Planet of the Apes seems slightly under-appreciated by most viewers as a landmark sci-fi series. The long-running franchise has always explored big ideas in entertaining ways, and never shies away from presenting the less palatable side of humanity. Every film in the series has re-shaped the original stranger-in-a-strange-land story and unearthed something new, with the still-astounding makeup work of John Chambers in the original run and the compelling VFX by Weta Digital in the new films all in support of the consistently brilliant franchise leads Roddy McDowall and Andy Serkis.
The Planet of the Apes franchise has been through many iterations since its debut 52 years ago and has grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office. In this edition of Ranked, The Film Magazine has catalogued the entire damn dirty series in order of their many merits and considerably fewer missteps.
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9. Planet of the Apes (2001)
As a rule, Tim Burton doesn’t do especially well with adapting other people’s work. His Mark Wahlberg-starring remake of Planet of the Apes re-tells the story of an astronaut crash-landing on a planet ruled by simian rather than human society, and is more epic but less operatic than its progenitors, more action-packed but far less engaging.
Rick Baker’s prosthetics are among the best work of a master, and Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter do a fine job bringing their characters to life, but everything else is misjudged, overblown and baffling, especially the twist on the famous ending of the original. Burton’s movie finds itself at the bottom of this list for the crime of being by far the least interesting in the franchise.
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8. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes begins with a recap of the last five minutes of the first film as the opening credits play, then sends another astronaut out to find the missing Charlton Heston (a reluctant and brief reprisal for a paycheque). Before long we encounter such odd sights as apes in a sauna and a chimp student protest, and finally the film’s primary threat – a subterranean society of mutated, psychic humans who worship a nuclear warhead.
The film might criticise religious fanaticism and promote the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but good intentions don’t make a good film. Annoyingly, this feels very padded, lacks any semblance of nuance and has a tendency to look a bit cheap in visual terms.
7. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
The ape messiah Caesar returns as the architect of an uneasy truce between the simians and humankind’s last survivors, but a gorilla military coup kicks off the conflict between species once more.
As the title suggests, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is supposed to be a war film, and you’ve got to admire the filmmaking ambition. Unfortunately the combat scenes underwhelm in both scope and budget – there’s only so much you can do with two dozen extras in rubber ape suits running around in a field.
Roddy McDowall mesmerises as Caesar, demonstrating more range than should be possible behind a mask, plus we’re given an interesting villain in the insecure, reactionary gorilla General Aldo (Claude Akins). The final ten minutes or so of this film are near-faultless, a deliciously dark deconstruction of the plot and characters of the series so far.
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