Legendary, Warner Bros. Sued for Allegedly Stealing 'Kong: Skull Island' Story

Joe DeVito claims he created the universe surrounding King Kong's mysterious home and his pitch for a TV series was turned into a feature film without giving him compensation or credit.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Kong: Skull Island is set to be released next year — but now there's an 800-pound gorilla looming over the larger-than-life blockbuster. 

Artist Joe DeVito claims he created an entire Skull Island universe that ties together the people and events surrounding King Kong, with the blessing of the original creator's family, and now he's suing producers of the feature film claiming they stole his ideas from pitch meetings.

"More than 80 years have passed since the public was introduced to Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong," states the complaint filed Wednesday by DeVito's attorney Randy Merritt. "In that entire time, not one motion picture or television program has told the story of the iconic creature’s origin or his relationship to the mysterious island on which he was found."

In 1992, DeVito began working, in conjunction with the Cooper family, to create a story that explains Kong's origins and ties together the events before his capture and after his death. 

More than a decade later, he partnered with Lorenzo di Bonaventura to develop the Skull Island property as a high-budget television program. Following that partnership, DeVito claims he pitched the idea to Legendary and Warner Bros. — the producers behind the upcoming motion picture.

DeVito is suing Legendary and Warner Bros. for breach of implied contract, claiming the companies have used the conceptual framework he pitched them as the basis of their film without giving proper credit or compensation. He’s also hitting Legendary with an intentional interference with a contract claim, alleging the company bullied his production partners into dropping out of the TV project. 

DeVito claims in February 2014, di Bonaventura Television agreed to partner with his company to develop and market the project, but the next month put pitches on hold because the company was severing its relationship with ABC Studios.

Its new partner was Legendary.

During an April 22, 2014, pitch meeting at Legendary, DeVito says his team presented its vision for the Kong Skull Island project, including how the events after Kong’s death could tie to events before his discovery. Despite what DeVito paints as a positive response to the pitch, Legendary passed on the project and, because of its new relationship with the studio, di Bonaventura backed out as well.

After searching for other production partners, DeVito claims in July 2014 he came to an agreement with Warner Bros. That same summer, Legendary announced its release of a Skull Island motion picture and not too long after DeVito says the company bullied Warners into dropping out of his series. 

“When reminded that the agreement for the Kong Skull Island Project called for a guaranteed pilot, Warner Bros. negotiated a kill fee with the Writers and returned the rights to the Kong Skull Island Property to DeVito ArtWorks,” states the complaint. 

Legendary later announced Warner Bros. would be taking over for Universal Studios on production of the film.

DeVito holds both companies, by agreeing to hear his pitch, were obligated to compensate him and give him credit if they used his ideas and is seeking at least $3.5 million in general and punitive damages. 

Legendary declined to comment. A representative from Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.