Planet of the Apes (series)

Planet of the Apes (series)

Synopsis of Movie

“Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

Boosted by an army of costumed orangutans, chimps and gorillas, and by one of the most memorable finales in movie history, Planet of the Apes turned Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel (alternately titled Monkey Planet) into a sci-fi movie classic. Oscar-winning leading man Charlton Heston took on the starring role of Col. George Taylor, but just as important to the film’s success was a cast of wholly unrecognizable stars: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and others, all encased in full-body fur and monkey makeup.

Col. Taylor and his crew belong to Earth’s corps of astronauts, sent on a mission that accidentally goes off-course. Their ship crashes on an unknown planet, and Taylor and two of his men go exploring. The trio runs across a group of primitive humans—none of whom can speak—foraging for food. Before Taylor can get any more information, a horn sounds and a group of soldiers attack on horseback. To Taylor’s surprise and horror, the soldiers are actually highly advanced, clothed apes, all speaking perfect English. Taylor is shot in the throat, losing his voice, and the apes take him captive to their city.

In this bizarre ape culture, humans are the caged animals, and simian scientists like male Cornelius and female Zira use them for study. These two particular scientists soon discover that Taylor has higher-than-average intelligence (for a human), but the strict orangutan Dr. Zaius tells them that’s rubbish. Once Taylor’s voice recovers, however, there’s no denying he’s smarter than the average human. Dr. Zaius, who seems to know more about humans than he’s letting on, wants Taylor destroyed, but with the help of Cornelius and Zira, Taylor takes a female human named Nova and escapes toward the “Forbidden Zone,” searching for the shocking truth about the Planet of the Apes.

Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and Michael Wilson collaborated on the script for the film, which threw in doses of social satire and ponderous questions to keep the intellectuals entertained. The kids, however, didn’t need anything more elaborate than the sight of walking, talking apes. John Chambers’ makeup, which allowed a full range of facial features for the men and women underneath the monkey suits, won an Honorary Academy Award and influenced a generation of special effects makeup artists.

As for the film itself, Planet of the Apes became one of the biggest hits of the year, spawning a merchandising blitz that eventually included toys, games, two television series (one live-action, one animated) and four feature sequels, released in consecutive years from 1970-73.

The first of these Apes sequels, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, arrived in 1970. Charlton Heston briefly reprised his role as Col. Taylor, but the real star of the show was a new visitor, John Brent (James Franciscus), sent to find out what happened to Taylor’s expedition. Brent eventually makes the same discovery as Taylor, along with a few new ones of his own. Somewhere in the Forbidden Zone lives a race of mutated, telepathic humans, and once the apes find this out, it’s an all-out war with the fate of the planet in the balance.

The third film, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, was actually both a sequel and a prequel to the first two. At the start of this installment, Cornelius and Zira (now married and expecting) land on the Earth of 1971, where they become sudden celebrities (talking apes being a rarity in those days). Soon enough, however, Cornelius lets the humans know a bit too much about the future of their planet, and a fearful human populace tries to have the visitors captured and sterilized.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the next film, chronicles the rise to power of Caesar, grown son of Cornelius and Zira. After an outbreak of plague, all cats and dogs on Earth died, and the humans decided to take the apes as their new pets. The apes have been trained to work as slaves, serving their human masters in a variety of duties. Caesar, the only ape with the powers of speech, leads an underground rebellion, forcing a chaotic, climactic battle with the cold-hearted human Breck and his men.

The series came to both a conclusion and a beginning in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the fifth and final film. A nuclear holocaust wipes out most of the humans on Earth, but the apes have differing views about how the survivors are to be treated. Caesar wants a peaceful co-existence, but gorilla Aldo wants vengeance. Faced with a possible civil war, Caesar also has to deal with a band of humans who try to take back the planet, sparking another war that brings the series full cycle.

After five films in six years, 20th Century Fox decided it was time to hang up the ape suits, at least on the big screen. A Planet of the Apes prime time series debuted in 1974, followed by Saturday morning’s Return to the Planet of the Apes in 1975. Neither series proved to be as durable as the film franchise, disappearing after less than a year. The Planet of the Apes saga remained a pop culture landmark for many, however, and 2001 brought the release of an all-new Planet of the Apes film, directed by Tim Burton.

Movie Release History

1968 - Planet of the Apes
1970 - Beneath the Planet of the Apes
1971 - Escape from the Planet of the Apes
1972 - Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
1973 - Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Movie Sub Categories


Movie Studio

20th Century Fox


Col. George Taylor   Charlton Heston
Cornelius   Roddy McDowall
Zira   Kim Hunter
Dr. Zaius   Maurice Evans
President of the Assembly   James Whitmore
Honorious  James Daly
Nova  Linda Harrison
Landon   Robert Gunner
Lucius   Lou Wagner
Maximus   Woodrow Parfrey
Dodge   Jeff Burton
Julius  Buck Kartalian
Hunt Leader  Norman Burton
Galen  Wright King
Minister  Paul Lambert
Stewart  Dianne Stanley
First Human  Priscilla Boyd
Gorilla  Eldon Burke
Chimpanzee  David Chow
Child Ape  Billy Curtis
Bit Part  Frank Delfino
Gorilla Photographer  Robert Lombardo
Bit Part  Jerry Maren
Child Gorilla Felix Silla
Unknown Harry Monty
Unknown Gene O'Donnell

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