Looks like summer 2011 had one more blockbuster left after all. Cowboys and Aliens may have been a late-July disappointment but, so far, Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is performing more like a June release than your typical August afterthought. Surpassing all early projections, the sci-fi vehicle took in an estimated $54 million from 3,648 locations for an easy number one at the US box office.
|1||Rise of the Planet of the Apes||$54,000,000||$54|
|3||Cowboys and Aliens||$15,748,000||$67.3|
|6||Harry Potter 7b||$12,160,000||$342.8|
|7||Crazy, Stupid, Love||$12,100,000||$42.1|
|8||Friends with Benefits||$4,700,000||$48.5|
As late as Friday afternoon it looked like Rise of the Planet of the Apes would top out around $40 million. Believe it or not that was seen as a win for a film that initially seemed limited by its nebulous place in a long-standing franchise (is it a prequel? a reboot? a stand-alone pic?) and by the fact that its lead character was something other than human. Earlier in the week many were predicting an Apes debut in line with Super 8, which launched in June with $35.4 million but went on to top $125 million domestic off a budget of just $50 million.
Then came that big opening day of $19.75 million, which not only eclipsed the $12.1 million first Friday of Super 8 but also the $14.2 million opening of the last notable August sci-fi hit: District 9. Suddenly it seemed like Fox’s apes would rise… all the way above the outer boundary of anyone’s expectations: $50 million. That would make the latest Apes release comparable to the studio’s own X-Men: First Class (which pulled in $55.1 million over its first weekend two months back) and much closer to the debut of the last entry in the long-running franchise than anyone imagined.
Way back in July 2001, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes reboot opened with $68.5 million: one of the highest opening weekends of that particular year. Of course Burton’s apes would fall (off by 60% the very next weekend) but, a decade later, the franchise seems destined for much better multiples. First, Rise has good reviews (81% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to Burton’s 45%) and word of mouth on its side (estimates saw almost no decline Friday to Saturday). Second, its budget of $93 million may be higher than Super 8’s but it is damn near thrifty compared to the $160 million plus of First Class and last weekend’s Cowboys and Aliens. Third, the film may not boast 3D but its Andy Serkis-meets-Avatar effects are almost sure to bring in increased revenue for Apes overseas (the film went day and date around the world but international figures are not yet available).
If the importance of international audiences was the major theme of this summer’s box office, here in the US the summer of 2011 saw a boom of a different sort: the R-rated comedy. Of course, after this weekend we might have to include an asterisk when mentioning that fact. That’s because Universal’s The Change-Up – which gamely tried to turn the R-rated trend to its advantage in recent marketing – only managed a fourth place opening. With an estimated $13.5 million from 2,913 locations, the body-switching comedy from Wedding Crashers director David Dobkins and The Hangover scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore underwhelmed. Despite massive press done by stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, the film had a debut weekend that was not much higher than what fellow R-rater Bad Teacher saw on its opening day alone. Add in a much larger budget of $52 million (compared to the $20 million of Teacher) and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 20% and I’d say the reign of the summer R-rater is over.
On a more positive note, this week saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon become the third title of 2011 to break one billion in worldwide grosses (after Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2). The combined power of Tf3 and HP72 also helped this July become the most lucrative month in box office history with just under $1.4 billion.
In more modest (but no less welcome) news: this weekend the domestic box office extended its winning streak to four in a row – which I believe is the longest period we have stayed ahead of 2010 levels all year. Next weekend the streak will most likely break, however. The Help opens on Wednesday to give it room before the weekend’s three other newbies crowd in. Even with all the choices I’m not sure if any title (including Final Destination 5) can top 2010’s The Expendables and Eat Pray Love combo. We’ll see.