Apes Smite Smurfs to Top Box Office
By John Hamann
August 7, 2011
Ten years after Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg almost destroyed the Planet of the Apes franchise, those damn dirty apes are back, looking to reboot a series that was born in the late 1960s. In last weekend's wrap column, I was not high on this reboot – the trailer had me questioning just how the heck these apes managed to take over the world – and had me wondering how James Franco continues to get work. Regardless, as reviews started to roll out, my perception on this one changed. I think the same happened for audiences, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes broke out this weekend with a very strong and surprising $54 million opening.
When I first started writing this column ten years ago, August box office paled in comparison to the May/June/July extravaganza that was the summer movie going season. When The Sixth Sense opened in August of 1999, everything changed, as Hollywood realized that big money could be made in the eighth month when The Sixth Sense won every single August weekend in '99, and another in September. The following year, Hollow Man opened to $26.4 million - a film that had no right opening to that much. That same year, Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys turned an $18 million debut into a $90 million domestic cume, and a cheerleader movie in the form of Bring It On opened to $17 million.
The writing was on the wall for future years. 2001 was the year box office really made contact. In the first weekend of August 2001, Rush Hour 2 opened to $67 million (with Burton's Apes and The Princess Diaries also finishing that frame with over $20 million). The following weekend, American Pie 2 opened to $45.1 million, and a new summer box office month was born. Since then, we've seen more films debut over $60 million (Signs and The Bourne Ultimatum), one over $50 million (GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra), and more than a handful over $30 million. This weekend, the Apes are back, which means anything goes at the box office.
Our number one film of the weekend is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as Fox's reimagining of the origin of the popular series drew large numbers of fans this weekend, thrashing tracking expectations. Apes opened to a suprirsingly large $54 million, about $15 million more than expected. The James Franco starrer took in $1.3 million from Thursday night previews, and then about $18.5 million on Friday proper. The Friday gross was staggering, as I expected the Friday number to come in at about $10-12 million, and coast to a $35 million weekend. Not so. Rise debuted at 3,648 venues, and carried a venue average of $14,803. I had been curious about a weekend multiplier for this one. While this is a franchise (which could incur frontloading), it has been dormant for ten years. The Tim Burton Ape Mistake (why did you put Heston in it, Tim, why?) had an opening weekend multiplier of 2.7; this time out, up-and-coming director Rupert Wyatt took the helm, and the multiplier came in at 2.73.