Released in 1968, Planet of the Apes is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. As of 2017, there have been nine movies and two TV shows all based on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel Planete des singes. Compared to other sci-fi franchises out there, the Planet of the Apes series is underrated. Looking back, it was one of the first successful movie series’/franchises that translated to mountains of merchandise – paving the way for franchises such as Star Wars a few years later.
This article is a spoiler-free overview of the entire franchise.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
A group of astronauts led by Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) are sent from 1972 to the future. Their ship crash lands on a planet where apes are the superior beings. With a screenplay written by Rod Sterling, Planet of the Apes plays out like a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone. The production is impressive for its time as they make this dystopian future look fairly realistic – with the sets looking primitive (as opposed to the original novel’s futuristic setting). The make-up for the apes was groundbreaking for its time. All of the actors give great performances, including the actors playing the apes. There’s the lovable Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), her fiancé Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and the strict and stern Dr. Zauis (Maurice Evans). Heston is perfectly cast as Taylor, serving as the movie’s protagonist. Jerry Goldsmith’s chaotic score is also worth noting.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
In an effort to find Taylor and his crew, an astronaut named Brent follows Taylor’s trajectory and finds himself on the planet of the apes. Strange things are happening in the Forbidden Zone and gorilla military leader General Ursas is determined to lead his soldiers into the Zone to find out what lies beneath the planet. Of the original five movies, Beneath is easily the weirdest. It took a few viewings but I like this movie. It isn’t a perfect sequel but the ideas here are really wild, though you have to wait a little later in the movie for those parts. Overall, this is a solid sequel.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Cornelius and Zira are sent back in time to Earth in 1973. Their arrival intrigues the media and the two quickly become celebrities. One man, however, is frightened by their existence and thinks they could potentially be a threat to mankind. Of the four sequels, Escape is often considered to be the best. Not only does it have a great story but it utilizes humor very well. McDowall and Hunter have such wonderful on-screen chemistry, you can’t help but love them.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
The year is 1991 and apes now serve as slaves to humans. After seeing his share of cruelty against apes, a chimpanzee named Caesar decides to form an ape rebellion against the humans. Conquest was a controversial movie when it was released. During a test screening, parents were taking their children out of the theater due to the violence. Fearing an R rating, 20th Century Fox edited the movie around at the last minute – which garnered the final cut of the movie a PG rating (the other movies in the series had earned G ratings). This is a pretty good entry in the series. While the movie’s vision of 1991 may look dated today, it still works as the tone is dark and even brooding at times. Some of the performances might be a little over-the-top but this is a solid sci-fi movie from the early 1970s.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
The year is 2003 and the apes are now living with humans, with humans now as the slaves. A group of nuclear war survivors are planning to march on the land of the apes, intent on taking back what was once theirs. Of the original five movies, Battle is usually considered to be the weakest. Despite this, it doesn’t mean Battle is bad. While the movie can be boring in parts, it does have a good message about creating a better future. Singer/songwriter Paul Williams gives a solid performance as the wise orangutan Virgil. It isn’t the perfect end to the series but it’ll do.
After the series ended in 1973, the franchise ventured into the TV world with two different shows: Planet of the Apes and Return to the Planet of the Apes. The former aired on ABC in 1974 while the latter was a Saturday morning cartoon that aired on NBC in 1975. The shows each lasted for one season. For decades, there weren’t any movies or TV shows coming from the franchise. The franchise was able to age well, with the original five movies constantly airing on TV in marathons. Sometime in the 1990s, 20th Century Fox started making plans for a remake reboot of the original movie.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
An astronaut named Leo crash lands on the planet Ashtar, a planet dominated by super-intelligent apes. When taken prisoner, he learns that the human slaves are all part of a rebellion against the apes. Sooner or later, Leo finds himself taking part in the rebellion. While I applaud director Tim Burton for trying something different in terms of the story, it just doesn’t work. In fact, I can’t really remember this movie. I will say that the sets look amazing, as do the costumes. Even the make-up for the apes is great, perhaps too great for a movie this lame.
While the 2001 movie was a hit at the box office, it received mixed to negative reviews. As a result, plans for a second movie were abandoned. A decade after the 2001 movie, another Apes movie was released.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Dr. Will Rodman is a scientist who, along with his science team, start testing a viral drug called ALZ-112 on chimpanzees, as the drug could be the cure to Alzheimer’s disease. When Rodman discovers an orphaned male baby chimpanzee, Rodman takes him to live with him. The chimp, named Caesar, later grows up and gains increased intelligence from the viral drug. With this intelligence, Caesar uses it soon enough to start an ape uprising. Of the movies in the original series, Rise’s plot follows Conquest mostly. However, this isn’t a remake of Conquest nor is it a prequel: it’s a new story that shows how a planet ruled by apes would happen in a modern day setting. Unlike the previous movies, there’s no make-up for the apes as all of them are created with the use of CGI and motion-capture. The story is very strong and the performances here are all good, especially Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
When a group of people visit ape territory, Caesar and the apes are faced with working with humans and helping them survive. Similar to how Rise follows Conquest, Dawn mostly follows Battle. Compared to Rise, I think Dawn is slightly better: the characters are fleshed out a little more and there’s a little more going on in this one. The motion capture technology is, once again, breathtaking. As expected with the Apes movies, there’s plenty of action.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
As the battle between the humans and apes continue, Caesar decides to fight for his kind while also fighting his own personal battle within himself. War is an impressive piece of work. It just might be the best of the three movies. If this movie had to follow any of the previous movies, War can be seen as continuing to follow Battle– in that it’s extending the battle/war part of it. Otherwise, this is a new story to the franchise- which is really remarkable. Like the two movies before it, War is an emotional movie.
All of the Apes movies are available on DVD, Blu-Ray and are often seen listed on streaming media services.
The TV shows are also available on DVD, though they tend to be pricey as they seem to have gone out of print. If you have a Netflix DVD account, you might be able to rent them from there.
War for the Planet of the Apes is now playing in theaters.