As Franklin J. Schaffner toiled to adapt Pierre Boulle’s novel into the hit Planet of the Apes film, he trusted writers Rod Sterling then Michael Wilson. As they began drafting the scripts for the film, Twentieth Century Fox insisted that only the core principles of the book remain in the script. Thus, they scrapped all the characters that originally appeared in the novel. Instead of following the plight of Ulysse Mérou, the film followed Charleston Heston as George Taylor as he navigated the exotic ape-filled planet.
Their scripts also reshaped ape society, relocating the mysterious Planet of the Apes to a future Earth. In the original book, Ulysse landed on a planet that orbited around the star Betelgeuse. Since the planet had no relation to Earth, the apes spoke an alien, foreign language. Thus, Ulysse had to overcome this language barrier to even prove that he was intelligent.
On the other hand, the film displayed a post-apocalyptic earth, where the apes overtook humanity. Thus, they naturally spoke English while the humans lost their understanding of language. Instead of overcoming a language barrier, an injury temporarily stole Taylor’s voice from him.
However, they did not completely reinvent the book. Some characters, like Cornelius, Zira, and Nova appeared in both versions. Their strong motivations to find the truth behind the rise of Ape Civilization helped propel the movie. Moreover, the powerful performances of these characters made them feel real to audiences.
Presenting the top ten characters from the original Planet of the Apes movies
Upon George Taylor’s first encounter with Ape civilization, gorillas hunted down his group before they captured and injured Taylor. Since the gorillas injured him during his capture, they brought the human to the Animal Hospital where Zira began tending to his needs. After Zira tended to the wound on Taylor’s neck, the apes caged him together with a dark-haired human, Nova. Like Taylor, apes captured Nova and stole her away from her tribe.
Upon noticing the affection developing between the two humans, Zira hoped that Taylor and Nova would become mates. Even though Nova could not speak, Taylor honestly became attracted to her. So, he happily helped teach her and help her advance. As Lucius helped Taylor escape from Ape City, Taylor insisted that Nova come with him to the Forbidden Zone. So, she faithfully accompanied him as he discovered the secrets of Ape Civilization.
Even after Taylor discovered that he landed on Earth, many centuries after he took off, Nova continued to accompany him. Their travels together ended abruptly after Taylor fell into the underground. Alone, Nova searched the Forbidden Zone until she located John Brent and his crashed ship. She then accompanied Brent on his journey to Ape City then the underground forgotten city, where they found Taylor. As she watched mutant humans psychically control both Brent and Taylor, she screamed out her first word, “Taylor!”. Sadly, a gorilla fatally shot Nova not long after her reunion with Taylor.
As Cornelius and Zira ran from the military, they found refuge in Armando’s circus. The man honestly loved all animals and sympathized with their plight. While he could not indefinitely hide them from the government, he was able to provide safe refuge for their son, Milo. Fortunately, one of the chimpanzees in his circus recently gave birth, so he allowed the pair to swap their newborn son with the infant chimp.
For over a decade, Armando treated the ape child, who he named Caesar, with kindness. He carefully hid the ape away, helping him hide his intelligence. To help keep Caesar safe, he instructed the young ape to remain silent and act like a normal ape.
As Armando raised Cesar, the world faced a planet-wide plague that wiped out the entire population of cats and dogs. Without their traditional pets, humans took in apes as pets before they began to realize the animals could also function as slaves. Thanks to these changes in society, Armando could bring Caesar into large cities as a “pet”.
During Caesar’s first visit to a large city, the ape witnessed the mistreatment of other apes, like Aldo. When his emotions got the better of him, the ape swore aloud, bringing attention to himself and Armando. After Armando helped Caesar escape, the authorities captured and subjected him to an Authenticator test. Rather than potentially giving away Caesar’s identity, Armando fought for his freedom before he fell through a window and died.
In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Aldo played a minor role yet crucial role. When humans mistreated the gorilla right before Caesar’s eyes, the young ape swore aloud. So, Caesar became a fugitive and lost his trusted friend, Armando, because of Aldo. The two later passed each other’s paths while in Mr. MacDonald’s command post. Even though Aldo had no understanding of language, the two had a silent understanding of each other.
Later, Caesar encountered a gorilla general in the new Ape City, who also had the name Aldo. Unlike the oppressed ape that Caesar once knew, this Aldo held a violent thirst for power. However, he remained second only two Caesar and his leadership. This Aldo particularly despised all human activity within Ape City. He also despised any apes who disrespected his authority or dared to tell him “No”.
Feeling that Caesar had disgraced him, Aldo plotted to overthrow him then blame the deed on humanity. As he plotted with his most trusted soldiers, Caesar’s son, Cornelius, overheard him. In a fit of rage, Aldo cut down the branch that the chimp stood on, killing him. He then adjusted his plans, quickly rounded up and leading counterattacks on humans.
For a time, Aldo’s plot worked, for the Apes already were dealing with mutant attacks. However, Caesar quickly realized that humans had nothing to do with the death of his son. Virgil later revealed that Aldo murdered the Chimp in cold blood. With all Ape Society turning against Aldo, he fled up a tree before he fell to his death.
7. General Ursus
As a General in the Ape army, Ursus answered only to the Ministry of Science. He specifically respected the guidance and insight that Dr. Zaius provided. As his men encountered stories of horrors in the Forbidden Zone, General Ursus became obsessed with removing the threat that lay in wait there. However, he lacked the forces to take on the Forbidden Zone with the Secret Security Police Force and military separated.
All this changed when a human man, George Taylor, suddenly spoke out in rage after his capture. With apes fearing the rise of intelligent non-ape life, General Ursus gained the support to invade the Forbidden Zone. General Ursus further stirred support by claiming that the humans in the Forbidden Zone threatened the Ape’s crops.
As General Ursus led his troops into the Forbidden Zone, they traveled through the ruins of New York City. They then dealt with psychic projections that the mutants of the Forbidden Zone used to scare away invaders. While neither he nor his troops saw through the deception, Dr. Zaius realized that the visions were not real.
As the apes overcame the illusions and stormed the Forgotten City, the mutant leader, Mendez XXVI, shocked them by announcing that he had a weapon from God. Without any respect for humans or their technology, General Ursus unwittingly killed his own soldiers by pulling down the Alpha-Omega Bomb. Even as gas killed his troops, Ursus tracked down the humans and shot Taylor. In retaliation, Brent shot Ursus with a rifle, killing him before the bomb took out the entire world.
As the fiancé of Zira, Cornelius reluctantly supported her and her non-conventional theories. However, she put his faith to the test when she brought a human who showed signs of intelligence home. As a firm believer in Ape society’s teachings, he did not believe that a human could ever develop intelligence. So, he skeptically accepted Taylor’s presence in his household.
After Taylor proved that he could indeed speak, Cornelius agreed with Zira that Taylor needed to escape to the Forbidden Zone. So, he helped the human slip away with his companion Nova. As he tagged along with the group, he hoped to find whether there ever was an advanced human society. So, they stopped to examine one of Cornelius’s old dig sites, where they found a human doll that talked.
Now branded heretics, Cornelius and Zira returned to Ape City. Still, they remained free citizens and continued to convince their fellow apes to change their views. Still, Cornelius felt more self-conscious when he mingled in public. He also agreed to help Nova and Brent as they searched for Taylor.
Before the doomsday bomb destroyed the planet, Cornelius accompanied Zira on a final expedition. Since one of their fellow apes had salvaged Taylor’s ship, they hoped to fly it. After the successful launch, the three apes found themselves in 1973, alone in a world dominated by humans.
As the humans held them captive, Cornelius held back any information on the rise of Ape civilization. He hoped to keep his head down and just barely survive. However, the humans soon threatened the life of his unborn son. After the pair fled for safety, they switched out their newborn with a newborn circus chimpanzee. Sadly, humans found the trio and shot them down.
5. John Brent
After George Taylor never returned from his voyage, John Brent and his crew searched for clues on the man’s disappearance. Their search led them to the same time distortion that Taylor’s ship flew through. Thus, they crash-landed in the 40th century, where Apes reigned as the dominant species.
Since the crash killed his only other companion, Maddox, John Brent explored the alien world alone. Luckily, he came across Nova, who wore Taylor’s dog tags. Now knowing that Taylor had crashed on the same world, Brent became determined to help Nova locate Taylor.
His search brought him into the clutches of apes as he sought help from Zira and Cornelius. After escaping with the assistance of Zira, the human pair followed a map that Cornelius gave them. Eventually, they located the ruins of a once-great city and an underground cavern. As Brent realized the city was what remained of New York City, he learned that he had landed on a future version of Earth.
Brent’s search led him to the subterranean society filled with mutated humans who worshiped a doomsday device, the Alpha-Omega Bomb. Now a captive of the mutants, Brent refused to help their leader, Mendez XXVI, fight the apes. So, the mutants psychically manipulated him into first attacking Nova then Taylor.
Unfortunately, it was not the fate of either Brent or Taylor to return to the past. As the apes stormed the underground, they shot down Brent after he killed General Ursus.
4. Dr. Zaius
No Ape held as esteemed of a position as Dr. Zaius, the Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith. As Dr. Zaius placed devotion to ape religion more than anything else, he held back any research that would contradict the stagnant religion. He specifically sought to deter any research into the origins of ape society.
While Dr. Zaius openly promoted the tenants of ape religion, which stated that no species had ever been intelligent before apes, he knew the truth. He learned long ago that despite the teachings, apes once were subservient to man. He also knew that humans destroyed the paradise that they once had. So, he feared that if men regained their intelligent civilization, they would once again destroy the world.
With his fear controlling his choices, Dr. Zaius sought to eliminate George Taylor as soon as he learned the man could speak. So, he organized an expedition to follow George Taylor and Nova into the Forbidden Zone. In the end, Taylor force Dr. Zaius to reveal his knowledge after he uncovered the human doll in Cornelius’s old dig site.
Even though he failed to kill Taylor, Dr. Zaius remained a powerful force in Ape City. His fear of man’s destructive capabilities continued to control his decisions. So, he joined General Ursus as the man sought to eliminate the humans in the Forbidden Zone. In the end, his fears proved true as a dying Taylor set off the Alpha-Omega bomb and destroyed the world.
Born Milo, the son of Cornelius and Zira, Caesar grew up as the only ape capable of speaking. Since humans feared the future that Cornelius and Zira represented, they hunted down and shot his parents. Armando understood the danger that Caesar was in. So, Armando kept Caesar safely concealed and instructed him to remain silent around other humans.
Caesar faithfully followed Armando’s instructions over the years, remaining safe for over a decade. However, he could not hold himself back when he witnessed a human mistreat another ape. After his outburst outed him as an ape capable of speaking, Armando quickly moved to hide Caesar within a shipment of ape slaves. While Armando promised to return to Caesar, he perished before he could fulfill his promise.
After Caesar learned the fate of his surrogate father, he lost all faith in the kindness of mankind. So, he began plotting a revolution. To achieve this, he began training his fellow apes to use weapons. Before he could realize his revolution, Breck determined that he had not been an official part of any shipment. Luckily, one human felt pity for Caesar, MacDonald, and prevented Breck’s machine from electrocuting the ape.
After escaping, Caesar released all the captive apes then began his revolt in earnest. While he intended to kill Breck, his love, Lisa, yelled out “no”, sparing his life. Years later, Caesar led the new Ape City, which began to resemble the future his parents came from. As he began to seek a peaceful existence between both humanity and the apes, Aldo slew his only son, Cornelius.
As one of the most respected psychologists and veterinarians in Ape City, Zira worked closely with the humans that entered the Animal Hospital. Even though she enjoyed conducting learning and behavioral experiments on humans, she also performed lobotomies, vivisection, and other physical experiments that pushed humans to their limits. Despite her hopes of eventually teaching an intelligent human, she believed that Apes had always been the intelligent species on the planet.
Her worldview shattered when she met the Astronaut, George Taylor. While she initially believed that he was a simple human, he shocked her by writing his name on a stolen notebook. From that moment on, she respected the man by using the name that he gave her. However, she could not believe that he was from another world. Instead, she believed that he was a missing link between humanity and apes. He surprised her even more once he proved that he could talk.
Understanding how special Taylor was, Zira helped him escape into the Forbidden Zone. There, they discovered artifacts that pointed to a past, intelligent human civilization. Even she returned to Ape City as a heretic, she once again helped an intelligent human when she met John Brent. After sending the man to the Forbidden Zone, she joined up with Dr. Milo as the chimpanzee planned to take off in Taylor’s crashed ship.
This voyage brought Cornelius and Zira to the age of man, in 1973. Now two lone intelligent apes surrounded by humans, Zira experienced the same scrutiny that she gave Taylor. Furthermore, she became pregnant. As humans feared the rise of Ape Civilization, they aimed to kill off the intelligent apes. Before they perished, they managed to hide away their newborn son in a circus.
1. George Taylor
When George Taylor boarded the Liberty 1, he never imagined that would be the last time he would see human civilization. As the crew set off to become the first humans to explore another star system, they placed themselves in suspended animation. Their near-light speed voyage then propelled the crew over two-thousand years into the future. At the end of the voyage, the ship crash-landed on a planet that was alien to the entire crew.
Waking up on this alien world, George Taylor soon found his fellow crew members dying off. Some, like Stewart, died during the voyage, while Dodge perished during their first meeting with Ape-kind. As the gorilla guards protected their crops, they injured Taylor’s neck, rendering him mute, killed Dodge, and knocked Landon unconscious. Taylor later discovered that the apes gave Landon a lobotomy.
Fortunately, Taylor found himself under the care of Zira, who felt compassion and pity toward humans. She nursed his wound and attempted to set him up with a potential mate, Nova. Not wanting to be treated like an animal, Taylor stole her notepad and proved he was intelligent by writing his name. Later, he fully recovered his voice so that he could loudly display his intelligence to all in Ape City.
After his outburst, apes like Dr. Zaius desired to terminate Taylor. So, he slipped away into the Forbidden Zone with the help of Cornelius and Zira. After discovering proof of intelligent men in the past, Taylor found the full truth about this planet. As he set eyes on the ruins of Lady Liberty, he realized that he was on a future Earth instead of an alien world.
Who were your favorite characters from the Planet of the Apes?
We have shared our picks for the top ten characters from the original Planet of the Apes films. Each of these characters was picked due to their importance in the overarching story. However, we would love to hear from you. Who were your favorite characters from these imaginative films? Let us know in the comments below.
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