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The Amazing Legacy of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes

John Tommasino, Cybernaut, Van Nuys Branch Library,
Colorize photo of French author Pierre Boulle and his science fiction book, Planet of the Apes

In the farthest reaches of space, a group of star travelers finds a message in a bottle that contains the record of another spaceship’s doomed voyage to a planet where apes are masters and humans are mute savages. Thus begins one of science fiction’s most well-known franchises, Planet of the Apes.

Published in 1963 by noted French author and former military operative Pierre Boulle, La Planete de singes, the original novel told a philosophical and satirical story about talking apes that was published under the title Monkey Planet in the United Kingdom. However, the story did not gain traction in public consciousness until it was adapted into a feature film in 1968 starring Charlton Heston. Both philosophical and action-oriented, the smash hit produced by former Hollywood publicist Arthur P. Jacobs would spawn four sequels, two television series, and a menagerie of merchandise in the 1970s. Its shocking ending featuring the ruins of the Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic endings in film history.

Hollywood would remake Planet of the Apes in 2001 and eventually reboot the franchise in 2011, which would inspire two sequels. The story continues on May 10 as the latest installment, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, premieres, kicking off the 2024 summer movie season.

Whether you are a diehard Apes fan or just want to monkey around with the fandom, here are this blogger’s picks for the best of the Planet of the Apes:

Recommended Media

Book cover of Planet of the apes
Planet of the Apes
Boulle, Pierre

Read the original novel that started it all! A group of space travelers discover a record of a doomed spaceflight that landed on a planet ruled by apes. This novel contains an unforgettable surprise ending and is the prototype for all of the films and stories that followed. The short novel is also the May selection of the Van Nuys Branch Library’s Science Fiction Book Club, which meets on May 29.

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Planet of the Apes

The blockbuster film that launched the franchise tells the story of a misanthropic astronaut named Taylor (Charlton Heston), who reluctantly becomes the defender of humanity on a planet ruled by a hierarchy of apes. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the film also stars Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowell and Maurice Evans.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes

In this sequel to the original Planet of the Apes, the gorilla army faces off with a civilization of telepathic mutants who worship an Atomic Bomb capable of destroying the entire planet. Despite the world being destroyed in the film’s climax, the original apes series would produce three more sequels after this.

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Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series

After scoring big ratings with the television broadcast of the Planet of the Apes movies, CBS decided to adapt the property into a television series. Astronauts Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Pete Burke (James Naughton), along with their friendly chimpanzee companion Galen (Roddy McDowell), are pursued week after week by a ruthless gorilla military leader named Urko (Mark Lenard). Notable episodes include "The Trap," "The Horse Race," and "The Interrogation."

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Behind the Planet of the Apes

This in-depth documentary tells the story of the making of all five Planet of the Apes movies, the television series, and beyond. Hosted by longtime apes actor Roddy McDowell, this is a must-see for all fans of the apes franchise.

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Return to the Planet of the Apes: The Complete Animated Series

In this animated series, which originally debuted as Saturday Morning Cartoon programming, a group of three astronauts must contend with warlike apes as well as mysterious mutants. Early episodes are faithful to the Boulle novel and the series contains memorable visuals as well as unique animation.