Ready for ‘War’: The Definitive Ranking of All ‘Planet of the Apes’ Films So Far
The granddaddy of all modern science fiction film franchises is 49 years old in 2017. Spawned from the one of the greatest final shots in movie history were four original sequels, released in the first half of the 1970s, followed by an attempted reboot in 2001, and a triumphant return in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is still going strong. As the world braces for a War for the Planet of the Apes, we’re looking back at the rest of the franchise’s storied history, using the global aggregate rankings of Flickchart’s users to rank the previous eight Apes films. (There may be some spoilers here, so if you’re somehow not caught up on the franchise, tread lightly.) Check them out.
8. Planet of the Apes (2001)
- Directed by Tim Burton
- Global Flickchart Rank: #8,243
A remake of the original Planet of the Apes was, at best, ill-advised and, at worst, completely unwanted. Director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) made several attempts to distinguish his film as a “reimagining,” not the least of which was actually setting the story on a different planet, and not a post-apocalyptic Earth. There are a few good things to be seen here, including amazing updated makeup effects, a distinctive Danny Elfman score, and a truly unhinged performance from Tim Roth as the murderous chimpanzee General Thade. But securing an uncredited cameo from Charlton Heston, casting Michael Clarke Duncan as a gorilla, and making several callbacks to the previous, superior film can’t compensate for the jarring attempts at humor and general Burton-y weirdness of the piece. And aping (pardon the pun) the original’s ending can’t be shocking, no matter how differently you present it.
7. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
- Directed by J. Lee Thompson
- Global Flickchart Rank: #3,611
As the final entry of the original franchise, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is, unfortunately, just weak. Writer Paul Dehn – who scripted the first three sequels – submitted a story treatment entitled Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but his failing health prevented him from working on the script. Enter husband and wife writing team John and Joyce Corrington (The Omega Man), who were tasked by the studio to put a more “optimistic” tone on things after the bleakness of the previous sequel, Conquest.
Dark things certainly happen in Battle. Prior to the two modern films, this movie plays the most with the core idea that, while man may murder man, no ape has ever killed ape. The fact that General Aldo (Claude Akins), while fomenting rebellion, slays the young son of Caesar to keep him quiet, is the plot’s true linchpin. Yet the prevailing tone is much more hopeful than previous installments, with the same Caesar (Roddy McDowall) who instigated the ape revolt in Conquest now seeking to live with humans as equals.
Conquest‘s director, J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone), returns, but it’s obvious that the dwindling funds afforded by the studio for these sequels, along with the new tone, take the bite out of this “final” movie’s bark. Roddy McDowall, returning as Caesar and the “face” of the Apes franchise, does what he can with the script, but otherwise a cameo by the great John Huston as the ape Lawgiver is one of the only other bright spots.
6. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
- Directed by J. Lee Thompson
- Global Flickchart Rank: #2,502
Roddy McDowall had endeared himself to audiences as Cornelius in the original film and Escape (scheduling conflicts prevented him from appearing in Beneath), but here, he plays that original ape’s son, Caesar, and delivers his best performance in the franchise. It’s all the more remarkable given that, through large chunks of the film, Caesar doesn’t speak, and McDowall must convey emotion through only his eyes and body movements under so much makeup.
My personal speculation about this movie’s lower ranking is that many people who have seen and ranked it may have – like me, prior to a few weeks ago – only seen the version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes that was released to theaters. When the first three films in the franchise had garnered G ratings, Conquest – with its stark violence, using the 1965 Watts riots in L.A. as a template for its story – was threatened with an R. In the days before PG-13 was a thing, this meant trimming some of the violence and starkly shifting the tone of the final scene. With no money for reshoots, reversed and zoomed-in footage was used with a newly-recorded McDowall voiceover to give a more watered-down, optimistic feel. The unrated version – readily available on the Blu-ray release – has a lot more teeth, and is all the better for it. See it, if you haven’t.
5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
- Directed by Ted Post
- Global Flickchart Rank: #2,453
Original Apes director Franklin J. Schaffner couldn’t return for the sequel, because he was busy earning a Best Director Oscar by shooting Patton, so producers – seeking to fast-track a sequel to the successful Apes as a quick cash-in on popularity to bolster the studio’s coffers after a string of big-budget losses – hired veteran television director Ted Post (Magnum Force) for Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Beneath is a mixed affair, at first appearing to be nothing but a remake of the first film before things get weird. Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) also crash-lands on the ape-controlled planet while searching for what happened to Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crew from the first film. Teaming up with the mute Nova (Linda Harrison), whom he discovers wearing Taylor’s dogtags, Brent discovers not only that primates rule the world, but that there’s a secret civilization of mutants living below the planet’s surface who worship an atomic bomb.
Yes, the last half of that sentence is rather strange. British screenwriter Paul Dehn – who would go on to write the first three original Apes sequels and contribute the base story for the fourth – allowed his anxieties about global nuclear war to permeate his Beneath script, culminating in an odd mishmash of nevertheless interesting ideas that finally result in a shock-value ending, but in a very different way from the original.
4. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
- Directed by Don Taylor
- Global Flickchart Rank: #2,209
The previous sequel literally brought about the end of the world. When you’re a writer tasked with continuing a story with such a definitive end, what do you do? If you’re Paul Dehn, you take the ingenious step of taking two beloved characters from the original (the apes Cornelius and Zira, as portrayed by Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter) and send them back in time to ostensibly tell of the beginning.
The only film in the franchise that could obliquely be called a “romp”, Escape certainly starts with humor, with the time-traveling apes becoming celebrities and attempting to mingle into human society. Predictably, though, things take a more sinister turn, and the finale is bitterly dark…while also much more of a sequel lead-in than had been seen before.
3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
- Directed by Rupert Wyatt
- Global Flickchart Rank: #1,205
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the kindred cousin of Escape and Conquest, taking some elements of both to tell a different origin story for this simian-controlled world. Escape shows time travel altering events and ushering in the ape takeover possibly earlier than it should have, while Rise gives us a potential take on how the Planet of the Apes came to be in the first place.
Decades after the original films served as cautionary tales against nuclear war, Rise presents the dangers of tinkering with the natural world, as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s leads to apes talking… and revolting. At the center of it all is motion capture wizard Andy Serkis (Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films), as brilliant under the CGI Caesar’s skin as Roddy McDowall was under the original ape makeup. When Caesar, in order to be with his own kind, must give up his relationship with the human (James Franco) who has raised him from childhood, it’s heartbreaking in all the right ways.
2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
- Directed by Matt Reeves
- Global Flickchart Rank: #1,012
The fact that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes actually outshines Rise on almost every level just means that the future of the Apes franchise is looking bright, even as circumstances for its characters turn increasingly grim. Here, we get the first true conflict between the apes and the last remnants of mankind, who are reeling from their decimation by the “simian flu.”
It all starts with an act of empathy from Caesar, who allows a small band of humans into ape territory to attempt to return function to a hydroelectric dam, in order to bring power back to San Francisco. Yet, animosities on both sides will not allow Caesar or his human counterpart, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), to keep the peace. When tensions explode, they explode violently.
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) proves an excellent replacement for Rise director Rupert Wyatt, bringing tense action and true pathos to the proceedings. With Reeves returning for the next installment (only the second director to helm more than one Apes film), it promises a truly epic War to come.
1. Planet of the Apes (1968)
- Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
- Global Flickchart Rank: #620
Was there any doubt that the original classic would hold the top spot on this list? Known primarily to most for its left-field twist of a final shot, there are plenty of other things to love about the sci-fi classic.
From Charlton Heston‘s bravura lead performance to Roddy McDowall‘s pitch-perfect turn as Cornelius (which would secure his place as the “face” of the franchise despite scheduling conflicts keeping him out of the first sequel), the cast is certainly a highlight. Future Oscar winner Franklin J. Schaffner makes many memorable visual decisions, and not just with the iconic final moment.
Though not a direct adaptation of the French novel by Pierre Boulle, the screenplay from Michael Wilson and Outer Limits creator Rod Serling maintained many character names, settings and themes, and set a benchmark for post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure that has rarely been surpassed. Comments on racial prejudice and nuclear holocaust became benchmarks of the franchise, and, though obvious, are handled deftly. Visually distinctive, eminently quotable, and socially conscious in the way of all the best science fiction, Planet of the Apes deserves its place within the Flickchart Top 1000 as a Movie to See Before You Die.
Now, with the impending release of its ninth film, the Planet of the Apes franchise is showing a welcome uptick in quality and, thankfully, no sign of slowing down. How will War for the Planet of the Apes fare on the global Flickchart? After its release, your rankings will help decide.
War for the Planet of the Apes hits theaters on Friday, July 14.
Also available to rank on Flickchart is the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, a look at the making of the first film that is worth checking out for enthusiasts.