On March 27th, 1968, Planet of the Apes hit cinemas in Los Angeles, California. It quickly grew to be one of the largest films of the year and one of the biggest movie franchises in history. But did you know the movie had its share of hurdles and issues? One being that producer Arthur Jacobs was laughed out of almost every studio in Hollywood. Then, he got to 20th Century-Fox. They embraced his idea of a movie which reversed the roles of humans and apes. What about this one – did you know that the film was mostly shot in Arizona during the summer? To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Planet of the Apes, let’s have fun with some more interesting facts about one of my favorite movies! 

Planet of the Apes movie poster from 1968

Planet of the Apes, 20th Century-Fox

Production Facts:

The film was adapted from a 1963 novel by French author Pierre Boulle, the same author of the book that inspired another classic film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Pierre Boulle’s original novel also featured a twist ending, one that is slightly different from the film. The spacecraft crew does, in fact, land on another planet, some 350 lightyears from Earth. The main character Ulysse, who would become Taylor in the film, escapes from the ape authorities with Nova. They return to Earth only to find that it has undergone the same evolution. For anyone who read the book, this ending would not be a great departure from the film’s surprise revelation.

The novel adds a further twist, however. Ulysse’s story has been told in a flashback after he and Nova fled Earth. They left a message in a bottle floating through space to warn off anyone else who might stumble across either planet. The bottle is discovered by an old married couple named Jinn and Phyllis, who are later revealed to be chimpanzees themselves. They dismiss the story, saying that no human could be intelligent enough to write it.

Although the film’s apes lived in a relatively primitive society, the apes in the book were civilized. They lived in a futuristic society with cars, helicopters, and aircraft all super-sized for apes. For the film, the idea of civilized apes was deemed too expensive. So the decision was made to create a relatively primitive society for the apes.

Here are some more anniversary facts: Actress Kim Hunter (Zira) spent so long in ape make-up that Charlton Heston did not recognize her when, after several months of filming, he saw her out of make-up for the first time! Roddy McDowall and Hunter researched their roles by observing the chimpanzees at Los Angeles Zoo. Bond girl Ursula Andress was originally considered for the role of Nova, the beautiful mute human female. Nova was ultimately played by Linda Harrison, producer Richard Zanuck’s mistress at the time.

Monkeying Around On Set

Planet of the Apes was filmed almost entirely on location in the Arizona desert. This was in the middle of summer with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. This extreme heat made the costumes and heavy makeup even more excruciating to wear. The heat in the desert scenes at the opening of the film proved so intense that many of the cast and crew fainted, including director Franklin J. Schaffner.

Charlton Heston was sick with the flu during much of the filming. Rather than wait for him to get better, the producers felt that his hoarse voice added something to the character of Taylor. According to Heston’s diary, after filming the scene where Taylor and Nova are forcibly separated, he wrote that he was feeling like hell while shooting because of his illness, and felt even worse “every time that damn fire hose hit me.”

Two scenes were almost cut prior to release. These were Heston’s nude scene and the three apes in the courtroom parodying the ‘three wise monkeys’ image. The “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” gag was entirely ad-libbed on the set of the day of shooting. They kept it because people found it amusing when the film was threatening to get too serious.

During breaks in filming, actors made up as different ape species tended to hang out together. Gorillas with gorillas, orangutans with orangutans, chimps with chimps. It wasn’t required, it just naturally happened. The film had the largest makeup budget in Hollywood history, exceeding $1 million – more than one-sixth of the entire budget! In order to convince the studio that the makeup would not look ridiculous, Heston filmed a makeup test with actors Edward G Robinson (Double Indemnity) and James Brolin (Amityville Horror).

Pop Culture Facts:

These Planet of the Apes facts may just help your team win at your next pub quiz!

The earliest scripts were written by Rod Serling, creator and writer of The Twilight Zone. It was originally considered to be a Twilight Zone spin-off movie. Planet of the Apes is one of only two G-rated movies to feature nudity, the other being The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966). John Chamber’s makeup artistry on the film was so impressive that the Academy Awards wanted to honor him in some way, even if they didn’t have an award for it back in 1969. To show him how amazed they were with his makeup mastery, the Academy awarded Chambers and honorary Oscar for Oustanding Makeup Achievement. A chimpanzee in a tuxedo had the honor of handing him his award.

Released in New York City on February 8, 1968, Planet of the Apes grossed $26 million at the box office. At more than four times its $5.8 million production budget, it became one of the biggest hits of the year. It broke box office records in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Planet of the Apes was 20th Century-Fox’s highest-grossing and most profitable film of 1968.

Planet of the Apes was one of the first films to have a major large-scale merchandising tie-in. Merchandise included toys and collectibles, action figures, picture and story books, trading cards, books, records, comics, and a series of graphic novels from Marvel Comics.

If you haven’t watched the original Planet of the Apes movies in a while, I definitely recommend watching it again. What better time than now? Go pick yourself up a copy at your local Bookmans and make it a classic movie night!