Planet of the Apes is one of many franchises that has endured over the decades, dating as far back as 1968 when the original film was released. And like many other franchises, it has also gone through a hiatus or two in its time, with the first being 1975 to 2001, and the second, 2001 to 2011. Now, four years after the latest entry, it seems like we're in another one, but rest assured that this isn't the end for the Planet of the Apes franchise. In fact, it might just be the beginning. Or new dawn, you might say.
As we know, trilogies don't really mean the end for film franchises anymore. There was a time when the likes of Scream, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, and Lord of the Rings seemed untouchable once their third entries had been and gone, but as is the case in Hollywood, a good franchise can't be kept in a cage forever. So, will there be another Planet of the Apes movie? And if so, will it be an entirely fresh reboot or a follow-up to the ground-breaking and critically-acclaimed 2011-2017 Apes trilogy? Join us as we enter the Forbidden Zone to find the answer...
The original 1968 film, which was based on the book La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle, got four sequels: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. There was also a live-action series and an animated series, but all of that had come to an end by 1975. Following the end of the original film franchise, we wouldn't see those damn dirty apes again until 2001, when Tim Burton decided to reboot the original movie. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tim Roth, the film took the basic plot points of the original film and threw in some apes politics. There's plenty of action, and the set pieces and make-up prosthetics are astounding, but beyond that, the film is a pretty mediocre affair.
Ten years later, Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit theaters. Rise stars James Franco as Will Rodman, a scientist who adopts a pet chimpanzee acquired from the research facility where he works, which is using primates as guinea pigs for a new drug that may cure to Alzheimer's. Under Will's care, 'Caesar' grows into a remarkably intelligent ape, a result of the revolutionary new drug. But soon, chaos ensues on the streets of San Francisco, as an army of apes 'rise' to their oppressors. The 2014 sequel, Dawn for the Planet of the Apes, which stars Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman, follows Caesar as he leads an ape community in Muir forest, while humanity faces eradication from the Simian Flu. The computer effects really get an upgrade here, and we spend as much time with the apes as we do with the humans.
The third movie, War for the Planet of the Apes, can only really be described as a masterpiece. On first viewing, it's the kind of film that will floor you, and for many reasons. Its computer-animated, motion-capture special effects are truly seamless, and never before has this kind of technology tricked you into thinking that it's in front of the camera since 1993's Jurassic Park, which even this film gives a run for its money. Its storytelling is also razor-sharp; a character-driven piece that turns its human viewer against their own species, all the while offering up a brilliant and fitting conclusion to Caesar's long and arduous three-film arc, and with a finale that leaves the film in a place that doesn't necessarily call for a future installment, but at the same time isn't unwelcoming of one.
Like its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2017's War for the Planet of the Apes is directed by Matt Reeves and is the final entry in the rebooted Apes trilogy. Set two years after the second film, War sees Caesar and his community of apes continuing to live in San Francisco's Muir Forest, however, we join them right in the middle of a war that has been provoked by Woody Harrelson's aptly named Colonel, the leader of the last bastion of human soldiers that resides at a military stronghold in the north. Caesar's patience and his value for his fellow man is being tested, and not only do we get to see the conflict between ape and man, but also the internal struggle our leader faces as he battles an increasing hatred towards humans.
As it stands, there is no follow-up to War for the Planet of the Apes, however, there are a few tie-in novels that fill in some of the gaps in this trilogy, which are definitely worth checking out. Firestorm takes place between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and really fleshes out exactly what happens to the world after we learn that Simian Flu has started to spread. Undoubtedly, this has now become a highly sensitive topic, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but it's this that makes it all the more chilling and frighteningly realistic. Revelations find itself between Dawn and War and explore what happens in the years between those two movies, and how the war between Caesar and the Colonel begins.
There's also a book called Caesar's Story, which is told by his closest friend Maurice, following his death at the end of War for the Planet of the Apes. After his tribe finds a new home in the wilderness, Caesar dies from a fatal wound given to him in battle at the military outpost. This book is told by Maurice, who is able to both sign and speak, and is given to Caesar's son Cornelius when he's older, so that his father's legacy can live on and inspire other apes to be strong, resilient, and fearless, in the face of overwhelming odds. The book details the life of Caesar all the way from his years as a young ape in San Francisco, to his final days in conflict. Like the two novels, it also explains what happens between each of the three films.
A fourth movie is indeed in the works, as Disney confirmed this back in 2019, and a director has already been assigned. In an interview with Discussing Film last year, director Wes Ball said: “We have a way of staying in the universe that was created before us, but we’re also opening ourselves up in being able to do some really cool new stuff." On the other hand, you might be disappointed that it's yet another trilogy that isn't being left alone, however, Ball has also addressed this, saying: "I’ll say this, for fans of the original three don’t worry – you’re in good hands. The original writers and producers that came up with Rise and Dawn, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, they’re also on board with this. Josh Friedman is writing this thing, a lot of the same crew is kind of involved."
Ball also confirmed that the fourth film will be mostly CG, which suggests that there may be no humans at all, perhaps with the exception of the character Nova from War for the Planet of the Apes. As for anything in the way of a plot, this remains to be confirmed. But there are some clues throughout the three films that point towards the fourth entry being more Planet of the Apes in nature. It's all too easy to describe the trilogy as a 'reboot', but the truth is that they're anything but, which is where the word 'reimagining' comes into play. Strangely enough, it's exactly how Tim Burton described his 2001 remake, despite the end result being a carbon copy of the original. But with the Apes trilogy being set before the idea of a Planet of Apes, we're yet to see this franchise actually utilize the premise of the original film.
In Rise, there's a clever nod to the 1968 classic, in the form of a news report that discusses the spaceship 'Icarus' being missing. Screenwriter Rick Jaffar has since confirmed that this was planted to make way for a future sequel. And with the planet becoming overrun by apes in Dawn and War, and with humans on the brink of extinction, it would be interesting to see the astronauts of Icarus return to earth and find out that a lot has changed since they left for space exploration. As for the apes, it's likely we'll catch up with Caesar's son Cornelius, as he navigates a new world without his father, and how he might shoulder the responsibility of caring for an entire community of apes. Or perhaps he's doomed to hate humans, after what they did to his father and his people.
Planet of the Apes 4 is yet to receive any more news, but we'll bring it to you as it unfolds.