A Brief History of Movies & TV Shows Aping the End of ‘Planet of the Apes’
War for the Planet of the Apes arrives in theaters this week about a year shy of the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Over that half a century, the Planet of the Apes series has had an enormous impact on popular culture. The prosthetic masks for its ape characters set a new standard for Hollywood makeup effects. Several of its most quotable lines of dialogue became ingrained in the pop culture lexicon; any time someone tells you to take your stinking paws off them, Planet of the Apes is there.
Most influential of all, though, is the movie’s unforgettable ending, when Charlton Heston’s Taylor stumbles upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, which means the Planet of the Apes is, in fact, Earth. (The fact that everyone spoke English should have clued him in way sooner, but we’ll cut him some slack because he spent most of the movie running around barefoot in a loincloth and probably wasn’t thinking clearly.) Few images in movie history have inspired more homages, spoofs, or straight-up ripoffs than Heston kneeling before the broken Lady Liberty. Here, now, a short history of some of the most notable examples.
After the Spaceballs’ ship is destroyed in Mel Brooks’ Star Wars satire, its wreckage lands on a planet below. The ship has transformed into “Mega Maid,” with a giant vacuum to suck the air out of a planet, but the pieces that survive the explosion look close enough to the Statue of Liberty to pull off this gag. I am sure I speak for many children of the 1980s when I say I saw Spaceballs way before I saw Planet of the Apes, and didn’t fully get this joke for many years.
The Simpsons (1996)
Many ‘90s kids discovered Planet of the Apes this way, on a classic Season 7 episode of The Simpsons about actor Troy McClure’s romance with Marge’s sister Selma. Over the course of the episode, McClure is cast in a new musical based on Planet of the Apes titled Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off! Some of the lines in these songs (“Oh my Gosh, I was wrong! It was Earth all along!”) are arguably more famous than the original movie.
Deep Impact (1998)
Right around the time that Simpsons episode debuted, the iconography of the PotA ending became a shorthand in Hollywood for the end of civilization. When disaster movies came back in vogue in the mid-’90s, images reminiscent of the Apes Statue of Liberty shot popped up in many of them. The statue’s wreckage appeared in Independence Day, and then two years later, viewers watched Lady Liberty get leveled by a mega-tsunami in the asteroid movie Deep Impact. The shot of the head floating underwater seemed particularly indebted to Planet of the Apes.
Jack of All Trades (2000)
Just four years after The Simpsons’ brilliant parody, Apes gags were everywhere. In this obscure syndicated series starring Bruce Campbell as a swashbuckling secret agent, Verne Troyer plays Napoleon (yes, the Napoleon) and after his statue is destroyed, he gets down on his knees and screams “You bastards! You blew her up!” Two episodes later, Jack of All Trades was damned all to hell (i.e. canceled).
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Was there a rule that you had to make a Planet of the Apes joke in all circa-2000 comedies? Because by the time Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was made, it was starting to feel that way. Here’s just a few more examples:
Evil Con Carne (2004)
Family Guy (2011)
Robot Chicken (2015)
All the parodies were starting to turn Planet of the Apes into a joke (the Tim Burton movie didn’t help) when the use of a ruined Statue of Liberty as an image of dystopian horror made a comeback in the late-2000s. She got swamped in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, and in Cloverfield, she had her block knocked off and dumped into the middle of lower Manhattan, where it conveniently came to rest at the feet of the main characters. The shot had other inspirations (like the poster for John Carpenter’s Escape From New York), but Planet of the Apes still provided the template for this specific act of symbolic destruction.