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'Planet of the Apes' franchise is a rocky evolution

By STEVE PERSALL | Times Movie Critic

After seven movies over six decades, the Planet of the Apes franchise is one of Hollywood's enduring species. But it hasn't been a smooth evolution. After a big bang beginning in 1968, the Apes saga had its ups and downs, not the upward evolution that inspired a cool college dorm poster. We're tweaking that image "The Evolution of Man" to rank the Apes movies, not counting this weekend's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which wasn't screened in time for Weekend. A review of that one is available at tampabay.com/movies and will be published on Etc, Page 2B. Get your stinking paws on it.

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

The fifth and final movie of the franchise's first phase, ending a merchandising bonanza that taught George Lucas something about ancillary profiteering. No amount of action figures, Halloween costumes and lunch boxes could hide the fact that the Apes saga had overstayed its welcome, with Roddy McDowall as Caesar leading a revolt against humans that Andy Serkis carries on today.

Worldwide box office: $8.8 million (lowest total in franchise history)

Apes trivia: Ben Affleck's son watches this movie in Argo, giving Dad an idea for rescuing U.S. hostages in Iran.

6. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

The series' first sequel, with James Franciscus leading an expedition to find astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who disappeared in the 1968 original. His search uncovers a rift between apes and gorillas, and humans hiding in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, worshiping a nuclear bomb.

Worldwide box office: $19 million

Apes trivia: Heston wouldn't reprise his role until being assured that Taylor would die, and his salary would be donated to charity. Taylor disappears early and returns late to detonate the bomb ending the world but not the franchise, thanks to clever repositioning in the next chapter, Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

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

This bears a passing resemblance to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the infant Caesar born in Escape now grown and planting seeds of rebellion against humans, who have domesticated apes as pets and servants.

Worldwide box office: $9.7 million

Apes trivia: Twentieth Century Fox was nearly broke, so disaster movie master Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno) loaned props and costumes from TV series he produced, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel.

4. Planet of the Apes (2001)

Loosely remaking the 1968 original, director Tim Burton was obviously out of his oddball element with this one-off misfire. Burton explained the confusing finale as a setup for a sequel that he wouldn't make. "I'd rather jump out a window," Burton reportedly said.

Worldwide box office: $362 million, in a new era of ticket pricing and mega-marketing

Apes trivia: Other directors who flirted with rebooting this franchise: fantasy specialists James Cameron, Michael Bay and Peter Jackson, plus Oliver Stone, who dabbles in different sorts of fantasy.

3. Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

The most pure fun of any Apes flick, with Caesar's future parents (Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter) escaping Earth in Taylor's spaceship just before part 2's nuclear bomb exploded. They land in then-present day Los Angeles, becoming celebrities until they're perceived as a threat to mankind.

Worldwide box office: $12 million

Apes trivia: McDowall skipped Beneath to direct the forgettable witchcraft yarn Tam Lin a.k.a. The Devil's Widow. He returned for Escape and never missed another Apes paycheck, in movies or on television, until his death in 1998.

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

The movie answering the burning question: Is James Franco smarter than a chimpanzee? Not as portrayed by Andy Serkis, the man of a thousand digital faces. Kicking off the third phase of Apes movies, a reason was finally offered for how apes got so darn smart. Naturally it was mankind's fault.

Worldwide box office: $481 million

Apes trivia: For someone who wanted out of the franchise in 1970, Charlton Heston certainly kept in touch. This movie marked his fifth Apes appearance, seen as the artist Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, that chimps are watching on TV.

1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Top banana in the bunch, and a milestone in Hollywood science fiction. The ending when Taylor and Nova (Linda Harrison) discover the Statue of Liberty in ruins, realizing they're trapped on a new Earth, stunned moviegoers then.

Worldwide box office: $32.5 million, which adjusted for inflation would be $198 million today

Apes trivia: At the time, Harrison was dating Fox studio head Richard Zanuck, and later appeared in Burton's version, produced by Zanuck. Not to mention another hit in between, Cocoon, filmed 30 years ago around Tampa Bay.

Contact Steve Persall at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

'Planet of the Apes' franchise is a rocky evolution 07/08/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 5:54pm]
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