Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes – A visually awe-inspiring revival of an iconic franchise

Pictured: Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Directed by Wes Ball, the all-new action-adventure spectacle, 20th Century Studios’ Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes was written by Josh Friedman, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, and is set several generations in the future following Caesar’s reign, in which apes are the dominant species living harmoniously, and humans have been reduced to living in the shadows. As a new tyrannical ape leader builds his empire, one young ape undertakes a harrowing journey that will cause him to question all he has known about the past and make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike.

20th Century Studios set out to revive the immensely popular “Planet of the Apes” franchise in 2011 with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Rupert Wyatt, which grossed over $480 million worldwide at the box office. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Matt Reeves, was released three years later, in 2014, grossing over $710 million worldwide. “War for the Planet of the Apes,” also directed by Reeves, followed in 2017 and grossed over $490 million worldwide.

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

All three films utilized state-of-the-art performance capture technology to bring the apes to life, and each one was nominated for an Oscar® for best achievement in visual effects.

Following the success of the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy–which began with a man-made simian virus spreading across the globe and goes on to show the demise of humankind and the rise of the ape species, all through the eyes of Caesar–20th Century Studios was eager to continue with the popular franchise. But first and foremost, any new stories must be fresh, feature all-new characters, and create a new era for the “Planet of the Apes.”

Director Wes Ball on the set of 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo by Jasin Boland. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Ball approached “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” as a film that honors the previous “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, but it is not a direct sequel…in fact, it carves its own unique path. “We’re in the same universe, but it’s really a story about rebirth and a new beginning, a new chapter in this long-spanning legacy of movies,” he says. “I had this simple concept of a coming-of-age story of a young ape and these extraordinary events that force him out to a world that he doesn’t know anything about. And we learn what has transpired since Caesar died, which in this movie is several hundred years, and it’s about his education and his awakening to a larger world and larger ideas.”

“It’s a romantic world, not a destroyed apocalyptic world,” Ball adds. “Noa encounters competing ideas of who Caesar was. Proximus Caesar has taken Caesar’s mantle and claimed it as his own. Raka has a very different idea. So, there are interesting parallels to our own mythic and religious stories. In a way, Caesar’s torch gets passed to Noa by the end of the movie, and Noa becomes the carrier of the idea of who Caesar truly was.”

(L-R): Soona (played by Lydia Peckham) and Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

For producer Jason Reed, Ball is the key to the success of the new film. “For me, the most important differentiator was Wes’ vision and skill,” Reed adds. “He has such a strong sense of story and character, but also brings a technical knowledge that would allow him to expand the canvas and to really take advantage of technology not just for the ‘whiz-bang’ factor, but to get deeper into the emotional content of the characters. I think that’s what really sets this film apart.”

“It was a really wonderful collaborative experience,” says Kevin Durand. “From the very beginning when Wes was first telling me about the world he was imagining, it was so inspirational. It was so wonderful to have his perspective and guidance.”

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Watching 1968’s Planet of the Apes over and over for years since childhood, “It felt like a historical epic,” says Ball. “This time-traveling astronaut fell into a world that felt somewhat medieval, populated by these apes, and it was one of my first introductions to sci-fi. The reveal at the end was a mind-blowing idea that triggered my fascination with the end of the world.”

The visionary filmmaker made his mark in Hollywood in 2014 with the hit film “The Maze Runner,” which grossed more than $348 million worldwide. “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” and “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” both of which Ball directed, followed in 2015 and 2018, respectively.  The “Maze Runner” trilogy has grossed close to $1 billion at the box office.

It was 2019 when Ball was first asked about the possibility of reviving the iconic franchise, but he wasn’t interested initially. “The truth is, I initially said ‘no way,’” admits Ball. “How do you follow up those last three movies? I wasn’t interested in following the adventures of Caesar’s son, although there’s a great story to be told there. At the same time, I didn’t want to abandon what Matt Reeves and Rupert Wyatt had created in the Caesar trilogy. What they had done was phenomenal filmmaking.”

(L-R): Noa (played by Owen Teague), Soona (played by Lydia Peckham), and Anaya (played by Travis Jeffery) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“Story-wise, these films resonate with people because they have sci-fi concepts, and they tackle issues of humanity,” Ball continues. “They deal with issues like class and race, about what it means to be human, and allow us to look at, analyze, and pinpoint deep issues about ourselves. They hold a mirror up to society and compel us to look at problems we as humans face through the lens of this fantastical world.”

A week later, however, an idea took shape in Ball’s mind. It was a concept that immediately energized him, taking place hundreds of years after the death of Caesar at the end of “War for the Planet of the Apes,” and was a story with a different tone…more of an adventure. “It was the story of a young, naïve ape who doesn’t know anything about the outside world, which is a world in which Caesar has become a legend,” explains Ball. “If the last three movies were the apes in their stone age, now they’re entering their bronze age. We’re starting to see cultures develop within different clans. We see what has happened to the world that was left behind, what’s eroded in the absence of humanity.”

A visually awe-inspiring opening sequence, in which Noa–the young ape at the center of the story–scales a mountainous, overgrown structure to secure an eagle’s egg, was the second element of Ball’s concept. “The third element was an adversarial figure for Noa,” he continues, “a character who became Proximus Caesar in the script. This antagonist knows about the world that came before and wants to salvage artifacts from it to build a kingdom in which advanced apes have primacy.”

After approaching executives at 20th Century Studios with the idea, Ball met with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who had conceived the Caesar trilogy and written the screenplay for Avatar: The Way of Water, and who would go on to become producers on the new film. “It was a big round table,” recalls Ball. “I had some key artwork created, and I pitched my heart out. I could see this little sparkle in Rick and Amanda’s eyes. At the end of the pitch, they said, ‘Let’s get started!’” 

The film introduces new characters and storylines, but for fans of the franchise, there are references to Caesar, whom Ball calls “one of the great protagonists in film history.”

“Caesar is in this new movie, spiritually, throughout everything,” Ball explains. “His ideas of morality and decency and his relationship with humans–all that is explored through an almost mythical lens that I think is exciting.”

(L-R): Anaya (played by Travis Jeffery), Noa (played by Owen Teague), and Soona (played by Lydia Peckham) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“We met with Wes and Joe and were taken with Wes’ ideas, artwork, and enthusiasm,” recalls Silver. “It was a meeting of hearts and minds.”

Jaffa agrees, saying, “We shared a mutual love of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise and a mutual vision for where it could go. Four years later, it’s still an extremely productive collaboration.”

Joe Hartwick Jr., a producer on all three “Maze Runner” films, worked with Ball from the outset. “After the pitch, Rick and Amanda hooked us up with screenwriter Josh Friedman (War of the World’), who had worked with them on the story for Avatar: The Way of Water and came on board to write the screenplay,” says Hartwick. “We spent five months working with Josh on ideas for how Wes’ concept could develop, and Rick and Amanda were instrumental in that process.”

Friedman crucially helped develop the Nova (Freya Allan’s character) storyline–the human presence. “I remember Josh said, ‘You want to do a Kurosawa film with apes,’” recalls Ball. “That’s what it is in a way. This epic adventure of a character who meets multiple points of view as he learns about the world around him, the history of apes, and the history of humans and their relationship with each other.”

Whereas “War for the Planet of the Apes” was a Moses story with Caesar, a leader with the weight of the world on his shoulders, suffering for his people and delivering them ultimately to a promised land, this film is about discovery. It is a coming-of-age story and an adventure set in an evolved universe where we can see the decay and how nature has reclaimed the earth. “I thought it would be really fun to see our world happen when humans are gone essentially,” Ball explains, “and the setting in the remains of our world. I loved the idea that buildings and what’s left of buildings, anyway, are crumbling away, and glass doesn’t exist anymore cause it’s all broken out through erosion and time. I loved the idea of the world transforming back into this landscape that is actually buildings that are now overgrown with trees.”

As for when the new story would take place, the filmmakers agreed that it should be set hundreds of years after the events of “War for the Planet of the Apes,” in a time when the written word no longer exists. Ball explains, “We never really put a date on it to be honest, which was a brilliant move on our writers’ part. It is many, many generations later, but it can be whatever you want because it is people’s determination of how long they think it really is based on the visuals.”

Freya Allan as Nova in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

When Jason Reed (Mulan) came on as a producer, he was drawn in by the new explorations the screenplay opened. “It’s an honor to be able to work on a touchstone of science fiction and one of the most important franchises since the 1960s,” says Reed. “I think the reason it has continued to connect to audiences is because it explores fundamental questions about what it is to be human and how we think about ourselves in relation to other humans and other species. What Wes, Joe, and the other writers were able to achieve was to create something connected to the tradition, yet that feels completely fresh and digs deep into what the future looks like and how that impacts people emotionally.”

Jaffa says, “Generations after Caesar’s death, we were excited to explore his legacy as a great ape leader. Caesar’s moral compass was true, but he struggled to reconcile his love for his human family with his knowledge of human cruelty.”

Silver adds, “Thematically, the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise has always asked: Is there room for competing intelligent species on one planet? In ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ we once again investigate this question.”

Director Wes Ball on the set of 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo by Jasin Boland. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

WES BALL (Director/Producer) grew up in Lake Como, Fla., and attended Florida State University, where he earned a BFA in film. There, Ball first gained attention for his student short, “A Work in Progress,” which was honored with a Student Academy Award. In 2012 Ball created, produced, and directed the original 3D short film “Ruin.” He released it online and it went viral, garnering critical acclaim and over 27 million views to date. That same week the studio began talks for him to direct his first feature film, The Maze Runner. Produced for $34 million, “The Maze Runner” went on to make $350 million worldwide and launched a franchise. He went on to direct the rest of the trilogy, including Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Both subsequent movies were worldwide hits, and the franchise has grossed close to $1 billion at the box office to date.

JOSH FRIEDMAN (Writer) collaborated with James Cameron on the “Avatar” sequels, co-writing “Avatar 4” with Cameron. He created and executive produced Fox’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” as well as sharing a story credit on “Terminator: Dark Fate.” He also co-created NBC’s “Emerald City,” TNT/TBS’s “Snowpiercer,” and Apple’s “Foundation,” based on the Isaac Asimov novels. Friedman co-wrote Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells novel, and wrote the film “Black Dahlia” based on the James Ellroy book. He most recently worked on the new “Fantastic Four” movie for Marvel.