Why ‘Planet of the Apes’ is Still Relevant Today

By  · Published on July 10th, 2014

20th Century Fox

Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives in theaters tomorrow nearly fifty years after the release of original Planet of the Apes. It’s a perfect excuse to take another look at the 1968 classic and see what it may have to say about us in 2014.

Sometimes it can be hard for allegorical science-fiction to resonate past its then-and-there. Planet of the Apes, not surprisingly, doesn’t have that problem. For a film made fifty years ago – set millenniums in the future and on a planet ruled by simians – a lot of its conflicts, scenes and characters shed light on our non-ape ruled world in the present. Here are five examples where 1968’s Planet of the Apes speaks directly to us.

1. The Battle Between Evolution and Creationists Rages On

“How can scientific truth be hearsay?” asks Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) incredulously during a tribunal of orangutan elders who hold her in scriptural contempt for suggesting apes weren’t created, but evolved from a previous civilization. The apes of The Planet of the Apes, in other words, are creationists. That point-of-view should seem quaint and archaic watching the movie now, what with all that science and Inherit the Wind aiding the case for evolution, but the battle of beliefs continues.

It’s even been recently reignited in the public consciousness, thanks to Bill Nye’s Creationism vs. Evolution Debate with prominent creationist, Ken Ham, and the tantrum creationists are throwing over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show Cosmos and its unwillingness to acknowledge Genesis. It seems five decades after Planet of the Apes’ release, Dr. Zaius’ insistence that there is “no contradiction between faith and science” is one still shared by many.

2. The Hunting of Living Things for Pleasure

After mercilessly hunting down a tribe of hopelessly undefended humans, three gorillas – all smiles, guns and beaming pride – pose for a photograph over the bodies of their captured prey. It remains an unsettling, cruel moment not just because of the apes’ indifference to the life at their feet, but how its an image instantly familiar today.

It seems we’ve been flooded lately with news of those who hunt living things for picture-worthy sport. Whether it’s the Texas Tech cheerleader who gleefully hunted, killed, posed with and hugged a variety of African wildlife, or TV show host Melissa Bachman posing with a lion she killed earlier this year, those who take maybe a little too much pleasure in the snuffing out of life would have a lot to talk about with those gorillas.


20th Century Fox

3. Disenfranchised Youth Have Always Existed

Those are all things Lucius, Cornelius’ nephew, mutters disgruntled in his late and brief appearance in Planet of the Apes. His words are undoubtedly the disenfranchised attitudes of the hippie proxy he’s designed to be, but his words would seem no more out of the place in the mouth of millennials.

They’re part of a generation who have had their fair share of reasons to resent the elders who distrust them as workers, criticize them for living at home, and abandoned them with poor job and economic prospects. Planet of the Apes serves as a reminder that generational conflict has always been around.


4. The Statue of Liberty Always Gets It

No matter how many bridges, skyscrapers or other landmarks mankind has built, disaster movies continue to pick on the poor old Statue of Liberty. Planet of the Apes may not have been the first to do so (the 1933 film Deluge beat it to the punch), but it was the first to do it on such a widely seen scale, laying the foundation for decades worth of unfortunate Lady Liberty being submerged, nuked, drowned, and even awakened.

5. Mankind Still Justifies Planet of the Apes Cynicism About Mankind

Taylor (Charlton Heston) – the movie’s conscience bullhorn – doesn’t think much of his species and spends much of his time writing them off. He admires how “space…squashes a man’s ego.” He wonders if when he returns to Earth two millennia later, man “still makes war against his brother? Keeps his neighbor children starving?”

He mocks America’s unjustified worship of itself and its self-made and aggrandizing heroes. He bemoans that the “world we made” had “lots of lovemaking, no love.” And all of that cynicism, all those criticisms, remain true. We still hate, we still mistreat others,the list goes on. And sure, nuclear annihilation is less a concern than it was during Planet of the Apes’ time (well, as long as Seth Rogen stops provoking North Korea), but our possible self-annihilation isn’t. Pick y(our) possible poison: global warming, resource exhaustion, sentient drones armies or algorithms. That’s why even though the endings of Planet of the Apes should have become inert as a cautionary tale thanks to its pop culture overexposure, it still remains a vision of a future that remains all too possible.

Read More Films of Future Past

Correction: A previous version of this post referred to Lucius as Landon. Our lobotomized apologies.