By December 1993, Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher (producers of Natural Born Killers) had successfully pitched the idea of a Planet of the Apes revival to 20th Century Fox, and Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers director) signed on as executive producer/co-writer. Stone's preference was for a story based on apes from an ancient civilization, with biblical connections. He explained in December 1993, "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."
Stone recruited Terry Hayes to write the screenplay, (his two Mad Max movies having quite possibly been influenced by Battle for the Planet of the Apes' army of dilapidated vehicles). In March 1994, Oliver Stone secured the interest of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed on as the lead with the condition he had approval of director. Schwarzenegger anticipated a violent, gory interpretation of Stone's conspiracy-theory concept. Titled Return of the Apes, Hayes' screenplay was set in the near future where a plague is making humans extinct. Geneticist Will Robinson discovers the plague is a genetic time bomb embedded in the Stone Age. He time travels with a pregnant colleague named Billie Rae Diamond to a time when Palaeolithic humans were at war for the future of the planet with highly-evolved apes. Robinson and Diamond discover a young human girl named Aiv (pronounced Eve) to be the next step in evolution. They protect her from the virus, thus ensuring the survival of the human race 102,000 years later. Billie Rae gives birth to a baby boy named Adam.
Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) was selected as director in January 1995, and pre-production was planned with a $100 million budget. Stone first approached Rick Baker to design the prosthetic makeup, but eventually opted for Stan Winston. A later, uncorroborated, rumor claimed that Ben Kingsley was in line for the role of the scientist who travels back in time, with Schwarzenegger cast as the leader of the Stone Age men in the distant past - a role perhaps more suited to the muscular action hero.
Although Fox's Peter Chernin called Hayes' time-travel action screenplay "one of the best scripts I ever read", Fox became frustrated by the distance between their approach and Hayes' interpretation. Fox head of production Dylan Sellers felt the script could be improved by including comedy elements. Jane Hamsher quoted Sellers as asking, "What if Robinson finds himself in Ape land and the Apes are trying to play baseball? But they're missing one element, like the pitcher or something. Robinson knows what they're missing and he shows them, and they all start playing." Sellers refused to give up his baseball idea, and when Hayes turned in his final draft in spring 1995, sans baseball scene, Sellers fired him. As Don Murphy put it, "Terry wrote a 'Terminator' and Fox wanted 'The Flintstones'". Dissatisfied with Sellers' decision to fire Hayes, Phillip Noyce left Return of the Apes in February 1995 to work on The Saint. Oliver Stone switched his attention to other film projects, and Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher were bought off the project by Fox. Dylan Sellers' responsibilities were passed on to new head of production Tom Rothman after a car accident in late 1995.
Hayes went on to co-write the screenplays for Vertical Limit (2000) and From Hell (2001). He was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Screenplay for his work on From Hell, which was produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher.
- The Planet of the Apes Chronicles, by Paul A. Woods
- 'Monkey Business' (Entertainment Weekly), by Cindy Pearlman
- 'The Apes of Wrath' (Entertainment Weekly), by Anne Thompson
- Tales From Development Hell, by David Hughes
- Planet of the Apes Fanclub news page
- 'Monkey Business' (Entertainment Weekly), by Jeffrey Wells
- Killer Instinct, by Jane Hamsher