Remembering Schwarzenegger’s time-traveling 1990s Apes movie we almost had

With rave reviews rolling in for this weekend’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, its a good time to look back and remember the bizarre Apes revival we almost got 20 years prior.

Way back in the early 1990s, acclaimed director Oliver Stone was attached to produce a new Planet of the Apes movie meant to revive the franchise from its increasingly wacky run in the 1970s. Stone was pitching a high-concept reimagining of the concept dubbed Return of the Apes.

Stone’s film, which had none other than action god Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was in his early-1990s prime) attached to star, would’ve told a time-traveling story about an ancient ape civilization with a ton of biblical and Tolkien-esque undertones.

Just look at how he described the project in a decades-old interview with Entertainment Weekly and tell us this doesn’t sound so insane it might’ve actually worked:

"It has the discovery of cryogenically frozen Vedic Apes who hold the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilizations. It deals with past versus the future. My concept is that there's a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it all out.”

See, that actually sounds almost cool. Along with the biblical imagery, the script also includes tons of Lord of the Rings-style names and references, which makes us even more curious as to how this thing might’ve turned out.

The screenplay was written by Terry Hayes, and kicked off in the near future after a plague has pushed mankind to the brink of extinction (sound familiar?). The lead would be a geneticist named Will Robinson who discovers the plague is actually a genetic time bomb created in the Stone Age.

So he travels back in time with a colleague named Billie Rae Diamond to a time when early humans are at war with highly evolved apes. There the duo discovers a young human girl who could hold the key to stopping the virus, and they protect her and save humanity. The details vary, but Schwarzenegger was playing either the lead role or a key supporting role as a leader of the early human warriors.

The project was apparently rolling along until a studio exec insisted they add more humor to the script (including a sequence where the apes try and fail to play baseball, for some reason), which caused everyone to butt heads until it finally drifted into development hell, never to be seen again.

So while you saddle up to watch apes saddle up on horses and duke it out with humanity this weekend, remember things could’ve been much weirder. Yes, even weirder than the Tim Burton would-be reboot we actually did get a decade ago.

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