2. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Another astronaut, Brent (James Franciscus), lands on the planet and eventually discovers a race of telepathic mutant humans who live underground and worship a nuclear bomb. When the apes attack the humans, a dying Taylor (Heston) sets off the bomb, thereby destroying the Earth. This glum sequel is content to rehash elements from the original without adding anything new of interest (the mutant humans are a rather boring addition). McDowell is sorely missed (David Watson took over as Cornelius) and Heston’s role is merely a cameo. At least, critics thought the explosive climax put an end to additional sequels. Little did they know! Joel, Jonah, and I all rate it as the worst of the five films.
3. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). We learn that Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (McDowell), and Dr. Milo escaped prior to the Earth’s destruction in Taylor’s repaired spaceship. They go through the same time warp that Taylor and Brent did…and wind up on Earth in 1971. Shortly after an uncivilized gorilla kills Dr. Milo, Zira reveals that she and Cornelius are intelligent and can speak—thus becoming media celebrities! However, things go bad when an evil scientist learns that, in the future, apes revolt against humans and take over the world. Zira and Cornelius are killed, but not before their baby Milo is secretly smuggled to safety. Escape is the smartest film in the series on two levels. First, it cleverly circumvents the closed ending of the preceding film and sets the plot in motion for the rest of the series. Secondly, screenwriter Paul Dehn (Goldfinger) has a lot of fun with the celebrity status achieved by the intelligent apes. Joel and Jonah rank it as only the 4th best, but it’s my choice for No. 2.
4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). We learn that a disease has killed off the Earth’s dogs and cats and humans have taken apes as pets. As the apes evolve, they eventually became slave laborers. Milo, now known as Caesar, leads a successful ape revolt against human society and announces at the end: “Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!” The original ending had Caesar ordering the execution of his former master. When that tested poorly with audiences, a new ending was filmed with Caesar’s wife speaking for the first time to plead her husband to show mercy. A thought-provoking and worthy sequel to Escape, the fourth film provides the crucial motivation for the apes’ takeover. It also showcases McDowell, who gives a strong performance as the son of his previous character (Cornelius). The reworked ending is very effective, concluding the film on a positive note. I rate it the best in the series, while Joel and Jonah have it at No. 2.
In 1974, CBS launched a short-lived TV series called Planet of the Apes starring Ron Harper and James Naughton as astronauts and Roddy McDowell as a chimpanzee named Galen (no relation to Cornelius or Caesar). Several episodes were strung together and shown as made-for-TV movies, starting with Back to the Planet of the Apes. There was also an animated 1976 series called Return to the Planet of the Apes that lasted for 13 episodes. And finally, there was Tim Burton’s best-forgotten 2001 remake of the 1968 film that started it all.