For all the Planet of the Apes films — it’s on its third reboot, plus it had a TV and animated series — there are several that never got made.
Before he did The Dark Backward, Adam Rifkin was brought in to write what the studio referred to as an alternative sequel to the first film. You know, because they blow Earth up real good in that one.
The script that was completed, called Return to the Planet of the Apes, presented an ape empire that had reached its Roman era, with a descendant of Charlton Heston’s character — named Duke, after John Wayne, who was raised by Cornelius — who would lead the revolt against the apes. Think Gladiator with Rick Baker doing the monkey costumes and Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen (one of those things used to actually happen back in 1988) in the lead. This project has also been called Return to the Planet of the Apes: World At War and had an evil ape named General Izan.
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In 1992, Peter Jackson and his writing partner Fran Walsh began working on what they thought of as the sixth film in the Apes series. They also scored a major victory early — they were somehow able to convince Roddy McDowall to sign on, playing an ape who led an artistic revival.
So what happened? Studio heads switched around and the new people in charge didn’t know and didn’t care why McDowall was important. Jackson and Walsh moved on to Heavenly Creatures and then, you know, some of the biggest movies of all time.
Oliver Stone was next to try and make an Apes movie. He hated the original movies and instead had the thought of combining the Bible code, prehistoric conspiracies and time travel. Studio heads referred to the as “Gorillas In The Mist meets The Terminator” and gave Stone $1 million to write and direct. The final script — by Terry Hayes, who wrote The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — has huge swipes of The Lord of the RIngs, as well as Altered States with lots of steampunk in it.
Stone would say, “It has the discovery of cryogenically frozen Vedic Apes who hold the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilizations. It deals with past versus the future. My concept is that there’s a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it all out.”
Who could play the scientist out to save us all, Geneticist Will Robinson? Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. Holy shit, I wish this movie got made, one where Robinson builds an ancient Statue of Liberty before the real one was made to remember men who died in the future so he could go into the past and…drugs, people. Hollywood runs on drugs. I say that because a major scene involved the apes learning how to play baseball, yet they have no pitcher.
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Planet of the Men — written by Batman scribe Sam Hamm — was next, with Arnold still attached. While his first script is very close to the original book and film, the new script was all about a space ape crash landing on earth, which lets a human-killing virus loose and Arnold going to the ape planet for a cure.
Of course, when they get back home, the apes took over again. There was also plenty of time devoted to making sure that the apes could ski in this movie. Don’t ask me why. The script also has the Bee Gees as apes and a simian issue of Playboy. Director Chris Columbus would eventually move on and work with Arnold on Jingle All the Way. Sadly, we missed all of this.
Roland Emmerich got involved somewhere here, as did James Cameron who wanted to remake the first two movies as one big film. Then Peter Jackson almost came back, then Michael Bay and the Hughes Brothers showed some interest.
After all that, producer Richard D. Zanuck — who had greenlit the original movie that started all of this — came back, hired Tim Burton to reimagine the movie and it was a huge financial success that no one really liked.
Instead of a sequel, that meant that the Apes would lie dormant until writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver — inspired by footage of domesticated chimpanzees — wrote a spec script that they called Genesis. Then they realized, “We’re actually writing Planet of the Apes.” It could have been worse. They could have been writing a reboot of Congo. Hey — give Hollywood time.
BONUS ROUND: Did you know that in the comic books that the Apes have crossed over with Star Trek, Green Lantern, King Kong, Tarzan and Alien Nation? They sure did.