picture arrive at the island and examine it they find, in addition to the expected superstitious natives, prehistoric creatures of all sorts and one extremely large ape, known by those on the island as "Kong".

Other then being the decedents of a high civilization the ancestry of the natives is never really explained, although the setting suggests they are a Southeast Asian group.

In the sequel film Son of Kong, Carl Denham returns to Skull Island when there was mentioning of some treasure that was hidden there. He also encounters a large white gorilla who is the son of King Kong. Skull Island sinks into the sea during a powerful earthquake. Kong's son drowns while holding Carl Denham above the water. Denham survives unscathed while the treasure is claimed by him and the other three survivors.

The term "Skull Island" is never used in the original films. In King Kong, only "Skull Mountain" is named, while in the sequel Son of Kong, its simply referred to as "Kong's Island". In the novelization of King Kong by Delos Lovelace, it is called "Skull Mountain Island". But RKO referred to it as "Skull Island" in some of their publicity materials.

1976 remake[edit]

In the 1976's King Kong, Skull Island is mentioned as being "the beach of the skull." It is located somewhere in Indian Ocean, covered by a permanent cloud bank. Various people are said to have visited the island through the centuries but returned with no clear proof. By the 1970s, it is an urban legend whose only evidence is in government secret files. It is also revealed to have a huge deposit of oil, which led a greedy oil company executive to go in search of it. Besides featuring a primitive native tribe (most seem to be of West African ancestry) and the giant, bipedal gorilla Kong, there is also a giant snake who appeared in Kong's lair and wanted to kill him and Dwan, but it was killed by the former.

In 1986 sequel film King Kong Lives, Skull Island does not appear but it was mentioned by adventurer Hank Mitchell (mistakenly calling it Kong Island) who believed that the islands Borneo and Skull Island were once a part of the same landmass in the past. The fate of this incarnation is unknown.

Kong: The Animated Series[edit]

In Kong: The Animated Series, the island was named Kong Island. Unlike previous incarnations, Kong Island was situated in the infamous Bermuda Triangle, not the Pacific Ocean. Although various prehistoric creatures are seen living there, Kong Island also contains some ruins where one of them serves as the prison of the demon Chiros.

It is also where Jason Jenkins and his grandmother Dr. Lorna Jenkins also live along with Jason's friend Tan. Another human inhabitant is Lua, the sole survivor of the native people of the island and a female shaman.

Kong: King of Skull Island[edit]

A 2004 illustrated novel that serves as both prequel and sequel of the original "King Kong" story, conceived by Merian C. Cooper and novelized by Delos Lovelace in 1932, and authorized by the Cooper family.

Created and Illustrated by Joe DeVito [and novelized by Brad Strickland and DeVito, with John Michlig] Kong: King of Skull Island depicts a Skull Island far larger than originally thought. It is either the last vestige of a volatile volcanic series of islands or the remnant of a larger land-mass. Skull Island is located in the Indian Ocean, west of Sumatra, and has several much smaller islands in various locations around its perimeter, with the most prevalent of these off a small peninsula on its southeast corner.

Skull Island contains two main mountains, the larger being shaped in the visage of a human skull. Skull Mountain is riddled with caves and passageways carved out by natural erosion, but also man-made. In earlier times, these were often used by islanders to avoid the monsters on the surface but proved to have a multitude of dangerous denizens of their own. These include previously unknown species such as snake-like amphibians with enormous heads capable of swallowing a human whole; foot-long creatures that combine squid and crustacean characteristics with bio-luminescent sails tipped with poisonous stingers; giant spiders with 7-foot bodies and 8-foot-long legs ending in hand-like appendages.

The human civilization that inhabits Skull Island at least through the Twentieth Century is the last remnant of a previously unknown super-race called the Tagatu (a combination of two formerly separate tribes: the Tagu and the Atu). The original culture is believed to have Asian origins that bled into an island group west of Sumatra that no longer exists. As a result of a natural disaster, they were forced to migrate to Skull Island untold millennia ago. Drawn to its spectacular makeup by their insatiable curiosity, the Tagatu believed their mastery of biological and organic sciences could overcome Skull Island's dangers. It was they who originally brought the gigantic simian Kongs there for protection and who, with the help of the Kongs, built the iconic wall across the Skull Island’s peninsula for protections against Skull Island’s prehistoric denizens.

Among the many mysteries revealed in the work is the reality that on Skull Island the dinosaurs never died out, but continued to evolve over the intervening 65 million years. This has resulted in strange variations on previously known species, as well as many new ones. Chief among the latter is a race of sentient dinosaurs, called Deathrunners. Bipedal, extremely aggressive and 6 to 9 feet tall, they once ruled the island and were at war with the Tagatu and the Kongs. Their race is propagated every few generations by one queen that grows to gigantic size. It is one of these, called “Gaw”, that ruled Skull Island when King Kong was born and who Kong had to defeat in order to become a king.

In the story, Carl Denham's son, Vincent (now a paleontologist), and an older Jack Driscoll return to Skull Island in 1957 to discover pieces of the earlier civilization’s history and relationship to the island through an enigmatic Tagatu elder simply called, “Storyteller”, as well as in the form of archaeological discoveries such as specially pigmented paintings in underground passageways that move when illuminated by torchlight to reveal past events on Skull Island. Primary among these is the discovery of remnants of “The Old City”, which was established by the Tagatu at the zenith of their civilization in the center of the island in an ideal valley between the two mountains. The Storyteller's tale, along with Vincent and Driscoll's findings, suggest that the eerie skull visage that gave the island its name may have been the work of human hands. These and other discoveries hint that the true extent of Skull Island’s secrets have yet to be revealed.

2005 remake[edit]

In Peter Jackson's remake, Skull Island's position west of Sumatra remains the same, in a region afflicted by magnetic anomalies and violent sea storms. According to the book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, Skull Island was geologically unstable and has been slowly sinking into the sea for the past thousand years. By 1933, the island was on the verge of destruction. Fifteen years after its discovery to the modern world, Skull Island finally sank into the ocean.

In its prehistory, Skull Island was a refuge for a variety of prehistoric creatures. Over time, more and more species arrived either by swimming, flying, rafting, or migrating through temporary land bridges. As the island slowly receded into the sea, life was forced to adapt, resulting in an ecosystem of bizarre and nightmarish creatures.

Three thousand years before, an advanced civilization from Southeast Asia migrated to Skull Island, bringing with them domesticated animals such as Gaur and the giant ancestors of Kong. This culture eventually died off, leaving behind only gigantic eroding ruins scattered around the island (such as the enormous wall) and a small society of primitive people that became the Skull Island natives.

Altus Press[edit]

To coincide with the 80th anniversary of both characters, Altus Press announced on January 29, 2013, that King Kong would meet pulp hero Doc Savage in a new, officially sanctioned book written by Will Murray and artist Joe DeVito, who will also do the cover artwork. Set in 1920, shortly after returning from military service during World War I, Doc Savage searches for his long-lost grandfather (the legendary mariner Stormalong Savage) with his father, the explorer Clark Savage, Sr., that ultimately leads father and son to the mysterious Skull Island and its prehistoric denizens including King Kong. Doc Savage: Skull Island was released in March 2013.[1] In his review for the New York Journal of Books, playwright-author Mark Squirek concluded:

Across close to 400 pages Doc Savage: Skull Island takes us not only on a journey to Skull Island, but to the beginnings of a young man’s rise to greatness. Mr. Murray has created a new classic of the genre – all the while staying completely true to the legends of both Kong and Doc Savage.[2]

Altus Press has announced an authorized crossover novel, King Kong Vs. Tarzan, for release in the summer of 2016. Written by Will Murray, it tells the previously untold story of the transportation by cargo ship of Kong from Skull Island to America, and King Kong's inevitable encounter with Tarzan of the Apes.[3]

2017 reboot film[edit]

Skull Island is the main setting of Kong: Skull Island, which is set in the same universe of Gareth Edwards' 2014 film Godzilla. Kong is 104 feet (31.7 m) tall[4] in the film and there is evidence that more of Kong's species once existed on the island. The island is located in the South Pacific and sits in the eye of a massive swirling storm system that has enabled its concealment from the outside world. The island is situated atop an entrance to the Hollow Earth, which is home to large, two-legged lizard-like predators that have come to be known as "Skullcrawlers" that are referred to as the island's "devils". The Skullcrawlers wiped out King Kong's family, making him the last of his kind.

There is also evidence of dinosaurs living, or having lived, on the island, in the form of a Triceratops skull found in the "graveyard" of the island. A number of other species are referred to as "florafauna" for displaying physiological traits of plants. Similar to previous incarnations, there is a human native tribe present (characterized as Iwis) who are much less hostile than in previous versions, mainly because a stranded air pilot from World War II named Hank Marlow makes peace between them and modern-day humans. The film sees an expedition in 1973 landing upon the island after Skull Island is detected by Landsat.

During the credits of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a newspaper clipping states that the awaken Titans are beginning to converge on Skull Island which is starting to become unstable. It is also revealed in the film that Monarch has an outpost on Skull Island.[5]

Island wildlife[edit]

King Kong and Son of Kong[edit]

Charles R. Knight's Tyrannosaurus in the American Museum of Natural History, which the large theropod of the film was based on
  • Stegosaurus – Appears in a sequence in which it is disturbed by Carl Denham's crew. It charges the men and they fell it with a gas-bomb. As they walk by, it starts to get up again and is shot. Orville Goldner, who worked on the film, described the film's Stegosaur as a combination of two genera: Stegosaurus and the less well-known Kentrosaurus.[6] Another appeared in a deleted scene when Denham ran back to the village, after Kong’s battle with the T-Rex.
  • A large 2-legged lizard – This reptilian creature climbs up a vine from the crevasse to attack Jack Driscoll. It falls back into the pit when Jack cuts the vine it is climbing. Other than the two limbs, the other distinct feature of this creature is the iguana-like ridge of spikes down its back. Orville Goldner said it was loosely based on the features of the Desmatosuchus.[6]
  • Tyrannosaurus – The dinosaur was modeled after Charles R. Knight's depiction of a Tyrannosaurus.[6] However, it possesses three fingers per hand, unlike Tyrannosaurus which had only two (however, the number of fingers in Tyrannosaurus was disputed at the time, as a complete manus was not discovered until the mid-1990s). In the documentary I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper, included on the 2 disk DVD release of King Kong, Cooper refers to this beast as an Allosaurus, not a Tyrannosaurus, which would help explain the number of fingers. However, the creature was originally intended to be a Tyrannosaurus designed for the cancelled Willis O'Brien film Creation (1931). It may also be worth noting that the Tyrannosaurus present in Willis O'Brien's earlier project The Lost World (1925) also had a third finger. The 1932 King Kong screenplay refers to the dinosaur only as a "Meat Eater." The creature appears in the iconic scene where Kong defends Anne from its attack, killing it after a protracted fight.
  • An Elasmosaurus-like creature – A highly stylized, serpentine aquatic reptile with a long neck and tail as well as two pairs of flippers. It inhabits the bubbling swamp area inside King Kong's cave. Goldner describes the Elasmosaurus as "being designed as more slender than the ones known to science, and its swimming limbs are less prominent. In those respects, it more closely resembles the polydactyl nothosaur Ceresiosaurus."[6] It also resembles the long-necked reptile Tanystropheus. It battles Kong in the style of a giant, constricting snake.
  • Gigantophis garstini – According to Goldner, "This huge snake that appeared in one scene and later cut out of the film, had its living prototype in Egypt." This giant snake frightens Ann at the base of the dead tree that Kong puts her in before he battles the sailors on the log bridge. It was in the test reel, but later cut. However, Ann Darrow's reaction to it being below her just before the Tyrannosaurus shows up in the clearing remains in the film.
  • Erythrosuchus – It was created and then re-created for the "spider-pit sequence" and portrayed as a stout reptilian predator. Goldner stated that it was loosely adapted, as many of the creatures of the pit were imaginative.[6]
  • Nothosaurus – A dragon-like creature that threatens Denham and Hilda, but is fended off and killed by the Son of Kong. King Kong: A History of a Movie Icon calls the creature 'The Dragon' all through its review of Son of Kong. In some respects, it resembles a very large Protorosaurus.

2005 remake[edit]

All the creatures in Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong do not appear to be any real species of animal, but do resemble certain ones. The companion book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, elaborates on this stating that they are fictional descendants of real animals.

Among the creatures in the 2005 remake are:[7]

  • Brontosaurus baxteri – A large Brontosaurus-like sauropod which (despite the name) is more similar in size and appearance to Argentinosaurus that appears early in the film. They are attacked by a pack of Venatosaurus and cause a stampede. They trample several of the crew and some of the Venatosaurus. Like real sauropods, they are social animals that organize in herds led by a dominant bull. Unlike all real sauropods, Brontosaurus give birth to between one and three live young rather than reproducing with eggs. As Skull Island's largest herbivore, they are responsible for keeping the jungle from overrunning the remaining grasslands.[7]
  • Brutornis – A phorusrhacid that is seen in the extended cut of King Kong and in The World of Kong. In the extended cut, the crew of the Venture mistake one for Ann and Lumpy shoots it by mistake when he loses his nerves. After being discovered by the crew, the dying terror bird is then killed by Lumpy.[7]
  • Ferrucutus cerastes – A giant ceratopsian that bears slight resemblance to Pachyrhinosaurus. It appears only in the extended cut and in a cameo as Kong climbs to his lair. In the extended cut, a large male attacks the crew and almost kills Jack Driscoll before being killed by Hayes. Ferrucutus is an aggressive herbivore that dwells in small family groups. Like their ancestors, Ferrucutus bulls spar violently even to the point of killing their rivals.[7]
  • Foetodon ferrus – A terrestrial crocodilian about 20 feet (6.1 metres) long that appears in both the film and the companion book. In the film, Ann stumbles across a mated pair of Foetodon feeding on a dead Ligocristus. The predators pursue her into a hollow log, and a sub-adult V. rex appears by killing and eating one of the pursuing Foetodon, forcing its mate to flee. Foetodon is an ambush predator that hides in deep piles of leaves, waiting for small dinosaurs and large flightless birds to wander past.[7]
  • Giant Arthropods – Several species of giant arthropods appear at the bottom of the Ravine. The World of Kong names these insects as:[7]
    • Abyscidis - A crustacean resembling a mite. They can grow to the size of dogs.
    • Arachnocidis – A giant arachnid.
    • Carnictis – A fluke-like creature that can grow to be several feet long. Several of them eat Lumpy, who manages to slay a few of them. They resemble Ottoia.
    • Decarnocimex – A giant carnivorous cricket. One gets beaten up by Carl.
    • Deinacrida rex – A giant species of weta. Several tried to make a meal out of Jack, but were defeated by Jimmy.
    • Deplector – A giant cave-dwelling crustacean. The females are the large monstrous forms, while the males resemble little crabs. The arm of a female was seen shooting out of the cliff and snapping a sailor in.
  • Ligocristus – A hadrosaur that was being fed upon by a Foetodon.[7]
  • Moonspider - Not a true spider (it is really a member of the Solifugae), the Moonspider is a nocturnal creature that lives in the Lowlands. It appeared briefly in the film when Ann Darrow made her escape from King Kong.[7]
  • Piranhadon titanus – Only appearing in The World of Kong and more prominently in the extended cut, Piranhadon is a 50-foot (15.2-metre) fish resembling a plesiosaur. In the extended cut, a Piranhadon attacked the rescue team led by Hayes, Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll, killing three sailors and very nearly swallowing Jack whole. Piranhadon has poor vision, only being able to discern prey's silhouettes, using the barbels on its chin to sense vibrations and the light from the surface to detect passing prey.[7]
  • Terapusmordax obscenus – A giant bat-like rodent. A swarm of them appear in the film roosting in Kong's lair. When Jack Driscoll attempts to save Ann, he awakens Kong. The Terapusmordax then attack Kong; he fends them off while Jack and Ann escape by climbing down a vine. When one of the Terapusmordax attempt to kill Jack and Ann, Jack grabs the wing and the Terapusmordax lowers them down and they fall into the river below. They also appear in the associated video-game where they gain juvenile-forms and a bluish, airplane-sized species. Terapusmordax evolved from hairless rodents that developed wings. They measure about 3–4 feet (0.9–1.2 metres) in body length and 8–10 feet (2.4–3.0 metres) in wingspan.[7]
  • Vastatosaurus Rex – A descendant of Tyrannosaurus, but much bigger with three fingers. It appears in the film in a scene where three of them fight Kong. Vastatosaurus are the top apex predator of Skull Island. They can grow up to 50 feet (15.2 metres) long. Juveniles hunt separately from the adults in the jungle, often coming into conflict with Venatosaurus.[7]
  • Venatosaurus saevidicus – A slender dromaeosaur which resembles Velociraptor, measuring about 24 feet (7.3 metres) long and surpassing the length of Utahraptor. In the film they ate Carl Denham's cameraman Herb and caused a Brontosaurus stampede. Venatosaurus hunt in packs and they are also the only predators on Skull Island capable of taking down adult Brontosaurus (aside from the V.Rex). They are also highly intelligent and cunning, able to chase prey through ruins and into planned traps. Another smaller Venatosaurus species called Venatosaurus impavidus is also present on the island. Unusually, both species lack feathers, despite being dromaeosaurs (though feathered-dinosaurs weren't known in the nineteen-thirties anyway).[7]

Scientific viability[edit]

All versions of King Kong present an island inhabited by giant animals, both invertebrate and vertebrate, but even though biophysical analysis of Kong and other creatures concludes that some are biophysically viable, the ecosystem of the island could not support them.[8]

Popular culture[edit]

The Universal Orlando Resort location Islands of Adventure features an attraction called "Skull Island: Reign of Kong" which is based on Peter Jackson's remake.[9]


  1. ^ Matthew Moring (January 29, 2012). "Press Release: Doc Savage and King Kong Coming in March". Press Release. Altus Press. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-24. On the eightieth anniversary of these fictional giants, Altus Press is proud to release the first authorized clash between The Man of Bronze and the Eighth Wonder of the World – Doc Savage: Skull Island. Written by Will Murray in collaboration with Joe DeVito, creator of KONG: King of Skull Island, Doc Savage: Skull Island is a new pulp epic.
  2. ^ Mark Squirek (2013). "Doc Savage: Skull Island". Review. New York Journal of Books. Retrieved 2014-08-07.
  3. ^ Press Release (March 8, 2016). "Altus Press to Release King Kong Vs. Tarzan". Press Release. Altus Press. Retrieved 2017-01-30. King Kong Vs. Tarzan is scheduled for a Summer, 2016 release, timed to coincide with the promising and much-anticipated new Warner Bros. Legend of Tarzan film, and will be issued in trade paperback, eBook and hardcover editions.
  4. ^ "Kong: Skull Island – Kong-Sized - OWN THE DIGITAL MOVIE AND BLU-RAY™ NOW". Kong: Skull Island – Kong-Sized - OWN THE DIGITAL MOVIE AND BLU-RAY™ NOW.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e Orville Goldner, George E Turner (1975). Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic. ISBN 0-498-01510-6. See also Spawn of Skull Island (2002). ISBN 1-887664-45-9
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island. Pocket Books. 2005. ISBN 978-1-4165-0519-8. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  8. ^ Monge-Nájera, Julian. (2016). "Ann’s secret relationship with King Kong: a biological look at Skull Island and the true nature of the Beauty and Beast Myth". CoRis. 12 (1): 13–28 (ISSN: 1659-2387).
  9. ^ "Universal Orlando".

Further reading[edit]