In 1933, after the New York vaudeville revue she is performing in closes due to poor ticket sales, versatile entertainer Ann Darrow is left sad and penniless. Reluctantly she takes the advice of Manny, a fellow trouper, and asks theatrical producer Weston if she can audition for a show written by her favorite playwright, Jack Driscoll. Weston turns her down, but suggests she try out for a friend’s burlesque show. Meanwhile, in a New York screening room, moviemaker-showman Carl Denham works hard to convince four backers to continue financing his half-shot adventure epic. Denham insists that a map he recently acquired of an uncharted South Sea island will lead his film crew to a “primitive world, never before seen by man.” The backers are skeptical, however, and while they are discussing his future in private, Denham steals the film and flees in a cab with his assistant, Preston. During the ride, the devoted Preston informs Denham that their size-four star has quit the production. Undaunted, Denham stops in front of a burlesque theater to look for possible size-four replacements and spies the slender Ann approaching. Denham watches Ann as she debates going inside and follows her after she decides against it. When a famished Ann is caught stealing an apple from a produce stand, Denham intercedes on her behalf. Over a hot restaurant meal, Denham starts to pitch her his island adventure story. To his delight, Ann adds her own romantic twists to the plot, and Denham happily offers her the lead. Noting that “good things never last,” Ann turns him down, however, until Denham mentions that Jack Driscoll is writing the script. Ann agrees to join the production, which she has been led to believe is headed for Singapore. That night, as Denham, Ann, her narcissistic co-star Bruce Baxter, and the film crew are loading their equipment onto the S.S. Venture , Englehorn, the captain, refuses to take Denham because he has no manifest. Aware that the police are descending on him, Denham bribes Englehorn to change his mind. He then tricks Jack, who has written a mere fifteen pages of the screenplay, into sailing with them. Jack is forced to bunk in the cargo hold of the freighter, where Englehorn usually houses the wild animals he captures with chloroform. The next morning, Ann gets off to a rocky start with Jack when she mistakes the boyish Preston for him. Jack is attracted to Ann, however, and soon the two are falling in love. As they near Sumatra, Denham, who has kept the map a secret from all but Preston, finally tells Jack where they are actually headed. Their conversation is overheard by Jimmy, an impressionable young sailor, and Jimmy, who is engrossed in reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , informs the rest of the crew. Jimmy’s mentor, black first mate Mr. Hayes, tells Denham about a castaway they once rescued who had escaped from the mysterious Skull Island off Sumatra, where a huge “creature, neither beast nor man” resided. Denham shrugs off the tale and later, when Englehorn announces he has received a warrant for Denham’s arrest and is taking the ship to Rangoon, Denham begs him to continue to Skull Island. Englehorn refuses but just then, a dense fog encircles the ship. Despite the crew’s best efforts, the ship becomes jammed on the rocky outer edge of the island. The next morning Denham, Ann, Jack, Bruce and the film crew take a rowboat to the island proper. Immediately they notice human skulls lining the way to some rocky ruins and a huge gate and wall separating the shore from the lush interior jungle. Among the ruins the group discovers a dark young girl with reddish eyes. Seeing the blonde Ann the girl points menacingly at her, then bites Denham when he tries to give her some chocolate. Seconds later, the group is surrounded by sinister, red-eyed tribesmen, who spear the film’s soundman through the chest. A great animal roar thunders through the jungle, and the tribe swarms the group and takes Ann hostage. The group is saved when Englehorn and the ship’s crew appear with machine-guns. That night on the ship, Denham argues with Englehorn about leaving, unaware that tribesmen have snuck on board and abducted Ann. The ship finally breaks free of the rocks, but Jack realizes Ann is missing and demands that Englehorn return for her. Ann, meanwhile, is anointed by tribal elders during a frenzied human sacrifice ceremony and is strung up on a crude altar fashioned from tree limbs. Tribesmen then raise the towering altar, just as Denham and the others storm the shore. Through chinks in the great wall Denham sees a twenty-five-foot tall silverback gorilla emerge from the jungle and snatch Ann. Englehorn gives Denham twenty-four hours to rescue Ann, and without telling the others about the gorilla, Denham leads his film crew and some of the sailors into the jungle. The giant ape, meanwhile, races through the jungle with Ann tucked into his enormous hand. Ann escapes briefly after stabbing the ape with teeth decorating a tribal necklace she is wearing, but he quickly recaptures her. While stopped to rest, Denham, Bruce and cameraman Herbert sneak away from the group and discover a herd of brontosaurs grazing on jungle foliage. Ecstatic, Denham orders Bruce to approach the dinosaurs while the camera runs. Before he can get close, however, meat-eating raptors descend on the brontosaurs and cause a stampede. The entire group is caught up in the stampede, and Herbert is killed by a hungry raptor. The attack is halted after crewmen begin firing their machine-guns. Later, when Bruce declares his desire to leave without Ann, Jack accuses him of cowardice. On a cliff overlooking the entire island, the giant ape, meanwhile, finally puts Ann down and starts to eat. While he is distracted, Ann tries to slip away, but the ape stops her and roars to show his dominance. In response Ann breaks into her vaudeville routine. The ape is amused by Ann’s acrobatics and dancing and, laughing, knocks her over with his fingers. When the exhausted Ann finally stops, the ape throws a tantrum, then calms and departs. Seeing her chance, Ann runs off into the jungle. Nearby the various crew members, led by Mr. Hayes, are confronted by the ape. To Jimmy’s horror, the ape flings Mr. Hayes to his death when he tries to shoot him. The ape then begins shaking a log bridge on which Jack and others are fleeing, and the surviving men land in a damp pit. Ann, meanwhile, avoids being eaten by a giant lizard by hiding inside a hollowed-out log. When a Tyrannosaurus rex then comes along and chases her, the ape appears and rescues her. While holding Ann, the ape does battle with three T-Rexes, vanquishing them one by one. In the pit, the men then are attacked by giant centipedes, crickets, toothy slugs and other deadly creatures but finally are saved by Englehorn, Bruce and the remaining sailors. Although the others doubt that Ann is alive, Jack vows to find her. Without telling Jack, Denham decides to use Ann to lure the ape to the ship, where he will bombard him with Englehorn’s chloroform. Back on the cliff, when Ann realizes the ape is admiring the breathtaking sunset, she pats her chest and says “beautiful.” Later, while the ape sleeps, Jack climbs the cliff and discovers Ann nestled in the ape’s hand. The two sneak off, but the ape awakens and, after battling enormous batlike creatures, chases them to the ship. As planned, Denham hurls bottles of chloroform at the ape, who finally collapses next to the ship. Sometime later in New York, Denham prepares to present the ape, whom he has named King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, in a Broadway theater. Denham is the toast of the town, and the audience eagerly awaits his exotic Christmas-time spectacle. Tethered by iron chains, the sedated Kong wows the packed theater. As part of the show, Denham has recreated, Broadway-style, Ann’s tribal sacrifice using a blonde lookalike. When flashbulbs on some photographers’ cameras start popping in his face, Kong becomes enraged and tears free of his chains. Tossing spectators right and left, he storms outside and begins a frenzied, violent search for Ann. Fearing for Ann's safety, Jack commandeers a cab to find her and is pursued by Kong. Before the cab crashes on the icy streets, Jack leads Kong to the theater where Ann has been performing as a chorus girl, having refused to participate in Denham’s Kong show. Outside the theater Ann and the ape reunite, and Ann allows Kong to carry her off. The two enjoy a brief frolic on an icy Central Park pond before soldiers begin firing on Kong. With Ann in hand, Kong races to climb the Empire State Building, the tallest skyscraper in the city. While resting on the observation deck, Kong and Ann watch the sunrise together. When Kong pats his chest, Ann realizes he is repeating her gesture from the island and says, “beautiful.” Moments later, army pilots in biplanes begin strafing Kong with machine-gun fire. Kong climbs the building’s spire and swats at the planes, downing some. Jack, meanwhile, races up to the observation deck just as a weakening Kong grabs Ann, who has followed him to the top, and places her safely inside the deck. The pilots keep plugging Kong with bullets until Ann finally rushes out and screams at them to stop. After Ann and the dying Kong exchange a final tender look, Kong slips silently off the skyscraper and falls to the street below. There, a crowd of onlookers quickly forms. Denham pushes his way to Kong’s body and, quoting from an Arabian tale, declares that airplanes did not kill Kong—"It was beauty killed the beast."