4 Blockbuster Movies That Almost Starred Monkeys
It’s hard to explain the exact reason that monkeys bring so much joy to humans. But as soon as one of these diminutive little gremlins enters a situation, you can see the fire reignited behind the dead eyes of someone who’d thought they’d seen everything life had to offer. Seeing a monkey in real life, unfettered and uncaged, causing chaos as is their wont, is something most people won’t ever be lucky enough to experience. It’s an unlikely bucket list item, like riding in a helicopter or doing that thing where an archer splits an arrow down the middle with another arrow. See a monkey in real life wearing sunglasses or a little hat, and you’d be left sobbing tears of joy as your eyes melted from your face like you were looking directly at a seraphim.
Show business, of course, has long realized our deep love for the little guys. Heck, in the 1990s, monkey-led comedies were practically a tentpole. Now, despite their star power, monkeys aren’t always the most delightful scene partners. Just ask David Schwimmer. It turns out that a little agent of chaos that has absolutely no idea what a movie or even a camera is can be fairly ill-behaved when push comes to shove/bite/hair-pull. That means that some movies that were meant to have a monkey in a memorable role ended up having to scrap that thought.
Here are four high-profile movies that ended up denying primates their big moment on the silver screen…
Not only did Star Wars almost feature a monkey, the monkey in question would have portrayed one of the most iconic characters in cinema: Yoda. As most nerds know, the ultimate solution for portraying Yoda in the original movies was the use of puppetry and actor Frank Oz, but be-jeaned creator George Lucas didn’t approve at first. He thought it looked too unrealistic and would distract moviegoers from whiny baby Luke Skywalker’s journey on how to use space magic.
His solution? A monkey in a mask. A good idea in theory, as long as that theory is based in no sort of understanding of animal behavior or general feasibility. Humans don’t enjoy wearing masks, because, as anyone who’s sweated a solid pint into the back of a Ghostface mask while trick-or-treating can testify, they’re pretty uncomfortable. It turned out that getting the monkey in question to both stop digging for grubs in the swampland and wear a mask for a full take was too much. Hilariously, the specific problem was that the monkey in question kept yanking off the mask and waving it wildly in the air every time they tried to film a take. Sun Wukong-level monkey king shit.
James Bond is a worldwide cinematic phenomenon, based off the book series by Ian Fleming. One could strongly question if the world would know Bond’s name nearly as well if the first movie in the series, Dr. No, had tanked at the box office, instead of becoming a smash hit that would get millions of people horny for women with a knife in their bikinis and the Nehru jacket — the Nehru jacket being the iconic outfit of Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. Julius No.
However, an early draft of the script for Dr. No resulted in a hard producer’s no. The draft in question suggested that Dr. No be played by a monkey. You may know that it’s illegal for a monkey to be a doctor, on account of them being unable to take the Hippocratic Oath. That’s just plain medical law. Producer Cubby Broccoli, whose name sounds like a cartoon bear that emphasizes healthy eating, related to the Daily Mail a “sinking feeling” they felt reading the script and being introduced to a monkey version of the antagonist. It would be hard to argue with the decision to make Dr. No human, especially given that it might be hard to introduce someone as “the world’s greatest spy” to audiences when apparently they are having an incredibly hard time outsmarting a monkey.
The Predator series has apparently had more than one big decision made about the antagonists during production, besides firing Jean-Claude Van Damme in the original because (at least according to one account) he wouldn’t stop doing kickboxing moves as the titular Predator. In addition to the hulking dental nightmare, though, in Shane Black’s 2018 remake, there were plans for a series of monkey sidekicks that weren’t nearly as much fun as the one in Friends. Specifically, predator monkey hybrids that even the bravest man wouldn’t attempt to place a small, adorable T-shirt on.
In fairness, they weren’t real monkeys, as that would be a direct violation of the will of god and the creation of a genuine chimera that would threaten human life. They were going to be CGI, and the idea made it at least far enough to give us screenshots that are suitably spine-shifting. The movie, unfortunately, was a rare blemish on Black’s mostly excellent resume. If he wants, he can blame it on the monkeys. It definitely would have made the movie more memorable.
Speaking of direct violations of the will of god, there was also a monkey — well, at least half a monkey — that never made it to the final version of David Cronenberg’s The Fly. If you’re familiar with The Fly or Cronenberg’s general deal, you already know that his movies are famously yucky. The Fly didn’t skimp in any sense on scenes that make a sausage-factory tour seem like pleasant dinner theater, but there was one scene that, after reportedly making test audiences vomit, was cut.
The scene involves Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle attempting to teleport a baboon and a cat at the same time and still ending up with two separate animals. This does not occur. Instead we get a horrific baboon-cat hybrid that we’ll have to call a “caboon” because “bat” is already taken. Brundle is, in a word, disappointed with the result, and so, he retires the experiment — with a lead pipe, by beating his awful new pet to death. The scene did eventually make its way to the public on DVD, though, in case that’s how you get your kicks.
And for the pedants among us, I'll save you the Google search: Yes, baboons are monkeys, not apes. They’re members of the Cercopithecoidea family of Old World monkeys.