Planet of the Apes (1968) - Plot Summary - IMDb
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  • An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.

  • Taylor and two other astronauts come out of deep hibernation to find that their ship has crashed. Escaping with little more than clothes they find that they have landed on a planet where men are pre-lingual and uncivilized while apes have learned speech and technology. Taylor is captured and taken to the city of the apes after damaging his throat so that he is silent and cannot communicate with the apes.

  • In the year A.D. 3978, a spaceship with a crew of 4 crashes on a distant planet. One of the crew members had died in space, and the other 3 head out to explore the planet. They soon learn that the planet is much like their own. They then find the planet is inhabited by intelligent apes. One of the men is shot and killed, and the others are taken to the apes' city. There, one undergoes brain surgery and is put into a state of living death. The other befriends some of the apes but is feared by most. After being put through ape trial, he escapes with a female human native to the planet. After helping his ape friends escape a religious heresy trial, he escapes out into the wilderness with the female. There he learns the planet might not be so distant after all.

  • Astronaut Taylor crash lands on a distant planet ruled by apes who use a primitive race of humans for experimentation and sport. Soon Taylor finds himself among the hunted, his life in the hands of a benevolent chimpanzee scientist.

  • After having their ship crash on a mysterious planet, two US astronauts wander across the desert plain. Thinking they are alone, the surprise comes when life forms appear, not just as mute human but as apes. Walking, talking apes. The apes see themselves as the original beings on the planet and do anything to keep all humans locked up.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film opens with the image of a ship in space. Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is at the controls. He's making a log entry about the journey so far. Although nearly six months out from Earth since they took off in 1972; they have traveled 700 years into the future due to their faster than light speed through a wormhole.

    Taylor takes an injection and enters his stasis chamber to wait out the rest of the voyage with his three fellow astronauts. As he sleeps, the ship continues on before encountering a planet and crashes into a lake. The ship awakens the crew, who immediately realize their situation. One of the four (a young woman) has died in stasis.

    Suddenly one of the bulkheads collapses and the ship begins to sink. The remaining three crewmen scramble to escape after being unsuccessful in sending a message to Earth. As Taylor leaves the ship he sees the ship's clock showing the year as 3978. They have been in space for over 2,000 years, yet by traveling through a hyperspace wormhole they have aged only about 20 months, with long beards to prove it.

    The three men, Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) take to a raft and begin paddling to shore. Taylor surmises that they are some 320 light years from Earth on a planet orbiting a star in the Orion system. Landon calls him out on this information claiming Taylor didn't have enough time to read the tapes before their ship sank.

    Coming ashore they take stock of their situation: they have food and water for three days and a handgun. Taylor tells the others about the clock and proof it offers about the theory of relativity. Landon stops to plant an American flag before moving off.

    They begin their journey in the rocky desert; around them, unseen figures move across the cliff tops watching their progress. Slowly the country changes, and stray vegetation is seen. Passing an outcrop, they see wooden crosses planted in the ground resembling a borderline fence. Evidence something intelligent lives on the planet.

    Passing the crosses, they see trees and can hear a waterfall. Realizing they may survive, they take all their clothes off and go for a swim in the lake. Further along on a muddy bank, they find footprints, which seem human. As they investigate, someone steals their clothes. The crew give chase catching fleeting glimpses of humanoids through the thick vegetation.

    Working their way to a clearing, they find a tribe of native men and women harvesting food from a tree. The humanoids freeze as a bizarre noise echoes over the area; the sound sends the tribe into a stampede. The crew become swept up in the human tide and become part of the rout. Ahead they hear horses and gunfire, the men change direction realizing it is a trap, and they are being hunted by ape-like creatures riding on horses. Landon is knocked unconscious and captured. Dodge is shot and killed. The apes continue to herd the rest of the tribe into various traps, and Taylor is shot in the neck.

    As quickly as it began, the hunt ends. Dozens of humans have been captured, even more killed and collected as trophies. At a clinic, ape surgeons remove the bullet from Taylor's neck and continue to treat him.

    Doctor Zira (Kim Hunter), a chimpanzee scientist, wants Taylor kept alive so that experiments on his brain can be conducted. Taylor wakes later to find himself in a cage. Zira visits to see how the captured humans are going. She has given him the nickname 'Bright Eyes'.

    Taylor tries to communicate but can't speak because of his throat injury. Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans), the orangutan Minister for Science, arrives at the lab to investigate the latest captured humans. Zira points out 'Bright Eyes' to Zaius, again Taylor fails to communicate. Zira is convinced of his intelligence, but Zaius is not and cautions Zira about her behavioral studies.

    Taylor discovers that the apes, who can talk, are in control and are divided into a strict caste system: the gorillas as police, military, hunters, and workers; the orangutans as administrators, politicians, lawyers, and religious clerics; and the chimpanzees as intellectuals and scientists. Humans, who are mute, are considered feral vermin and are hunted for sport and either killed outright, enslaved for manual labor, or used for scientific experimentation.

    Zira gives Taylor a human woman, Nova (Linda Harrison), and she is now assigned to his cage, hoping that she will mate with him. Days pass and Nova tries to bond with Taylor, but his own moral code stops him. Zira, becoming more excited by 'Bright Eyes' each day, invites her fiance, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to the clinic see the progress she's made.

    At an outdoor confinement area near a large cage where the humans are kept, Zaius meets Cornelius, who is an archaeologist and planning another expedition into the so-called 'Forbidden Zone' (The vast desert where Taylor and his crew marched overland from their crash site.) to search of artifacts. During the conversation, Taylor attempts to communicate with them by writing a message in the dirt ground, but Nova innocently wipes the marks away. Then a fight between Taylor and another man breaks out. Taylor is removed by the gorilla guards to an isolated cage.

    Later, Zira gets close to Taylor's cage, and he grabs her note book and pencil. Julius (Buck Kartalian), the gorilla guard, enters the cage to beat up Taylor and retrieves the stolen items. Zira notices that Taylor has written a note that she understands; it says "My name is Taylor". Stunned, she speaks to Taylor one-on-one, realizing he really is intelligent.

    After taking Taylor out of his cage to her office, Zira tries to convince Cornelius of Taylor's origins. He refuses to believe that Taylor is no more than a hoax. Still mute because of his throat injury, Taylor points out a map where the ship went down and describes the journey the crew undertook by writing it down. Cornelius is even more disturbed that any creature could survive in the Forbidden Zone. Taylor takes an interest in Cornelius's work and Zira explains in more detail that Cornelius's theory that the apes evolved from a lower form of life such as the humans. In the Forbidden Zone, Cornelius claims to have discovered artifacts that point to a civilization that predates the current ape society. Zaius arrives and interrupts the discussion and orders Taylor returned to the compound.

    Later in his cage, Taylor overhears orders that he is to be gelded (castrated). As the gorilla guards prepare him, he escapes into the ape village, first taking refuge in a church during a funeral. Discovered, he again escapes through a market place, then into a museum with various humans that have been stuffed and put on exhibition. There he finds the body of Dodge. Back in the market place, he is surrounded and subdued by apes. Suddenly Taylor discovers his voice has recovered yells, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty apes!"

    Back at the medical compound, Nova is removed from Taylor's cage. With his throat completely healed and able to speak again, Taylor reflects on the humor that for the first time he needs someone and she taken away. Over the next few days, Taylor, now alone in his cage, muses about Earth and the life left behind. One day, a group of apes comes in where they collar and restrain Taylor before taking him via a horse-drawn wagon to a large building in the middle of the so-called 'Ape city' which Taylor reads from its name as the 'National Ministry'. In a large assembly hall, Taylor is seated at table where Cornelius and Zira are also seated. It soon becomes apparent to Taylor (and the viewers) that this hearing is actually a trial to decide Taylor's origin and fate. Three orangutans are the judges of the case; they are the President of the Ministry (James Whitmore), Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey), and Dr. Zaius. Zira and Cornelius have been appointed by the panel of judges to defend him. Taylor tries to speak, and is immediately restrained from doing so by the President of the Ministry who tells Taylor that under ape law, humans have no rights. A speech is given by Dr. Maximus defending the First Article of Faith that only apes should study apes.

    Dr. Zaius is called to testify where he argues before the court claiming that since Taylor was operated on his throat for his bullet injury, that Dr. Zira 'programmed' his vocal cords so he could appear to speak. Dr. Honorius (James Daly), the orangutan prosecutor, challenges Taylor to explain the Second Article of Faith and why humans have no soul. Taylor states he cannot because he has no knowledge of the ape's society or rules. Taylor then asks Cornelius to read a statement to the tribunal for him. But the tribunal refuses to allow the document to be entered into evidence since it was written by a human. Taylor claims there were other 'talking humans' when they arrived. The tribunal adjourns to inspect the survivors of the hunt.

    A little later, Taylor is led outside where his collar and restraints are removed and he is allowed to mingle with the group of captured humans that had survived the hunt. Taylor recognizes Landon in the group. He goes to talk to Landon, only to discover a large scar on the side of his head. Taylor realizes that Landon has had most of his brain removed. Taylor physically attacks Zaius for performing a crude lobotomy on his friend, but is restrained before he can do any harm.

    The tribunal resumes where Dr. Zaius is recalled to testify claiming that the human (Landon) which Taylor pointed out suffered a head injury due to being shot and never could talk. Taylor disrupts the testimony by calling Zaius a liar, but he is again restrained and gagged by the gorilla guards standing beside him.

    Cornelius steps in and concedes that Taylor could not have come from outer space, but he clearly came from somewhere such as the past. Cornelius goes on to tell how accurately Taylor described the Forbidden Zone to them, and Cornelius's own research shows a civilization predating the apes lived out there as well. The biased orangutan tribunal rejects the theory and counters by charging both Zira and Cornelius with contempt of court and heresy. The court adjourns to consider their fate as well as the fate of Taylor.

    Afterwords, Dr. Zaius takes Taylor to his private chambers and explains what Taylor's fate will be unless he co-operates. He challenges Taylor to admit where he really came from, but Taylor stands firm claiming to have come from a distant planet where humans are the dominant species. Zaius then admits that he knew Landon could talk, and intentionally had a lobotomy performed on him to prevent him from talking and keeping the knowledge of intelligent humans suppressed from the ape public. Zaius tells Taylor that he believes that Taylor and his "tribe" originated from the other side of the Forbidden Zone and worries what they might do in the future. Zaius again tries to make Taylor admit that he comes from a tribe of intelligent humans, but Taylor continues to maintain that he comes from a distant planet in the past. Realizing that Taylor won't budge, Zaius orders the gorilla guards to send Taylor back to the clinical compound.

    Later, a chimpanzee attendant, who is Zira's socially-rebellious nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner), arrives at the compound to explain to the gorilla guard, Julius, that Taylor is being transferred to the zoo. Julius becomes suspicious and Lucius, with the help of Taylor, subdues him and escapes. Taylor insists on Nova coming on the escape.

    Taylor and Lucius meet up with Zira who disguises Taylor and takes them across country in a horse-drawn wagon. Later, Cornelius meets up with them bearing fresh horses and supplies. To escape, Cornelius is going to lead the party back into the Forbidden Zone desert to where he found the artifacts a year before. He tells Taylor that only his discovery of the artifacts will prove Zira and him innocent of the heresy charges.

    They travel across the desert and reach the dig site at a cave overlooking a beach facing a vast ocean. Taylor examines the artifacts that Cornelius has discovered. As they do so, Zaius and a group of gorilla soldiers arrive and a brief fire fight develops before a truce is called by Zaius (under threat of being shot by Taylor). He then tries to negotiate with Cornelius for him to retract his findings and says Cornelius will get off lightly.

    Ultimately, Taylor negotiates with Zaius that if Cornelius can prove his theory, Zaius will let him off his charges. Zaius agrees, and they enter the cave. Cornelius shows the diggings and explains that the deeper they dig the more advanced the culture seems to be. Zaius brushes off Cornelius's argument as primitive and undeveloped. Finally Cornelius shows Zaius a human doll. Zaius does not understand the significance of the doll and dismisses it. Taylor looks over the other items and identifies what they were. Again, Zaius refuses to believe the evidence. Finally, Nova presses a button on the doll, and it speaks. Taylor challenges him as to why apes would make a human doll that talks.

    Outside the cave, the firefight erupts again. Lucius is overpowered and captured, but Taylor manages to kill and/or wound a number of the gorilla soldiers before faking an injury to draw Zaius out of the cave. Zaius is trapped, and he is forced again to order his soldiers to retreat. Taylor tells the gorillas he wants food, a horse, and ammunition, and he will let Zaius go free.

    Taylor challenges the captive Zaius that he knew about the older civilization of humans and covered it up. Zaius admits he did know about it from the ancient writings. Zaius has Cornelius read aloud one of the so-called "sacred scrolls" that he keeps with him at all times. The 29th Scroll, 6th Verse written by apes many years earlier as part of their religious hierarchy is as Cornelius reads:

    "Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him... for he is the harbinger of death."

    According to Zaius, the writings of the scrolls give a dire warning about man and the danger he presents. Zaius argues that nothing Taylor has done proves the writings wrong. Zaius then admits that he always knew that an intelligent human like Taylor would show up sooner or later. When Taylor asks Zaius why he hates humans so much that he believes that all humans must be killed to a point of total extinction, Zaius replies that he doesn't really hate humans, but he fears humans. Not for what they are, but for what they were. Zaius claims that man's high intelligence mixed with his need to war... to destroy. Zaius explains that the Forbidden Zone was once a paradise, but it was destroyed by man many hundreds of years ago.

    When Lucius is released and arrives with the horse and supplies, Taylor continues to argue with Zaius that he is going deeper into the Forbidden Zone to try and understand what happened... to find out how or what brought the previous culture to an end. Zaius warns Taylor that he might not like what he finds out there. Taylor says his goodbyes to Cornelius and Zira and rides on his horse off along the shore with Nova. After Taylor rides off, the gorilla soldiers appear and release Zaius, but he tells them not to chase after Taylor. He instead orders the cave to be destroyed and sealed, and orders his gorillas to arrest Cornelius, Zira, and Lucius, telling the three chimpanzees that he will take them back to Ape City and they will stand trial for heresy after all. Zaius states that he and the ruling ministry will continue to cover up the true origins of humanity. When Zira asks Zaius about what Taylor might find out there in the Forbidden Zone, Zaius replies: "his destiny."

    After riding a distance, Taylor catches sight of something sticking out of the sand on the beach. Overcome with grief, he dismounts from his horse and falls to his knees in the sand of the surf, screaming to the sky. The camera pans out to show the Statue of Liberty half-buried in sand, and in a highly corroded state. He understands now that he has been on Earth the whole time, and Zaius was right. Humanity did destroy itself and apes became the dominant species.

    "Maniacs!! You finally blew it all up!!!" Taylor screams in despair. "God damn you all to hell!"

    The image fades to black.

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