Ever since the original film premiered in 1968, the Planet of the Apes franchise has held many fans of horror and sci-fi fascinated. Beyond the terrifying idea of being evolutionarily outpaced and/or subjugated by animals, the series explores complex social themes like racism & immigration, classism, and the ethics of medical research. Still, if there’s a single moment that encapsulates the essence of Planet of the Apes, it’s the conclusion of the original when Taylor (Charlton Heston) learns the shocking truth about where he actually is.
The scene above is beyond iconic, celebrated as the best twist ending in cinematic history, and the studio went to great lengths to keep this epic reveal under wraps. While most people know Planet of the Apes is based on the novel La Planète des Singes by French author Pierre Boulle (published in 1963), it might surprise you to know that this twist was not part of the source material. In Boulle’s novel, the doomed astronaut actually is on an alien planet ruled by Apes. While Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes is still widely disparaged, it’s actually the most accurate in terms of honoring the story’s roots; just saying…
While Michael Wilson is credited with hammering out the bulk of Apes’ screenplay, the epic twist was part of an earlier draft, one penned by none other than Rod Serling, the mastermind behind The Twilight Zone. He actually spent years wrestling with a first draft. And while very little of Serling’s vision made it into the final draft, the amazing ending was retained—and the rest is history.
Film historian Gordon C. Webb wrote of Serling’s involvement in a 30-year Planet of the Apes retrospective published back in 1998:
In late 1963, Rod Serling was hired by King Brothers Productions to write a screenplay based on Pierre Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes. For more than two years, Serling, who had earned a solid reputation as a television writer, struggled with the task of adapting this complex story for the big screen. By the time he submitted a final draft in early 1965, APJAC Productions had acquired the screen rights to Boulle’s story. For the next two years, producer Arthur P. Jacobs worked to raise enough funding for what had developed into a very expensive project. Before filming began, another experienced writer, Michael Wilson, was brought in to work on the script. Wilson, whose career suffered through the blacklisting of the McCarthy era, had written many excellent film scripts (including It’s A Wonderful Life and A Place in the Sun)—some uncredited until recently (such as Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia). Finally, in early 1968, Planet of the Apes was released, with both Wilson and Serling sharing screen credit.
While Serling’s reputation as a pioneering fear practitioner is sterling even without Planet of Apes on his resume, it’s still awesome to know that he was responsible for the film’s brilliant conclusion. The saga continues with War for the Planet of the Apes hitting US Theaters tomorrow, and we’ll have a review for you first thing in the a.m. In the meantime, check out the trailer and synopsis below.
Official Synopsis: Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody HarPlanetrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.