The 'Planet of the Apes' Phenomenon - the Original Films Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The 'Planet of the Apes' Phenomenon - the Original Films

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Six films have so far been made or inspired from the Planet of the Apes book; the first was produced in 1968 and was followed by four sequels, and a reimagined version in 2001.

The First Five Films

In 1968 a feature film was produced by Twentieth Century Fox - after most of the other studios turned it down - based on Pierre Boulle's novel, although the story was radically changed in several ways.

  • Due to budgeting costs, the ape civilisation was regressed in time from a present-day Earth setting to a much earlier period.

  • Nova's pregnancy was dropped; it was felt that this would raise too many unanswered questions.

  • The lead role was played by an American, not surprising as it was an American-made film.

  • The apes spoke English, thus making the film flow more easily and helping the end seem more believable.

The social commentary in the films is huge, especially in the way the apes are presented; the way they act and treat humans seems, at first, quite horrific, but the true fact of the matter is that the way the apes treat humans is the way humans treat animals. There is also the fact that the planet of apes was created by humans finally destroying the world by their constant warring.

The success of the first film meant that a sequel was 'a must', and as there was never a sequel to the original novel the further films were therefore only based on the characters created by Pierre Boulle. It also meant that some of the unused ideas in the original novel could be used, one being the way in which the apes took over the planet.

The biggest disappointment with the sequels was that the budget for the first was $5 million in 1968, and went down to something like $1.5 million for the last in 1973, this meant that the standard and quality of the films went down with each sequel. The greatest achievement with the films is that each film carries on the threads initiated in previous episodes, with the final film actually breaking the cycle of events that led up to the story status of the first.

The continuity from one film to the next is almost perfect, there being only a couple of points that could be argued with, which is typical with films in which a sequel was never considered. One of the reasons why the films follow on so well is because they were all produced by Arthur P Jacobs/APJAC Productions, and the screenplays were all written by Paul Dehn, although the second sequel included Mort Abrahams as a writer. The screenplay for the original film was written by Michael Wilson and Rod Stirling (based on the novel).

Planet of the Apes (1968)

This was directed by Franklin J Schaffner and starred Charlton Heston as Taylor, Roddy McDowel as Cornelius, Kim Hunter as Zira and Linda Harrison as Nova.

This film won an honorary Academy Award for outstanding make-up, beating 2001 - A Space Odyssey, but only, probably, because they didn't realise that the apes in 2001 were actors.


Three astronauts land on a strange planet (one having died during the journey). The survivors travel across the barren land until they find savage humans. Almost immediately they are attacked by apes on horseback, running to escape they get split up and one of the astronauts, Taylor, is captured, hurting his throat in the process.

The captured humans, including Taylor, are taken back to the ape city and are put in cages, including a female human that Taylor names Nova. Being unable to talk, he finds that apes are the dominant species on this planet and humans are nothing more than dumb animals. Regaining his voice he makes friends with two apes, Cornelius and Zira, but as other apes find out about his ability to talk he is condemned as being a freak of nature and put on trial.

With the help of Cornelius and Zira, Taylor and Nova escape, and he and the apes make it to an archaeological dig. In a cave they find a talking human doll, and other evidence of a human civilisation. Apes from the city have followed them here and make an attack. Taylor manages to escape with Nova and they ride off along the beach. Rounding a corner they run into a half-buried Statue of Liberty, and to Taylor's horror he finds that he's been on Earth all the time.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

This, the first sequel, was made in 1970, and was directed by Ted Post. It starred James Franciscus as Brent, and Kim Hunter and Linda Harrison reprised their roles. The part of Cornelius this time wasn't played by Roddy McDowell, as it was in the first and in the subsequent films.

Charlton Heston didn't want to reprise his role from the first film, and so only agreed to appear if his character Taylor was killed off in the first scene, a compromise was reached, and so he disappeared in the first and was killed in the last (almost).


This film is set shortly after the events of the first; a mission is sent to uncover the fate of Taylor's mission, soon after landing on a strange planet the co-pilot dies, leaving only Brent to carry on the search.

Travelling across the land Brent finds Nova, who is wearing Taylor's dog tags, but as Nova can't speak, Brent asks her to take him to where she last saw Taylor (in a flashback, Nova saw Taylor disappear in a wall of fire). Nova takes him back to the ape city and to Zira and Cornelius.

After meeting with Zira and Cornelius, and seeing the apes talking about an attack on the forbidden zone, Brent gets caught in a scuffle, escapes the ape city with Nova, and together they find and hide in an opening in the ground.

The opening leads to a part of an underground rail line. Brent finds that mutant humans, disfigured by radiation, still live and talk underground, underneath the forbidden land. They have also developed strong mental powers and worship an atomic bomb.

The mutant humans are able to control people and lock Brent in a cage with Taylor, forcing them to fight. Elsewhere, the apes are attacking the forbidden zone much to the mutant humans' horror. The bomb is detonated and the planet is destroyed.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

This third film was made in 1971, and was directed by Don Taylor. Roddy McDowel returns to play Cornelius, and Kim Hunter, again, plays the part of Zira.


A spaceship lands on present-day Earth, and is greeted by officials. Out step three astronauts and, as they are welcomed to Earth, the astronauts take off their helmets to reveal that they are apes/chimpanzees.

The three astronauts are, in fact, Zira, Cornelius and another chimpanzee, Dr Milo, and they are taken to the local zoo for the mean time. At first they hold back from talking due to fearing the repercussions that it will have. A gorilla in the zoo attacks Dr Milo, and kills him.

The people at the zoo begin some simple tests on the apes, and Zira soon speaks to the humans. After some interrogations they become celebrities. In being taken around the city to functions and events, Zira collapses and it is discovered that she is pregnant.

The humans are fearful of a talking baby ape and are worried that this could be the action that starts the chain of events that create the planet of the apes. Cornelius, Zira and their baby go to a travelling zoo, run by animal lover Armando, from there they hide out on a ship in dock, but they are discovered and killed.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The fourth of the five films, made in 1972, it was directed by J Lee Thompson.


At the end of Escape from the Planet of the Apes we discover that Zira and Cornelius had swapped their baby for a baby chimpanzee in the zoo, now it is many years later and the baby is an adult called Caesar. Caesar was brought up by Armando, and this film starts with Caesar and Armando going into a city to put up posters advertising the circus. However, since the last film, a plague had wiped out cats and dogs, and humans took apes as pets. When it was discovered that they could do menial tasks, they became slaves.

Caesar sees a slave ape being beaten and shouts out in anger, the human race xenophobic as ever, and still scared that a talking ape could destroy their world, still consider the possibility a threat, and interrogate Armando. Caesar meanwhile, has no option but to blend in, and so locks himself in a cage with a batch of new apes. Along with the new apes, Caesar is trained to become a slave, and once he completes his training he is bought. Horrified by the treatment of his species Caesar, aided by other slave apes, starts a revolution.

The film climaxes when the apes turn on the humans and, as the apes are winning, Caesar begins a speech telling that this is the day man will be destroyed. During the speech a female ape speaks and says 'No'. Caesar, due to the female ape's reaction, doesn't exact the revenge he planed1.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The last in the original five films was made in 1973, and again was directed by J Lee Thompson.


The film begins with a teacher telling a story to a group of both apes and men who seem to be equal, the film is the story of how it came about. The story is set some time after the last film, after a bomb that ravaged the planet was detonated. At this time ape and man both talk and live together, but man is now submissive to ape.

Caesar's son is killed, and Caesar himself is considered by some not to be a good leader. Caesar finds out that in the forbidden city there is film footage of his parents, and so decides to travel there to find it, in the process he starts a war with the underground radiation-affected humans who still exist and hate apes and want the planet for themselves.

Following a battle Caesar wins, he realises that for the world to exist both man and apes must live as equals.

1Due to poor audience reaction the end of this speech was recorded and dubbed on at a later date.

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