The Planet of the Apes franchise is notorious for its downbeat endings, and the finale for Escape from the Planet of the Apes might be the saddest of the bunch. The third film in the original series, Escape follows a group of chimps who travel back in time from the ape-dominated future and wind up in the 1970s. Naturally, these talking chimps cause quite a stir, and they quickly become superstars. After all, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) are an incredibly cute couple. They’re witty, intelligent, and friendly. Who wouldn’t love them?
Dr. Otto Hasslein, that’s who. Played by Eric Braeden, Hasslein is the president’s chief science advisor, and when he learns that Zira is pregnant, he worries her baby might give rise to a race of uber-intelligent apes who could overthrow mankind. And after a series of very unfortunate events, Zira and Cornelius are forced to go on the run with their newborn baby. Tragically, Hasslein tracks them down to an abandoned ship, and in the film’s hopeless climax, everybody dies. Hasslein fills Zira and the baby full of lead, Cornelius shoots the scientist, and then he’s gunned down by the military.
Of course, the film does have a twist up its sleeve. As it turns out, Zira swapped her real baby for a circus chimpanzee, so her actual kid is still alive. And in the movie’s final moments, we cut to Zira’s baby as he begins crying, “Mama!” Sure, the baby is going to live, but now he’s an orphan — one who might bring the end of humanity. But then, maybe human beings deserve it.