The basic premise of 1968’s Planet of the Apes—an astronaut crash-lands on a remote planet where primates have evolved beyond humans, only to eventually realize to his horror that he’s landed on Planet Earth a couple thousand years in the future—has proved to have a durable appeal for a public that’s fascinated with a future where humans have regressed into the past.
Before there were the Star Wars and Star Trek film franchises, Planet of the Apes was the most successful sci-fi film series in history. As of 2022, the five original Planet of the Apes Movies have taken in over $2 billion in box office receipts. Each of the five films opened at number one in the US on the weekend of their release. It also spawned a live-action TV show and a Saturday-morning cartoon as well as endless remakes.
Here are 34 facts about the iconic 1968 original.
It Takes a Whole Lotta Makeup to Turn a Human Into an Ape
- To give the apes their lifelike appearance, makeup director John Chambers drew from special-effects techniques he’d learned during World War II doing cosmetic surgery on deformed soldiers.
2. Chambers spent countless hours at the zoo in Los Angeles studying primates’ facial expressions as preparation for the film.
3. There were over 80 makeup artists employed for Planet of the Apes, including some of Hollywood’s top cosmeticians—so many that several other film productions were delayed due to a shortage of available labor.
4. It was widely publicized that the makeup budget was $1 million. Producer Mort Abrahams later joked that it was probably less than a half million, but $1 million sounded more dramatic and made for better publicity.
5. The elaborate cosmetic masks the actors wore were known as “appliances.” The application process began with a wax coating over eyebrows and sideburns, then the top half of the mask would be glued onto the actor’s face, then the ears and chin were put on and the teeth were painted with black enamel, then four different “facial hairpieces” and a wig were plastered atop the whole mess.
6. During the early filming stage, it took as long as six hours to apply the makeup to the “apes.” Once applied, it would stiffen to the point where the actors were unable to express emotions. Gradually the process was streamlined to where it took about three hours on average. Actors would then be forced to wear the mask for about 12 hours in sweltering desert heat.
7. One effort to trim the film’s budget involved a scheme to first put on the makeup and then drive the actors to the set instead of doing it all on the sound stage. Producers feared that motorists would be horrified to see vans full of apes driving down the freeway, so instead they transported actors in full makeup to filming locations via helicopter.
8. Actress Kim Hunter was said to have found the makeup process so unpleasant that she’d take a Valium every morning while being made up.
9. Roddy McDowall seemed to have a lot of fun with his ape makeup. He was known to drive down the LA freeway still wearing the facial prosthetic to horrify other motorists. He also famously showed up on The Carol Burnett Show in full ape makeup, temporarily startling the host.
10. Both Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall would speak in front of a mirror in full ape makeup to practice making it look more realistic.
11. Hunter and McDowall were also forced to eat in front of a mirror so as not to disturb their makeup, which led to Hunter eventually opting not to eat while filming.
12. As a prank, the production crew took to including a banana with every daily lunch.
13. Because of the elaborate facial masks, none of the actors ate solid foods, only soft foods and milkshakes.
It Was one of the First Movies to Feature a Massive Merchandising Campaign
14. Producers hired several movie critics to play apes as extras in background scenes, ensuring that they would wind up reviewing the movie when it was released.
15. The merchandising campaign for Planet of the Apes was unprecedented in film history—over 300 licensed items amounting to about $100 million were sold—collectibles, action figures, toys, books, comics, records, story books, stickers, jigsaw puzzles, and even ape costumes.
Planet of the Apes Was Based on an Obscure French Book Written in 1963
16. La Planète des singes (Planet of the Apes) was a 1963 novel by French author Pierre Bouelle, who said he felt it was the weakest of his works and also expressed doubt that it would ever be made into a film.
17. Producer Arthur Jacobs, who originally had intended to do a remake of King Kong, purchased the film rights to Bouelle’s novel before it was even published in English.
18. Jacobs sent actor Charlton Heston a copy of the book. Heston was not impressed and at first said he didn’t see film potential in it, either: “The novel was singularly uncinematic….’No kidding, talking monkeys and rocketships? Getouttahere!’”
19. Legendary Hollywood writer Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) was hired to adapt the novel into a screenplay. He says that over the course of slightly more than a year, he made up to 40 rewrites of the script.
20. Producers still weren’t satisfied with Serling’s script, so final credit was given to Michael G. Wilson.
Profanity, Nudity, and Blasphemy
21. The original script called for all the female humans to be topless, but 20th Century-Fox nixed this idea to avoid censorship.
22. Back in the 1960s, seemingly innocent words such as “damn” and “hell” were considered to be profane, so it was almost scandalous that these words appeared in a major mainstream movie that children could see.
23. When Charlton Heston’s character says, “To hell with the scarecrows,” censors originally said the word “hell” was not “family friendly.”
24. Heston’s famous line, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned, dirty ape” was “Stand back, you bloody ape!” in the script. Heston’s line was partially improvised, because in the 1965 film The War Lord he used the phrase “damned, dirty” in a line where he complains of “sweating in that damned, dirty armor.”
25. Planet of the Apes was only the second G-rated film in history to feature nudity, after 1966’s The Bible: In the Beginning…
Planet of Self-Segregating Actors Dressed as Apes
26. In the film, different primate species are terraced in a sort of caste system, with orangutans in the positions of political power, chimpanzees as scientists and artists, and gorillas as menial laborers.
27. On the set, the actors who played chimps, gorillas, and orangutans found themselves socializing and eating only with other “apes” of their “kind.” They’d all sit at separate tables.
A Career-Defining Role for Charlton Heston
28. The role of Taylor, the astronaut who crash-lands onto a planet where apes have evolved beyond humans, was originally offered to Burt Lancaster, who turned it down. This was the fifth time that Heston assumed a role that Lancaster had refused. The first four were The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), and Khartoum (1966).
29. Other actors originally considered for the role of Taylor: John Wayne, Rock Hudson, James Garner, Cliff Robertson, Stuart Whitman, Marlon Brando, Rod Taylor, Steve McQueen, and George Peppard.
30. Heston suffered from the flu throughout most of the filming, but producers felt it gave his voice the sort of gritty, anguished feeling they wanted.
The Famously Shocking Ending Was Not in the Book
31. In the ending to Bouelle’s book, an elderly married chimpanzee couple discover a message in a bottle from Taylor and Nova but dismiss it, claiming that no human was intelligent enough to write such a thing. In the movie, Charlton Heston’s character discovers the top half of the Statue of Liberty on a beach and realizes that he’s been on planet Earth all along.
32. Rod Serling suggested the ending. It was similar to a 1960 Twilight Zone episode where an astronaut, under the impression he’s been shipwrecked on an asteroid, realizes he’s been about 100 miles outside of Reno, NV all along.
33. Bouelle was vehemently opposed to Serling’s ending at first, even sending a letter of protest to the producers, but he eventually conceded that it was a superior ending.
34. Heston’s iconic line when he realizes that humankind destroyed themselves—“You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”—was improvised. The script only called for him to say, “Oh, God!”
35. When censors objected to “God damn you all to hell,” Heston persuaded them that he wasn’t blaspheming God, he was calling upon God to condemn evildoers, so the censors let it slide.
36. The final scene was filmed in Malibu, CA, although in an earlier scene there’s a map that shows the Forbidden Zone. Combined with the location of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, this suggests that most of the film’s action took place in what once was New Jersey.