Five Planet of the Apes Reboots that Never Made It Off The Ground
Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of The Apes reboot won at the box office, but he stepped away from sequels citing its troubled production being one of the worst he’d ever tangled with. Still, Burton’s ability to make another Apes movie at all is a victory considering the various reboots, remakes and permutations that were famously scuttled. The dark tales of those films make up a large part of David Hughes’s 2003 book Tales from Development Hell.
Since Planet of The Apes is great speculative fiction it only seems fitting to look back and imagine five of the films that may have been…
Gladi-APE-tor – Return To The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Adam Rifkin
Writers: Adam Rifkin & Cary Elwes’s brother (!)
Star: Tom Cruise...or maybe Charlie Sheen? (It was a different time)
At just 21, writer/director Adam Rifkin translated his hit film Never on Tuesday (1989) into a blank cheque with Fox and a chance to work on a Planet of The Apes reboot. His film wouldn’t be a sequel to the last film, 1973’s Battle For the Planet of The Apes, but instead an alternate sequel to the first. This sequel would see a Roman-style Empire built by the apes, exerting control over the humans who now have the knowledge they used to run the world. The plot followed a descendant of Charlton Heston’s original lead who leads a slave uprising against their ape overlords. Rifkin describes the plot as being very close to 2000’s Gladiator.
What Happened? The film was fast tracked and almost entered pre-production with Rick Baker attached to do makeup and Danny Elfman attached to score. Unfortunately new executives came into play at Fox and after asking for multiple rewrites shelved the project. Rifkin went on to mostly write & direct low budget horror movies and comedies like Detroit Rock City.
You drew it up! – Renaissance of The Apes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh
Star: Roddy McDowall
Following the success of his New Zealand splatter film Braindead, in 1992 Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh pitched their idea to take over the franchise. Much like Rifkin’s, it followed the course of the ape society through another era, this time a cultural and artistic Renaissance that saw liberal apes questioning the low place of humans in their society. This caused friction with the ruling apes and more militaristic gorillas who had problems of their own catching a half-human/half-ape staging an uprising. Jackson & Walsh also convinced Roddy McDowall to return to the franchise and lend his prior Apes skills, this time as an elderly Da Vinci-type.
What Happened? Joe Roth who had championed the Apes reboot left Fox and his replacement Tom Jacobson didn’t care for the franchise. Once Peter Jackson realized Jacobson didn’t really know who Roddy McDowall was or about his involvement in the original films, he walked away to focus on Heavenly Creatures. Of course he and Fran Walsh had some success with other franchises.
Ancient Ape-liens – The Past of The Apes
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Oliver Stone & Terry Hayes
Star: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Oliver Stone got involved in 1993 after his Natural Born Killers producers Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher took over the project. Stone hated the original films, so his version strayed from the Pierre Boulle source material thinking instead the apes were an advanced pre-biblical civilization that subjugated humans. He brought in two Australians to realize the vision, director Phillip Noyce who’d had a hit with Patriot Games and his Dead Calm screenwriter Terry Hayes who was also responsible for the Mad Max sequels. Set in a plague-ridden near future, the film followed two doctors who went back in time when they realized the plague was caused by an ancient time bomb planted by the prehistoric apes to wipe out humanity. Arnold Schwarzenegger was brought on to play one of his numerous inexplicable scientist roles.
What Happened? Pre-production nearly commenced on the $100 million film, but studio executive Dylan Sellers wanted a comedic approach rather than Terry Hayes’s action script. As Don Murphy put it, "Terry wrote a Terminator and Fox wanted The Flintstones.” Once Hayes was fired from the project, director Noyce walked off. Hayes and Noyce have stayed away from franchises ever since.
Flip Flop – Planet of the…Humans?
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Sam Hamm
Star: Still Arnold Schwarzenegger
After Fox’s “Planet of the Apes, should be a comedy” producer Dylan Sellers went to jail, a more serious reboot was considered with Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire director Chris Columbus and Batman writer Sam Hamm. Their script went back to the source novel and involved an extra-terrestrial ape crash landing on earth, launching a human killing virus and the scientists (once again including Arnie) sent to the ape home planet to find a cure. The ape planet reflected the more modern version from Boulle’s novel, it’s rumoured there were many tests of apes skiing, and the finale offered a switcheroo where our heroes would return to earth only to find it TOO had been taken over by apes.
What Happened? Fox dragged their feet, uncertain about Hamm’s script, and Chris Columbus headed off and produced Jingle All The Way with his new friend Arnold instead. Chris Columbus would go on to lend his touch to franchises like Harry Potter, Fantastic Four and Percy Jackson, but unfortunately Sam Hamm would remain one of those people who wrote great unproduced scripts. And Monkeybone.
The Desperation of the Apes – Escape the Planet of the Reboot
Director: Roland Emmerich! No, James Cameron! No, Michael Bay! No, The Hughes Brothers! Maybe….Peter Jackson again?
Star: Would you believe Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Now things get desperate. After a short offer to Roland Emmerich, frequent Schwarzenegger collaborator James Cameron took over in a producing role. He envisioned a film that combined the first film and Beneath The Planet of The Apes into one larger narrative but began to lose interest after the success of Titanic. Peter Jackson was brought back to discuss his Renaissance vision, but the combined factors of fears Cameron and Schwarzenegger would bowl over his decisions and eventually Roddy McDowall’s death made him pass. Brief flirtations with Michael Bay and The Hughes Brothers didn’t pan out either.
What Happened? Fox’s frustration and disinterest in the project allowed writer William Broyles Jr. to take a more radical approach to the script which grabbed Tim Burton’s attention. Though the road had been bumpy, Tim Burton ended up bringing back original collaborators Rick Baker and Danny Elfman who’d prepared to do the same job over and over again throughout the past decade.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tim Burton have yet to work together.