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'2001: A Space Odyssey' vs. 'Planet of the Apes'

One week, two iconic films. A box-office battle of the ages.

Hollywood didn't know it then, but the first week of April 1968 would prove to be a high-water mark for the industry. Two now-iconic films opened on April 3: "Planet of the Apes" (in wide release following an earlier limited release) and "2001: A Space Odyssey." Though dissimilar on the surface, the films share an otherworldly sensibility — be it a land where simians rule or the far reaches of an unexplored galaxy. But how do they stack up back down on Earth? Let's take a look back:


The Reviews charlton heston us actor and linda harrison us actress both wearing picture Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Starring Charlton Heston, the first contender opened to largely positive critiques, like this one from Variety:

"'Planet of the Apes' is an amazing film. A political-sociological allegory...an intriguing blend of chilling satire, optimism, and pessimism," wrote A.D. Murphy in his review.

The Hollywood Reporter was equally impressed:

"By its appeal to both the imagination and the intellect within a context of action and elemental adventure, in its relevance to the consuming issues of its time, by the means with which it provides maximum entertainment topped with a sobering prediction of the future of human folly...'Planet of the Apes' is that rare film which will transcend all age and social groupings, its multiple levels of appeal and meaning winning response in similar kind if not degree at each."

The New York Times was a dissenting voice, however. Critic Renata Adler wrote:

"It is no good at all, but fun, at moments, to watch… Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and many others are cast as apes, with wonderful anthropoid mask covering their faces. They wiggle their noses and one hardly notices any loss in normal human facial expression. Linda Harrison is cast as Heston's Neanderthal flower girl. She wiggles her hips when she wants to say something."

american actor keir dullea on the set of 2001 a space odyssey written picture Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Critical response to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," on the other hand, was more polarizing. From Variety's review by Robert B. Frederick:

"The plot, so-called, uses up almost two hours in exposition of scientific advances in space travel and communications, before anything happens. The surprisingly dull prolog deals with the 'advancement of man,' centering on a group of apes (the makeup is amateurish compared to that in 'Planet of the Apes'). An important prop is also introduced but so sketchily that many viewers will scarcely note, and promptly forget it — a huge black monolith is shown briefly (to reappear light years later as the key to possible life on planets other than Earth)."

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, was wowed by the technical wizardry:

"It is, as promised, 'a majestic visual experience,' quite unlike any film we have ever seen. Drawing from a team of 36 technical designers, representing 12 countries, and working in association with 40 industrial research scientific concerns here and in Europe, Kubrick has insured scientific accuracy and logic in this projection into the near future of space exploration and man's first encounter with extraterrestrial life."


Box-Office Grosses poster for franklin j schaffners 1968 adventure film planet of the picture Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

"2001: A Space Odyssey" flew higher than its competitor, according to Box Office Mojo. The film has raked in nearly $57 million over its lifespan, while "Planet of the Apes" has seen returns just shy of $33 million. Of course, if you were to take into account the franchise the latter movie launched, its box-office footprint would be closer to $800 million. (Numbers do not reflect ticket-price inflation.)


The Awards

british actress margaret tyzack on the set of 2001 a space odyssey picture Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Kubrick's classic was nominated for four Oscars and ultimately won one: Best Effects. "Planet of the Apes" also got some nomination love in the Best Costume Design and Best Music categories, but the only statuette the film took home was an honorary one awarded to John Chambers for Outstanding Makeup Achievement. (That particular category didn't become Oscars official until the 1981 ceremony.)


The Legacy poster for stanley kubricks 1968 science fiction film 2001 a space picture Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

It probably goes without saying that both films are now highly regarded pieces of cinema history. In addition to spawning eight follow-ups, "Planet of the Apes" was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry in 2001. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was also preserved in the National Film Registry, albeit a whole two years earlier. And in 2010 it was named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal.

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