The King of Kong

In 1982, Billy Mitchell claimed the world record in the arcade classic Donkey Kong with a score of 874,300 points. When up-and-comer Steve Wiebe threatened Mitchell’s record, the battle began.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – one of the most acclaimed documentary features of 2007 – documents the ongoing rivalry, offering viewers a rare glimpse into the world of competitive gaming.

While this contest may not seem particularly intriguing to the average moviegoer, the film tackles its subject matter with such affection that even those who have never held a joystick will find themselves caught up in the competition between Mitchell and Wiebe. Director Seth Gordon exploits the quirky ambition of becoming a video game champion with the use of whimsical music and offbeat pacing, but never loses sight of the fact that Mitchell and Wiebe take the Donkey Kong title seriously.

Not a moment of The King of Kong mocks competitive gaming or those involved in it. Rather, the film ratchets up the suspense, giving viewers a distinct grasp of what this title means to the two competitors. As the men vie for the title of world champion, the film provides viewers with candid portraits of their personal lives, depicting them as polar opposites.

Whereas Mitchell has achieved near-celebrity status due to his gaming accomplishments, Wiebe is a recently laid-off family man who began playing Donkey Kong as a hobby until he stumbled across Mitchell’s record.

Gordon frames the film as an underdog story, blatantly portraying Mitchell as the villain of the piece, prompting viewers to root for Wiebe to dethrone him. While Gordon presents a biased portrayal of the rivalry, that imbalance ultimately makes The King of Kong a stronger film, as it adds tension to the narrative.

The DVD’s special features give viewers an even greater understanding of the epic struggle between Mitchell and Wiebe and offer insight into the filmmaking process itself. The disc also includes bonus footage, extended interviews not seen in the film and a brief history of Donkey Kong. However, most intriguing is an update on the continuing contest between Mitchell and Wiebe, which indicates that the story is far from over.

In fact, developments that took place after the completion of filming have spurred talk of a sequel. According to an interview with Wiebe on, Gordon plans to make the prospective film a dramatization, featuring a cast of actors and forsaking the documentary style of The King of Kong. So while the sequel would continue the saga of Mitchell versus Wiebe, it would shift the storytelling approach, potentially reaching millions of viewers who missed out on The King of Kong.

Much like recent documentary features such as 2002’s Spellbound and 2005’s Grizzly Man, The King of Kong introduces audiences to an underground subculture, and while the film may not be as topical as Super-Size Me or Fahrenheit 9/11, it is likely destined to become a cult classic, especially for those who share Mitchell and Wiebe’s particular passion.

Rating: PG-13Grade: BRuntime: 79 min.