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Ranking the 'Planet of the Apes' Films

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Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014
They represent some of the best (and worst) movie metaphors in the history of cinematic speculative fiction. Here's how we rate the Apes' films, from worst to first.

It’s all based on a book by French author Pierre Boulle. In said novel, an interplanetary expedition comes across a planet where apes rule and humans are used for slave labor and experiments. Famed writer Rod Serling took the first crack at the screenplay, though his ideas were deemed too expensive and incendiary to film. Blacklisted scribe Michael Wilson was then brought in to bring the concepts down to budgetary (and moviegoer) limits, and soon a sci-fi classic was born.


Audiences were not prepared for Planet of the Apes when it first came out in theaters. The Civil Rights Movement was reeling from advances and assassinations and Serling’s subtext made the roots of said racism all too real. While further script doctoring decreased some of the more provocative material, the notion of Apes as an allegory for its time remained. It was a box office smash, jumpstarting a franchise which saw four initial sequels, two reboots, one follow-up to same, and even a TV series.
  
Just this past weekend, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from filmmaker Matt Reeves became the latest box office triumph in this decades long deconstruction of modern political problems merged with outsized future shock designs. From the hated Tim Burton update to Rupert Wyatt’s skilled reimagining, Hollywood has long wanted to give this early ‘70s franchise a polish.


Now, thanks to CGI and the abilities of actors via motion capture, we have a new series to celebrate. In that regard, we’ve decided to rank the Apes films from worst to first. At least one placement will surprise/anger/offend most in the fanbase, while the rest can be reconfigured to fit your own personal preferences. One thing remains certain, however: As movie metaphors go, the Planet of the Apes films are solid social commentary… most of the time. Let’s start with what we consider to be “the worst” of the eight efforts:


 
#8: Battle for the Planet of the Apes

As the “final” link between the first film in the original series and the state of the world circa Conquest, this otherwise journeyman placeholder has some decent ideas and far too much lame early ‘70s action. Director J. Lee Thompson, who helmed the last two efforts, was very British and very stagy in his confronts. Instead of the kind of carefully controlled and choreographed chaos of today’s thrillers, he used long sequences of exposition to set up equally languid moments of murderous warfare. Unlike the current pre-battle blockbuster dominating the box office, there’s no real brutality here, just a once vital franchise limping to a close.


 
#7: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

A mysterious disease has wiped out all the cats and dogs on the planet. With people needing pets, adopting apes becomes the next best thing… or is it? They soon become our “slaves” (talk about your obvious metaphors—sheesh) and, as a result, gain a leader in the form of an intelligent simian named Caesar (played by Roddy McDowall) who just so happens to be the son of original apes Cornelius and Zira from the first three films. Set within a dystopian police state, there is a lot of ambition here. Sadly, due to shrinking budgets, director J. Lee Thompson can’t truly develop most of them.


 
#6: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Yes, yes. This is a controversial placement for the otherwise thin Tim Burton reboot, but hear us out. Over the course of the previous series, one of the most troubling elements was the make-up. The first film earned its Oscar. By the time of the TV series (did you know there was a Planet of the Apes TV series???), the masks were looking ratty and dated. So we place this above Battle and Conquest for one reason and one reason only…Rick Baker. Along with some initial input from Stan Winston, the ape concepts are so amazingly great here that it’s a shame the rest of the film them down.


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