From Time Travel to Sword and Sandal: ‘The Planet of the Apes’ Films They Almost Made

Love the Apes or hate them, you should see what they almost threw at us!

The Planet of the Apes saga has had its many ups and downs from the time of its inception in the 1968 film that spawned it (based, of course, on the 1963 Pierre Boulle novel). Planet of the Apes went from bestselling book to blockbuster, Oscar winning film, but then the saga started to slip into the Forbidden Zone when a series of mostly declining sequels and TV shows seemed to mark the death knell for the series.

Such ill-advised and b-movie sci-fi films as Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and the Tim Burton reimagining of the saga in Planet of the Apes (2001), not to mention two short lived TV shows with more detractors than fans, may have almost killed the franchise. But if you think those entries were a lot of monkey business, you should see the Planet of the Apes movies that were almost made… and many came damned near to fruition!

Don’t slip on that banana peel kids, let’s just GO APE!


1. Rod Serling’s Planet of the Apes II (1968 – 1969)

Most every fan knows that The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling had written the original screenplay that was later polished by Michael Wilson into Planet of the Apes (1968). Wilson’s changes were mostly due to the fact that Serling’s script was too close to Pierre Boulle’s original novel with technological apes in a post-modern society (all of which would have been prohibitively expensive to film). However, when Planet of the Apes became the monster hit that it was (critically and commercially), both Serling and Boulle stepped forward to offer their suggestions for a big sequel.

What was it about?

Serling actually came up with three bold ideas for the screenplay-to-be, each one hairier than the last. In Serling’s first version, Taylor (played in the first film by Charlton Heston) becomes a defender of humanity, deeming himself mankind’s last hope. Holing up in an abandoned city, Taylor fights off the remaining apes that dogged his trail and attempts to save humanity in this new bastion of (retroactive) civilization.

In the climax, the hero is given a chance to return to his own time (courtesy of a spaceship piloted by non-crashing human astronauts), but Taylor rejects this opportunity in order to remain and, he hopes, resurrect humanity. Hey, the man started out the first movie claiming he hated Earth anyway. Who’s surprised?

In the subsequent treatment, Serling has Taylor and Nova (played in the first film by Linda Harrison) finding an intact Earth ship and traveling through time to yet another, unrelated future (or past) to find that Earth is no longer ruled by apes… but perhaps something worse. The mind boggles at what this might be. Planet of the Giant Spider Soldiers? Planet of the Jerks? Planet of the Lizard People? Planet of the Never Ending Frat Party? Planet of the Barry Goldwater Clones? Planet of the Talking Tina Dolls Who Don’t Think They Like You? This is Rod Serling, after all.

Serling’s third idea also had Taylor finding yet another space ship (because apparently they grow on trees on Ape World if you know where to look) in which he and a band of intelligent humans take off to a completely different Earth-like planet that they are dismayed to find also is dominated by ruling apes. How much would you pay to see Heston go through the same exact same thing a second time and deliver lines like “Take your new stinking paws off me you alternate damn dirty ape!”, “It’s still a Madhouse! This, too, is a Madhouse all over again!”, “An additional planet where apes also evolved from men just like the last one? There’s got to be the exact same answer.” or “Ah, damn you also! God damn you all to hell again!”?

Why was it never made?

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs who, at the time, held all cinematic rights to Planet of the Apes, deemed Serling’s first treatment to be unsatisfactory as it lacked the “visual shock and the surprise” of its predecessor (meaning, no half-buried Statue of Liberty to make audiences go “Hmmmmm!”). The subsequent two ideas were rejected outright (forever depriving us of seeing Heston at a Used Space Ship Dealer) and Pierre Boulle was contacted for his version of the sequel script.

What got made instead?

Eventually Beneath the Planet of the Apes was released in 1970 based on a screenplay by Mort Abrahams and Paul Dehn which barely featured Taylor at all. The concept of the Earth spacecraft being found was later reused to continue the series in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) in which Taylor’s own craft is refurbished by three intelligent apes who use it to fly back in time to then-present day Earth. The idea of other modern Earth astronauts finding the future Planet of the title was used ad nauseum throughout the sequels and spin-offs, including Beneath.


2. Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Men (1969)

But first, what about Pierre Boulle’s version? After all, the Frenchman did create the entire concept, did he not? He did and producer Jacobs contacted him for his own new contributions. The author was already toying with a few ideas that you may or may not really like.

What was it about?

Boulle’s own screenplay went even further than Serling’s in his depiction of Taylor as a defender and last hope for humanity. Perhaps noting Heston’s role in The Ten Commandments (1956), Boulle recast the surviving Taylor as something of a Moses character in his concept entitled La Planète des Hommes (or literally, The Planet of the Men).

Almost immediately upon rising from his knees before the half-buried Statue of Liberty, Taylor impresses a band of primitive humans (by shooting an angry cow… not kidding) and becomes their benevolent messiah, guiding them to a promised land called the “Kingdom of Men” where he and his friends plot to free slaves and rebel against their Ape overlords.

Luckily, there is no record of Taylor parting the Red Sea. The whole shebang ends with the apes reverting to primitive roles and humans enslaving and mocking them, much as the apes had done to Taylor in the first film.

Uplifting, no?

Why was it never made?

Much as he had Serling’s ideas, Jacobs (who preferred to start with big killer visuals — like Lady Liberty’s last sunbath — and then build the film around those major points) found Boulle’s script to be “uncinematic”. Further, although this was most assuredly a sequel to the first film and not to Boulle’s original novel, the author re-inserted his own original concepts into his sequel story with Taylor changing his personality completely to more closely resemble the novel’s protagonist Ulysse Mérou (as well as… well… Moses).

It also didn’t help that ape intelligence was treated as something that could be cured with a bonk on the head as opposed to the result of generations of evolution. Even Dr. Zaius and Professor Antelle regress to a primitive ape state of savagery in a remarkably short time (eventually being featured in circuses where they are fed sugar cubes).

What got made instead?

Associate producer Mort Abrahams came up with a story involving a creepy race of mutated humans who worship a nuclear doomsday weapon that the anything-but-messianic Taylor eventually uses to blow up the entire planet. Hiring Paul Dehn to write the screenplay, the duo fleshed out their story and (unbeknownst to Boulle) actually incorporated small elements of the Planet of the Men script into the movie that was eventually to be named Beneath the Planet of the Apes.


3. Paul Dehn’s Planet of the Apes Revisited (1970)

The key word of the above is “eventually”, as Beneath the Planet of the Apes started out as what John Cleese would have called “something completely different”. While the original film proved to be timeless, the second film was, even in pre-production, proving itself to be a reflection of its own time. By that I both mean the times of Cold War paranoia (the McCarthy era had only recently ended) and the times of cheesy sci-fi sequels.

What was it about?

Screenwriter Paul Dehn was a World War II veteran who was traumatized by the way that war ended, namely, the 1945 atomic bombings. This informed the concepts that led to a strange cult of telepathic mutated humans who worshipped the Alpha Omega Doomsday bomb (the very thing that was presumably mutating them with its radiation). Fashion models, these guys are not.

Taylor and Nova end up meeting this bizarre subspecies as an army of gorillas invades the Forbidden Zone intent on exterminating all of humanity. Luckily, the gorillas and mutants clash and are all killed in an underground explosion allowing Cornelius (played in the first film by Roddy McDowall) and Zira (played in the first film by Kim Hunter) to help Taylor and Nova return to Ape City to free the slaves and form a new order. (I can still hear Heston’s voice screaming “Let my people GO!” to an Ape Pharaoh).

This benevolent and happy future lasts and lasts for hundreds of years and also includes a half human/ half ape child implying that the new era that dawned between man and ape went a little bit further than mere “friendship”.

Why was it never made?


Origin of the human-ape hybrid?

Although the human / ape hybrid went as far as makeup tests, that idea was rejected due to the fact that the implication of bestiality threatened to cost the film its G rating (yes, back then studios actually wanted some action films to be rated G). Not to mention… it’s kind of creepy, isn’t it?

As for the rest of the script, nobody seemed to like it, especially Charlton Heston. In fact, Heston didn’t want to do the sequel at all and only agreed to appear in a cameo if his character could be killed off at the very beginning and his salary was donated to charity. Both Burt Reynolds and Orson Welles turned down roles in the film and Roddy McDowall was unavailable to reprise Cornelius due to his commitment to directing his own movie.

What got made instead?

Ultimately, Dehn completely re-wrote the screenplay to feature a new character named Brent, as played by James Franciscus. Brent was a complete Taylor clone, right down to his crash-landing in the Forbidden Zone, finding of Nova and donning of the Heston-esque loincloth. He didn’t have lines that were quite as cool, though.

Meanwhile, Heston agreed to separate his cameo appearance into two parts taking place at the very opening and the very ending of the film, provided Taylor would still be killed off and his money donated to charity.

In a case of almost literally throwing out the baby with the bath water, the happy ending (which actually showed a harmonious life for apes and humans hundreds of years in the future) was excised along with the hybrid child. In fact, not only does Taylor bite the dust in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (per Heston’s demand), but everybody else dies too at Heston’s hand.

Yes, Taylor blows up the Planet of the Apes thanks to that doomsday weapon. The guy who never wanted to return to the series to play the character who hated Earth and what it became takes everyone to hell with him as the planet explodes, thanks to Taylor (Heston).

Thanks a lot, Heston. Some guys you just can’t take to a party, man.


4. Rod Serling’s Planet of the Apes TV Pilot (1974)

Of course the series did continue, thanks to the aforementioned newby ape astronauts (including Cornelius and Zira) traveling back in time to 1973 A.D., mating and (quite unintentionally) laying the groundwork for the evolution of apes into the master race of Earth. And while Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) proved to be much better reviewed than the first sequel, subsequent entries into the series made less money and earned less acclaim. Soon 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on the film series.

Fox also obtained full rights to the Planet of the Apes adaptations and the studio quickly focused on creating a new television series with new characters in a previous timeline (still dominated by apes but with talking humans). But who, oh who had a brilliant enough mind to pen an engrossing pilot, had copious experience with brilliant episodic television and had an inside knowledge of Planet of the Apes?

If you answered “Rod Serling”, so did the TV show’s producers. If only that had lasted…

What was it about?

Arriving just after Taylor’s adventure astronauts Virdon and Kovak land on the planet in a completely different space ship (like I said, in Serling’s imagination, they’re everywhere), discover the wreckage of Taylor’s craft and then shoot the first ape they see in the neck. Nice guys.

The duo is soon captured and set to be executed unless the fix their ship and return to their own time (the new apes are “nice guys”, too). Meanwhile a group of renegade humans capture and plan to kill Galen (the ape the nice astronauts shot) and a gorilla named Zonda before the astronauts manage to talk the humans down.

Why was it never made?

Similar to his attempts to write a Planet of the Apes sequel, Serling’s drafts were rejected. This may have had to do with the similarities the two episodes shared with his original Planet of the Apes script and the strange continuity that placed it as both a sequel and a prequel. Also like the ill-fated sequel, other unproduced teleplays were commissioned such as Anthony Lawrence’s “A Fallen God”. Boulle was not invited to contribute this time.

What got made instead?

Fox and CBS opted for a more traditional and somewhat more family friendly pilot called “Escape From Tomorrow” (written by Art Wallace). Kovak was renamed Burke and was played by James Naughton, Virdon kept his name and was played by Ron Harper while Galen was brought to life by a returning Roddy McDowall (who had become the focal point of the film series starting with the third film).

The same crash takes place along with the duo’s team up with Galen and eluding of Ape authorities, but little of Serling’s vision was used. The show quickly became a standard 1970s “peril of the week” show that owed as much to TV’s The Fugitive (1963 – 1967) as it did to Planet of the Apes. The TV show was canceled after 13 episodes, leaving the final completed episode unaired for years.

The animated Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975) fared no better and only 13 episodes were made of that program. Then again, someone must have rather liked the name of the show as it popped back up in pre-production years later.

Better to Jump Out of a Window Than Director Another Planet of the Apes

5. Adam Rifkin’s Return to the Planet of the Apes (1988)

After the cancellation of the 1975 animated TV show, Planet of the Apes as a franchise lay dormant for over 20 years (save for re-runs, spoofs, rip offs and occasional documentaries).

At least that’s what the public would have believed. Behind the scenes, however there was a big push to resurrect the franchise starting in 1988 when Adam Rifkin was invited by Fox executives to pitch new ideas for movie projects. Rifkin enthusiastically offered his idea for Return to the Planet of the Apes.

What was it about?

Rifkin was instructed not to create a sequel to the fifth film, but an alternate sequel to the original. What he came up with could have gone in either direction.

In Rifkin’s screenplay (alternately known as Return to the Planet of the Apes: World At War) Ape society had progressed beyond the primitive to something more akin to the Roman Empire, with the apes acting as the Roman aristocracy and the humans filling the roles of slaves and gladiators.

A descendant of the Taylor character named Duke (to be played by either a pre-insanity Tom Cruise or a pre-insanity Charlie Sheen, who were both insanely being considered for the role) would ultimately lead a slave revolt against the Roman Ape Overlords (led by some guy named General Izan) in what Rifkin described as “A real sword-and-sandal spectacular, monkey style.” He went on to indicate that Gladiator (2000) was actually “the same movie without the ape costumes”.

The idea of Charlie Sheen and Tom Cruise arguing “I’m Spartacus!”, “No, I’m Spartacus!” while a bunch of confused-looking apes stand around might surely have been worth your popcorn buck, had Rifkin gotten his way.

Why was it never made?

The truth is, World at War almost was made. Danny Elfman was hired to write the score and Rick Baker was brought in to create the prosthetic makeup and everything was going swimmingly until, only days before pre-production was set to begin, when a new set of Fox studio executives took over and demanded rewrites from Rifkin. The rewrites didn’t help alleviate the creative differences at all, and the Ape Gladiator project was abandoned much to Adam Rifkin’s never ending chagrin. I can only imagine how he felt when he watched Gladiator and imagined half of the actors with Ape faces.

What got made instead?

Made? Practically nothing was actually made for the Planet of the Apes saga again until the whacked out 2001 Tim Burton flick. That is unless you count the hilarious musical segment of The Simpsons’ 1996 episode “A Fish Called Selma” called “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!

Although nothing was really being made, that didn’t stop just about everyone and their Hobbit from trying.


6. Peter Jackson’s Planet of the Apes: Renaissance (1992)

Yes, Peter Jackson, who finally became an Oscar Winning superstar director, was once in talks to make a Planet of the Apes film. No, we don’t know that it was going to be called Planet of the Apes: Renaissance, but check out the ideas that Jackson and his producer/ wife pitched and tell me that doesn’t have a nice ring to it! (Renaissance of the Planet of the Apes, maybe?)

What was it about?

Unlike the previous (abandoned) project, Jackson and Walsh’s pitch picked up years after the fifth film (thus not ignoring any sequels) and brought the society of Planet of the Apes into an artistic Renaissance. This new-found liberalism was becoming a threat to the more conservative ape government especially due to the discoveries and machinations of an ape version of Leonardo da Vinci (to be played by awesome Roddy McDowall… again).

As in so many previous abandoned versions Jackson’s film would have featured a human uprising against the ape overlords and a more equal world would be (hopefully) achieved. Also, get this, a new version of that creepy half human/ half ape child (who clearly would have had at least one very desperate parent) was to appear in this production, too.

Hey, under Peter Jackson he might have looked like a Hobbit, right?

Why was it never made?

Who wouldn’t love the idea of a half human/ half ape clutching a ring and hissing “My Precious!” while an elderly Leonardo da Simian looks on and paints a Monkey Lisa smile?

Apparently Tom Jacobson, that’s who. Reportedly Rick Baker and producer Harry J. Ufland (a frequent Martin Scorsese collaborator) were both on board and Ufland’s good buddy Joe Roth (then-Chairman of 20th Century Fox) also loved the idea. Roddy McDowall, who previously said he had no interest in returning to the franchise, loved the idea even more and agreed to do it.

Unfortunately, Roth left the studio before pre-production could even be planned. Subsequent talks with Head of Production Tom Jacobson bore no fruit as Jacobson was not a fan of the series or Jackson and Walsh’s idea. He was further unmoved by the fact that McDowall had signed on as he was (humorously) unaware of the fact that McDowall had been the star of most of the films in the series.


Roddy McDowall as Caesar off set

Let me repeat that: The Head of Production at Fox was unaware that Roddy McDowall was the star of one of its best known series. Was it the mask? In short, as Jackson later said, “It went incredibly badly.”

Later, after Jackson became a bigger name, new Fox executives called the married couple back in to pitch the same script again. They did and Fox was enthusiastic to make the Ape Renaissance picture with Jackson and Walsh writing and Jackson directing. How could things have gone better and how could things fail?

Unfortunately, James Cameron had beaten them to the punch and had met with Fox already to secure a deal that allowed Cameron to produce (as he was busy directing 1997’s Titanic) and Arnold Schwarzenegger to star. All they needed was a script and capable director, which they thought they had found in Walsh and Jackson’s project.

Jackson feared that he would have very little creative control with superstar Schwarzenegger in front of him and superstar Cameron behind him, so he walked away from the project a second time. When Roddy McDowall died in 1998, Jackson reportedly lost all interest in returning.

What got made instead?

Peter Jackson threw his hands in the air and went back to work on Heavenly Creatures (1994) and would eventually get his ape on by directing the monster remake, King Kong (2005). Somewhat ironically, the very next film that Tom Jacobson actually produced was the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young, also the story of a giant ape brought to the United States (the original had been created by the makers of the original King Kong from 1933).

Mighty Joe Young was reviewed well, but proved to be a box office failure while Jackson’s King Kong succeeded critically and commercially. Looks like Jackson knew more about big ape movies than Jacobson.

But attempts to resurrect Planet of the Apes did not die at that meeting.


7. Oliver Stone’s Return of the Apes (1993)

Because it seemed that virtually every producer, writer and director in Hollywood was slated to become attached to Planet of the Apes at some point in the ’90s, Oliver Stone stepped forward just after Jackson’s (first) meeting with Fox to throw his hat in the ring. His towel followed not long after.

Stone agreed to executive produce and co-write his concept known as Return of the Apes, with Terry Hayes brought on as co-writer (based on his successes with the latter two Mad Max films). Rick Baker was ousted in favor of Stan Winston and Arnold Schwarzenegger quickly became attached to the project (before Cameron’s splash) expecting a violent and gory film, similar to The Terminator (1994). Unfortunately, Fox wanted something more akin to The Flintstones.

What was it about?

I warn you… this one gets weird. Quoting Stone himself, “What if there were discovered cryogenically frozen Vedic apes who held the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilization?”

A genetic scientist (Schwarzenegger) becomes so disillusioned with his work that he changes his name to “Will Robinson” (because he found himself “Lost in Space”, get it?). Perhaps his previous career went down like a Led Zeppelin because the scientist’s birth name was “Robert Plant” (not kidding).

A plague that attacks unborn babies (all of them) and ages them beyond nonagenarian levels, before birth is soon discovered. When this wicked little plague proves to be a virus lying dormant in human DNA for over a 100,000 years and threatens to destroy all of humanity, Will Robinson senses the “danger” and travels back in time to the origin of that genetic code.

How does he travel back in time? He hypothesizes that with the right chemical key, anyone can travel through time and space through their own DNA chain, physically. One must wonder if his last words before vanishing were “I’ll be back!”

I warned you that this would get weird. And I’m not done yet.

Awakening at the dawn of man, he finds that way back in Earth’s past mankind was dominated by a race of super-intelligent and highly technological apes (as opposed to, you know, Earth’s future). Also in the past? A bunch of humans and apes named after characters from The Lord of the Rings, such as “Strider” and “Aragorn” and “Nazgul” (remember, this is the project Jackson was not involved in). Oh, also, the apes have a bit of a “Steampunk” vibe and they have “iron Erector Set” tanks called, and again, I’m not kidding, “The Balls”, “The Claw” and “The Flame”, the last of which, Arnold gets to drive in the epic final battle.

If this sounds like about seven kinds of nothing like Planet of the Apes, you’re right, as Oliver Stone reportedly considered the original films to be “terrible”. However, there is one blatant nod to the original film, as the artist formerly known as Robert Plant (still Schwarzenegger), builds a Statue of Liberty out of stone and iron on a beach to remember where he came from. I must wonder if this film had been made, would Heston have screamed “Damn you to hell!” at the screen?

Why was it never made?

It should be noted, before we go on, that Stone actually did get paid for his “work” on this (Fox chairman Peter Chernin actually called Return of the Apes one of the best scripts he had ever read). Yes, Stone walked into Fox offices, spouted off an acid trip that resembled Planet of the Apes about as much as I resemble Winston Churchill, and became $1 million richer. A million dollars, folks, and the movie never even got made.

Why? Like I said, Fox wasn’t so interested in a violent and gory feature like Schwarzenegger and Stone (whose most recent film had been 1994’s Natural Born Killers) and wanted something much funnier, cuter and, yes, folks, something they could sell Happy Meal toys to promote. One of the most notorious demands came from Fox executive Dylan Sellers, who insisted that the script include a scene in which Arnold coaches the apes in a game of Baseball. Yes, baseball. Because the apes spontaneously managed to figure out the entire game (equipment, diamond, bats) but didn’t figure out the pitcher, so Will Robinson helps them out.

Why? It’s funny, Sellers thought.

While this idea is stupider than anything in Stone’s plan, Sellers insisted on its inclusion. When Terry Hayes did not include it, Sellers fired him on the spot and Stone balked and walked (though Schwarzenegger remained attached).

Yes, possibly the weirdest damned script ever to come out of the nightmare depths of Oliver Stone’s mind was killed, because it didn’t include a visual joke about baseball.

What got made instead?

Slated director Phillip Noyce (handpicked by Schwarzenegger) went on to make The Saint (1997). Producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy who had brought Stone aboard (and who had been paid off to leave the project) went on to make the kids movie Double Dragon (1994) and teamed back up with Hayes for the 2001 Hughes Brothers adaptation of Alan Moore’s From Hell (which was not for kids).

The script remained at Fox and some subsequent versions also included the same plague. Later a similar virus is used as the focal point for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), two films Fox actually did make.

Dylan Sellers, who insisted on the baseball idea, later went to jail for drunk driving.


8. Chris Columbus’ Planet of the Apes (1995)

While it might make a lot of sense now for Chris Columbus, the director who launched the Harry Potter film franchise, to helm a Planet of the Apes flick, at the time he was most famous for films like Adventures in Babysitting (1987), Home Alone (1990) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

Still, he brought on Sam Hamm (the writer of Burton’s 1989 Batman film) to write a decidedly dark screenplay… that also never got made.

What was it about?

A weird baroque space ship splashes down like a meteor in New York Harbor and when its humanoid (but not human) pilot opens the hatch and says “Please?” some young military recruit shoots him. Yes, just like in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Unless his next words were going to be “let me eat your face” I’m pretty sure “Please” doesn’t require an answer in bullet form. Ah, well.

The execution of this alien unleashes that same baby-killing plague from the Stone/ Hayes version, so the only thing the learned scientists can think of is to repair the craft, fly it back to its origin in the Alpha Centauri system, find a cure and then fly back before the last remaining fertile females (and thus, the hope for the entire human race) die out.

Needless to say that just like in most every Planet of the Apes movie, the ship crash lands on the planet, one of the astronauts dies and the survivors look around to discover that on this planet, apes have evolved to hold dominance over man.

I’d have paid double the ticket price if one of the characters had said “Didn’t I see this in a Charlton Heston movie once?” before munching down on a square of “Soilent Green”.

Many more familiar scenes take place on this new planet that also features characters named Zaius, Zira and Cornelius. A mutagen to counteract the plague is developed and the astronauts return home only to find that the Statue of Liberty (yes, again) has been re-carved into the face of a grinning ape. Yes, once again, as in the original novel and the eventual Tim Burton remake, Earth is now populated by apes who hold dominance over man. Welcome home, kids.

Why was it never made?

With homages such as the names as well as visuals like the crash, Statue of Liberty and re-use of key lines, this could have been an amazing tribute to the original film, while still turning the saga on its head for something totally new. Further, much of the imagery and plot that was to take place on the planet itself would have been taken directly from Boulle’s novel. And hey, it’s not nearly the acid flashback that Stone’s idea was and since the project still had Schwarzenegger and Winston, this could have been a hit.

But Fox executives didn’t think so. Although the project went so far as to undergo makeup tests as well as tests of Apes on snow skis (!!), Sam Hamm’s script failed to impress Fox and they nixed his ideas. Because Hamm’s was the script upon which Columbus wanted to build his Planet of the Apes film, the director hit the road and took Arnold with him.

What got made instead?

Columbus and Schwarzenegger teamed up to make Jingle All the Way (1996) which also featured the future Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd.

Around this time James Cameron was pitching his plans to Fox and for a time the press and the studio were all pretty much positive that it was going to be made.


9. James Cameron’s Planet of the Apes (1998)

Have you heard of James Cameron? He’s a small, upstart former truck driver who decided to become a film director and whose most recent motion pictures have earned the top two spots on the list of biggest money-making movies of all time. Yeah. That guy.

As mentioned earlier in this article, Cameron approached Fox with plans to executive produce a Planet of the Apes movie with someone else directing and Schwarzenegger starring in the film.

When Peter Jackson walked away fearing he would not maintain his creative control with longtime collaborators Schwarzenegger and Cameron surrounding him, Cameron proceeded with his own idea for the screenplay. Would it have been any good? Well, it surely would have made money!

What was it about?

Cameron’s vision would have fit in with the original continuity of Planet of the Apes, conditionally. The idea is that Taylor still took off from Earth in the Icarus and still crash landed on the planet of the future, but this new future is one shaped by Caesar after Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). Cameron was to use the exact same footage of Taylor’s crash from the 1968 film but instead of crashing in a lake in a desolate desert, the Icarus crashes in the same lake, but next to a highly advanced research facility.

Flash forward 31 years to a decidedly kinky future. And I’m not joking about that, either. According to the leaked treatment, Ape City is now ruled over by a Caligula-like pervert descendant of Caesar who takes his role as Prime Minister as divinely granted (due to his relation to Caesar). Oh, he’s also half gibbon (instead of full chimp), in spite of the fact that in this version, chimps, gorillas, gibbons and orangutans are very uneasily united under the perverted Prime Minister, who has some decidedly strange appetites.

Around this time, yet another group of time traveling astronauts crash lands in the same lake and the survivors soon befriend an aging orangutan (possibly McDowall again). The eccentric old ape tells stories of another astronaut, whom he described as “a real gun nut” (Heston was the president of the NRA at the time) crash landing years before.

Unfortunately, when they find Taylor (the aforementioned “gun nut”), they discover that he’s not a whole lot better than the Simian Caligula, having sired an entire new race of intelligent humans by sleeping with every primitive female he could find. Last hope for humanity, indeed. Kinky future, indeed.

Why was it never made?

Once again, this film almost was made, and the director was almost Michael Bay. Thankfully Cameron elected to select Peter Hyams, who had successfully continued the mythology of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with 2010 (1984) as well as the realistic sci-fi adventure Capricorn One (1977).

When Fox fired Hyams before pre-production could begin, Cameron was reportedly outraged (and having just directed the then-biggest movie of all time in 1997’s Titanic he could afford to be). Cameron left the project, followed by Schwarzenegger and Fox was left with no director, no producer, no star and no script. They approached Peter Jackson one more time, but after the 1998 death of Roddy McDowall, Jackson had no interest.

What got made instead?

Finally Fox brought back in producer Richard D. Zanuck, the man who had green lit (and produced) the original 1968 film for new perspective. Stan Winston dropped out of the project to allow Rick Baker to jump back in and Fox (perhaps burned out on the entire affair) green lit a script written by William Broyles Jr., promising him a great deal of creative freedom. This script fit in well with Tim Burton’s dream of a “re-imagining” that would be neither remake of nor sequel to the original film, but a completely new vision.

The vision proved flawed, in spite of the genius of Baker, the music of Danny Elfman and an all-star cast. Although Planet of the Apes (2001) was a financial success, it was a critical failure and audiences were left shaking their heads about the ambiguous and weird ending (similar to, but not nearly as logical as that of Boulle’s novel and Hamm’s script).

Michael Bay went on to direct Pearl Harbor (2001) followed by a series of ridiculous giant-robots-hitting-each-other movies starting with Transformers (2007).

James Cameron went on to direct Avatar (2009), the only movie to make more money than Titanic (1997). While I would say “Fox Executives should have been kicking themselves.”, Avatar was also made by Twentieth Century Fox.


10. Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa’s Genesis (2006)

For a short time there were actually plans for a sequel to Tim Burton’s 2001 film with many of the actors excited to return. One of the visions discussed involved apes in board rooms, wearing glasses, smoking cigars and driving cars (hopefully not while in the board room). In spite of the money the film made, public reaction to the movie was so negative that Fox pulled the plug on any sequels. For Burton’s part, he indicated that he would “rather jump out a window” than direct another Planet of the Apes film.

So the saga lay dormant for years and years with no one interested in touching it. Then in 2006 a married couple of screenwriters named Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver began reading about “domesticated” chimpanzees growing up and becoming violent troublemakers in their adoptive homes, unable to adjust to human lifestyles. Thus the Genesis of a new idea was created… and it had nothing to do with Planet of the Apes.

What was it about?

Genesis was to tell the story of a very intelligent chimpanzee who was taught sign language and raised by a human family as one of their children. Unfortunately this genetically engineered chimp is also completely evil and he soon attacks his family (and others) and wreaks more havoc than a Chucky doll on steroids.

Why was it never made?

Probably because Jaffa found himself sitting on the floor staring at the 50 different things he’d been working on and researching for Genesis when he realized “Oh my GOD. This is Planet of the Apes!”

Wisely, instead of giving up and hiding under his desk sucking his thumb, Jaffa grabbed Silver and headed to Fox to pitch the idea. Silver was certain that Fox was already developing a Planet of the Apes project (as it had throughout the entire ’90s in so many forms), but somehow this wasn’t the case and Fox actually loved the idea.

The chimp soon became the new Caesar and after refreshing their memories with a Planet of the Apes marathon, Silver and Jaffa began working on a modern-day remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), but without the trappings of the prequels to Conquest. This was to be a new “Genesis” for the entire saga, which could lead to Taylor’s familiar crash landing and prostration before the half-buried statue.

What got made instead?

Luckily, this is the movie that got made. Originally announced as Genesis: Ape (and alternately Genesis: Apes), the screenplay went through a few revisions as pre-production commenced. The film was renamed Caesar then Rise of the Apes and finally Rise of the Planet of the Apes which is the name it carried with it to the big screen in 2011 (under the directorial hand of Rupert Wyatt).

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise monster hit earning much more than the 2001 film on a smaller budget. CGI and motion capture were used to bring the apes to life and Andy Serkis (who had previously played both Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and the title character in 2005’s King Kong) gave us a brilliant performance of Caesar.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was so successful with audiences and critics that a sequel was immediately commissioned and the Matt Reeves-directed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) has enjoyed even more critical acclaim (for once exceeding that of the 1968 film) and even more boffo box office. Clearly Jaffa and Silver found the right way in through the out door with their very special “Genesis”.

And so we actually did get to see one of these visions come to life. Ironically, it was the one that was not originally intended to be a Planet of the Apes film at all.

On the flip side, we never got to see Mister Twilight Zone’s ideas for what could be worse than a planet where apes evolved from men, we did not witness Taylor name himself the new Moses of all mankind and prove it by becoming a dirty old skirt chaser, human eyes never saw Doctor Zaius banging cymbals together and being fed peanuts for tips, the image of intelligent apes in sandals sword fighting with an angry Charlie Sheen would forever be denied us, the Governator would never be seen shooting flame from a steampunk tank at ape versions of Tolkein characters, there was to be no sick minded Simian Caligula orgy scene, we would be forever denied the human/ ape hybrid kid and New York Harbor would forever have to “settle” for a Lady Liberty with a human face.

Sure, many of these ideas are distasteful and even shocking, but what if some of them survive into the already green-lit sequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? If that film involves a whole army of Charlton Hestons all set to blow up Earth by any means necessary while a CGI Roddy McDowall is resurrected to be the voice of reason while Vedic apes read portions of the Bible to confused Hobbits in gladiator clothes, I’m out.

Or, as they said on The Simpsons, “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I want to get off!”