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The PLANET OF THE APES HANDBOOK FROM A-Z. That’s A(pe) to (Chimpan)Zee

Monkey business means big business at the box office, and 2024 marks another milestone for the long-running Planet of the Apes series. The Maze Runner’s Wes Ball is unlocking the cage and letting those anthropomorphic apes free for a whole new era. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the 10th movie in the franchise, and with 56 years of lore to lean into, there’s a lot to unpack.

While Kingdom is something of a pseudo-sequel to 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, it finds its home in a timeline of prequels, sequels, remakes, and requels. Here’s the whole A to Z of the Apes franchise, from apes to chimpan(zee).

 

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Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1968 and 1970)

 

 

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Based on Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des singe, the 1963 novel was already being optioned for a movie before it was published. Starting in 1972, a group of four astronauts leads a 700-year mission into space but ends up marooned on a distant planet in 3088. One of them perishes in the crash, leaving the others to be captured by a group of humanoid apes. 

On this strange planet, humans are unintelligent slaves to their monkey masters. Charlton Heston’s George Taylor is the MVP, striking up a bond with Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and a mute human female called Nova (Linda Harrison). An orangutan superior known as Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) tries to discover Taylor’s origins, while Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) works with Zira to smuggle Taylor and Nova to the Forbidden Zone.

Zaius admits that he’s known about a pre-simian human species but warns Taylor not to go searching for answers. With The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling co-writing the screenplay, we get one of the most iconic shots in cinema, with Taylor realizing he’s on an apocalyptic future version of Earth where apes have evolved. 

 

 

The iconic image of Heston screaming at the Statue of Liberty wasn’t the end of the story. In fact, it was just the start. Heston returns for a supporting role in 1970’s Beneath the Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, where James Franciscus’ Brent heads up a mission to search for Taylor. Set just a few months after the first movie, Brent finds Nova and learns that General Ursus (James Gregory) is planning on leading an assault against the Forbidden Zone. There’s also a race of telepathic human mutants who worship an atomic bomb – similar to the one that destroyed Earth centuries ago.

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Ursus’ gorilla army invades the Forbidden Zone after Brent and Taylor are reunited. There’s a massive fight between apes and humans, with the latter ready to set off their doomsday bomb as a last resort. Nova is killed, as are Brent and Ursus, while Taylor tries to stop the nuclear bomb from being detonated. A mortally injured Taylor curses Dr. Zaius and collapses, setting off the bomb. The entire planet of the apes is destroyed, and we cut to white with an ominous narration saying, “Another green and insignificant planet is now dead.”

 

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1971, 1972, 1973)

 

 

Attempting to retcon Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ glum ending, 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes establishes the Caesar timeline (no, not Andy Serkis). Zira, Cornelius, and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) use a repaired spaceship to jump though time and back to Earth in 1973.

After Milo is killed in an accident while in the custody of the Los Angeles Zoo, Zira and Cornelius are forced to attend a Presidential Commission to explain how they came to be. Under the influence of a truth serum from the President’s Science Advisor, Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden), Zira reveals all about the apocalyptic future and what awaits the human race. 

Dr. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr. Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) help the apes escape, whisking them away to a circus run by Señor Armando (Ricardo Montalbán). Zira gives birth to a son and names him Milo, but when Hasslein tracks the group down to a shipyard, Cornelius is killed by a sniper and Zira crawls to her dying husband. Armando heads to Florida as Milo begins to talk. 

 

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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes picks up in the year 1983 when a mysterious plague wipes out cats and dogs around the globe. At the same time, apes have been thrown into a life of slave labour. Jumping forward again to 1991, Milo is now an adult and goes by the name of Caesar (played by Roddy McDowall). Caesar is sold to be the slave of Governor Breck (Don Murray). Armando dies in police custody, leading to an enraged Ceasar training apes to fight humans. 

 

 

Breck’s aide is an African American man called MacDonald (Hari Rhodes), whose heritage makes him a symapthizer with Caesar’s plight. When MacDonald assists Caesar in escaping, he takes over the Ape Management slavery company and sets fire to the city. Breck is marched out, while MacDonald pleads for Caesar not to succumb to the same cruelty as the humans. Caesar’s girlfriend, Lisa (Natalie Trundy) convinces him to stop, and even though he spares Breck’s life, he declares this the birth of the “planet of the apes.”

 

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Battle for the Planet of the Apes is the final entry in the original run of movies and takes place in 2001 – with a wraparound of an orangutan Lawgiver in 2670. In 2001, humanity has been ravaged by nuclear war as Caesar tries to hold peace between apes and the remaining humans while living with Lisa and their son (named Cornelius).

A gorilla general called Aldo (Claude Akins) wants to use humans as slaves to build Ape City, leading to a clash between him and Caesar. Caesar learns that archival footage of his parents is held in the radioactive ruins of the Forbidden City, warning of the future that awaits apekind. General Kolp (Severn Darden) is one of Caesar’s former captors and leads the humans in the Forbidden City.

 

 

When Kolp launches an attack on Ape City, Caesar also has to fend off an uprising from Aldo. Cornelius is critically injured by Aldo, and as Caesar tends to his son, the gorillas raid the armory. Kolp’s forces are easily defeated, although Aldo captures the survivors. A final showdown between Caesar reveals Aldo’s role in Cornelius’ death, breaking the sacred rule of “ape shall never kill ape.” The angry apes turn on Aldo, who falls to his death in a fight with Caesar. 

Caesar realizes apes are no better than their former human slavers and finally agrees that both sides should coexist. 600 years after Caesar’s death, the Lawgiver recounts the story to a group of young humans and apes, saying they wish for the day they won’t need their weapons. The final scene is a closeup of a statue of Caesar as a single tear falls from its eye.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

 

 

Tim Burton’s now-infamous Planet of the Apes reached for the stars in 2001 and killed the franchise dead for a full decade. Mark Wahlberg plays astronaut Leo Davidson, and echoing the OG Planet of the Apes, he crashes on some unknown planet after heading into an electromagnetic storm to chase a chimp called Pericles in 2029. 

 

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Marooned on the planet Ashlar in the year 5022, a human sympathizer called Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) buys Davidson and a human woman, Daena (Estella Warren), as slaves for her father, Senator Sandar (David Warner). The pair eventually escape but are hunted by the human-hating General Thade (Tim Roth). Leo makes it to the sacred temple of Calima, which he realizes is his Oberon space station that crashed while looking for him. 

 

 

The Oberon logs explain how the apes used during space missions had mutinied under an ape called Semos and evolved into the society we see today. As Thade and his apes try to attack Leo and the humans, Pericles arrives in his pod – thought to be the second coming of Semos. Thade and Leo have a climactic fight inside the Oberon, with Thade being defeated but surviving. 

Leo decides he’s going to leave Ashlar and takes Pericles’ pod while leaving the chimp in Ari’s care. He heads back into the electromagnetic storm, but instead of Davidson returning to Earth in the present day, a jaw-dropping ending on a part with 1968’s Planet of the Apes reveals the planet is now ruled by apes. While not as memorable as Taylor and the Statue of Liberty, the closing shot of a Thade-inspired Abraham Lincoln statue is still an iconic moment. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes (2011, 2014, 2017)

 

 

Reinvigorating the dormant Ape-Verse after plans for Burton’s movie kickstarting a new franchise flopped, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes puts a new Caesar (expertly mo-capped by Andy Serkis) as its focus. Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in the near future. Will takes in a baby chimp who’s been injected with the ALZ-112 drug, but when there’s an incident with a neighbor, Caesar is sent to a primate shelter.

 

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