The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

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The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a 2007 American documentary film. Highlighting the popular 1980s arcade game Donkey Kong, it follows Steve Wiebe in his attempts to take the world high score for the arcade game from whom the film presents as reigning champion, Billy Mitchell. The film premiered January 22, 2007, at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival[1] and has been shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, the SXSW Film Festival, the TriBeCa Film Festival, the True/False Film Festival, the Aspen Comedy Festival, and the Fantasia Festival. The film opened in limited release in the United States on August 17, 2007 in five theaters, and by September 9, 2007, the film had expanded to 39 theaters in the U.S.[2]

The film's original title was simply The King of Kong but later received the subtitle A Fistful of Quarters. A scripted film adaptation is also in the works. Director Seth Gordon has said that the movie might be a sequel instead of a remake, telling the story of how the documentary changed both men's lives, as well as their continuing rivalry.[3] The film's DVD release was on January 29, 2008.[4]

The film was dedicated to the memory of Doris Self, who appeared in the film but died before its release.

The script can be read here.[5]



In Ottumwa, Iowa, Walter Day founded Twin Galaxies, an organization formed to keep track of high scores achieved on arcade games in the United States. Billy Mitchell, having achieved the highest ever recorded scores on Donkey Kong and Centipede in the 1980s, remains a video game legend in 2005. Twin Galaxies has now become a global organization. Mitchell is portrayed as unabashedly cocky and fond of self-promotion, proclaiming himself the "Sauce King" of Florida for his successful line of homemade hot sauces. Next to his family, Mitchell considers his arcade scores to be his greatest life achievements.

On the other side of the country, in Redmond, Washington, Boeing employee Steve Wiebe has been laid off as a Boeing engineer, and now spends his time as a science teacher. His friends and his wife, Nicole, describe him as an unfortunate figure who always comes up short due to his OCD, despite being proficient at music, sports, art, and mathematics. He was a star baseball pitcher but was injured and unable to pitch in the state championship. He is a gifted drummer yet does not care to perform. Preparing to get back into the workforce, Wiebe begins going to night school to get a masters degree and obtains a Donkey Kong machine to play in his garage as a pastime. After reading about Mitchell's world record of 874,300 on the internet, Wiebe focuses on mastering Donkey Kong and successfully achieves a score of 1,006,600 points. Wiebe submits the tape to Twin Galaxies, which propels him to becoming a local celebrity and news topic as the new world record holder for a few weeks.

Mitchell sends his self-styled protege, retired banker turned pro-gamer Brian Kuh, to investigate Wiebe's machine. Kuh finds that the machine's circuit board was provided by Roy Shildt, a self-styled fitness guru and pickup artist who claims to hold the high score for Missile Command. Unbeknownst to Wiebe, Shildt and Mitchell have been nemeses for years ever since Mitchell caused Shildt's high score to be brought under scrutiny, preventing him from receiving official recognition from Twin Galaxies. Since then, Shildt has been looking for a way to exact clandestine revenge on Mitchell. Based on Wiebe's association with Shildt, the staff of Twin Galaxies suspects that Wiebe's board might have been tampered with and that he may have achieved his score dishonestly.

In order to prove his gaming skills, Wiebe travels to Funspot Arcade in Laconia, New Hampshire, to perform a high score live for Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day and other high-ranking members of Twin Galaxies, hoping to confront Mitchell and play head-to-head. Although Mitchell does not attend, he sends Kuh to observe Wiebe's play. Just prior to the kill screen, Kuh is seen gathering a large crowd to witness Wiebe's achievement. Wiebe reaches the kill screen and also achieves a new world record of 985,600 points. Mitchell immediately sends a low-quality VHS to Funspot, depicting himself achieving a higher score of 1,047,200 points, a move that proves to be a stark contrast to he and his followers own opinions throughout the film, in which he repeatedly asserts that live scores are the only credible ones, and is indeed contradictory to the very criteria Twin Galaxies held Wiebe's previous score to. Despite Wiebe's protests that his own first score was disqualified for being submitted via unsupervised videotape, Twin Galaxies hypocritically accepts Mitchell's score over Wiebe's and proclaims that Mitchell's new score makes Mitchell the record holder once again.

Nine months later, Wiebe learns that Guinness World Records wants to publish several of Twin Galaxies' records — including Mitchell's latest score. Wiebe and his family travel to Hollywood, Florida, near Mitchell's home, to challenge him in a public competition, but Mitchell refuses to accept the challenge, and Wiebe fails to surpass a million points. Nevertheless, Day, on behalf of Twin Galaxies, finally acknowledges Wiebe's integrity and credibility.

In a coda to the film, Wiebe achieves the world record of 1,049,100 in his garage.[6]


Script error The film was met with critical acclaim. Metacritic gives the film an average score of 83 out of 100, based on 23 reviews.[7] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 97% based on 92 reviews.[8]

Robert Wilonsky of the Village Voice called the film a "miniature masterpiece"[9] and in August 2007 said it was "[his] favorite movie of the year" up to that point.[10] Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat gave the film 5 stars and said "It’s not just one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Period."[11] Keith Phipps of The Onion AV Club gave the film an "A-" and said at one point it "turns into a film about what it takes to make it in America."[12] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, wondering "Who would have guessed that a documentary about gamers obsessed with scoring a world record at Donkey Kong would not only be roaringly funny but serve as a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization?"[13] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times similarly gave the film 3 stars and called it "a documentary that is beyond strange."[14]

Among critics who gave the film negative reviews, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said "Is there anything more tiresome than watching people play video games?" and "The competition is so vicious because the stakes are so low."[15] Stephen Garrett of Time Out New York called it "moderately entertaining and ultimately kind of pathetic" and said that the early-1980s arcade subculture is explored in greater depth in the documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade.[16]

Script error Film critic Richard Roeper stated that the film "deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary" in 2007 on At The Movies.[17] The North Texas Film Critics Association named it Best Documentary for 2007.[18] The Boston Society of Film Critics named it the runner-up for Best Documentary Feature of 2007.[19] The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature of 2007 by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.[19] The film was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature by the Chicago Film Critics Association, but lost to Sicko.[19]

Top ten lists

The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[20]

Disputed facts

Both Walter Day of Twin Galaxies and director Seth Gordon claim that there are inaccuracies in the film. Day believes that the documentary is dishonest in its portrayal of the actual events. In posts on a Twin Galaxies forum entitled "The King of Kong — Official Statement"[21] he contends, among other things, that:

  • On August 17, 2000, Tim Sczerby reached a high score of 879,200 points. His accomplishment was recorded on video tape. Sczerby made a copy of the tape, and sent the master to Twin Galaxies. His was the first score to have outdone Billy Mitchell's 1982 world record.[22] Steve Wiebe beat both this score and Billy Mitchell's score. (In response, the film's producers claim that "Tim Sczerby's consistently disputed record was impossible to verify and did not merit inclusion in the film."[23]) This has proved to be false, however, as there has never been any evidence that Tim Sczerby's score was ever disputed, as it was verified by Twin Galaxies, and publicly acknowledged by Billy Mitchell.Script error
  • Steve Wiebe actually held the high score record for almost 3 years, and when his videotaped score of 1,006,600 points was rejected, the record actually reverted to Wiebe's own previous record reached in 2003 — it did not revert to Billy Mitchell's 1982 score as implied by the film. However, there is evidence that Wiebe's 2003 score was reclassified to a different category months after its submission, leaving the earlier record in place.Script error[24]
  • Mitchell's videotaped record sent to the Funspot event was actually discarded after the event, and Walter Day apologized "for the mistake of approving this videotape without the benefit of a complete verification process." The score was reverted to Wiebe's score achieved at Funspot.[25]
  • Gordon has claimed to have painted Billy Mitchell as a more light-hearted character than his real life persona[26] concerning the movie. Gordon also claims that Billy Mitchell is "so much worse than we painted him out to be," but he chose to only include scenes that were necessary to tell the story, because the movie would have been "darker" had he not played with the facts.[26]

World Record status since the film's release

On July 13, 2007, in celebration of the film's release and the 25th anniversary of Mitchell's first record-setting performance, Mitchell again played and retook the Donkey Kong record with a score of 1,050,200.[27] Inspired to attempt the record because of the movie, a new King of Kong was crowned on February 26, 2010 when Queens, New York plastic surgeon Hank Chien surpassed Mitchell's high score by scoring 1,061,700.[28]

On August 7, 2010, Twin Galaxies once again certified Billy Mitchell as the record holder with 1,062,800 points. This coincided with the first induction ceremony for the International Video Game Hall of Fame. Mitchell set the new record playing at the Boomers-Grand Prix Arcade in Dania, Florida where he played for two hours and forty two minutes before quitting once he topped Chien's score. When asked why he quit early, Mitchell said "Some say I'm being cocky. Some say I'm being lazy. I say, I'm being Billy Mitchell." He also once again set the record in Donkey Kong, Jr[29] but on September 9, 2010 he again lost the title, this time to Mark L. Kiehl.[30]

Steve Wiebe once again regained the world record in September 2010, with a score of 1,064,500.[31] This score was broken by Hank Chien in January 2011, with a score of 1,068,000.[32] Chien beat his own record a month later with a score of 1,090,400 and then again in May 2012 with a score of 1,110,100 in a non-killscreen game.[33][34]

Chien has again topped his own score on July 25, 2012 with the new score being set at 1,127,700.[35]

On September 6th, 2014, Robbie Lakeman achieved a score of 1,141,800 [36]


  1. The King of Kong - Slamdance Film Festival 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  2. Script error
  3. 'King of Kong' Movie Might Be a Sequel? Nathan Fillion vs Johnny Depp? Retrieved 2014-08-03
  4. Script error
  6. According to the director, this happened while the film was already finished:
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  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Script error
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  22. Welcome to Twin Galaxies. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  23. Script error
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  26. 26.0 26.1 Script error
  27. "Man Shatters Donkey Kong World Record Exactly 25 Years After First Setting It in 1982"
  28. "New King of Kong" NY Daily Newsl
  29. Script error
  30. Welcome to Twin Galaxies. (2008-03-28). Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  31. Script error
  32. Welcome to Twin Galaxies. (2011-01-14). Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  34. Script error
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  36. Script error

External links