Always Darkest before the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
By David Mumpower
July 13, 2014
After several straight weekends of overall box office disappointment, North American exhibitors finally claimed a huge win. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, entered a woeful marketplace and quickly established itself as the apex predator. Its dominance was so complete that it claimed over half of overall ticket sales this weekend, thereby making a monkey out of the competition.
With an estimated $73 million debut this frame, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has capitalized upon the triumphant reboot of its predecessor. In the process, it spiked 33% from the $54.8 million opening weekend of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It also demonstrated once again that even when domestic box office is trending downward as dramatically as it has been this summer, a blockbuster is still a blockbuster.
The primary question today is simple. How did Fox manage to bring relevance to the half-century old Planet of the Apes franchise? The answer, as always, is through quality movies. Consider that the popularity of Planet of the Apes has never been in question. For whatever reason, this premise and its evaluation of the value of humanity has always resonated with mainstream movie-goers.
To wit, the Tim Burton project from 2001, the one we all mock for its lackluster quality and absurd ending, inflation adjusts to an opening weekend of $96 million. Soon afterward, word spread about its flaws, which explains why its total domestic gross of $180 million barely surpasses the $176.8 million of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that opened $14 million lower while being released during an era of shorter theatrical runs. Had Burton’s movie been better, there would have been many more Planet of the Apes movies already in the 2000s.
In a clever move by Fox, they eschewed more famous directors when starting from scratch after the Burton fiasco. They selected a virtual unknown named Rupert Wyatt to reboot the franchise. He rewarded their gamble with a stellar movie that is 82% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes while claiming a 7.6 rating at IMDb. Perhaps due to lowered expectations created by the Mark Wahlberg film, the universal reaction to the James Franco fell into the category of “so much better than I had expected." The respect gained by that outing played dividends this weekend.
Then again, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was its own selling point. The advertising cleverly emphasized the growing divide between humans and their soon to be simian overlords. The tease of an evolution war created pre-release excitement. The glowing reviews sold fence sitters on their urge to watch on opening weekend.
The film is currently 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which is exceptional for any movie but especially so for an action blockbuster with a $170 million budget. Its A- Cinemascore indicates that these early adopters went home satisfied. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is well positioned for an extended run in North America. Given the fact that Rise of the Planet of the Apes earned 70% more overseas than domestically, its sequel is also a slam dunk to become a huge global winner for Fox. It started with $31.1 million in 26 markets, avoiding some high profile debuts to avoid conflict with today's World Cup finale.