‘Planet of the Apes’ Doesn’t Monkey Around in Massive $73 Million Box-Office Opening

The sequel blasts past expectations to give sputtering summer box office a much-needed shot in the arm

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” delivered beyond expectations in a $73 million debut this weekend that gave the sputtering summer box office a much-needed shot in the arm.

The 3D sci-fi thriller, a sequel to the 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” ended the two-week run of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” atop the domestic box office, which has been running nearly 20 percent down from last year. The big opening by “Apes” won’t reverse that — the weekend was still off nearly 25 percent from the same frame a year ago — but it does dispel concerns that the summer was heading for a free fall after a disastrous July 4 weekend.

The other studios cleared out for “Apes” — it was the weekend’s only wide opener — and it was in a market-high of 3,967 theaters, so the spotlight was on the $170 million thriller. “Transformers” crossed $200 million domestically in its third weekend but was a distant second with $16.5 million, and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy “Tammy’ was third with around $13 million.

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That price tag — and the studio’s commitment to another “Apes” film in 2016 — made it a gamble for distributor 20th Century Fox, which financed the Chernin Entertainment-produced “Dawn.” They upped the ante by shaking up the cast and crew, too. Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) took over as director in place of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” filmmaker Rupert Wyatt. They ditched the cast from that film, including James Franco, and inserted Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell. Only motion-capture guru Andy Serkis returned as Caesar, the apes’ leader.

The man vs. primates tale set in a San Francisco ravaged by a global pandemic worked for the critics — it is at 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — and opening weekend audiences awarded it an “A-” CinemaScore.

“I think the reviews helped for sure,” Fox’s distribution president Chris Aronson told TheWrap. “It created one of those rare situations where the critics and the audiences aligned, and that created a perfect storm. ”

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The big first weekend puts “Dawn” on a course well ahead of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which opened to $54.8 million in August of 2011 and went on to take in $177 million domestically and $305 million from overseas. Fox is banking on growth in the foreign market and the addition of 3D to push “Dawn” ahead of that film internationally.

“Dawn” got a boost from 3D but managed its big opening without the benefit of IMAX theaters, which stuck with “Transformers.” Premium Large Format screens provided $5.8 million, or eight percent, of the grosses.

“22 Jump Street” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” were next, with $6.7 million and $5.8 million respectively. The Channing TatumJonah Hill comedy is up to $172 million domestically for Sony after five weeks, while the Fox-distributed family film from DreamWorks Animation is at $152 million over the same period.

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Two second-week films followed. Relatvity’s low-budget kids film “Earth to Echo” fell off 34 percent and took in $5.5 million, to up its total to nearly $25 million. And Sony’s Jerry Bruckheimer-produced horror film “Deliver Us From Evil” was next with $4.7 million and also is at $25 million after two weeks.

The Weinstein Company’s “Begin Again” cracked the top ten after widening by 764 locations in its third week. The romantic musical comedy written and directed by John Carney brought in $2.9 million from 939 theaters. Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine star in “Begin Again,” which is up to $5.2 million overall.

The Dinesh D’Souza documentary “America” took in $2.4 million, just an 11 percent drop from its opening last weekend. That ups its domestic total to more than $8 million for distributor Lionsgate.

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