By Jared Jones
The conjunction-heavy Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters this weekend and is all but guaranteed to dominate the box office. Why? Three words: Oldman, bazooka, monkeys. But most importantly, monkeys. Dancing with toothbrushes, sniffing-their-own-butt-before-falling-out-of-a-tree monkeys.
Our cultural obsession with primates runs deep, ye, and goes far beyond the secret desire to fling feces at one another which WE ALL HAVE. To most of us, the monkey represents not just our primitive precursor on the evolutionary scale, but the carefree, childlike state of being we once possessed before life crushed it out of us. And while, scientifically speaking, there has never actually been a bad movie about and/or featuring apes, there are a few films in particular that rise above rest.
Which is why for our inaugural installment of The Screen Junkies Top Six — a new recurring column which previews an upcoming release by highlighting the greatest movies of its kind to come before it — we pay tribute to the greatest monkey movies of them all.
I swear to God, if even one of you dares point out that there is a difference between monkeys and apes before I’m done, I will turn this car around.
#6: The King Kong Franchise
Look, we all know that the King Kong movies are great (except Mighty Joe Young. F*ck Mighty Joe Young.) but I’ll be damned if I’m going to use this brief opportunity to talk about a bunch of movies you’d have to be an amoeba to not have seen by now. My personal favorite is the 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges and a prime Jessica Lange‘s barely-clothed body. That waterfall scene where a puffy-faced Kong literally blowdries Dawn…I wouldn’t know what it felt like to be so turned on and simultaneously disgusted again until I saw Halle Berry bang Billy Bob Thornton in Monster’s Ball.
Nonsensical, overly long, and surprisingly dull for a movie that features silverback gorillas and lasers, Congo has nonetheless garnered a huge cult following for being classic “so bad it’s good” filmmaking. It’s the kind of movie that was destined to be discussed on the very excellent How Did This Get Made? podcast, and thankfully, it was. It’s also a movie that tries to pass off “communication diamonds” as something other than an idea plucked from the head of a small child who had been rendered comatose by his father’s baseball bat.
Was that too dark? It sure felt that way. The point is, Congo is an absolute trainwreck of a movie that has somehow earned a memorable place in the annals of film history despite its inherent ridiculousness.
In this movie’s grand finale, a super-intelligent orangutan dressed in people clothes triggers a gas leak explosion by lighting a cigar. The entire scene is set to carousel music. You can check out the entire film on Youtube right now. You are welcome.
#3: Every Which Way But Loose
If the idea of watching a young Clint Eastwood and an orangutan named Clyde bare-knuckle box their way across the country doesn’t sound appealing to you, we cannot be friends. Before I even knew that this movie existed, that last sentence was literally the context of about 95% of my dreams. Every Which Way But Loose takes your classic buddy comedy and swaps a in a monkey for the Nick Frost/Chris Farley role, which marks the only time in the history of words that David Spade has ever been tangentially compared to Clint Eastwood. For which I am deeply, deeply sorry.
Anyways, Eastwood beats people up, Clyde flips them off (see above), and the result is cinematic gold. Two years later, Turner and Hooch would rip off this idea and become another late-’80s hit for Tom Hanks, despite the fact that dogs can neither tear apart cars piece-by-piece nor flip some proper birdage.
#2: The Jungle Book
Did you know that those greedy corporate fat cats over in Hollywood are planning a live-action remake of Dumbo? Or that it will be penned by the guy who wrote Transformers 2-4? This can only mean, of course, that a live-action Jungle Book is on the way to sweep up whatever shattered memories of our childhood remain after that atrocity finishes destroying them…
What’s that? You say they already made a live-action Jungle Book movie? And that it starred Jason Scott Lee? Welp…
#1: Dunston Checks In
Finally, a true classic of American cinema.
The IMDB page of Dunston Checks In describes the plot of the film as such:
Young boy befriends larcenous orangutan in luxury hotel.
Classic undersell, IMDB. Sure, DCI is about a boy and a monkey and the hotel-based hijinks they commit on a surface level, but whoever wrote that poorly-worded synopsis was clearly missing the film’s subtext. Dunston Checks In is more than just interspecies bubble baths and cake fights (although both those things do happen), playing with the themes of isolation, animal rights, and the importance of family over all else.
Anchored by an absolutely masterful Jason Alexander performance as a workaholic father trapped beneath an unrelenting bitch of a boss, Dunston Checks In is to the hotel business what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was to the meatpacking industry, and I am being dead serious about that. So if you haven’t seen Dunston Checks In by now, close your damn computer, hit up the nearest Blockbuster that still carries VHS, and start doing something with your life.
Honorable mentions: Monkey Shines, Tarzan, your mom’s sex tape