War for the Planet of the Apes beach

Back in the ’90s, my dad would take me on a frequent trip to Blockbuster Video (may it rest in peace). There, I became educated on one of his favorite franchises franchises, Planet of the Apeswhich in turn became one of my favorite film franchises. Over the years of watching and rewatching these classic movies, certain scenes stand out above the others, the moments that help define my love of the entire Apes series.

And with War for the Planet of the Apes arriving this week, this is a great opportunity to talk about them. From the scenes that helped make the series the success it is today to the more recent highlights, let’s take a look the best of the best, and maybe you’ll get why moviegoers have always gone “ape” for these movies (I’m so sorry).

Screen Test – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Though not a specific scene from any of the films, this short screen test for the first Planet of the Apes needs to be mentioned. Not only did it sell 20th Century Fox on the concept of the movie, it proved how believable the ape make-up (conceived by John Chambers) could appear on screen.

Here, we get a narration that tells us of Thomas (a.k.a Taylor) and his eventual discovery of a planet overrun by intelligent apes. Using commissioned concept art, the ideas of producer Arthur P. Jacobs come to life, showing us the intentions for the first film that involved many of the visuals from Pierre Boule’s original novel. Large structures, modern fashions for the Ape characters, and even helicopters, fill this version with grand and innovative imagery – most of which would be too expensive for Fox to allow Jacobs to continue with.

But once the actual test takes place, it becomes quite obvious the magic that was in store for the future of the series. Acting along side Heston are some interesting individuals, including the original choice for Dr. Zaius, Edward G. Robinson. Though he would have been great in the role, he declined due to his ill health and lack of interest in the long make-up process. Also in the scene as Cornelius and Zira are James Brolin and Linda Harrison, who would later go onto play Nova in the first two entries of the series. All of their work, along with those behind the scenes, clearly paid off. And the rest, they say, is history.

It’s a Madhouse – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Out of the many iconic lines that Charlton Heston delivers in the original movie, I’ve always been a champion of this one being the best. Sure, it might not have the initial shock value of the “Damn dirty, ape” line, but it has lingered in pop culture due to its versatility (it’s so easy to use in everyday life!).

In the scene, Taylor and Nova are cuddling inside their cage. After Taylor stunned the ape community with his ability to speak, he feels even more lonely and isolated than before, except with Nova, since she’ll listen to him (if not talk back). Suddenly, some apes decide to take Nova away to another area, and they spray water on Taylor to keep him away from interfering. He then goes on to dramatically refer to his situation as a “Madhouse”.

Since Taylor’s situation is supposed to be more a reflection of prison culture, I always found it interesting how little it’s discussed that Heston’s character is actually in an insane asylum. From the later scene of another character being lobotomized to the various trials that feel like health evaluations, Taylor’s famous line could be taken very literally.

The Only Good Human – Beneath the Planet of the Apes

When it comes to my least favorite of the Apes franchise, Beneath takes the cake. Now when a Apes movie is “bad” (with the exception of the truly awful Tim Burton remake) that still means it’s a movie with a lot going for it. But due to Charlton Heston’s complete disinterest in being involved with an Apes sequel, this entire film fells tinted by an angst and never quite settles itself into a comfortable spot. But the most memorable part of this film comes not from Heston, but from General Ursus.

A military leader gorilla with human blood on the brain, Ursus has only one goal in mind: to achieve his own ambitions and conquest. So when a food shortage takes place, he uses it as a way to excite his fellow soldiers and this rousing speech takes place. Filled with lines from top to bottom that need to be on t-shirts, this scene leaves an impression…you know, unlike the rest of this rushed sequel.

Mama – Escape from the Planet of the Apes

When I first heard about the story of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, I thought it sounded just plain silly. But once you realize that this weird reflection of the Apes franchise’s popularity is just as well thought-out as the original, you tend to see it a bit more differently. And no scene showcases that more perfectly than the film’s tragic ending.

In Escape, Zira and Cornelius take to the stars in Taylor’s abandoned spacecraft. They find that they have landed on Earth, but in the 1960’s. There, much like Taylor in the first movie, the two find themselves defending their lives. But once accepted into society, things go marvelously…that is, until Zira is discovered to be pregnant. With the government in pursuit of her “super-ape” baby, things don’t end well for the couple. It’s an ending that, 20 years after first seeing it, still gives me goosebumps.

Damn You All – Planet of the Apes

Well, if you’re gonna talk about Planet of the Apes, you gotta talk about this scene. Without it, movie history would likely be missing an important ingredient and science fiction would really never be the same. Because whenever you think Apes, Lady Liberty always comes to mind.

As Taylor and Nova depart from the group, Dr. Zaius gives the human pair a warning that they may not like what they find. For newer audiences who have no clue what the Forbidden Zone actually is, they likely have no clue what the orangutan is talking about. But if you’re a frequent Apes watcher, or just a movie buff, then you know what lies ahead for our hero to discover. And once Heston falls to the sand and delivers that (somewhat) over-the-top line, it all clicks – this ain’t good news for you, buddy.

This scene has consistently given chills to viewers for almost 50 years. It helped break the mold of what “popcorn” filmmaking could achieve at the time, in terms of both social messages and shocking conclusions. And though other movies (including Burton’s remake) have tried to copy this twist, they never succeed nearly as well as Apes does here.

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