Petrox Oil drillers, accompanied by stowaway primate paleontologist Jack Prescott (Bridges) and the buxom, shipwrecked Dwan (Lange), are in search of oil on an uncharted island covered in clouds.
Upon arrival, the zealous natives capture Dwan and sacrifice her to the giant titular ape and Prescott tarries off to assure her safety. Oil is discovered, but only after the Petrox crony in charge Fred Wilson radios New York with his big finding he is told the oil is worthless (not aged enough) so the agonized Wilson decides the only way to impress his bosses is to capture Kong and exploit him as a new mascot/circus attraction.
On the way back to the US, Prescott and Dwan become sympathetic to the restless, imprisoned Kong, but of course the Petrox cronies are dead set on their plan.
Kong is brought out, at first covered to look like a giant gasoline pump, in chains and a crown, but goes berserk and breaks free when aggravated by camera flashes. He grabs Dwan out of her and Prescott's hiding place and takes her to the top of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, where he is finally apprehended by the military and falls to the plaza below.