Few film series are as closely tied to the sci-fi genre quite as intrinsically as Planet of the Apes. With its initial installment released in 1968, Planet of the Apes single-handedly changed the entire nature of the genre itself, bringing a new level of intelligence and sophistication to sci-fi never before seen among mainstream films.
Between its frank exploration of race, nuclear annihilation, and animal rights, and its incredible mix of practical effects and state-of-the-art CGI, Planet of the Apes has been and continues to be a revolutionary series unto itself. As one of the most celebrated franchises in existence, it’s also a direct precursor to practically every major sci-fi film that came after it, from SFX-heavy films like Star Wars to downbeat dystopian movies like Logan’s Run.
Like most franchises, the Planet of the Apes series is made up of both outrageously good and unbelievably bad entries. From its landmark first installment to its incredible recent sequels, here is every Planet of the Apes film ranked from best to worst.
1. Planet of the Apes
Sent out into the far reaches of space, an astronaut team emerges from a 2,000-year-long hibernation to explore a strange world where sentient apes have become the dominant life form.
It’s impossible to state how ahead-of-its-time the original Planet of the Apes was when it hit theaters in 1968. In the decades prior, sci-fi films were a fairly cartoonish genre, characterized by zany aliens, light-hearted humor, and cheesy special effects.
Planet of the Apes changed all of that, raising the bar for cinematic sci-fi films to a whole new level. From its impeccable makeup and design to its bittersweet, thought-provoking ending, it's a film that leaves no wonder why it’s considered among the greatest sci-fi works of all time.
2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Sometime after the Simian Flu wiped out most of humanity, a handful of human survivors form a colony in San Francisco, coming into contact with the genetically advanced apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) nearby.
While both Rise and War of the Planet of the Apes are worthy of praise in their own right, Dawn is nothing short of the perfect Planet of the Apes sequel. Expanding upon the universe in bold new ways, it focuses on the tenuous relationship between the human survivors of the Simian Flu and the burgeoning ape society ruled by Caesar; not only that, but it also focuses on the fascinating relationship between Caesar and Koba (Toby Kebbell), and the Machiavellian plot the latter hatches in his scheme to rid the world of humanity.
3. War of the Planet of the Apes
As the conflict intensifies between humanity and primates, Caesar (Andy Serkis) battles a ruthless human colonel (Woody Harrelson) who believes the only way to ensure humanity’s survival is by wiping the ape species off the face of the earth.
The most recent addition to the Apes series, War of the Planet of the Apes concludes Caesar’s story in an incredibly satisfactory way. Even if plans for a fifth installment in the franchise (Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes) hadn’t been announced, War would’ve been the perfect segue from the linear timeline established with Rise and expounded upon here, leading up to the events of the original Planet of the Apes.
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Intent on finding a cure for Alzheimer's, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) begins experimentation on chimpanzees, unlocking superior intellectual skills in the young ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis).
Recovering from the critically panned Tim Burton-helmed Planet of the Apes, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a return to form for the Apes franchise. Reimagining the chronology of the series’ universe from a modern context, Rise was a satisfying reboot that breathed some much-needed new life into the series.
5. Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Fleeing Earth just before its destruction in the future, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) travel back in time to modern-day America.
Easily the best of the initial Planet of the Apes sequels, Escape is no doubt an odd film, with Cornelius and Zira interacting with the then-contemporary setting of 1970s America. However, its interesting utilization of time travel ultimately formed the backbone of the series’ universe, making it an integral part of the Apes’ canon (at least before its rebooted timeline decades later).
6. Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Sent on a rescue mission to find the missing Taylor (Charlton Heston), astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) stumbles upon the ape-run civilization, uncovering a subterranean city inhabited by mutated humans who possess psychic abilities.
With how universally well-received the initial Planet of the Apes was, it’s only natural Beneath the Planet of the Apes wouldn’t exactly rise to the occasion. Suffering from a major drop in quality in terms of its practical effects (some of the background actors look like they’re wearing dollar-store Halloween masks), it’s a middling film at best.
Plus, between the underground psychic mutants, war-hungry gorillas, and nihilistic ending, it's also the strangest entry in the series to date (aside, perhaps, from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake).
7. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Raised in secret by the circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), Zira and Cornelius’s son Caesar (Roddy McDowall) leads an ape uprising against the oppressive human regime that’s since enslaved the primate population.
Far and away the most brutal and cynical of the Planet of the Apes film, Conquest emphasizes the cyclical violence that will forever mar the relationship between man and ape (an underlying message found in every Apes movie). While the movie’s original ending is bleak yet brave, the theatrical version leaves a ton of unanswered questions about the universe’s continuity, coming across as sappy, cliche, and completely out of character for McDowall’s Caesar.
8. Planet of the Apes (2001)
Crash landing on a strange planet where sentient apes have enslaved humanity, an astronaut (Mark Wahlberg) stages a human uprising, all the while trying to contact his ship in the hopes of being rescued.
This movie is … a lot, even by director Tim Burton’s standards. While there’s no question that Burton imagines an intricate world entirely apart from the original Apes series, the movie’s harebrained attempt at an intelligent plot involving time travel seemed out of place in the primate-dominated landscape of the series. (Although to be fair, Escape’s handling of time travel was extremely dubious to begin with.)
In an alternative universe, it would’ve been interesting to see what Burton had in store for viewers with his sequels. But as it is, all we’re left with is a dizzyingly poor remake of the original Planet of the Apes.
9. Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Some years after their successful uprising, the now-sentient apes under Caesar (Roddy McDowall) live in harmony with humanity after civilization has effectively ended. However, their peaceful relationship is soon strained by the emergence of a war-hungry gorilla (Claude Akins) and a colony of militaristic mutated humans.
Say what you will about Burton’s Planet of the Apes, but at least that film had some kind of creative vision. Battle for the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, is completely anarchic in the worst way possible. Barely connecting to the end of Conquest and trying too hard to set up the chronological events of Planet of the Apes, it’s a horrendous movie that not even the most ardent Apes fan can justify its existence.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).