The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 7th, 2012 at 9:40 pm,

Facial Prosthetics

The use of facial prosthetics to hide an actor or actress’ face and make them appear more “ape-like” is not a new technique – in fact, the technique was first used to create the creepy looking Winged Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz in 1939. The technique has, for the most part, greatly improved over the decades, with each attempt turning out better than the last. This technique is a huge step up from standalone makeup in terms of realism, but it still has its flaws. While the actor’s face is almost entirely covered with prosthetic fur and rubber – often employing a puppet-like mouth for speaking roles, such as those in the Planet of the Apes series – their eyes are left in their original state, which often heightens the creepiness factor.

Winged Monkeys - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

flying monkey the wizard of oz The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Buster Brodie as a Winged Monkey from The Wizard of Oz


Various - Planet of the Apes (1968)

planet of the apes 1968 The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Various actors from Planet of the Apes


Various - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001 a space odyssey The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Unknown actor from 2001: A Space Odyssey


Harry - Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

harry and the hendersons The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Kevin Peter Hall as Harry from Harry and the Hendersons


Man-ape - Missing Link (1988)

man ape the missing link The Evolution of the Movie Ape

David Hughes as Man Ape from The Missing Link


Various - Planet of the Apes (2001)

planet of the apes 2001 The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Helena Bonham Carter as Ari and Paul Giamatti as Limbo from Planet of the Apes 2001


Body Suits…

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  1. Nice article.

  2. Two points:

    King Kong is not “arguably” the most famous movie ape in history. He is the undisputed king of movie apes and anyone who says different is flat out wrong.

    Second: That’s not Paul Giamatti in the photo. Giamatti played the slave trader. That’s Paul Shadix, Otho from Beetlejuice.

  3. Fun article to read ha but that one ape wasn’t Paul giamatti. He was the one with the skinnier face and looked dirtier. The one in the picture is another actor

  4. What about “his best friend is an ape named Ape”-George of the Jungle

  5. Hey, there is an error for the description of the 2001 Planet of the Apes. The orangutan on the right is not Limbo and therefore not Paul Giamotti. He is a friend of Senator Nado potrayed by the actor Glenn Shadix. Sen. nado worked in the senate with Ari’s (Helena Bonham Carter) father, Senator Sandar (David Warner).

    I’m very excited for the Rise of the Apes!

  6. Some forgotten gems and stinkers in there, Paul. Surprised you didn’t mention the 1976 Kong, if only for Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi’s work (worth mentioning that the 1933 version used some animatronics as well). How about King Kong vs Godzilla, or King Kong Escapes? Major body suit action…

    That’s ultra-skinny mime artist Dan Richter from 2001, incidentally – in a, uh, body suit. :-P 2001 lost out to POTA at the Oscars in the makeup category although the ape masks in the former were more complex and arguably more convincing. They featured a separate hinged lower jaw, and lip movements controlled by a system of toggles moved by the actor’s own tongue behind a false tongue.

    And I still fancy Helena Bonham Carter as an ape. I really do need help.

  7. Neither actor in the 2001 Planet of the Apes picture is the one described in the caption below. =D

    • Helena’s on the left or I’m a monkey’s uncle…

  8. Surprised that 1976′s King Kong wasn’t on there considering Rick Baker wore a monkey suit the whole time. No big deal, really. The whole movie sucked.

  9. It would have been more interesting if you actually compared this to the movie it’s a remake/revision of (Conquest of Planet Of The Apes) which had some stellar performances by Ricardo Montalbaun and Roddy McDowal. Generaly good review, but it shows a slight ignorance of the source material because this isn’t a new story. It’s a reworking of a “prequel” that’s already been told.

  10. bad article… did you get anything right about this?