Caesar the Ape in 'War for the Planet of the Apes'.
(20th Century Studios)

The Ranking of the Worst to the Best of the Movies of the ‘Planet of the Apes’

We get it, there are a lot of prepositions

Ranking the Planet of the Apes of movies from worst to best is a monumental undertaking. Almost as monumental as establishing a hyperintelligent society of apes on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Arguably more so. If there was no one around to rank it, did it really happen at all?

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9. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Three apes discussing something in "Battle for the Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is the film that killed the original franchise. Distancing itself from its hard sci-fi meets social commentary roots, the Battle for the Planet of the Apes feels like a made-for-TV kids movie. It basically was. Like many Hollywood sequels, the first film’s irreplicable success proved to be the franchise’s undoing. Planet of the Ape‘s success led subsequent movies to become cash-grabs to sell action figures to kids. Battle for the Planet of the Apes marks the nadir of the whole shebang. It’s just poorly filmed dudes in ape costumes running around in the woods. I could do that at home, thank you.

8. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Humans and apes stand together looking somber in "Conquest for the Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes gets points for making a political statement, but then loses those points for being a bit… tone deaf. The plot of the movie? The baby chimp from Escape from the Planet of the Apes becomes the leader of a full-blown ape revolution. It’s a direct reflection on post-Civil rights America, but it feels a little bit on the nose at points. The ape revolution is not depicted with any sort of subtlety and nuance, and at worst feels like a parody of the civil rights movements that it draws inspiration from. It’s laudable that the film tries to make a statement, but the shaky delivery of said statement lessens the impact considerably.

7. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

A mutant human in robes from "Beneath the Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Alright, what are we doing here? Beneath the Planet of the Apes attempted to jump the shark and ended up slipping on a banana peel left on the ramp. It’s about a group of mutant humans who live, as the title suggests, beneath the Planet of the Apes and spend their time worshipping a nuclear bomb. In another universe, it could be smart political commentary, but in execution, it appears more like silly sci-fi pulp. How bad is it? Charlton Heston agreed to do the film on one condition: if his character died. Why? So he would never have to do another Apes film again.

6. Planet of the Apes (2001)

An official looking ape looking suspicious in Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Tim Burton tried. Tim Burton failed. 2001’s Planet of the Apes marked the return of ape kind to the silver screen after a quarter-century hiatus. It should have stayed on break. Yes, the updated design of the original film is cool. It’s a Tim Burton flick, so you know it looks good. But it’s just … boring? Slow. Meandering. Pointless. And for a Burton film, it’s surprisingly un-weird. It lacks the idiosyncratic charm of Burton’s best work, due in no small part to a shoddy script and a largely wooden cast. A quirky sci-fi hero Mark Wahlberg is not.

5. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

An ape looking incredulous from "Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes marked the last gasp of original franchise’s cultural relevancy… and it was only the third film. After the nuclear holocaust (spoiler alert sry) that marked the end of the sequel, a few of the surviving apes end up traveling back in time and becoming celebrities. It’s … interesting. No, seriously. It’s a satire of American celebrity culture that centers on famous talking animals. It sounds just ridiculous enough to happen, doesn’t it?

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

An ape growling in "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

The beginning of the bangers. Rise of the Planet of the Apes marks this list’s transition from Worst to Best. Rise shouldn’t have worked. A big-budget Hollywood remake of a long-dead sci-fi epic? What in the Dune is going on here? Whose idea was it to cast James Franco as a doctor? How is this gonna work? Andy. Serkis. That’s how. The legendary motion capture actor is electric as the ape Caesar, giving the sci-fi film a beautiful grounding in reality. Serkis’ performance is rendered in stunning detail by state of the art CGI created just for this film. As far as digital performances go, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean Davy Jones level.

3. Planet of the Apes (1968)

An ape talks to a man in shackles in "Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

The original. The blueprint. The film that started it all. If you can get past the now-dated make-up and special effects, the original Planet of the Apes is a legit masterpiece. Planet of the Apes is philosophical, intelligent, and exciting. Charlton Heston lands on what seems to be a faraway planet dominated by apes, and spends his days in existential dread wandering the deserts like a far-flung prophet of old. Eventually, he chooses to make the best of his circumstances and carves out a purpose for himself on this desolate planet. And of course, who could forget the groundbreaking twist-ending reveal of the half buried Statue of Liberty? The Planet of the Apes was OUR planet all along! A worthy sci-ending. Somebody bust out the Hugo Award.

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

A human stands with a group of apes in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
(20th Century Fox)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took the best parts of the 2011 reboot (the apes) and eliminated the worst (the humans). What unfolds is a surprisingly poignant political drama about a young society going through an identity crisis. Caesar the ape is attempting to be a wise and compassionate leader, a simian Marcus Aurelius, but his leadership is challenged by a tyrannical despot who would bring about a totalitarian regime onto ape kind. It’s a film about cultural identity, xenophobia, and the battle between progressive and reactionary politics. Mix that in with killer fight scenes and top-notch CGI performances and you’ve got an all-around dope film on your hands.

1. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes poster

It’s staggering that this reboot was good at all, and even more unbelievable that each subsequent film KEEPS GETTING BETTER. In a career defining, Golem-level CGI performance, Andy Serkis’ Caesar seeks revenge against a violent human faction responsible for destroying his family. Equal parts tender and brutal, Caesar attempts to eradicate threats against ape kind while still attempting to maintain his moral compass. The struggle for human/ape coexistence is everything that the original 70’s sequels wished that they could be. Action, intelligent filmmaking, and heart combine into the Best of the Films of the Planet of the Apes.

(featured image: 20th Century Fox)


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Author
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.