Escape from the Planet of the Apes

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Escape from the planet of the apes.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDon Taylor
Written byPaul Dehn
Based onCharacters created
by Pierre Boulle
Produced byArthur P. Jacobs
StarringRoddy McDowall
Kim Hunter
Bradford Dillman
Natalie Trundy
Eric Braeden
Sal Mineo
Ricardo Montalbán
CinematographyJoseph F. Biroc
Edited byMarion Rothman
Music byJerry Goldsmith
APJAC Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 21, 1971 (1971-05-21)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.06 million[1]
Box office$12.3 million[2]

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a 1971 American science fiction film directed by Don Taylor and written by Paul Dehn. It stars Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman and Ricardo Montalbán. It is the third of five films in the original Planet of the Apes series produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, the second being Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).[3] Its plot centers on many social issues of the day including scientific experimentation on animals, nuclear war and government intrusion. The film was well received by critics, getting the best reviews of the four Planet of the Apes sequels. It was followed by Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.


During the events of the preceding film Beneath the Planet of the Apes, occurring off-screen, Cornelius and Zira escaped Earth prior to its destruction when they accompanied their fellow chimpanzee Dr. Milo in salvaging and repairing the spaceship originally used by Taylor. The shock wave of Earth's destruction sends the ship through a time warp that brings the apes to 1973 Earth, splashing down off the Pacific coast of the United States.

The apes are transported to a secluded ward of the Los Angeles Zoo, under the observation of scientists Dr. Stephanie Branton and Dr. Lewis Dixon. With Dr. Milo explaining their situation in private, the apes decide not to let the humans know that they can speak while agreeing not to reveal Earth's destruction from the Ape War. However Zira's impatience exposes the apes' power of speech during an experiment and Dr. Milo is killed moments later by a zoo gorilla who became agitated by the chimpanzees' argument. Lewis tries to communicate with the apes that he is peaceful and he wishes to treat them as equals, winning their friendship as a result.

A Presidential Commission is formed to investigate the return of Taylor's spaceship and determine how atypically intelligent apes came to be aboard it. The apes are brought before the Commission, where they publicly reveal their ability to speak. The council asks them about Taylor, but Cornelius and Zira tell them that they know nothing about him. They reveal that they came from the future and escaped Earth when war broke out. They are welcomed as guests of the government. Cornelius and Zira secretly tell Stephanie and Lewis that they did know about Taylor, explain how humans are treated in the ape-dominated future, and about the Earth's destruction. Stephanie and Lewis are shocked but still sympathetic, the latter advising the couple to keep this information secret until they can gauge the potential reaction of their hosts.

The apes become celebrities, and are lavished with gifts and media attention. They come to the attention of the President's Science Advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein, who discovers Zira is pregnant. Fearing for the future of the human race, he offers her champagne (for which she has developed a taste) to loosen her inhibitions and questions her further while recording it. Her candid responses enable him to convince the Commission that Cornelius and Zira must be subjected to more rigorous questioning.

Hasslein insists that he simply wants to know how apes became dominant over men. Cornelius reveals that the human race will cause its own downfall and become dominated by simians, and that simian aggression against humans will lead to Earth's destruction by a weapon made by humans. Zira explains that the gorillas started the war, and the orangutans supported the gorillas, but the chimpanzees had nothing to do with it. Hasslein suspects that the apes are not speaking the whole truth.

During the original hearing, Zira accidentally reveals that she dissected humans in the course of her work. Hasslein orders Lewis to administer a truth serum to her while Cornelius is confined elsewhere. Lewis assures Zira that the serum will have the same effect as champagne. As a result of the serum, Hasslein learns details about Zira's examination and experimentation on humans along with her knowledge of Taylor.

Zira joins Cornelius in confinement while Hasslein takes his findings to the President, who reluctantly must abide by the council's ruling to have Zira's pregnancy be terminated and that both apes be sterilized. In their chambers, Cornelius labels Hasslein and the others savages for Zira's treatment as she reminds Cornelius that she did the same thing to humans and Taylor called them savages. Zira is relieved to have revealed the truth because she was tired of lying. Cornelius fears that the truth will get them killed. When an orderly arrives to offer the apes food, his playful reference to their unborn child as a "little monkey" makes Cornelius lose his temper and he knocks the orderly to the floor, before escaping with Zira. Cornelius assumes he merely knocked out the orderly, but he is actually dead. Hasslein uses the tragedy in support of his claim that the apes are a threat and calls for their execution, but is ordered by the President to bring them in alive as he will not endorse punishment for the orderly's death until due process has been served.

Branton and Dixon help the apes to escape, taking them to a circus run by Señor Armando, where an ape named Heloise has just given birth. Zira gives birth to a son, whom she names Milo in honor of their deceased friend. When Hasslein, knowing that Zira's labor was imminent, orders a search of all circuses and zoos, Armando insists the apes leave for their safety. Lewis arranges for the apes to hide out in the shipyard in the Los Angeles harbor until the coast is clear to return to the circus as it heads to Florida, giving Cornelius a pistol as the couple does not want to be taken alive.

Hasslein tracks the apes to the shipping yard and mortally wounds Zira when she refuses to hand over the infant, firing several shots into the infant before being killed by Cornelius. Cornelius is shot by a sniper and falls. Zira tosses the dead baby over the side and crawls to die with her husband, witnessed by a grieving Lewis and Stephanie.

As Armando's circus prepares to leave for Florida, it is revealed that Zira switched babies with Heloise prior to leaving the circus and that Armando is aware. Milo then begins to talk.


In this film, actor Roddy McDowall returns to the character of Cornelius which he played in the first film but not in the second. A new ape character of Dr. Milo is introduced played by actor Sal Mineo. Charlton Heston, star of the first film and supporting actor in the second, appears in this third installment only in two brief flashback sequences.


Despite Beneath the Planet of the Apes ending in a way that seemed to prevent the series from continuing, 20th Century Fox still wanted a sequel. Roddy McDowall, in the franchise documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, stated that Arthur P. Jacobs sent Beneath screenwriter Paul Dehn a telegram concerning the sequel that read "Apes exist, Sequel required." and Dehn decided to create an out from the destructive ending of Beneath by having Cornelius and Zira going back in time with a Leonardo da Vinci-like ape after fixing Taylor's spaceship before the Earth was destroyed. Dehn also consulted Pierre Boulle, writer of the Planet of the Apes novel, to imbue his script with similar satirical elements. The screenplay, originally titled Secret of the Planet of the Apes, accommodated the smaller budget by having fewer people in ape make-up, and attracted director Don Taylor by its humor and focus on the chimpanzee couple.

Dehn also added to the latter part of the film regarding the chase for Cornelius, Zira and their son references to racial conflicts and a few religious overtones to the story of Jesus - a line of dialogue even has the President comparing the plan to kill an unborn child to the Massacre of the Innocents.[4][5] While Kim Hunter had to be convinced by the studio to make Beneath, she liked the script for Escape from the Planet of the Apes and accepted the job, though Hunter also stated that "I was very glad I was killed off" and Zira was not required anymore after that film. Hunter stated that despite the friendly atmosphere on the set, she and Roddy McDowall felt a sense of isolation for being the only people dressed as chimpanzees.[citation needed] Production was rushed due to the low budget, being filmed in only six weeks,[6] from November 30, 1970 to January 19, 1971.[7]


Box office[edit]

According to Variety, the film earned $5,560,000 in rentals at the North American box office.[8]


The film holds a 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "One of the better Planet of the Apes sequels, Escape is more character-driven than the previous films, and more touching as a result."[9]

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times was positive, finding the premise "quite beautiful" with the theme of human guilt "richly ambivalent, because the monsters are scarcely monstrous and the guilt is a function of unassailable strategic intelligence."[10] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three stars out of four and wrote, "Comparatively, it is much better than the second, which was awful, but not as good as the first, which was quite good."[11] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called it "an excellent film. Far better than last year's followup and almost as good as the original 'Planet of the Apes.'"[12] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "works largely because Miss Hunter and McDowall, working under Don Taylor's deft direction, are such gifted actors and because John Chambers' chimpanzee makeup is so convincing, as it was in the other pictures."[13] David Pirie of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Infuriatingly, Escape from the Planet of the Apes continues the downward trend of a science-fiction series that started out with much ingenuity and promise ... the film is painfully sentimental in its attitude to the chimps, with Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall overplaying and vulgarising their former roles to the point where it's hard to feel much concern about their final destruction."[14]

Spin Off Media[edit]

A comic book miniseries, a crossover with Star Trek serving to bridge the events of the second and third films and titled Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive, was published from December 2014 to April 2015.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p256
  2. ^ "Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
  3. ^ "Those Damned Dirty Apes!". Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  4. ^ "The Secret Behind Escape", Escape from the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray
  5. ^ Hofstede, David. Planet of the Apes: An Unofficial Companion
  6. ^ Chimp Life, by Tom Weaver & Michael Brunas - Starlog (November 1990)
  7. ^ Planet of the apes : 40-year evolution / written by Lee Pfeiffer & Dave Worrall. Published by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, c2008.
  8. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  9. ^ Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  10. ^ Greenspun, Roger (May 29, 1971). "'Escape From the Planet of the Apes' Proves Entertaining". The New York Times. 10.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (May 24, 1971). "Planet of Apes..." Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 14.
  12. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (May 26, 1971). "Film Reviews: Escape From The Planet Of The Apes". Variety. 23.
  13. ^ Thomas, Kevin (May 27, 1971). "Third 'Ape' Film Opens Engagement". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 12.
  14. ^ Pirie, David (August 1971). "Escape From the Planet of the Apes". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (451): 164.

External links[edit]