In 1975, Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount Pictures signed a deal with RKO Pictures to produce a remake of the original 1933 King Kong with a tentative release date of 1976. When Universal Pictures learned about this, they claimed that they had a previous oral agreement with RKO to produce their own remake, which RKO denied. Universal proceeded to sue both Paramount and RKO for the rights to King Kong, while at the same time beginning production on their own King Kong remake. Universal hoped that by producing their Kong film quickly, it would pressure Paramount and De Laurentiis to give up production on their film. Universal announced the start of filming for The Legend of King Kong for January 5, 1976, with a targeted release date of that fall.
Universal hired Academy Award-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman to write the screenplay for the film, and hired the relatively unknown but acclaimed Joseph Sargent to direct. Special effects artist Jim Danforth offered to produce the effects for the film using stop-motion animation like in the original film, but Universal worried that it would be far too expensive and planned to have Kong be portrayed by a man in a suit, like he was in King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. They also intended to very closely follow the 1933 film, using the same characters, creatures, and general plot of the original film, even keeping it set in 1933.
Eventually, a federal judge ruled that Paramount did in fact have the rights to produce a remake of King Kong, and that RKO had exclusive rights to the 1933 film. However, the judge also ruled that the character rights to Kong belonged to the estate of Merian C. Cooper, and they were subsequently transferred to his son Richard, who then sold them to Universal. Universal abandoned its plans for The Legend of King Kong, and Paramount went ahead and produced King Kong. After Paramount and De Laurentiis' rights to King Kong expired, Universal revived the project and prepared to release a new remake in the late 1990's, though the releases and subsequent poor receptions of Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla in 1998 convinced them to postpone the project. Universal hired acclaimed director Peter Jackson to produce the film in the early 2000's using the Legend script. Jackson discarded and rewrote the script, then directed King Kong in 2005.
- Universal hoped their quick production of The Legend of King Kong would make De Laurentiis hesitant to film King Kong, but it instead convinced him to complete casting and begin filming for the film months earlier. Stuntman Rick Baker, who designed and portrayed Kong in Paramount's film, later said he regretted not having enough time to design the King Kong suit due to the accelerated production on the film.