(Pocket-lint) - The first Planet of the Apes film released 52 years ago. It's been a huge influence on popular culture and even spawned eight sequels, a few of which manage to rival the original in terms of critical and box office success. 

But with nine films all similarly named, it can get really confusing trying to figure out the best order to watch them all. You could go by theatrical release date, but we think it’s more fun to watch the films chronologically, as you can watch the events unfold in a beginning-to-end timeline.

There's the first five Planet of the Apes films, which released between 1968 and 1973, and then the three modern films from the 2010s that star Andy Serkis as Caeser. The Serkis movies are connected to the original five (and we explain how below), but to make things complicated, there is a standalone Planet of the Apes movie, from 2001 starring Mark Whalberg, which is basically a remake.

Confused? No worries. We made sense of this jumbled timeline below. 

Planet of the Apes timeline: The chronological movie order

Follow our guide below, and you will watch the events in the Planet of the Apes movies as they happened. At the bottom, you'll find a spoiler-free, bulleted-list version of this guide, plus additional watch orders with absolutely no spoilers.

NOTE: THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW.

20th Century Fox

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The first film in our watchlist sees James Franco star as Will Rodman, a scientist in the near future researching a cure for Alzheimer’s. The film opens when Rodman discovers a baby chimp that's been exposed to an experimental drug. When the baby’s mother dies, Rodman takes it home to raise, naming him Caesar. Rupert Wyatt directed this film, and Andy Serkis plays Caesar via motion capture.

Make sure you keep an eye out for the news report about the spacecraft Icarus entering the Martian atmosphere - it's an easter egg alluding to Charlton Heston’s spacecraft in the original film.

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20th Century Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and sees Andy Serkis’ Caesar leading a burgeoning civilisation of apes in the Redwood forests outside of San Francisco. Most of humanity has been wiped out by the Simian plague, but remnants led by a man named Dreyfus (played by Gary Oldman) encounter the apes when they enter the forest to repair a Hydroelectric Dam.

Matt Reeves directed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

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20th Century Fox

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Matt Reeves returned to direct this film. It picks up two years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and sees Caesar still leading his people. He's dealing with the fallout of Koba’s insurrection, which causes an elite group of soldiers, led by Colonel J. Wesley McCullough (played by Woody Harrelson) to begin hunting Caesar’s apes. Caesar’s only hope to get his family away is to cross a vast desert. 

Near the end of the film, we see some of Caesar’s friends assure him that the burgeoning ape society he helped create will know everything he sacrificed for them - an important nod that helps explain why another ape will be named Caesar later in our timeline.

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20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The fourth film on our list started it all. Directed by Franklin J Schaffner, it follows three astronauts as they awake from a crash landing on a mysterious planet. Eventually, one of the astronauts, George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston), is captured by advanced apes. Taylor joins forces with one sympathetic ape, named Zira (played by Kim Hunter), who studies him. Later, he goes into the Forbidden Zone desert to try to escape the apes holding him captive. That's when he discovers the truth about the world the apes inhabit. 

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20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

An astronaut named Brent (played by James Franciscus) is the only survivor of a ship sent to find the three astronauts from the first Planet of the Apes film. Soon after landing in the Forbidden Zone, Brent meets Nova, Taylor’s love interest from the first film. She is still wearing the astronauts' dog tags. She brings Brent to the ape city, where he meets Zira. She tells him about her time with Taylor.

Brent then goes back to the Forbidden Zone and finds an entrance to a New York City subway and a mutated race of humans worshipping a doomsday device. Ted Post took over directing duties for this film. 

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20th Century Fox

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Directed by Don Taylor, this film is where our Apes timeline really begins to get weird. At the conclusion of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, we see the destruction of the planet by the Alpha and Omega doomsday device. However, before that happens, Zira and her husband Cornelius (played by Roddy McDowall) discover and begin to repair the original ship that brought Taylor to the Planet of the Apes.

The two apes use it to travel to 1973, or when the planet is destroyed. They become celebrities and are at the center of a government investigation into why Taylor’s ship suddenly reappeared with talking apes but no astronauts. Just as the government begins to suspect Zira hasn't been truthful, it’s revealed she’s pregnant. She and Cornelius must escape capture to save their child, Milo.

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20th Century Fox

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

It's the year 1991, and Zira’s child is grown-up. He's portrayed by Roddy McDowall, who also starred as Cornelius in the previous film.

Anyway, Zira’s child, newly named Caesar, was raised in hiding by Armando (played by Ricardo Montalban), the circus owner she left him with in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. The film follows Caesar through a dark world in which cats and dogs have died off, and apes have become a common pet and are even an abused source of slave labor. Caesar is the only ape who can speak in this world. He becomes enslaved, and this leads to an uprising. 

There is a theory that Caesar from 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the first intelligent ape, and that the Caesar in this film is one of his descendants. He'd be part of a new chain of events set off by his mother going back in time. While his new name, Caesar, could be a coincidence, it’s likely a nod to the original Caesar, who is a foundational part of the ape culture, which Zira would’ve shared with Armando or her son before she died. 

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20th Century Fox

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

This film shows an older Caesar (played by Roddy McDowall) leading a society where apes and humans coexist after a nuclear war. But the society is being torn apart by threats from a militant faction of apes, led by Aldo (played by Claude Akins), who wants to make humans subservient. Caesar learns of tapes that exist in the Forbidden Zone that show his mother speaking about how conflict between ape and man caused the destruction of Earth. While in search of those tapes, Caesar also discovers a group of mutated humans, led by Governor Kolp (played by Severn Darden), who view the apes as a threat and set out to destroy them. 

Between the tapes and lessons he learned up to this point, Caesar understands that the only way to prevent the Earth’s destruction is by helping humans and apes to live together in peace, fulfilling the original Caesar’s final wishes. 

J. Lee Thompson directed Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

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20th Century Fox

Bonus: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Since this much-maligned Tim Burton reboot doesn't fit anywhere else in the Planet of the Apes series, you should watch it last as a bonus treat. While the film isn’t quite as bad as you might remember, it’s a one-off standalone that bombed when it premiered 20 years ago.

Set in 2029, it shows Leo Davidson (played by Mark Wahlberg), who works aboard the Space Station Oberon, entering an electromagnetic storm and being thrown to the year 5021. He lands on a world ruled by an ape named General Thade (played by Tim Roth), teams up with a female ape named Ari (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who is protesting for human rights, and tries to find his way back to his own home and time.

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Planet of the Apes timeline at a glance

This is a version of the guide above, but free of spoilers.

  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
  • Escape from Planet of the Apes (1971)
  • Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
  • Bonus: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Planet of the Apes theatrical release order

Here's all the Planet of the Apes movies, but ordered in which they premiered in cinemas and free of spoilers.

  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
  • Escape from Planet of the Apes (1971)
  • Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
  • Bonus: Planet of the Apes (2001)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

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Writing by Maggie Tillman.
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