The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)


That’s it! I’m going to my local arcade and going to do something with my life!

This is a documentary that follows Steve Wiebe as he tries to take the world high score for the arcade game Donkey Kong from reigning champion Billy Mitchell. The catch is though, maybe Billy isn’t quite the champion we thought he was in the first place.

People reading this now, probably aren’t getting too crazy about seeing a documentary about a bunch of grown-ass men playing each other in video games, which is alright because not everybody loves video games. However, that’s what really made this connect with me because it appealed to me in a way that I never thought was imaginable.

A lot of the credit for this film has to be chalked up to director Seth Gordon‘s amazing skills of capturing everything as it happened here on tape. There isn’t any real manipulation here that we see in so many other documentaries, everything happens in a believable way mainly because of the people in this film are so goofy and out-there, that he couldn’t have written any of these characters in the first place. We get a lot of glimpses into this world of gaming where we see people lose sleep and their jobs over getting the world record for a video game and it’s very bizarre but it also carries a great amount of sincerity to it as well. Gordon doesn’t really take any cheap-shots as these gaming nerds and even when it seems like he is, he’s not really trying to do that since some of these dudes are able to make them look like asses themselves.

Take for instance, Billy Mitchell, aka the self-renowned king of Donkey Kong. This dude won the world-record for Donkey Kong all the way back in 1982 and hasn’t once shown up in a public area to play and defend his record. However, this still allows him to walk around like his shit don’t stick, find any manipulative, lame-ass way he can find to keep his record/legacy going, and talks about how “in order to prove you’re the best, you have to show up in public places to do so”, something that his jerky-ass does not do at all. This guy is a total dick and at-first, I didn’t think he was so bad of a dude until I realized just how much a little girl he would act whenever a challenge against his record would ever come up. Gordon doesn’t try his hardest to make this dude look bad, the dude looks like an asshole as it is and I think that’s one of the main reasons why this film works so well is because it gives us somebody to root against.

Oh and let me not forget to mention that the guy that we are given to root for is probably the most likable dude out there, named Steve Wiebe. This guy has more heart with video games than I think I could ever have with anything (yes, even this) and he shows it throughout this whole flick by traveling miles and miles to beat records in public places, showing the kindness and grace to all of the other fellow gamers that look down on him, and by the end of the day, still considering himself a dude who just likes to enjoy playing video games. He still somehow gets in second place every time though and it makes us root him on more just so we can see Mr. Mitchell look the horses ass that he truly is. Steve Wiebe, you are a man amongst men. Or at least a gamer amongst gamers everywhere.

These two different types of dudes also sets up an awesome rivalry along the lines of Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. We always hear these two guys talk about each other and talk about what they would do if they ever got to meet and play each other in real-life, and it really sets up a lot of tension for the whole flick. I don’t want to give anything away about how they meet and what happens when they meet, but what I will say is that I was on the edge of my seat throughout this whole flick and I don’t know how that it was even humanly possible. I mean I love video games (even though I haven’t played my XBOX 360 in almost two years), but this movie made me want to go back out there and put a couple of quarters in Pac-Man and try my luck of beating the high score, which is probably my dad’s score. That bastard.

If there is one complaint I have to say about this flick is that it is a little jumpy at the beginning. The film starts off with Billy Mitchell and his records, then goes on to tell the stories about the feuds he had with a couple of people, then tells the story of Steve, and then for some reason, goes back-and-forth between that and the history of the gaming association their apart of. Yes, they are all stories that deserved to be told but it was in too much of a sloppy way. However, this didn’t last long because if it did, it would have become a real nuisance after awhile.

Consensus: Even if you have never touched a video game in your entire life, you will love The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters because it has a great story to it, gets an inside look at some very strange people (even though, I’m no cooler), and actually has a lot of tension to it where you feel like all hell is going to break loose between the professional and the under-dog at any second.

9/10=Definitely Watch It!!

17 comments

  1. I’ve seen it twice and I’m gearing up to see it a 3rd time for a series of reviews I’m doing. I absolutely love this film. The crazy thing is that some Japanese guy has now beaten both Billy and Steve’s records. I Steve still holds it for Donkey Kong Jr. though. I don’t know if you watch Chuck, but they spoofed part of this movie on an episode once and it was hilarious. Worth seeking out.

  2. This is one of my favorite documentaries in recent years. So entertaining. Still, part of me was frustrated in that if these people spent a fraction of their video-game-playing time studying and practicing important things–science, medicine, cancer research–they could achieve really great things.

    • Very true statement but for some reason, they aren’t as interested in that as much as they are with Donkey Kong Jr. Can you really blame them either?

  3. Love this. As you say, a great film, regardless of your interest in video games. The film-makers were pretty damn lucky to come across such an amazing story in what could have been a fairly mundane subject but still, a really well-produced film.

  4. Great review of a very entertaining documentary. After seeing this a while ago I really wanted to check out the game and tried it on an emulator, it was harder than I remembered and am stunned these guys learnt all these patterns to play it for such a long time…

    • I could never, ever have a record on Donkey Kong Jr. and it’s a real wonder just how the hell these guys actually got records on it after all. They really are skilled! Thanks Nostra!

  5. Good review. I like this film quite a bit. As a fan of the original The Karate Kid I got a big kick out of the montage of people playing video games accompanied by the song The Best Around.

    The one place I would somewhat disagree is on the lack of manipulation. It seemed pretty clear that the filmmakers wanted Billy to be a “bad guy” AND that he was self aware enough to understand this and play along with them. I’m not saying he was a wonderful person, but just the way he would give the filmmakers just exactly the answer they were looking for seemed a little too good to be true.

    • You make a good point there, Chip, but I don’t know. For some reason, he seemed like a total dick in general and didn’t want to lose his record fair and square. Maybe some of it was a bit staged, but it still was awesome to watch. Thanks Chip!

  6. Nice review! This movie is a rare jem. I posted a review of this movie on my blog a while back (http://thegoulsonmoviemarathon.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/day-113-the-king-of-kong-fist-full-of-quarters/) and I felt exactly the same way you did! Being a gamer I loved the history and back story behind this arcade classic and the tension between these two guys was so entertaining to watch. I absolutely loved it.

    If you liked this one I would also recommend “Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade” (http://www.chasingghoststhemovie.com/). Netflix has it streaming online right now. It dives into all the other classic games and the “world record” holders in each of them and the tension/relationships between all of them. Pretty interesting stuff.

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