Tarzan at the Movies: From Weissmuller to Disney

When Edgar Rice Burroughs first published Tarzan of the Apes back in 1912 film adaptations would have probably been the farthest thing from his mind, but one hundred years later movies are still being made about his most popular creation. Only the likes of Dracula, Godzilla and Sherlock Holmes are in Tarzan’s league when it comes to filmographies. He first appeared on film in 1918 with silent film star Elmo Lincoln playing the iconic ape man, but it was in 1932 when MGM released Tarzan the Ape Man with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan that Tarzan became a true box office star. Over the past year I’ve been reviewing Tarzan movies for this site, a labour of love if ever there was one.  Click on the links or posters below to check out all my reviews of the world’s most cinematic ape man.

In Tarzan the Ape Man Jane visits her father in Africa as they hunt for the mythical elephant graveyard, when Tarzan enters the mix things get ugly.  Johnny Weissmuller begins his long run as the titular ape man.

Poster-Tarzan-the-Ape-Man-1932_01-676x1024Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

In Tarzan and His Mate another safari to the Elephant’s Graveyard finds Tarzan and Jane at odds with her English friends. Jane’s naked underwater swim makes this a fan favorite.

Tarzan_and_His_MateTarzan and His Mate (1934)

In Tarzan Escapes Jane’s cousins show up to take her back to civilization. Tarzan is not too keen on the idea. Hi-jinks ensue.  They do get the really sweet tree-house in this outing.

Tarzan_EscapesTarzan Escapes (1936)

In Tarzan’s Revenge a group of rich Americans come to Africa to get some animals for their zoo, gold medalist Eleanor Holm must fend off an idiot fiancé and an evil sultan until Tarzan eventually shows up.

Tarzans_Revenge_movie_posterTarzan’s Revenge (1938)

In Tarzan Finds a Son! Jane and Tarzan adopt a baby that survived a plane crash, when relatives come looking for the kid five years later things get a bit tense.

Tarzan_Finds_a_Son_movie_posterTarzan Finds a Son! (1939)

In Tarzan’s Secret Treasure it’s not ivory that the villains of this entry are after this time out, now its gold they want and Boy’s innocence could spell disaster. Can Tarzan save Jane and Boy from white man’s insatiable greed?

Tarzans_Secret_Treasure_movie_posterTarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)

In Tarzan’s New York Adventure we meet a group of unscrupulous circus people who kidnap Boy and take him to New York City to make him work the Big Top. Jane and Tarzan track them down through this new concrete jungle.

Tarzans New York AdventureTarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

In Tarzan Triumphs Nazis invade the Lost City of Palandria, and only Tarzan and Boy can thwart their evil plans to enslave and exploit the populace.  Cheeta’s Hitler impression a stand-out moment for the series.

Tarzan TriumphsTarzan Triumphs (1943)

In Tarzan’s Desert Mystery our favorite Lord of the Jungle brings Boy along on a mercy mission that takes them into dangerous lands, facing off against Nazi spies, dinosaurs, and giant spiders.

Tarzans Desert MysteryTarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)

In Tarzan and the Amazons white intruders find a hidden city full of Amazons, Tarzan and Boy fight over whether to help these idiots or just call it a bad day and go home.

Tarzan and the AmazonsTarzan and the Amazons (1945)

In Tarzan and the Leopard Woman the Ape Man and Boy must do battle with a leopard cult, and rescue some pretty school teachers from their evil clutches.

600full-tarzan-and-the-leopard-woman-posterTarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)

In Tarzan and the Huntress white invaders cross into Tarzan’s territory to hunt for animals to replenish a great animal shortage that zoos have been facing since the war ended.

TARZANANDTHEHUNTRESSTCTarzan and the Huntress (1947)

In Tarzan and the Mermaids a girl flees from her people to escape being forced into a marriage with a conman posing as a god. Tarzan and Jane step into help foil this evil plot.  This would be Johnny Weissmuller last outing as Tarzan.

Tarzan and the MermaidsTarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

In Tarzan’s Magic Fountain a missing aviatrix walks out of the jungle after being missing for twenty years and hasn’t aged a day. Tarzan must help her keep the secret of her youth.  This is the first Lex Barker Tarzan.

Tarzan-Magic-Fountain-Poster-699x1024Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949)

In Tarzan and the Slave Girl members of a lost civilization are raiding African villages for women and only Tarzan can stop them.  Meanwhile Jane gets into a nasty cat-fight with a girl hot for Tarzan’s jungle action.

tarzan-and-the-slave-girl-movie-poster-1950-1020458886Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)

In Tarzan’s Peril the Ape Man must stop a notorious slaver and gunrunner from arming an evil African warlord. Dorothy Dandridge and a man-eating plan provide great entertainment.

Tarzans-perilTarzan’s Peril (1951)

In Tarzan’s Savage Fury Jane and Tarzan are duped by a pair of criminals, one posing as his cousin Oliver Greystoke, all in the hopes of finding the Waziri and their fabled diamonds.

Tarzans-Savage-Fury-PosterTarzan’s Savage Fury (1952)

In Tarzan and the She-Devil ivory hunters enslave friends of Tarzan and try and kidnap Jane. The Lord of the Apes tries to stop this but spends most his time captured.  This was Lex Barker’s last outing as Tarzan.

Poster-Tarzan-and-the-She-Devil_01-773x1024Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)

In Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle we find two hunters, posing as photographers, who actually plan to slaughter countless animals for their fat, hides, and tusks and only Tarzan stands in their way.  Gordon Scott begins his run as Tarzan.

Tarzans Hidden JungleTarzan’s Hidden Jungle (1955)

In Tarzan and the Lost Safari Tarzan must escort a group of plane crash survivors through hostile jungle while dealing with a possible traitor in their midst.  Tarzan seen for the first time in glorious colour.

Tarzan_and_the_Lost_Safari_posterTarzan and the Lost Safari (1957)

In Tarzan and the Trappers we find poor Tarzan caught up in “The Most Dangerous Game” in this failed attempt at Tarzan television series.

tarzan-and-the-trappersTarzan and the Trappers (1958)

In Tarzan’s Fight for Life the jungle man must prevent an evil witch doctor from turning the jungle into a warzone between science and superstition. This was the final feature for producer Sol Lesser.

Tarzans_Fight_for_Life_posterTarzan’s Fight for Life (1958)

In Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure a group of bad men have murdered their way to find a diamond mine and only Tarzan the Lord of the Jungle can stop them.  Watch out for a pre-James Bond Sean Connery as one of the villains.

Tarzans Greatest AdventureTarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

In Tarzan the Magnificent Tarzan must bring in a wanted killer while being hunted by the man’s villainous family.  John Carradine gives an excellent turn as the evil patriarch of this rotten group.  Also the last Gordon Scott Tarzan.

Tarzan_the_Magnificent-678x1024Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)

In Tarzan Goes to India we find Tarzan hired to stop a herd of elephants from being drowned by a hydroelectric dam project in India. Can the ape and a rogue elephant save the day?  Jock Mahoney dons the loin cloth for the first time.

Tarzan_Goes_to_India_movie_posterTarzan Goes to India (1962)

In Tarzan’s Three Challenges Tarzan must guide “The Chosen One” through the jungles of Thailand while being hunted by the evil Khan.  Woody Strode does double duty as the dead Khan and his evil brother. Jock Mahoney’s last Tarzan film.

Tarzan-Three-Challenges-poster-2-677x1024Tarzan’s Three Challenges (1963)

In Tarzan and the Valley of Gold Tarzan must rescue a small boy from nefarious villains who want to get the location to a lost city of gold from the poor kid.  Mike Henry picks up the Tarzan torch after Jock Mahoney’s departure.

TarzanValleyGold-filmTarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)

In Tarzan and the Great River Tarzan heads into the jungles of Brazil to track down the evil Jaguar Death Cult. He teams up with annoying boy sidekick and a hot blonde doctor.

TARZAN_AND_THE_GREAT_RIVERTarzan and the Great River (1967)

In Tarzan and the Jungle Boy Tarzan must locate a boy who has been lost in the jungle for six years while also trying to referee two heirs to a jungle throne. This would be Mike Henry’s last outing as Tarzan.

739full-tarzan-and-the-jungle-boy-posterTarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968)

In this Jane centric version of Tarzan the Ape Man we find Bo Derek cavorting naked with the apes while beefcake Miles O’Keefe says nothing as Tarzan.  Richard Harris, who portrays Jane’s father, was most likely paid in Scotch.

Tarzan the Ape Man 1981Tarzan the Ape Man (1981)

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is a serious and realistic attempt of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs tale of a man raised by apes and the girl he fell in love with.

GreystokeGreystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

In Tarzan and the Lost City we have Tarzan returning to Africa to help some old friends prevent villainous white men from discovering the lost city of Opar.  As this postpones his wedding to Jane things get ugly.

p20977_p_v7_aaTarzan and the Lost City (1998)

Disney’s Tarzan is an animated version that pits Tarzan against a cruel hunter and a few misplaced Phil Collins songs.  It gets even more things wrong from the book but still manages to be an excellent Tarzan flick.

555503Tarzan (1999)

In The Legend of Tarzan a reluctant John Clayton returns to Africa to stop a group of mercenaries from enslaving the population of the Congo.  Director David Yates removes much of the pulp adventure aspect of the Burroughs’ books but at least Jane is given more to do this time out.

legend-tarzan-2016-posterThe Legend of Tarzan (2016)

It is truly astonishing that we had about one Tarzan film a year for about four decades, and now with the David Yates The Legend of Tarzan we have almost a hundred years of Tarzan movies. That’s impressive by anyone’s standards. I do hope you have enjoyed my lighthearted trip through the cinematic history of the world’s most famous jungle adventurer, and please join me for any further adventures of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

Mike Brooks

Mike Brooks

Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.