All 10 Planet of the Apes movies, ranked from worst to best

Let's celebrate the release of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes by looking back on every single Apes film.
(Front): Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
(Front): Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

Planet of the Apes is one of science fiction's longest-running film franchises. Since the groundbreaking 1968 movie starring Charlton Heston, the series has spawned nine sequels, reboots and continuations. There are five movies in the original run of Apes movies, a failed early 2000s-era reboot, and then our latest run of Apes films which began with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Few film franchises have reinvented themselves as often as the Apes movies. So many entries are wildly unlike anything else out there, including the other Apes films.

Of course, with any series that changes gears as much as Planet of the Apes does, there are bound to be dips in quality. Not all Apes films are created equal. When the series is good, it's the stuff of moviemaking legend; when it's bad, it can devolve into a campy mess.

To celebrate the release of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the eagerly anticipated tenth Apes movie, we're looking back on the entire franchise and ranking each movie from worst to best. Which Apes films needed to evolve a bit more before hitting the big screen? And which are the pinnacle of the franchise?

Let's get to ranking! There will be some SPOILERS for the Planet of the Apes movies below.

10. Planet of the Apes (2001)

The much maligned 2001 Planet of the Apes remake by Tim Burton deserves its place at the bottom of the list. This was 20th Century Fox's first attempt at rebooting their popular Apes franchise after its successful run of five movies back in the 1960s and 70s. By and large, it missed the mark.

The big failing of Burton's Planet of the Apes is that it prioritizes somewhat campy action and adventure over having much of anything to say. The classic Apes movies are surprisingly deep films; yes, they are often campy and ridiculous, but they took insane risks that would terrify most Hollywood studios today. 2001's Planet of the Apes feels like a safe, cookie-cutter sci-fi movie, which isn't very representative of the franchise as a whole.

That's not to say it doesn't have its strengths. The costuming is impressive, and the movie was about as huge a leap forward visually as you'd expect for a reboot of a 30-year-old film. It had some great performances from its stacked cast, including Paul Giamatti as a wheedling orangutan slave trader, Tim Roth as a sadistic chimpanzee warlord, and Helena Bonham-Carter as the sympathetic chimp who helps Mark Wahlberg and his fellow humans escape captivity. On its own, Planet of the Apes is not an awful movie. But as a larger part of the franchise, it's easily the most forgettable entry.

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

The fifth and final movie in the original Apes series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes picks up years after the ape uprising at the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It depicts a time when humans are just acclimating to servitude under the apes on Earth, thousands of years before the events of the original 1968 movie.

Even though Battle for the Planet of the Apes has more or less the same runtime as the preceding films, it feels short and unimpactful by comparison. The story revolves around Caesar (Roddy McDowall) overcoming a challenge to his pacifist rule from the bloodthirsty gorilla General Aldo (Claude Akins). At the same time, a society of subterranean humans are discovered nearby, mutated by the nuclear radiation of their post-apocalyptic home. This is an important bit of set up for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which shows the distant descendents of these humans, but in Battle they mostly serve to kickstart a big, bloody, low-budget battle. And they wear some pretty ridiculous costumes, some of the campiest in the series.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a decent ending to a great run of movies, but it doesn't come anywhere near the heights of the others.

8. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to the groundbreaking 1968 original film, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. It's a more action-focused movie, a bit more scattered. It introduces that subterranean society of humans I just mentioned from Battle, except by this point in time they've developed powerful psychic abilities and worship a planet-busting nuclear bomb. The story revolves around these humans coming into conflict with the apes, while a new astronaut by the name of Brent (James Franciscus) arrives on the planet to search for Taylor, the missing astronaut from the first film played by Charlton Heston.

The main thing that saves Beneath the Planet of the Apes from being lower on the list is its last 10 minutes. While the movie as a whole isn't the best, its final sequence of events represents one of the most insane swings the Planet of the Apes movies ever took, featuring multiple shocker deaths and the destruction of the entire planet as Taylor triggers the nuke. Star Charlton Heston wanted out of the franchise, and as a condition for his return, Beneath needed to kill off his character. The movie did that and then some, and even today it's a shocking scene to watch.

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

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a weird entry in the Apes franchise, which is saying something considering how varied these movies can get. The preceding film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, made the radical move in nuking the titular planet into oblivion. How could Escape follow that up?

By going into the past! Escape from the Planet of the Apes essentially takes the premise from the first movie and flips it: Planet of the Apes is about a human astronaut who lands on a future Earth ruled by apes, but Escape from the Planet of the Apes is about three intelligent apes going back in time to the 1970s, when Earth is still firmly under human control.

Of all the films in the series, this one feels the cheapest. I imagine some executive said "sure, you can make Planet of the Apes 3, but you can only have a handful of apes and have to shoot it all in Los Angeles." It looks and feels kind of silly, and very retro.

That actually just makes the movie more interesting though, since it's all about how humanity treats these intelligent apes who've come into their midst. There's a fair amount of social commentary, as humans get the apes drunk to solicit confessions, treat them to the high life only to pull the carpet out from under them, and debate things like whether it would have been ethical to murder Hitler while he was still in the womb. It's hard to understate what a daring departure Escape from the Planet of the Apes was from what came before it, but it works.

This is also the movie that first introduced the infant ape Caesar, who would later feature in the Matt Reeves reboots. Escape from the Planet of the Apes pulled off its kinda goofy premise, but it's even better in retrospect for how much it altered the overall direction of the franchise.

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

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first movie of the current reboot series, explains how apes began gaining advanced sentience. It takes the ape Caesar, who was the central character of the final run of original Apes films, and reimagines a fuller, more realistic and modern origin story for him.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, Rise remains a solid movie even though every subsequent Ape reboot film has improved on its foundation. It introduced Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis as Caesar, and had a stacked supporting cast including James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Harry Potter's Tom Felton. The movie used Caesar's origin story as a way to explore animal cruelty in both laboratories and shelters, before the movie takes a turn and Caesar gets a full-on crime boss-style rise to power before he leads his apes on a great escape out of Los Angeles.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pioneered the hyper-realistic animation that would come to define the next few Apes movies, though at this point it does look a bit dated. It remains an all-around good movie, but many of the other Apes films are great. It belongs squarely in the middle of the list.

5. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Ah, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the brand new entry in the reboot series and debut Apes film for Maze Runner director Wes Ball. Set long after apes have become the dominant power of Earth, it's a beautiful adventure quest movie which sees a young chimpanzee set out into the ruins of Earth in order to save his captured people from a rival clan.

Visually, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is an absolutely breathtaking spectacle that's closer to something like James Cameron's Avatar than it is to some of the lower budget Apes movies. It features fantastic performances from an ensemble cast, including Owen Teague as the noble chimpanzee Noa, Peter Macon as the wise orangutan Raka, Freya Allan as the fugitive human Mae, and Lost's Kevin Durand as the demagogue bonobo king Proximus Caesar. The ensemble is a huge way that Kingdom distinguishes itself from the previous trilogy of Apes movies, which largely focused on Serkis and a handful of supporting players.

Kingdom also features by far the most advanced cultures of apes we've seen in the reboot series. The fact that the Apes converse so much more than in the Serkis trilogy also means that Kingdom feels a bit lighter. Even when things get dark or scary, this is still a movie you could go see with kids, unlike its predecessor, the dark odyssey War from the Planet of the Apes.

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

From one of the lightest Planet of the Apes movies, we head next into what is easily the darkest installment of the entire franchise. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the fourth movie in the original Apes series. It's the first movie to feature the ape Caesar in a major way, played here by Roddy McDowall. And man, does McDowall deliver. He's excellent as Cornelius, but his performance as Caesar in Conquest is one of his most interesting in his long run in the Apes films.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is set during a fascist 1990s where humans have started keeping Apes as slaves, forcing them to do hard labor and demean themselves for their human masters. It's an absolutely wild movie, with an exploration of racism and societal injustice that is still just as chilling all these years later. The humans wear black Nazi-inspired outfits, and often treat the apes so brutally that it's hard to watch. That includes torture, murder, and everything in between. It's an obvious step up from the previous entry, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in pretty much every way — the camera work is better, the lighting and costuming are better, and the movie's themes hit like a ton of bricks.

The violent uprising which caps off the film is the most daring thing that's ever appeared onscreen in and Apes movie. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I watched the entire last 40 minutes of Conquest with my jaw dropped. It's like Clockwork Orange but with Apes, and it firmly sets Conquest of the Planet of the Apes apart as one of the best and most important films of the series. It's a shocking, uncomfortable film that feels like an artifact of film history, a marker in time, in a way that few other Apes other than the 1968 original do.

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

There's just something about the bleaker Planet of the Apes movies that hit harder. It was true for Conquest and it's true for War for the Planet of the Apes, the final chapter for Andy Serkis' ape leader Caesar. It's a bloody, dark movie that sees Caesar and his scattered tribe clash with the last remnants of the United States army, 15 years after the apes first rose to power. It's fitting that both War and Conquest rank close together, because War is essentially director Matt Reeves' version of those same events. Except in the reboot, Caesar and his fellow apes are captured by the last remnants of the United States military, who force them to do slave labor before the eventual uprising.

I compared Conquest of the Planet of the Apes to A Clockwork Orange above, but War recalls a different yet equally arresting movie: Marvel's Logan. After humans murder Caesar's wife and oldest son, he sets out on a weary journey for revenge with a few of his closest allies. This is Serkis' final performance as the ape, and it serves as a fitting conclusion while also setting up important elements that will become relevant by the time of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, like the fact that humans are losing their ability to speak due to a mutating pathogen.

War for the Planet of the Apes gets dark early on and stays dark; there are tragedies and hard-won triumphs during the final weeks of Caesar's life. It's a powerful and somber movie, and it all looks incredible, representing the peak of the visual effects for the Serkis-led reboot trilogy. Plus it gets some bonus points for Woody Harrelson's appearance as the leader of the human army, who serves as a suitably intimidating foil to the veteran ape warrior Caesar.

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

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place around 10 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when the Simian Flu has wiped out most of the human race. Caesar's apes have built their own tribal village where they've been living in peace. That changes when they come into contact with a nearby human community and tensions escalate over how to navigate this first diplomatic experience. Spoiler alert: it doesn't go well.

Dawn is where the animation of the reboot series really hit its stride. Helped along by an incredible sign language and frankly unbelievable performances from the ape actors, watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes truly feels like stepping into another world. This is the stone age, tribal civilization era for the apes, and it's beautiful and dramatic and feels half like a myth. It also has the most balanced human-ape ensemble cast of the Serkis trilogy, with human characters played by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and more. Toby Kebbel also gives the most terrifying villain performance of the entire Apes franchise as the bonobo warrior Koba.

Dawn is the Apes debut of director Matt Reeves, and it's just as career-defining a piece of work for him as it is for Serkis. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare films where there's truly nothing else quite like it, just like the original 1968 movie. There's no question it belongs right near the top of the list.

1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Ranking these last few Apes movies has been difficult, but if one film has to take the top spot, it's going to be the original Planet of the Apes. The one that started it all, and one of the most iconic science fiction movies in history. The production values of the Apes movies have obviously increased exponentially since the 1968 movie, but this is one of those instances where, if I could only recommend you one Apes movie to watch before you die, it would be Planet of the Apes.

With a great script co-written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and one of the most famous twist endings in movie history, Planet of the Apes was a groundbreaking movie that remains important to this day. It has iconic performances from Charlton Heston as George Taylor, Roddy McDowall as the chimpanzee Cornelius, and Kim Hunter as chimpanzee doctor Zira. Its prosthetic effects were revolutionary for their time; these days, they feel almost like a fun time capsule. While it's aged, Planet of the Apes is still a fascinating and thought-provoking movie that holds up well.

No matter how many Ape movies come out, it's hard to imagine one ever truly unseating the original Planet of the Apes. After all, none of the rest of them would exist without it.

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