12 Essential Facts About Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The late ‘60s were a turning point for sci-fi cinema. Though the occasional triumph like 1956’s Forbidden Planet would slip through the cracks, the genre was mostly a dumping ground for low-budget schlock fests throughout the ‘50s and early ‘60s. That started to change with the release of 1968's Planet of the Apes. The movie, starring Charlton Heston and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, proved that science fiction was something that could be thought-provoking, transcendent, and (most importantly) massively profitable.

Along with 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes changed the perception of what sci-fi was capable of and opened the door for everything from Star Wars (1977) to Blade Runner (1982) in the decades since. As a new segment in the Planet of the Apes saga, Matt Reeves's War for the Planet of the Apes, prepares to hit theaters in July, here are some fascinating facts about the movie that started it all.

1. MOST STUDIOS, AND THE BOOK’S AUTHOR, THOUGHT IT WOULD MAKE A TERRIBLE MOVIE.

Apes, especially talking ones, were the stuff of B-movies back in the 1960s, so nobody took them seriously. That’s exactly the mantra producer Arthur P. Jacobs ran into when he was shopping Planet of the Apes around Hollywood. Jacobs’s pitch was soundly rejected everywhere he went; even Pierre Boulle—author of the source material, La Planète des Singes—agreed. In the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, it’s revealed that Boulle considered the book one of his lesser works and never imagined that it would ever make it into theaters.

2. A MAKEUP TEST HELPED CONVINCE 20TH CENTURY FOX TO PRODUCE THE MOVIE.

Jacobs’s Planet of the Apes pitch did manage to catch the attention of one executive: former vice president of 20th Century Fox Richard Zanuck. But Zanuck had one reservation: What if people laughed at the makeup? Up until that point, onscreen apes had either been real monkeys or people in flimsy costumes—and if the makeup didn’t hit the mark, the movie wouldn't work.

To convince Zanuck, Jacobs shot a makeup test, complete with star Charlton Heston as George Taylor and Edward G. Robinson (who later dropped out of the film) as Dr. Zaius in full ape getup. A young James Brolin and Linda Harrison (who would be cast in the full movie as Nova) played the two chimps—Cornelius and Zira. Though it cost a mere $5000 to shoot, the test impressed Zanuck enough to quell fears over the ape makeup, and he agreed to give Jacobs and director Frank Schaffner $5 million to get Planet of the Apes off the ground.

3. THE MAN BEHIND THE APE MAKEUP ALSO HELPED DESIGN SPOCK’S EARS.

The man hired to design the increasingly vital ape makeup for the movie was John Chambers, who had made a name for himself by this time as one of the premier creature effects artists in Hollywood. He had experience working on sci-fi and fantasy shows like The Munsters, The Outer Limits, and Lost in Space. But his biggest contribution to the genre was his makeup design for Spock’s pointy ears on the original Star Trek TV series.

Chambers’s background was unique in Hollywood at the time: In his younger days, he worked at a veterans' hospital after World War II, where he helped design prosthetics and facial restorations for soldiers wounded in combat.

4. ROD SERLING WROTE AN INITIAL DRAFT THAT FEATURED A CONTEMPORARY CITY.

The first writer to take a shot at adapting Planet of the Apes was Rod Serling, the man who brought twists, turns, and terror to TV sets across the country with The Twilight Zone. Serling wrote feverishly, producing upwards of 30 drafts of the script in a year [PDF], but one problem kept his vision from reaching screens: money. Serling’s scripts featured ape society as technologically advanced—with apes driving cars, piloting helicopters, and conducting ape-y business in skyscrapers.

Though this was closer to the society depicted in Boulle’s novel, it didn’t fit in with the studio’s $5 million budget. Subsequent drafts placed the apes in a more primitive society where they rode on horseback and lived in cities that could be constructed as less expensive sets.

5. WRITER MICHAEL WILSON BROUGHT MORE HUMOR AND POLITICAL OVERTONES TO THE SCRIPT.

After much of Serling’s script was deemed unusable, writer Michael Wilson was brought onboard to create a filmable version of the movie. Wilson was a victim of Hollywood’s blacklisting in the ‘50s, being forced to go uncredited on some of his most notable works, including the script to 1958's The Bridge on the River Kwai, which was also adapted from a Boulle novel.

Wilson’s Apes work included punching up the dialogue to be more humorous and introducing the idea of the sham of a trial that Heston’s Taylor has to endure (no doubt a callback to Wilson's own experience on the blacklist). These new drafts overhauled much of the existing script, which led Serling to say [PDF], “[It’s] really Mike Wilson’s screenplay, much more than mine.”

6. THE MAKEUP PROCESS REQUIRED A SMALL ARMY OF ARTISTS.

At its height, the movie’s production required around 100 makeup artists, wardrobe workers, and hairstylists to be on set to get all of the apes in costume and ready for shooting. For some of the larger scenes, there were around 200 actors and actresses to get in full ape garb, all of which required hours of work. The whole makeup process was run like a well-oiled machine by Chambers, who taught each of the artists how to mold and apply all of the ape makeup—sometimes having artists working at all times throughout the day and night to craft the individual ape pieces.

In the Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary, it’s noted that the production’s use of so many makeup personnel actually delayed work on other films throughout Hollywood due to a shortage of artists.

7. THE MAKEUP PROCESS IMPROVED AS PRODUCTION MOVED ALONG.


20th Century Fox

When the production started, it took upwards of six hours to put an actor into full ape makeup including the hair, brows, ears, mouth, and hands. This process eventually became more and more streamlined as the work progressed, with Chambers and his team eventually whittling it down to just a bit over three hours. Chambers himself referred to the whole process as an assembly line.

8. LUNCHTIME LED TO SOME UNINTENDED SEGREGATION.

One of the more peculiar side effects of having a cast of humans in ape garb occurred at lunch time on set. Subconsciously, the cast ate divided down species lines: The human actors, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas all fell in line with a sort of self-segregation and ate with their own kind. This wasn’t some brand of method acting, either, as the actors and producers were just as confused by it as anyone, leading Charlton Heston to simply say, “I have no explanation for it whatsoever.”

In Behind the Planet of the Apes, Kim Hunter, who plays Zira in the movie, recalled how she barely spoke to Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius) on set. Despite being friendly with Evans from previous work, Hunter referred to him as one of those "others" because he was an orangutan and she was a chimp.

9. A CHIMP HANDED MAKEUP ARTIST JOHN CHAMBERS HIS HONORARY OSCAR.

In 1969, there wasn’t an Oscar category for achievement in makeup, but John Chambers’s work on Planet of the Apes was so far beyond the industry standard that it had to be recognized in some way. The Academy decided on an honorary Oscar for Outstanding Makeup Achievement and presented it during the 41st Academy Awards. Chambers was introduced to the crowd by Walter Matthau, but the real star was the chimpanzee decked out in a tux that handed Chambers his award.

10. A TRIP TO A DELI INSPIRED THE ENDING.

Early on in the process, producer Arthur P. Jacobs and director Blake Edwards—who was originally attached to direct Planet of the Apes—were having trouble cracking the film's ending. In Boulle’s original novel, the action does take place on a completely different planet. For the movie, though, they wanted something less predictable. While eating at a deli near the Warner Bros. lot, Jacobs brought up the idea of having Taylor stranded on Earth the whole time without the characters or the audience knowing it.

The stage was set, but they needed a hook. As the two men left the deli, they looked at a painting of the Statue of Liberty near the cash register. According to Jacobs [PDF], the men had just found their “Rosebud.” A call soon went out to Serling, who integrated their ideas into the script in what the writer calls a “collaboration” with Jacobs [PDF].

11. THE STATUE OF LIBERTY AT THE END WAS A COMBINATION OF A SCALE MODEL AND MATTE PAINTING.

With budget constraints already bearing down on them, there was no logical way to create an entire full-scale model of the destroyed Statue of Liberty for the film’s twist ending. Instead, the production combined a matte painting by Emil Kosa Jr., the man behind the original 20th Century Fox logo, with a practical model for the statue’s reveal.

The model wasn’t created for the whole statue, though. Instead a half-scale recreation of Lady Liberty’s head and torch were constructed to be shot from a scaffold for the statue’s slow reveal.

12. AN EARLIER DRAFT HAD A MUCH MORE OPTIMISTIC ENDING.

Compared to today’s blockbusters, Planet of the Apes ends on a bit of a downer. We learn that humanity is lost as Earth has been destroyed, with only the crumbling image of the Statue of Liberty left to remind us of our once grand civilization. However, writer Michael Wilson’s earlier draft [PDF] would have left the movie with a single sliver of hope about humanity’s future.

In this draft, it’s learned toward the end of the film that Nova is pregnant with Taylor’s child. Though Taylor is struck down by an ape assassin shortly after laying eyes on the crumbling Lady Liberty, Nova escapes into the Forbidden Zone with her unborn child, setting up a potential sequel and showing that perhaps humanity could live on in some way.

Fox executives nixed the idea, fearing that Nova wouldn’t be perceived as purely human by audiences (Wilson referred to her as “humanoid” in an interview with Cinefantastique), leaving an awkward question about whether there was an interspecies romance between her and Taylor.

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.

Admetus

admetus cats film 1998
Really Useful Films

Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.

Alonzo

Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?

Bombalurina

Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.

Cassandra

cassandra in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.

Demeter

demeter in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).

Jellylorum

Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.

Munkustrap

Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.

Syllabub/Sillabub/Jemima

Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.

Victoria

Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.

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