The Planet of the Apes Franchise has some great moments and is a solid franchise overall. Looking back gave me an appreciation for the original series and I got to see one of the worst films ever in Tim Burton’s remake. In this list I will recount them from worst to best with the reasons why they are in that place. I will also have the links of the original reviews of the said films. So without further ado, let’s go!
9th – Planet of the Apes (2001) – 2 / 10
I have no idea what Tim Burton was thinking when he decided to take on this project, since I have never seen a movie miss the point of the subject matter this much (this film is worse than the “Transformers” Franchise). The main character is flat and generic, the villain is hammy and evil without any point and the human and apes have no discernible civilization. Things happen because story is over character and the story makes no sense. From Capt. Leo’s chimp arriving on the Ape Earth to Leo traveling through the portal to a future where there is an Ape Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial. This was a confusing mess that was insulting to the audience. Thankfully it never gets this bad again.
8th – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – 6 / 10
“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” is the most unfocused out of all the Ape Films. There are tons of protagonists but most don’t really get any time. Also the main protagonist Brent is from the Mark Wahlberg school of generic and is a forgettable protagonist who has nothing really to define him. In this when we get introduced to the Mutants who are worshiping a nuke. They are also flat and the most interesting people who we see get any exploration are Dr. Zaius and General Ursus who believe they are protecting ape kind from destruction. Cornelius and Zira only have a cameo sadly. The film in the end is above average for these reasons. Also, everyone dies except for Cornelius, Zira and Milo who go back in time…I wish we could have seen them repairing Brent’s ship and their escape. It would have made the ending more bittersweet.
7th – Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – 7 / 10
“Conquest” has a lot of good ideas that aren’t fully realized. My biggest problem is after Armando dies, we never see Caesar integrate himself into ape society. If he had it would have made sense for them to follow him. Instead he stares at them and they decide to follow him. This one also has a villain (Governor Brett) about as complex as the leader of the Mutants in “Beneath,” so evil for the sake of evil. This was a shame since the President and Dr. Otto from “Escape,” were brilliant as antagonists. Caesar’s reason for going bad make less sense too since MacDonald is there as a good character, yet at the end Caesar is talking about the destruction of mankind as a whole. It is as if Armando was forgotten, which is a shame. Still an entertaining film, though “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” does it better.
6th – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – 8.3 / 10
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” suffers from making it’s lead up (Before the Dawn – the 3 short films) set expectations too high, and throwing away one of the most interesting characters in the 3rd Act (Koba the Bonobo) who was experimented on by humans in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” for an easy out and to give Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) reason to try and kill the apes. Besides the third act this is a great film, it is just the 3rd act captures all the cliches. Koba and Caesar fight on a tower after Caesar’s attempted assassination and Koba is just plain evil when we saw none of that before. Great moments but ruined by how Koba and Dreyfus were handled in the end and the fact that Malcolm was way too over-trusting. It at least is honest that war is inevitable given the events that go down and that apes started the war (one reason Malcolm shouldn’t have been so trusting).
5th – Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) – 8.5 / 10
“Battle” is rated higher than “Dawn,” because “Battle” knows that it’s premise is a bit hilarious. We see this in Governor Kolp who listen to Mendez, one of the mutants for peace but still revels in the fight because he is slightly mad from the radiation. We also have a tender moment of Caesar watching the footage of his parents Zira and Cornelius in the archives of the dead city. This and General Aldo’s guilt over killing Caesar’s son make this better than “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the movie that took inspiration from it’s premise. We see the consequences of war, but also the hope for peace when Lawgiver is teaching children and apes side by side and how the future is unknown…giving us hope the cycle might be broken, or that there is good even as humanity goes towards destruction (“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,”). We also see MacDonald advocate for human freedom and the ability to choose their own destiny, which Caesar respects after the defeat of Aldo who was going to slaughter all the humans.
4th – Before the Dawn: 3 Short Films Between “Rise” and “Dawn” – 9 / 10
“Before the Dawn,” is better than “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the human characters are more complicated and it shows the reality of the world of “Dawn” and the fear they feel towards each other and the apes so brilliantly. I almost wish “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” had been done in this style…than we wouldn’t have had naive Malcolm and Jump the Shark Koba. We see a wife torn from her husband dying alone in quarantine in “Quarantine,” we see the desperate life of the survivors in “All Fall Down,” and how people cling to the memories of the past and in “Story of the Gun,” we see humanity’s descent into savagery and the rise of the apes. Is beneath the original “Planet of the Apes” because it is only shorts and not a full length feature.
3rd – Planet of the Apes (1968) – 9 / 10
The original “Planet of the Apes,” is a classic for a reason. Charlton Heston is great as the nihilist George Taylor who in fact does care, and Cornelius and Zira as the ones building a bridge between humanity and apes through Taylor is some of the best stuff. Dr. Zaius is also the best of the antagonists as he seeks to protect the future by hiding the truth and the past from the apes. This film is one of my favorites and there is a reason it started the franchise, even though it is a very self contained movie that didn’t need sequels. From memorable lines of “Damn you all to hell!” and others it is a cinematic classic worthy of the praise it receives. Ape society reflects the worst and best of ours today, which is what this franchise does at it’s best.
2nd – Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) – 9.5 / 10
“Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” is one of the greatest films in the franchise and one of my all time favorite films. It explores the perspective of the outsider from the view of Zira and Cornelius (the best parts of “Beneath” and the original “Planet of the Apes,” and we see how they are used by Dr. Otto who fears they will bring about the future of the “Planet of the Apes” through their child. We see human characters who were as they were (scientists fight for them and help them escape the feds), and we see the dilemma of leadership in the President who realizes their power in regards to his own so respects them until Dr. Otto turns him against them. Dr. Otto is a great human Dr. Zaius type character and Armando is fantastic as the one who protects Zira and Cornelius for a time and helps them save their son Milo when he is being hunted down. It is a beautiful film and the most powerful of the original series.
1st – Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – 9.75 / 10
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” manages to capture the process of the outsider becoming part of the group (Caesar’s time in captivity) why animal experimentation happens (finding cures for Alzheimer’s etc.) and that groups and people are complicated. It is a beautiful story of the rise of Caesar and captures the Ape Revolution much better than “Conquest,” does. This film is the best of the franchise with the most complex human and ape characters whose motivations make sense. From Will trying to save his father, to Caesar feeling abandoned and choosing his people and establishing himself as leader with the help of the Orangutan Maurice. It is the best of the franchise and my favorite of all these films. It elevates the subject matter and Serkis is by far the best Caesar of the franchise.
I would recommend all the Franchise to any person who loves a creative premise and is ready to see some pretty great acting. The Original Series Cycle is solid as a whole and the only really bad film in the franchise is the Tim Burton “Planet of the Apes.” It is a fascinating whole and was an amazing adventure to do. We’ll eventually return to this when the new film that is in the works happens. Till then, hopefully we can learn the lessons from the franchise and find our better selves.