Mike Fleming

james-franco1EXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox has set James Franco to star in Rise of the Apes, the Rupert Wyatt-directed prequel that the studio has dated for a June 24, 2011 release. Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark are producing with Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. Silver and Jaffa wrote the script.

Production begins July 5. Franco and Wyatt met last week and sparked to a collaboration, giving production president Emma Watts a whopping tent pole for summer, 2011. It’s the second in recent weeks, after she set Matthew Vaughn to direct X-Men: First Class, which is set for June 3, 2011 release.

The film is set in contemporary San Francisco, where a genetic engineering experiment leads to the creation of intelligence in apes, causing an inevitable conflict between species. Fox has already partnered with Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital for the cutting edge visual effects. Franco plays a young scientist who becomes a crucial figure in the war between humans and apes.

Makes sense that the studio would be high on Franco right now because they’ve recently seen his work in 127 Hours, the Danny Boyle-directed fact-based drama. Franco plays Aron Ralston, the hiker whose arm got pinned under a boulder for hours. He was forced to saw off the limb with a dull knife and found the strength to climb down the mountain.

James Franco Adds Summit Comedy ‘Ricky Stanicky’ To Varied Dance Card

For all of Deadline's headlines, follow us @Deadline on Twitter.