2. 'Escape From the Planet of the Apes' (1971)
Instead of concluding with a mind-melting twist, "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" begins with one. A spaceship not unlike the one used by Taylor in the first film arrives in modern day but inside are three apes who have traveled backwards in time sometime before the nuclear holocaust that concluded the previous film. (And you thought the "Terminator" timeline was convoluted.)
What starts off as a rather lighthearted romp (sold largely by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter's zippy performances) soon becomes darker and more harrowing, as a fish-out-of-water comedy turns downright tragic as religious, political, and racial overtones filter in. (It's also a brilliant use of its lower budget since so few of the characters are actually in ape make-up.)
This is the series as its funniest, saddest, and sharpest; everything from director Don Taylor's snappy direction to Jerry Goldsmith's jazzy update of his score for the original film is totally spot on. Goofy and poignant, "Escape from Planet of the Apes" is series' very best sequel. And if you haven't seen it, you'll probably go bananas.