The following post contains SPOILERS for literally every single Planet of the Apes movie ever made, so listen up you maniacs: If you don’t want to know how these movies end, stop reading now. Everything past this point is the Forbidden Zone for you.

It’s one of the most important unwritten rules of Hollywood — not to mention one of the great songs by the O’Jays — you’ve got to give the people what they want. And what most people want is to leave the movie theater feeling good. Audiences have enough tragedy in their own lives. If they come to the multiplex and plunk down their hard-earned money, they’re probably looking to escape from their troubles for a couple hours.

No wonder it’s so hard to find big-budget films with bummer endings — except in the case of Planet of the Apes, which has been depressing moviegoers for more than half a century. From the very first time Charlton Heston slammed his fists into the sands of Malibu’s Westward Beach, punching viewers in the gut with a shocking and heartbreaking twist has been baked into Apes’ DNA. Not all of their finales have worked — a few have been downright silly — but that tendency to surprise fans remains a hallmark of the series right on through 2024’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

In tribute to this great film saga and its rare willingness to not give the people what they want, here is every single Apes ending ranked according to the length of time it will mess you up after you watch it. (And no, the original Planet of the Apes is not #1.)

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

The second part of the most recent Apes trilogy ended with a not-entirely horrifying conclusion which, in this franchise, is about as happy as things get. The escalating conflict between man and monkey is about to erupt into all-out war but for this one brief moment, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) share their mutual feelings of admiration and friendship. There’s even an interspecies hug. Aww! Aaaaaaaaand then the war for the Planet of the Apes begins. What a drag. But not very twisty or shocking.

9. War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After a trilogy of movies spent fighting for apekind, Caesar finally leads his tribe to a Promised Land he will never live to see. Looking out over the apes’ new home, he succumbs to his wounds and passes away. Given the messianic overtones of the final installment of the modern Apes trilogy, it’s not the most mind-blowing ending imaginable. In fact, it sort of feels like the inevitable one all three of these films were building to. Still, it’s not every day that a $100 million Hollywood blockbuster concludes with the tragic death of its hero. In this day and age, that counts for something.

8. Battle For the Planet of the Apes (1973)


The original Planet of the Apes series concluded on an unusual note for the franchise: A glimmer of hope. After yet another Battle between man and ape civilizations, the two societies reach a kind of equilibrium, however tenuous. After the main narrative wraps up, a frame story featuring the fabled “Lawgiver” ape speaks to an audience of both human and ape children, offering the possibility of peace. However, because no vintage Apes movie can finish without at least a little bit of WTF, the camera zooms in on a statue of the great ape leader Caesar in the background, which then sheds a single tear. Don’t ask me how a statue can cry (maybe all that damn dirty radiation after the nuclear war?), but that image tempers the fleeting optimism with a note of melancholy. Also kind of shocking: Famed director and actor John Huston plays the Lawgiver!

7. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

20th Century Studios
20th Century Studios

(Here is one last SPOILER WARNING for you.)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes revived the franchise’s love of big twists in a major way. As the film begins, it appears the franchise has returned to the time period of the first Charlton Heston Apes movies, with the chimps at the top of the food chain and mankind having reverted to a mute, primitive race. But then it turns out that there are a bunch of surviving humans who haven’t succumbed to the so-called simian flu, and they’ve been hanging out in fallout shelters for centuries waiting for the moment they could emerge to take back the planet (of the apes). Kingdom’s human hero Mae (Freya Allen) retrieves a decryption device that will allow these shelters to communicate with each other, meaning another war between monkey and man may be brewing. It’s certainly an unexpected direction given the franchise’s history — although concluding the story with a cliffhanger that teases future movies may be the least surprising ending possible for a blockbuster these days.

6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Caesar and his new tribe of intelligent apes manages to escape San Francisco and settle in the woods nearby. A certain kind of calm has been achieved until — Duh duh duhhhhhhh! — the neighbor of James Franco’s scientist character catches a bug caused by the same experimental virus that makes Caesar and his buddies smart and then — Duh duh duhhhhhhhhhhhh! — the neighbor turns out to be an airline pilot, and his travels quickly spread the “Simian Flu” around the globe. Creepy when the movie came out, it’s even more disturbing now thanks to its eerie parallels to recent history.

5. Planet of the Apes (2001)

After years of thwarted attempts to relaunch the Apes, Tim Burton finally made this slightly baffling reboot, starring a young Mark Wahlberg as its next-gen Heston figure, an astronaut who crashes onto a new simian world. Attempting to recreate the shock of the original Planet of the Apes’ ending without actually rehashing the image of the Statue of Liberty, Burton’s film ends with Wahlberg’s character leaving the planet and returning home to Earth in the present, only to discover — Duh duh duhhhhhhh! — that the Lincoln Memorial is now somehow a statue of the evil ape leader General Thade (Tim Roth). Wow! What a twist! That makes ... absolutely no sense whatsoever! Burton later claimed “Aperaham Lincoln” was designed as a cliffhanger to stoke audience interest in a possible sequel. Not so much.

4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Things got really disturbing with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel where the franchise’s already thinly veiled racial metaphor shifted from subtext to full text. Some years after the events of Escape, domestic dogs and cats have died from a disease, leading people to take apes as pets and later as slaves. Those apes include Caesar (McDowell), the hyper-smart child of the previous film’s central ape couple, who eventually leads an uprising at the ape training facility. Caesar’s anger is justified, but the film’s original ending, where he essentially declares war on humanity and then watches as his followers murder their former overlord in cold blood, was so grim (even by the standards of the mega-grim Planet of the Apes) that it was changed in post-production so that the overlord was spared and Caesar offered a marginally-less-terrifying final speech about the birth of the Planet of the Apes. That blunted the film’s impact slightly, but even the compromised version is haunting.

3. Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

This thing is a bummer. Escape follows three apes that managed to escape the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and, through a fluke, wind up getting sent back through time to the year 1973. (The very-near-future when the movie was released in 1971.) Their ability to talk makes the apes celebrities, but the same culture that exalts them eventually destroys them. After deciding the chimps are a threat to the future of the world, the U.S. government hunts Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) to an abandoned ship where they are both — Duh duh duhhhhhhh! — shot and killed. Their super-smart baby survives in the care of a friendly circus owner (Ricardo Montalban). Hooray! Oh, but then he grows up to lead apekind in their quest to overthrow humanity. Way to go,Ricardo Montalban.

2. Planet of the Apes (1968)

It’s an ending even more famous than the film it’s in: Charlton Heston’s time-lost space traveler Taylor ends his struggles with the authorities of a mysterious ape civilization and then charts a course for their “Forbidden Zone,” where he discovers incontrovertible proof that this planet is his own: the twisted ruins of — Duh duh duhhhhhhh! — the Statue of Liberty, destroyed by a horrific war at some point in the past. Taylor’s anguished cries (“You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you!”) are only part of the gloominess; at the same time, ape leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) destroys the rest of the evidence that proves humans ruled the world before apes and charges Taylor’s ape allies with heresy. So everyone is miserable now! But things would get even more upsetting just one movie later.

1. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

How do you top one of the darkest endings in movie history? That’s easy! You blow up the entire freaking world. Charlton Heston only agreed to appear in the first Apes sequel on the condition that his character got killed so he would never have to go back to the Forbidden Zone ever again. Then he suggested an ending even more conclusive: Eradicating the entire world in a nuclear blast. Astonishingly, the producers went for his idea; just about every major character gets brutally gunned down, and then — Duh duh duhhhhhhh! — a fatally wounded Taylor activates a doomsday bomb, destroying the PotA and everyone on it. Apes producers eventually engineered a sneaky workaround by setting the next film in the past, but that doesn’t change the fact that Beneath the Planet of the Apes ends on one of the bleakest notes in Hollywood history. It’s the ultimate cinematic mic drop.

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