A Timeline and Exploration of the Original ‘Planet of the Apes’ Franchise

A scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Photo: 20th Century Fox

I revisited the original Planet of the Apes films recently and when I say original I mean I didn’t include Tim Burton’s 2001 remake. I’ve seen that film once in my life and that was enough and it didn’t really suit my intentions. However, the original five films are awfully entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Themes of slavery, power, nuclear war, ignorance, intolerance and so on are peppered throughout all five films, five films that are also incredibly dark in nature.

Now Fox has revived the franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes marking the first film in the franchise to not use men in rubber ape suits, but instead employing the talents of the folks at WETA Digital (Avatar) to use performance capture to create all-digital photo-realistic apes.

Bad film or not, the makeup effects in Burton’s 2001 remake were spectacular, and Tim Roth as Thade was excellent, but the story was a mess, leading to an atrocious conclusion. Rise of the Planet of the Apes proved to be a much different scenario and who knows, maybe in 38 years people will be looking back at this new series the same way I am the original late ’60s and early ’70s predecessors.

Before we get started, if you’re wondering how Rise of the Planet of the Apes may or may not fit in with the original five films, it is something of a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the second best film in the original Apes franchise, which features Roddy McDowell as Caesar, a chimpanzee who leads a revolt against mankind as his brethren are being treated as pets and slaves.

The difference, however, between Conquest and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the origin of the simian revolution. The original franchise, as a matter of fact, has two origin stories and Rise of the Planet of the Apes presents something of a third with genetic engineering leading to the development of intelligence in apes rather than evolution or time traveling chimps from the future. The new film certainly pays homage to the films of the past and includes several references to events seen in previous films, the characters and the actors. Perhaps you’ll spot a few as I breakdown the story of the past and see what clues it may hold.

What follows is a quick look at the timeline as presented in the five films that make up the original Planet of the Apes franchise: Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). Not all details are covered, but I believe it presents a clear picture of the overall story.

November 3954
A scene from Planet of the Apes
Photo: Fox Home Entertainment

A spaceship that left Earth in 1972 carrying a four-person crew — Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Stewart (Dianne Stanley) — crash lands on Earth in November 3954. Stewart is dead when the ship lands, leaving Taylor, Landon and Dodge to explore what is seen as a barren wasteland until they ultimately stumble across a colony of intelligent apes and a world where humans are hunted and studied just as apes were the year they left Earth.

Dodge is killed, Landon lobotomized and Taylor is injured, put on trial and eventually freed by two chimpanzee scientists, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), who escape with Taylor and a female companion (Nova played by Linda Harrison) to the Forbidden Zone, an area destroyed by nuclear war.

NOTE: The chronometer reads 11-25-3978 when the ship crashes, but in Beneath the Planet of the Apes we learn the ship’s chronometer was off by 24 years.

January 3955
A scene from Planet of the Apes
Photo: Fox Home Entertainment

After escaping and venturing on his own, leaving Cornelius and Zira behind and departing as equals, Taylor and Nova discover the planet Taylor has been on this entire time is actually Earth, destroyed by nuclear war.

February 3955
A scene from Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Photo: Fox Home Entertainment

A second spaceship, launched in February 1973, after the first ship dropped out of communication, follows Taylor’s ship’s trajectory in a rescue effort and crash lands on Earth carrying Brent (James Franciscus) and Maddox. Maddox dies shortly after landing.

Brent eventually runs into Nova, but Taylor has gone missing. Nova takes him to Cornelius and Zira. Brent and Nova eventually head into the Forbidden Zone.

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