During the Great Depression in New York city Vaudeville actress Ann Darrow has lost her job but is hired by filmmaker Carl Denham to be in his new movie. Ann agrees when she finds out her favorite playwright Jack Driscoll has written the script. Ann and Driscoll fall in love during their trip to film on Skull Island. There is a warrant out for Denham's arrest and the captain of the ship taking them to Skull Island begins to worry about the rumors of terrible creatures at their destination. Captain Englehorn receives a radio command to divert his ship to Rangoon so that Denham can be apprehended but, when he tries to turn around, the ship gets lost in fog and hits the rocks around Skull island.
When Denham and his crew explore the island they are attacked by the natives. Several of their number are killed and Driscoll is knocked unconscious. Ann is captured and the natives intend to sacrifice her to Kong, a giant gorilla. Englehorn escapes with his crew and tries to repair his ship. When Ann is given to Kong he takes her into the jungle where she wins him over by entertaining him with dances and tricks and comes to realize how intelligent the creature is.
Captain Englehorn and his crew return to rescue Ann but are attacked by dinosaurs and the survivors press forward only to come up against Kong. He returns to Ann just in time to save her from dinosaurs and takes her away to his mountain lair. Driscoll decides to continue after Ann and goes to the lair where Kong is fighting off giant bats. He uses this as a distraction to escape with her. An enraged Kong follows but is eventually captured.
In New York Denham exploits Kong as the Eight Wonder of the World in shows to entertain the masses. Ann has been relegated to the role of a chorus girl, unable to protest the treatment of the animal she's grown to care for. Kong goes on a rampage, breaking out of his chains and pursuing Driscoll around the city. Kong encounters Ann and the pair share an emotional moment in central park. The army attacks and Kong takes Ann to the top of the Empire State Building where he battles fighter planes sent up after him. The planes manage to fire on him and Kong falls to his death, taking one final look at Ann before he does.