The Planet of the Apes Movies Ranked From Worst to Best


Who knew that French author Pierre Boulle’s slim, satirical 1963 novel, Le Planete des Singes, would lead to one of the most successful science fiction franchises of all time? Consisting of 10 films (to date), two TV series , comic books (including a magazine series from Marvel), toys, games, merchandise and more, Planet of the Apes remains one of the most enduring and unique sci-fi sagas in cinematic history.

The success of the original film, 1968’s Planet of the Apes, led studio 20th Century Fox (which finally made the movie after years of development and stalling) to launch a series of sequels. That wasn’t necessarily unheard of back then, but those sequels—which include Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)—told one complete story, unlike anything done on film before. The later TV series filled in a few gaps in the timeline while the recent reboots that started in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes have acted as loose remakes of the later films, albeit infused with tones, themes, designs and styles all their own.

Now with the arrival of the 10th film in the 56-year-old saga, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, filmmakers and actors continue to explore new, previously uncharted areas of the vast fictional history that has always been one of the Apes movies’ most fascinating aspects. Yes, some of the movies are stronger than others, and while most fans probably agree on the best and the worst, the middle tier’s rankings may be interchangeable or up for debate. Judge for yourself as we rank the entire Apes franchise from the bottom of the barrel (of monkeys) to the top.

10. Planet of the Apes (2001)

Look, this is a high-class, glossy, expensive production like only Hollywood can do. The result of years of 20th Century Fox trying to develop a modern version of the Apes saga, this Tim Burton-directed reboot features fantastic practical makeup effects by the legendary Rick Baker, excellent performances in that makeup by Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, and Helena Bonham Carter, and a propulsive Danny Elfman score.

On the other hand, it’s led by a terrible, miscast Mark Wahlberg, the script makes some of the weaker Apes films look like Shakespeare, the ending is senseless, and all the charm and weirdness of the original films is missing. That leaves the kind of soulless, forgettable Tinseltown cash grab that has sullied the reputations of many a director and franchise. It’s perhaps no coincidence that it ushered Burton into a long creative decline from which, with two or three exceptions, he’s never quite climbed out of.

9. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

The fifth and last entry in the original series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes was not only hampered by the lowest budget of the series at that point ($1.2 million!) but also a sense that despite the films still being a box office draw, there was not a clear of idea of where the story could go. Set a number of years after the events of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the film finds the ape leader Caesar (Roddy McDowall) trying to maintain a fragile peace between the apes and humans who live in the community he’s created in the aftermath of the ape revolution and subsequent human nuclear war.

The shabby production values really hamper Battle. While it contains some interesting ideas and features another solid performance from McDowall (along with fun turns from Paul Williams and Claude Akins as Caesar’s right-hand orangutan and gorilla nemesis, respectively), the titular battle amounts to a fight among some treehouses between Caesar’s apes and a ragtag band of mutated human survivors from the ruins of the nearby city—who literally pull up to the ape village in a school bus. Battle also attempts to bring the entire franchise full circle, although whether Caesar succeeds in changing the course of Earth’s doomed history or not is deliberately left ambiguous, to the frustration of some fans.

8. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

The dirty little secret among longtime Apes fans is that, even though Beneath is considered one of the weakest entries in the series, many of us love it. That’s because the movie is absolutely off its rocker: it begins with a Charlton Heston lookalike (James Franciscus) following Heston’s ship to the exact same future location in time and space, meeting the exact same apes, and getting the exact same shock of his life when he learns what planet he’s really on. From there, Franciscus and eventually Heston—who shows up for the first and last 10 minutes of the film—get caught up in a war between the apes and human mutants living in the ruins of New York City. It ends quickly though after Heston decides he’s had enough and blows up the Earth with a handy bomb that the mutants worship as a god.

The development of the first Apes sequel is almost as batshit crazy as the movie itself, which had its budget cut in half just before production and swapped Oscar-caliber director Franklin J. Schaffner for TV journeyman Ted Post. The script went through numerous iterations before writer Paul Dehn (Goldfinger) tied it all up into the hodgepodge we see today, and series staple Roddy McDowall is missing from this one as well. Yet it’s so weird, the mutants are so creepy, and that ending works so damn hard to out-bleak the original, that we can’t help but love how brazenly ridiculous the whole thing is.

7. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Disclaimer: the placement of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes relatively lower on this list does not reflect on the film’s quality at this point. It merely means that while it is certainly a very good movie—and clearly far better than the weaker entries in the franchise—it’s too early to tell where it might finally land in relation to the rest of the films (the movie is literally just coming out as you read this). Future viewings may well change its placement in either direction, although we suspect it will do just fine.

Following the modern 2010s Apes trilogy that chronicled the journey of Caesar (Andy Serkis) from experimental lab ape to wise yet determined simian leader, Kingdom does not pick up from Caesar’s death at the end of War for the Planet of the Apes. Rather it’s set several hundred years later, with a small community of apes leading a simple yet peaceful agrarian life that’s disrupted by a ruthless simian leader who has dictatorial intentions for all apes. Humans are still around too, mostly in a feral state, but there may be more dangers out in the world than even the apes realize. Full of interesting ideas and characters, as well as some terrific action and visual effects, Kingdom does leave some of its concepts underdeveloped, which may end up keeping it out of the top tier of Apes films.

6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Very loosely patterned after 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Rise interestingly starts with the emphasis on its human leads (James Franco, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow) before switching its point of view to the apes. Franco’s scientist is developing a viral drug that may cure Alzheimer’s, but when a lab ape named Caesar is exposed to the drug through his mother, it enhances his intelligence levels to that of humans. Forced into an ape “sanctuary” run by a cruel father and son, Caesar eventually breaks himself and the other apes out, leading to a rebellion in which they flee into the forests outside San Francisco while the virus—now found to be harmful to humans—spreads in a global pandemic.

There was a decade of silence between the Tim Burton Apes fiasco and this, a reboot/remake/relaunch that was one of the biggest surprise hits of 2011. It was a surprise because 20th Century Fox didn’t seem to have much confidence in it at first: even press screenings at the time were rather low-key affairs. But with empathic, even-keeled direction by Rupert Wyatt and an intelligent script from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, not to mention the unbelievable motion-capture work by star Andy Serkis and visual effects shop Weta, Rise caught the public and even diehard Apes fans off guard with its sensitive yet compelling narrative that provided a new origin story for the saga.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes brings the saga of Andy Serkis’ Caesar to a clear and powerful close. After leading his fellow apes out of captivity in Rise and planting the seeds of their own civilization while attempting to peacefully co-exist with what’s left of humanity in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar finally guides his people toward freedom while battling a human militia led by the unhinged Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar is overcome by his wounds and dies quietly at the end of War, somberly seeing his tribe arrive to their promised land but never entering it himself.

While a bit less tightly scripted than its two predecessors, War manages to pay homage to both the Apes franchise and classic Hollywood cinema overall. There are clear nods to films like Apocalypse Now, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and, in its final third, The Ten Commandments, as Caesar evolves into a Moses-like figure. Matt Reeves’ direction and screenplay (co-written with Mark Bomback) are thoughtful and thrilling, even if the narrative is not as well formed as that of Dawn. Meanwhile the digitally enhanced acting by Serkis and other ape performers like Karin Konoval and Terry Notary is just as stunning as ever. War was seen as a bit of a letdown after Dawn upon release, but is still an engaging finale to Caesar’s story.

4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Easily the most violent and politically explicit of the Apes franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes follows the original series’ Caesar (an outstanding Roddy McDowall), the son of apes-from-the-future Cornelius and Zira, as his exposure to human society—a totalitarian state where apes are now slaves to cruel human masters—turns him from a frightened circus performer into a fiery revolutionary. Caesar escapes death at the hands of a vicious governor (Don Murray) and leads the other apes in a rebellion that presages the inevitable downfall of humankind.

Written by Paul Dehn (who penned three of the original Apes sequels and worked on the fourth) and directed by J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone), Conquest leans fully into its racial metaphor with the film’s ape revolt patterned in some scenes after footage of race riots that had occurred in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The result is perhaps the darkest Apes movie of them all, the first one to earn a rating other than a G (it was rated “GP” back then, the predecessor to “PG”), and the first one in which the ending was reshot to make it slightly less bleak. Although as usual it’s hampered by a low budget, Conquest is still a visceral, frequently shocking entry that fully aligns its sympathies with the apes.

3. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

The fact that a second Apes sequel was even produced, following the destruction of Earth itself in 1970’s Beneath, is something of a miracle. But what screenwriter Paul Dehn does is nothing short of brilliant, finding a way to not only extend the story but make it a self-perpetuating cycle and a fully developed cinematic saga. Escape acts as sequel, prequel, and reboot, delivering the best script of the original sequels, tight direction and a witty tone from journeyman director Don Taylor, and winning performances from series stalwarts Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall.

Hunter’s Zira and McDowall’s Cornelius, having escaped Earth’s demise in Charlton Heston’s salvaged ship, are flung back in time to the present where they are initially embraced as celebrities. But when it’s divulged that Zira is pregnant—with what could be the forefather of the intelligent ape species that will eventually overthrow humankind—things take a sinister turn. Cleverly, the story makes the apes the protagonists of the cycle, switching the allegiance of the viewer from humans to simians. It also brings the shape of that cycle fully into focus with the idea that Cornelius and Zira are essentially their own ancestors. With its smart script, nice balance of satire and suspense, and generally fresh spin, Escape is easily the best of the original sequels, even if it took ending the world to make the picture happen.

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just a superior successor to Rise, but in terms of sheer quality filmmaking, storytelling, character-building, and thematic depth, lands right near the top of the franchise. Director Matt Reeves (taking over from Rise helmer Rupert Wyatt) delivers a work that is both a brilliant Apes film and a great piece of science fiction, period: Dawn is rich, gripping, frightening, and ultimately moving with a thoughtful, melancholy tone that is the hallmark of this series at its very best. Andy Serkis continues his groundbreaking work as Caesar, abetted by fellow ape performers Toby Kebbell and Karin Konoval. Meanwhile Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman provide the human leads.

Ten years after the events of Rise, the same lab-produced virus that boosted the intelligence of the apes has wiped out most of the world’s human population and led to the collapse of civilization. Caesar has established an orderly society of apes in the forests outside of San Francisco, but his attempts to work peaceably with a nearby community of human survivors eventually leads to conflict. Just as Rise loosely followed the narrative arc of Conquest, Dawn is even more lightly inspired, in the most bare-bones sense, by Battle. But Dawn expands on the story in much bigger and bolder strokes, complete with a trademark bleak ending. The imagination, intelligence, and storytelling power at work in Dawn is a rare achievement for the eighth film in a franchise that, at the time of its release, was nearly 50 years old.

1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

It may not have the budget, visual effects, or even production values of the more recent entries in the franchise, but there’s no question that the original Planet of the Apes remains the first and best of the entire series, as well as a bona fide science fiction classic. It provided not just the weird, surreal tone that would infuse the rest of the films, but it broke new ground in film makeup, helped elevate sci-fi cinema beyond drive-in fodder, and provided the template for the idea of a movie and its sequels telling a single, large-scale, continuing story instead of a new, unrelated adventure with each entry.

It’s also a knockout of a film, with Charlton Heston as the misanthropic astronaut George Taylor who travels 2,000 years into the future where he must defend himself (and by extension, the human race) after being captured by a society of highly intelligent, talking apes. Heston gives one of his best performances while the ape actors—Kim Hunter (Zira), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), and Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius)—create full, three-dimensional characters under John Chambers’ still-impressive prosthetics. And then there’s that final scene, one of the greatest twist endings in film history, where Taylor comes upon the buried Statue of Liberty and realizes he’s been home the whole time. Planet of the Apes is, in many ways, a perfect movie, and will likely remain the gold standard for all Apes films to come.

The post The Planet of the Apes Movies Ranked From Worst to Best appeared first on Den of Geek.

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