Didn't have much going on yesterday, so I watched a couple of the original Planet of the Apes movies, and skimmed the others. This prompted me to see if I could work out a coherent timeline for the events of these films. If I make any egregious errors, I'm sure someone here will correct me, possibly someone rhyming with "Hef of Berth-A". ;)
Sometime Before 1971: This timeline starts out fairly similar to our own, except that it is more advanced scientifically, at least in certain areas, in particular spaceflight, suspended animation and genetic engineering. This last is represented by a secret government program which experiments on gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, with the goal of augmenting them for possible military use.(1)
Over Two Years Before 1971: A deep space mission is launched by the USA. Among the crew members is a man named Taylor. When the mission is lost, a rescue ship is sent out, one of whose crew members is a man called Brent. This mission also disappears.(2)
1971: Taylor's ship returns to Earth, landing outside Los Angeles. It is found to be crewed by three chimpanzees, Cornelius, Zira and Milo. They are taken into custody and incarcerated in the Los Angeles Zoo, where Milo is killed by a gorilla. Zira reveals their origins to the humans. They are initially treated as celebrities, but when the government begins to take the implications of their origins seriously, Cornelius and Zira become fugitives.While they are on the run, Zira gives birth to a son. Cornelius and Zira are killed, but their son is hidden by Armando, a sympathetic circus owner.
Sometime Between 1971 and 1991: A mysterious plague wipes out the world's population of dogs and cats. The US government offers augmented apes as replacements for the lost pets. A forced breeding program creates a substantial population of augmented apes who soon move from being pets to a de facto slave class. Apes soon become a presence all over the Earth. Government in North America becomes authoritarian, especially in its treatment of the ape population.(3)
1991: Caesar, the adult son of Cornelius and Zira, outraged at the humans' abuse of the ape population, leads an ape revolt.(4)
After 1991: The ape revolt disrupts North American society, causing international tensions which lead to a nuclear war. Caesar establishes Ape City somewhere outside of the destroyed New York City. There, apes live with humans as a barely-tolerated underclass. Other humans, maimed survivors of the nuclear war living in the ruins of New York City, launch an attack against Ape City, but are repulsed. The mutants withdraw into New York, where they come to venerate the Alpha and Omega Bomb, an ultimate weapon. Caesar vows to try to build a world where apes and humans can live together.(5)
2670: Humans and apes live together in Ape city in relative harmony. An orangutan Law-Giver lectures young children on history.(6)
After 2670: At some point, the coexistence between apes and humans in ape City breaks down, and the humans are driven out. Forced to live in the wild, the humans revert to savagery, and eventually lose the power of speech. The apes come to view the humans as dangerous animals, and hunt them for sport. Beneath New York City, the mutants have developed vast psychic powers, and venerate the Alpha and Omega Bomb as their Creator.
3978: Taylor's ship crashes on Earth, where he is captured and given over to Cornelius and Zira, who befriend him and help him escape. He discovers that he has arrived on his own world in the far future. Taylor sets out with his mate, Nova, to find a new life. Doctor Milo recovers Taylor's ship, and works out how to operate it.(7) Taylor is captured by the Bomb Mutants, who hold him prisoner. Brent's ship returns to Earth, as well. He, too, encounters Cornelius and Zira, who help him escape Ape City. He seeks out Taylor, finding him in subterranean New York City, even as the gorillas launch an attack on the Bomb Mutants. Fearing the onslaught of war, Milo, Cornelius and Zira launch Taylor's ship. When the apes assault the Bomb Mutants' stronghold, Taylor detonates the Alpha and Omega Bomb. The three chimpanzees witness the Earth's destruction, and then pass through a timewarp back to 1971.
(1)The date comes from the release date of Escape From the Planet of the Apes. The rest is my speculation, to explain certain elements of the films.
(2)Info given in Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
(3)That the government, knowing what the do about the future, allows apes to become such an integral part of human society, strikes me as unlikely. I suppose that one could argue that, knowing what they know, they can make sure that tight controls are maintained over the apes. In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar says that apes are on "all five continents."
(4)The date is given in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
(5)How the mutants got a hold of the Alpha and Omega Bomb is a mystery to me.. New York City seems like an unlikely place to store such a thing.
(6)The date is from Battle for the Planet of the Apes. (Side Note: I can no longer hear the term "Law-Giver" without thinking of Pearl Forrester.)
(7)This also strikes me as extremely improbable.