In 1933 New York, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his hired ship crew to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who is immediately smitten with leading actress Ann Darrow.
In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, film maker Carl Denham's latest picture is slammed by critics and arouses the ire of his producer Martin C. Bailey. Hoping to make a comeback, Denham decides to journey to an uncharted island and shoot his next film on location, even managing to secure the use of a ship, the Venture, to take him there. However, he is unable to find an actress who will play the lead role until he meets Ann Darrow, a down-on-her-luck actress looking for work, when she tries to steal an apple from a market stall. After buying her a hot meal in a diner, Denham convinces her to accompany him and star in the film.
On the ship, Captain Englehorn sets sail for Indonesia, but it is revealed that they are not actually heading for Indonesia. Denham wants to film on the mysterious Skull Island, but keeps this a secret from the rest of the crew until the voyage is well under way. His ex-business partner Nate Perrault, now an environmentalist who wants to see the island for himself, stows away with them and warns Denham about Kong, a legendary deity at the center of a terrifying cult once widespread in the eastern part of Indonesia. This cult was finally eradicated by the Hindus, although Perrault had heard some rumors that it is still active on Skull Island, but Denham doesn't believe him. Ann also meets the ship's first mate Jack Driscoll whom she does not get along with at first. Over the course of the voyage however, they grow close and begin to develop feelings for one another.
Eventually, the Venture finds itself lost in a fog bank when suddenly, Skull Island emerges from the mist. The crew head to the beach to investigate the beat of drums and encounter a native village, but notice that they are cut off from the jungle by a huge wall. Observing the natives busy in the preparations of a human sacrifice, Perrault realizes that the tribe are worshipers of Kong. They interrupt the natives' sacrificial ritual and a fight breaks out. The crew then returns to the ship and the decision is made to leave the place as soon as possible.
That night, Driscoll is preparing to confess his true feelings to Ann, who is resting in her cabin. Perrault comes in and tries to seduce her, but fails. Before anything else can happen, the natives attack the ship. They kill Perrault before abducting Ann and taking her to the island. When they realize what has happened, Denham, Driscoll and the half of the crew members mount an expedition to go and get her back while Ann is tied to two large columns on the other side of the wall, realizing too late that she is being offered as a sacrifice. The others arrive and fight their way through the village and Driscoll manages to climb on top of the wall, where he witnesses a giant ape emerging from the jungle, untying Ann and taking her away. Having pioneered among hostile natives, Driscoll, Denham, and the other men decide to go into the jungle to rescue Ann. In the meantime, Ann discovers the remains of the previous sacrifices when her sacrificial cap falls, revealing her blonde hair. Kong is fascinated and Ann, seeking to capitalize on this unexpected situation, manages to calm Kong and win him over, taking note of Kong's capacity for emotion.
Meanwhile, the rescue party face many prehistoric dangers before being chased by a Triceratops and embarking on a tree trunk overlooking a deep ravine. Alerted by the cries of men, Kong places Ann on top of a tree while he goes to investigate and encounters the men trying to cross the log bridge. Kong shakes the the sailors off the log bridge and into the chasm, where they are eaten by a swarm of giant spiders and other insects. Kong's efforts to catch Driscoll are interrupted when Ann is attacked by a Tyrannosaurus. Kong rushes to his rescue but the dinosaur is soon joined by two of its peers. The game is uneven but Kong, outnumbered and outfaced on all fronts, manages to get rid of the monsters after a titanic struggle. Taking advantage of this struggle, Jack returns to the top of the cliff and decides to go after Ann with Perrault, who also survived. Denham, meanwhile, is sent back for reinforcements.
Kong takes Ann up to his lair atop Skull Mountain. In the cave, Kong is attacked by a giant snake, but he kills it by whacking it's head on the cave floor. He then brings food to Ann and she and Kong enjoy a moment of calm to observe each other. Jack then arrives at Kong's mountaintop lair but Perrault is killed by giant winged lizards who then attack Kong. Ann takes the attack as a chance to escape with Jack. Kong spots them and gives chase, forcing them to jump into the river below which carries them back to the village gates, where Denham and Englehorn are trying to hold off the natives. Kong easily breaks through the gate and goes on a rampage, killing many native villagers. He is eventually toppled by a spear thrown by Jack and is knocked out after being hit repeatedly with rife barrels, much to Ann's dismay. Denham decides to present Kong to the public in New York.
Some time later, Denham is ready to make his great comeback by revealing Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, with the introduction taking place at a theater in New York City. Back stage, Ann confesses to Jack that she is nervous about seeing Kong again, but he comforts her and then proposes to her. Ann accepts and they both decide to back out of their arrangement with Denham, having become disillusioned by his glory minded pursuits. Denham presents Kong in chains to the audience much to their astonishment. However, the flashes from a crowd of photographer's cameras caused Kong to become enraged and he breaks free. The terrified audience flees as Denham looks on in shock, realizing that he's screwed up again. However, he finally redeems himself by spotting a small girl pinned down under one of the seats. Denham manages to pull her out of the way just as Kong lands on top of him, crushing him to death.
Kong goes on a rampage and derails an elevated train, killing many civilians. In the chaos, Jack and Ann climb into a taxi to escape but Kong chases them across town. Hoping to save innocent lives, Ann agrees to get caught and Kong takes her to the top of the Empire State Building. Driscoll meanwhile overhears that Kong has taken Ann to the Empire State Building and that the military is going to shoot him down using airplanes. Jack races towards the tower while the squadron arrives.
While Jack ascends the Empire State Building, the planes open fire and mercilessly blast Kong with gunfire. Kong manages to knock one plane out of the sky, killing the pilot, but is ultimately unable to fend them all off. Kong gazes at Ann one last time before succumbing to his wounds and falling from the top of the skyscraper to his death. A crowd gathers around Kong's body. As the police try to hold people back, Captain Englehorn emerges through the swath of onlookers and a reporter next to him remarks that the planes got Kong. Jack replies that it wasn't the planes, but "it was beauty killed the beast." With that, Englehorn solemnly turns away and vanishes into the crowd.
- Elizabeth Olsen as Ann Darrow
- Sam Claflin as Jack Driscoll
- Seth MacFarlane as Carl Denham
- Elijah Wood as Preston
- Michael Fassbender as Captain Englehorn
- Hugo Weaving as Nate Perraut
- Neil patrick harris as John Weston
- Idris alba as Murphy jones/ the cheif
- Nichelle nicoles as Sarah Jones/ the witch doctor
- Nicholas Cage as Martin C. Bailey
- Doug Jones as Lumpy
- tzi ma as Chinese Cook
- Brad Dourif as Herb
- Edward Norton as Oliver
- James Kyson as Peak