Taylor's spaceship crashes in 1970's Earth. Inside, are three talking apes - Zira and Cornelius, along with another scientist, Dr. Milo. Milo is killed by a non-civilized gorilla, and this prompts a pregnant Zira to baptize her son "Milo". Considering the dangers of talking apes, the US Military starts chasing them, prompting Zira, Cornelius, and Milo to get hidden in Armando (Ricardo Montalban)'s circus.
This movie contains examples of:
- Berserk Button: Apes, when called "monkeys".
- Fainting: Zira, due to her pregnancy.
- Little "No": "On an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the Sacred Scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said, 'No'."
- Moses in the Bullrushes: The unassuming chimp baby that was the first to be born in a circus sitting in a cage, saying "Mama".
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Hasslein's obsession with killing Zira's baby merely ensures that nobody notices Zira had switched babies with another chimp mother at Armando's circus.
- Openly referenced in the movie by the President, played by William Windom, who refuses at first to sign off on aborting Zira's pregnancy, and directly cites Herod's murder of innocent children as a reason.
- Prequel in the Lost Age: From the apes' point of view, it's this.
- Red Shirt: Dr. Milo — although in fairness, his death wasn't actually meant to happen until much later in the film. The actor had trouble working with the makeup prosthetics however, and the character's death was bought forward.
- Rule of Symbolism: The series started having racial conflicts overtones, and in this one also did Biblical parallels (it's even lampshaded with a line mentioning Herod).
- Sequel Hook: the ending scene was meant to simply connect this movie to the future. Executive Meddling led to more movies.
- After his experience being forced to write this sequel after Beneath (which was written with as final a Downer Ending as could be done), screenwriter Paul Dehn wrote the ending of Escape as both a link to the future storyarc and with enough wiggle room to squeeze in another movie if the studio wanted it.
- Time Travel
- Together in Death: Cornelius and Zira.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Otto Hasslein; he believes the only way to prevent the fall of mankind (and by extension, the destruction of Earth) is to kill the apes and their child.