Total Recall: Chimp Movies

With Chimpanzee hitting theaters, we run down some of cinema's most memorable banana-lovin' primates.

Max, Mon Amour

29%

Movies featuring primates of any kind tend to be on the strange side, but even by the relaxed standards of the genre, Max, Mon Amour is notably bizarre. The tale of a British diplomat (Anthony Higgins) who comes home one day to find his wife (Charlotte Rampling) in bed with a chimpanzee -- and then invites her hairy paramour into their home -- Max proved difficult for critics to make sense of, but most of them understood enough to know they didn't like it. Empire's Kim Newman reacted more violently than most, writing, "Impossible to take seriously or as satire, this film is an embarrassment to humanity and our cousins in the jungle."

MVP: Most Valuable Primate

20%

Flush with the profits from their golden retriever trilogy, the producers of the Air Bud movies figured one adorably precocious animal was as good as another, and kicked off a whole new franchise with MVP: Most Valuable Primate. It uses the same basic "it's funny when animals play sports" premise -- and, somewhat incredibly, the same human star, Kevin Zegers -- but the sight of a chimp playing ice hockey was all they needed to attract audiences, who brought in enough box office to spawn a pair of sequels. Though most critics weren't swayed, Lawrence Van Gelder of the New York Times disagreed with his peers, arguing that while the film "may bear the outline of a cookie cutter... at least the cutter wasn't wielded by a klutz."

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Project X

78%

Long before the Project X starring teenagers acting like monkeys, we had the 1987 version -- a sweet dramedy about a wiseacre test pilot (Matthew Broderick) whose goofing around gets him tasked with supervising a chimp project, and ultimately discovers his subjects are being exposed to lethal levels of radiation. His character's subsequent efforts to save the chimps form the basis of the type of noble, heartwarming tale that filmmakers tend to smother with schmaltz, but director Jonathan Kaplan was careful not to layer the film with false sentiment. As Rita Kempley observed for the Washington Post, "It's as unabashedly political as Silkwood and unashamedly sentimental as Lassie Come Home. Yet it remains taut and resists the temptation to paint the villains too broadly."

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Space Chimps

34%

It has a pretty terrific voice cast, including Andy Samberg, Patrick Warburton, Stanley Tucci, and Jeff Daniels, but as far as most critics were concerned, 2008's Space Chimps failed to launch. Despite the promise of a wacky plot outline that sent the descendants of the first astronaut chimps into space in order to fight an alien tyrant named Zartog (voiced by Daniels), Chimps settled for run-of-the-mill animation and stale gags. Sighed USA Today's Claudia Puig, "Only a truly dreadful story could make 81 minutes seem like an eternity. And Space Chimps is just that leaden experience."

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

82%

From its beginnings as a bestselling sci-fi novel, the Planet of the Apes series has used apes as a titular catchall -- but chimps have figured pretty prominently in the franchise, from the wise Dr. Cornelius to the noble Caesar. And although the original's many sequels and TV spinoffs were definitely subject to the law of diminishing returns, 2011's critically and commercially successful reboot restored some simian luster; in fact, TIME's Richard Corliss said it "deserves to be in the company of the great original Kong."

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Spymate

17%

Spymate, rhymes with primate -- get it? Of course you do. So did director Robert Vince, who so enjoyed working with chimps on MVP: Most Valuable Primate that he went back to the simian well for this family-friendly action comedy about a super-spy chimp who rescues his human partner from Middle Eastern terrorists -- and that's just the movie's opening sequence. From there, it's off to the rather convoluted escapades of a teen science prodigy (Emma Roberts) who's kidnapped by an evil mastermind (Richard Kind) as part of a plot to use her science fair laser drill to cut into the Earth's core. Toss in a ninja sensei played by Pat Morita, and you've got the movie that eFilmCritic's David Cornelius described as "like having feces thrown at you -- in movie form."

Tarzan, the Ape Man

100%

Johnny Weismuller probably spent more time with chimps than all the actors on this list put together -- after starring in a string of Tarzan films and serials, Weismuller was ready to prove he could act in something other than a loincloth, so naturally he starred in Jungle Jim, the first of 13 movies featuring the character derisively described as "Tarzan with clothes on." Both adventurers were at home in the jungle, and both passed the time with chimp companions -- Tarzan with the confusingly named Cheeta, and Jim with his pal Tamba. 1931's Tarzan, The Ape Man was as Ken Hanke of the Asheville Mountain XPress put it, "The first Weismuller Tarzan and still one of the best."

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Toby Tyler

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Unbelievably, of all the movies on our list, this live-action Disney drama is the only one with what seems like the natural chimp film plot: An adorable little boy (Old Yeller's Kevin Corcoran) runs away from his grumpy foster uncle and joins the circus, where he befriends an irascible chimpanzee named Mr. Stubbs. Complete with everything else you'd want or expect from the story, including an evil candy vendor and a pulse-pounding third act in which Mr. Stubbs finds himself on the wrong end of a hunter's rifle, Toby earned the bemused affection of writers like Howard Thompson of the New York Times, who wrote that it "can boast some of the most engaging, unstrained performers in many a Disney moon."


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Chimpanzee.

Finally, here's the trailer for Carnival Magic, which features a talking, automobile-operating chimp:

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