Who doesn’t love monkeys? These primates are close relatives of humans and have existed on earth since the sun was shining. While the majority live in jungles around the world and the rest live in zoos, some of these fascinating creatures have also made their presence felt in popular culture. Over the decades, many of these famous monkeys have made their mark on the big screen or become internet memes.
After Albert II became the first monkey in space, these adorable primates became the focus of movies, TV shows, books, and other media. In honor of these tree-dwelling monkeys, we’ve compiled a list of the most famous monkeys of all time. Some of these are real-life monkeys, while others are cartoons known to the general public. We’re also cheating a bit by including some famous monkeys that aren’t actually monkeys. Chimpanzees, apes and gorillas are all in the spotlight as we use the term ‘monkey’ very loosely.
With that said, here are 14 of the most famous monkeys in modern pop culture.
1. Kinh Kong
The King Kong is arguably the greatest and most famous primate in the world. The misunderstood gorilla has been the focus of many interpretations of the original 1933 film king kong. The huge monster was living without drama on Skull Island when suddenly men were captured, chained and brought to New York for a performance. No wonder Kong got mad and went a little crazy. Although he finds some solace in Ann, Kong’s fate remains the same as always; died after being attacked while scaling the Empire State Building.
Clint Eastwood is overshadowed by an orangutan in late ’70s comedy Every Way But Loosely. Eastwood’s team of truckers and bare-knuckle warriors team up with primate Clyde as they encounter groups of colorful humans and find themselves on the run from a biker gang. Not only was it one of Eastwood’s highest-grossing films, it also made Clyde (real name Manis) a star. There was a strange chemistry between the two, with Clyde’s left hook being quite memorable. Although he does not appear in the sequel, By all means you canClyde went on to become a major star in Las Vegas.
Eccentric Rakifi is a magician in Disney Lion King. Although he sometimes appears unstable, he is in fact a wise man who brings a sense of spirituality to the forest. Though best known at the moment, he raised a young Simba in the air as the Life cycle play, he remains Simba’s trusted confidant in his later years. It was he who lured him back to Pride Rock, avenging his father, and reclaiming his rightful throne.
4. Dr. Zaius
There are many primates to choose from when discussing Monkey tree movies, but the most prominent is the movie Dr. Zaius. He is an orangutan who is widely respected in primate civilization. Dr. Zaius is a member of the Apes Congress, holds the position of Minister of Science and is also a Defender of the Faith. He is a somewhat enthusiastic person who sees humans as a threat and is actually well-liked by many. Although Dr. Zaius starred in some of the series’ first films, he is perhaps best known for this performance on The Simpsons.
5. Curious George
First appearing in 1941, Curious George is the main character in a series of children’s books. After being taken from his home by the Man in the Yellow Hat (a questionable act in itself), George finds himself living happily with his captor.
Written by Margret and HA Rey. George, the books detail the adventures of Geroge and the Man in the Yellow Hat, including Geroge getting a job and flying a kite. The character also starred in a TV series and has been featured in other media.
Haramabe became somewhat of an online phenomenon in 2016 when he was killed by zoo keepers after a child fell into his cage. Investigating the fallen boy, Haramabe pushed and pulled him around the yard until the zookeepers killed him for fear he would harm the boy. The entire incident was filmed by a resident and uploaded to YouTube. It spread like wildfire and before long, everyone and his dog had an opinion about the murder. While many people agree, there are also many who think his death could have been avoided.
The gorilla quickly became an internet meme that spread around the world and was widely talked about. From the ‘Dicks out for Harambe’ meme to Australians considering Haramabe as their preferred candidate in the election, the gorilla has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Jack the monkey has made quite an impact in But the pirate of the Caribbean Franchising. Not only is he Hector Barbossa’s pet and one of the meanest primates of all time, but he also gets his name from Captain Jack Sparrow. He eventually dies and is cursed and does his part to help bring his master (Barbossa) back from the dead. When Barbossa rode it a second time, Jack became Sparrow’s loyal friend.
Aladdin’s pet thief monkey, Abu is a loyal companion who finds himself caught up in his friend’s adventures. You have to give him credit for persevering after he was turned into an elephant. Frank Welker, who voiced Abu’s fake voice in the 1992 animated version of Aladdin, also returned for the 2019 remake, giving the film a bit more realism.
8. Birds Birds
Chim Chim is a chimpanzee who is also the best friend of Spritle, the brother of Speed Racer. The two go everywhere together and bond quite a bit. They have a talent for showing their presence when Speed Racer is in trouble, always there to help him escape in time. Despite its small stature, Chim Chim can still fight all kinds of muscular bad guys. Although he can’t speak, he communicates well through facial expressions and hand gestures.
Here is another chimpanzee that shines brighter than his co-star. Virgil is a chimpanzee involved in a secret Air Force project. When his caretaker Matthew Broderick realized he was about to be killed, he intervened. Virgil and the other chimpanzees escape their cages and try to find their way to freedom before the soldiers stop them.
*Spoiler Alert* Virgil tries to get all the other chimpanzees on the plane and fly them to safety. That’s right, this chimpanzee can fly a plane!
10. Trick Kong
The only video game character on this list has appeared in dozens of different titles since first appearing in the game in 1981. Donkey Kong. Originally Mario’s nemesis, the barrel-throwing Donkey Kong has been a fan favorite for years, appearing in more games as a hero. Donkey Kong is so popular that Ice Cube even mentions him in a song that says “It’s like Donkey Kong”. This catchphrase is now trademarked by Nintendo, highlighting the primate’s impact on popular culture.
11. Albert II
Albert II was not only the first primate in space, but also the first mammal. The happy boy flew to an altitude of 83 miles while trapped inside the V-2 Rocket. However, we will never know what Albert II was thinking while in space, as he died while re-entering the atmosphere. After the parachute failed, the rocket plunged to earth, killing poor old man Albert II.
In total, 32 species of primates have flown into space since the US sent Albert I into space in 1948. Six different countries have sent primates into the largely unknown region, where Iran appears to have sent two rhesus macaque monkeys into space over the past decade. The two are said to have returned unharmed, which is always good news.
One of the most intelligent gorillas in captivity, Koko (Hanabiko in Japanese) is said to have a vocabulary of over 1,000 symbols. Born at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko was cared for by animal psychologist Francine Patterson. Having been exposed to English since childhood, Koko quickly picked up certain words and sayings. She is said to have the same understanding as a three-year-old child, which is impressive. Koko is also known for her love of pets, having taken care of several cats during her time at the zoo.
She was eventually transferred to the Gorilla Foundation’s sanctuary in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where she lived for nearly two decades with other gorillas before dying at the age of 48 in 2018.
13. Evil monkey
The Evil Monkey is somewhat like a joke in family boy. Hiding in Chris’ closet, the monkey is never seen by other family members. His signature pose is a scowl when pointing at Chris. He appeared in 18 episodes of the show. It was eventually discovered that he wasn’t really angry but his actions were part of his personality. He tries to help Chris and Peter repair their relationship and eventually leaves the closet.
Michael Jackson is a weird guy. He owns an amusement park. Spent the night with kids. And there’s also a pet monkey named Bubbles. Jackson bought the chimpanzee from a research facility in the ’80s, around the same time he started going off-limits with his crazy antics. Jackson kept the chimpanzee on his property for 20 years before he was finally transferred to a Florida sanctuary known as the Great Monkey Center, where he was spending the last days of his life.