As a critic, I have two rules: (1) I hate it when characters learn lessons, and (2) I love it when they hang out with monkeys. In fact, I would give any movie with a monkey in it one more star than it would receive without that monkey. (Yes, this makes Dunstan Checks In a one-star movie.) In honor of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, here are my favorite movie monkeys (please excuse the lack of biological specificity). Check it out!
King Kong, King Kong
Suffice it to say that nothing beats the Eighth Wonder of the World, but in stop-motion or CGI form, there's seldom been a beast that more pulled at audiences' heartstrings. And it's not just the technical marvel of bringing Kong to life: in both the '33 and '06 films (we're going to ignore the sequels and the '76 remake), little details and gestures cemented the emotional identification we shared with the creature, and by the end of the film when he's fighting for his life atop the Empire State Building, we're fully invested in his fate, even if we already know what it's sadly going to be.
Clyde, Every Which Way But Loose
Second only to the Eighth Wonder of the World, Clyde is not only probably the most iconic monkey (actually an orangutan) in American movie history, but certainly the one who gives one of the best performances not re-enacted or impersonated by a human being. His chemistry with a brawling Clint Eastwood is just amazing: The two of them take to the road to find Eastwood's estranged girlfriend (a smokin' Sondra Locke), and plenty of pugilistic fun ensues. Clyde is charming, funny, and quite a foodie – except when he arouses the ire of Ma (Ruth Gordon), who's none too pleased that he has gotten into her stash of Oreos, yet again.
Primitive Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Although Willis O'Brien’s work on the 1933 King Kong certainly gave the world a significant technological leap forward, Kubrick did the creature one better with his simian creatures in 2001, adding not just cinematic but conceptual benchmarks to his apes' accomplishments. Using humans to inhabit the personality and physicality of his creatures, Kubrick gave them personalities that were at once distinct and unspecific, very much like one might expect from literal progenitors of the human race – a recognizable connection between the cognitive and animalistic sides of the human personality. Meanwhile, he also culminates the sequence with a smash cut that is perhaps the most famous in film history, and highlights the way in which the apes' blunt objects transformed over centuries into beautiful demonstrations of our advancement.
Chim-Chim, Speed Racer
Depending on whether you love or hate this polarzing but indisputably technically astonishing movie, a monkey may be the cherry on top of its other charms or the only charming thing in a Cuisinart full of crap. But I'd argue there are few greater pleasures in the candy-coated odyssey than watching Chim-Chim and his master, Spritle, going on a sugar bender and taking a motorized cart for a joyride while Speed gives what for to his would-be corporate overseers. Really, monkeys doing anything people do is great, but when they do it comically bad? It's the pinnacle of entertainment.
The Capuchin Nazi, Raiders of the Lost Ark
The only thing cuter in Raiders of the Lost Ark than Karen Allen in a pair of harem pants is the capuchin money that gets her and Indy into deep trouble with the Nazis. Although it is inevitably hoisted by its own petard, it causes some totally adorable problems for the pair of ex-lovers, especially when it alerts the Nazis to Marion's whereabouts while she's trying to hide in a busy Cairo marketplace. But mostly, we love her because she wears a super cute vest!
White-Headed Capuchin, Outbreak
The term "Outbreak monkey" has become almost synonymous with capuchin monkeys in the last decade thanks to the little creature's amazing ability to charm the hell out of us while spreading a deadly disease that we may or may not be able to stop without the help of Rene Russo, Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman. Truth be told, the monkey doesn't do a whole lot in the film except for infecting Patrick Dempsey and a couple of other people and dying. (Thanks for Dempsey, bud – it allowed him to be resurrected into McDreamy.) But as the cutest disease carrier this side of a Hello Kitty Cancer-on-the-Go Kit, that monkey is nothing short of deadly adorable.
Butt Monkey, Bruce Almighty
There's something about the phrase "monkeys might fly out of my butt" that makes it unlikely a movie, much less real life – which is why the phrase exists, right? And yet here, the typically irreverent Jim Carrey somehow brings this unimaginable nightmare scenario to life – for a laugh, no less – when he runs afoul of some street toughs. The money is a cute little capuchin, possibly the same simian actor that played in some other recent movies, but there are few sights more unsettling than that of a cute little capuchin monkey popping out of a gang banger's posterior, and then as a punch line, returning from whence he came.
As his figurative and sometimes literal partner in crime, Abu was a great right-hand-man to Aladdin, the street scamp who finds the opportunity of a lifetime when he recovers a magic lamp. The little kleptomanic helps Aladdin get in and out of plenty of trouble throughout the film, but in predictable Disney fashion, he's far too cute to be any sort of real problem. At the same time, he's an important part of the legacy of sidekick animals who have helped the heroes of Disney animated films, and he certainly has more personality than most.
"Stupid" Monkeys, The Rundown
There's a couple of great scenes involving monkeys, starting with one in which The Rock and Seann William Scott's characters are suspended upside down in a trap, only to find their troubles compounded by a group of monkeys over whom Scott desperately instructs The Rock to "establish dominance." But the best scene comes later when the two men have been incapacitated by a hallucinogenic fruit and find themselves being leered at by a group of monkeys who have, uh, untoward intentions for them. What's remarkable is that the scenes communicate the animalistic personalities of the monkeys themselves while providing some terrific comedy fodder for the actors.
Jack the Monkey, the Pirates of the Caribbean films
For a monkey meant to be comic relief to the human characters, Jack has a surprising lot to do in the plot of the first three Pirates movies, as he is instrumental in helping them recover the treasure that curses Barbossa, and then later gets traded to Tia Dalma for the destination of the Flying Dutchman. Not unlike his namesake Jack Sparrow, Jack is probably most effective in small doses, but he adds a bit of irreverent fun to the film series and makes a silly but suggestive cameo in the fourth film that we can only hope will be paid off in the fifth.
Crystal The Monkey, The Hangover Part II
I wasn't particularly enamored with Todd Philips' follow-up to The Hangover – it seemed as if even he wasn't interested in going back and doing another one – but I'm always interested in watching a movie where a monkey does things just like humans do, and in Part II , Crystal smokes cigarettes, wears clothes, and gets into plenty of other trouble with the three doofuses at the center of its story. There may be nothing that gets my sympathy more easily than seeing a monkey hurt, and The Hangover Part II has that too – but hopefully she's okay enough to come back for the third film.
Caesar/ Dr. Zaius, Planet of the Apes
Another orangutan on this list, Dr. Zaius is a wily and untrustworthy creature who is sort of irresistibly evil in the Apes mythology. Played by Maurice Evans, the ape is a dyed-in-the-wool xenophobe, arrogant and fearful enough of the possibility that humans could be in any way related to apes biologically that he threatens the astronaut, Taylor, with a lobotomy if he testifies what he knows about the history of humankind. Caesar, who becomes the leader of the Ape revolt in the third film in the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, is similarly an adversary to human kind, but evidenced by early footage from the upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes, his enmity may indeed be well-earned.
Ape (and his capuchin associate), George of the Jungle
It's important to say for the record, this is a really funny movie, and absolutely worth seeing, monkeys or no monkeys. But the combination of a talking ape with the voice of John Cleese and a capuchin monkey that apparently can really talk (or at least is effectively given a voice that approximates monkey screeching) is enough to make this a must-see.
Animatronics and human performance comes together beautifully as a gorilla named Amy learns how to use sign language to communicate with her human counterparts. Mind you, eventually some creepy gray gorillas show up and start wiping out any of the humans who dare enter their sanctuary (and more specifically try to take the diamonds from it), but Amy defends her human protectors before being safely returned to nature where she lives a happy rest of her life with a family of wild gorillas.
Got a favorite movie monkey? Tell us below!