Disney+ is developing a live-action King Kong TV series from James Wan’s Atomic Monster label, with Deadline saying it will be an origin story of some sort written by Paper Girls’ Stephany Folsom “that brings the classic monster story into the modern age” with “a return to Skull Island and the dawn of a new Kong.” The series has the approval of original creator Merian C. Cooper and will be based on the original novelization of the movie (which was released shortly before 1933’s King Kong) and Joe DeVito’s King Kong Of Skull Island books.
And now… depending on how closely you follow the King Kong brand… you might have some questions. See, Apple is working on a live-action King Kong show of its own, or at least one that’s King Kong-adjacent. That series is a tie-in with Warner Bros. Discovery and Legendary’s “Monsterverse” movies (Kong: Skull Island, the recent Godzilla movies, Godzilla Vs. Kong from last year, and its upcoming sequel), none of which have anything to do with Disney.
The way this all works out is very complicated, even more than most old pop culture things that have been around for nearly 100 years, but the short version—after decades of legal battles—is that the original King Kong novelization is in the public domain, but not the original King Kong movie and not King Kong the character. Merian C. Cooper’s estate owns some of the rights to the character and Universal owns some of the rest, but no single entity owns all of the King Kong brand.
That’s why the Monsterverse movies are a team-up between Warner and Legendary, since they’re both combining what they own rather than fighting over it. Also, while we’re here, we can also thank the ridiculous web of King Kong rights for giving us Kirby. The character was named after former Nintendo attorney John Kirby, who successfully fought off a lawsuit from Universal in the ‘80s over Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, which Universal claimed was a ripoff of King Kong. As covered in an episode of Netflix’s video game history documentary High Score, John Kirby argued that Universal doesn’t even own King Kong, so Nintendo couldn’t have infringed on its copyright, which effectively saved the entire company.
Jump ahead a few decades and the same mess of copyrights that made that possible have made it possible for Disney+ to have a King Kong show while Apple TV+ also has a King Kong show and Warner Bros. co-produces King Kong movies. Related: Steamboat Willie enters the public domain in 2024, so in a few years every streaming service can have live-action King Kong shows and live-action Mickey Mouse shows (provided they’re explicitly based on that Mickey Mouse and not the modern version of the character).