5 Plot Point Breakdown: Planet of the Apes (1968)

By Xiaofeng Chen · January 26, 2015

Screenplay Genre: Science Fiction / Adventure / Drama

Movie Time: 112 minutes

A spaceship is traveling in the far, undiscovered universe at the Speed of Light. The astronauts have been gone from earth for six months, but by the Theory of Relativity, it has been 700 years on the earth. Now all the other crew members have gone into hyper sleep, except Commander George Taylor (Charlton Heston); he is making his final report to earth before he goes into hyper sleep too. Taylor left the earth in the 20th century with his cynicism in full force, but now he looks outside through the windshield, he sees the bending space and the expanding time. Everything is twisted. Loneliness inhabits his mind. He talks to the new generation of humans with the sarcastic tone that he used to be:

Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who has sent me to the stars, still makes war against his brother, keeps his neighbor’s children starving?

Then he puts the ship on automatic and goes to his sleep pad.


The ship arrives in an unexpected planet and crashes into a lake. Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) are woken by the red alert. They find the ship is broken and sinking into the lake and decide to abandon it. They try to wake up the only woman onboard, Steward, but find she’s wasted away in her faulted sleep pad. They take the equipment and supplies, get on a boat and watch the ship sink into the water. (11:19)

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

Taylor, Dodge and Landon begin their adventure on this unknown planet: It has water and its atmosphere is breathable, but not a living creature can be seen. They cross a desert in three days. Before their supplies and hopes run out, they finally find green plants growing and an oasis which surrounds a waterfall.

They take off their clothes and jump into the water. While they are enjoying some comfort, someone steals their clothes and equipment. They see it and track them up to a cornfield. There they see hundreds of people are stealing corn like wild animals. They’re human, but primitive and can’t talk.

Then some armed people arrive. They drive and hunt the primitive people cruelly. When one of the figures turns around, Taylor sees something he can’t believe: an ape! (32:13)

The “civil” apes hunt the “primitive” humans, kill, catch them and drive the others to the forest. Taylor and Landon are captured and taken to the town of the apes with the other humans.


This is a planet of apes. The human is primitive and savage and the position of apes and humans is completely reversed from earth. Taylor is taken to Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) who is a female ape that is studying human Psychology and behavior. Zira finds Taylor to be different from the others. She calls him “Bright eyes” and treats him well. Taylor tries to talk to her, but his wounded neck is preventing him from doing it.

Zira studies Taylor and believes humans can think. But her boss Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), a stubborn apologist is strongly defending his belief that humans are lower and unreasonable. And Zira’s fiance Cornelius (Robby McDowall), a archaeologist, doesn’t believe her either. Zira insists her theory and decides to prove it. She takes Taylor to her home and shows Cornelius that Taylor can write and make paper planes. Cornelius is shocked and begins to believe her. They show the evidence to Dr. Zailus, but Zailus refuses to admit it and wants to implement a brain surgery on Taylor to silence him.

Taylor escapes from surgery. He rushes around the apes’ town like an escaped animal, causing chaos. The apes finally catch him with a net. But when they’re closing in and trying to get the “animal,” the “animal” suddenly talks: “Take your stinking pawls off me, you damn dirty ape!” The apes are all shocked by a talking human. (60:10)

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

This event begins to circulate in the ape community. Authorities decide to preform a hearing. In court, Taylor tells the high level apes that he is from another solar system and in his world humans are more advanced than apes. Dr. Zailus insists Taylor is an evil variation and can’t prove anything. Taylor asks the officials to take a look at his partner, Landon. But he finds Landon has had brain surgery and become an inept. So though Zira and Cornelius stand on Taylor’s side, the officials still decide that Taylor is bad and will have his frontal lobe cut off.

Before the surgery, Taylor is taken to Dr. Zailus and has a personal talk with him. Zailus eagerly wants to know where Taylor’s tribe is and why he is here. He is very worried about humans, and what could happen in the future. In the night, Zira and Cornelius rescue Taylor and a woman from prison. (84:00)


Taylor, Zira and Cornelius go to the cave, which is a relic of human civilization, to prove their theory. Dr. Zailus and the ape army follow them. At the cave, Taylor takes Dr. Zailus hostage, threatens the ape army and yells at them to retreat. He shows Dr. Zailus the things humans made thousands of years ago to prove human’s intelligence. Dr. Zailus has to admit it and tells everyone he’s always known about humans: They’re intelligent but greedy, ruthless and ruinous. They’re the harbinger of death.

Taylor leaves the apes with the women (an actual Adam and Eve). But he sees the truth at last: the half buried Statue of Liberty. This is earth after two thousand years. Humans ruined their civilization own their own. (111:03) Taylor collapses down on his knees, crying and condemning the sins of human.

For all the latest from The Script Lab, be sure to follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

And become a member of TSL 360 to enjoy the LARGEST screenwriting education content library, featuring masterclasses, deep-dive interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, TV show-runners, producers, literary managers, agents, studio executives, and leading educators – all in one place.