The sequel "Dawn of the Planets of the Apes" ruled the box office in its opening weekend in the United States, grossing an estimated $73 million, which easily made it the number one film that weekend. The 20th Century Fox release capitalized on weaker competition and outstanding reviews to eclipse the opening weekend take of its predecessor, 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." It also points to a franchise in the making, with the likelihood of several more "Planet of the Apes" movies that much greater.
When 20th Century Fox decided to reboot the "Planet of the Apes" franchise in 2011, there was some skepticism from box office forecasters as to whether the gamble would pay off. Director Tim Burton failed to successfully reboot the franchise with his version of "Planet of the Apes" in 2001, making the next attempt less than a decade later all the more risky. However, thanks a fine starring turn by James Franco, strong direction from Rupert Wyatt and a compelling story, "Rise" enjoyed a $54 million opening weekend in the U.S. and a healthy worldwide gross of $481 million.
The studio limited its gamble with "Rise," keeping its budget at $93 million. However, with "Dawn," Fox decided to go all in, spending more than $175 million on the sequel. Even with a budget nearly double that of the original, box office estimates tracked "Dawn" in the $60 to $65 million range on its opening weekend. The film easily surpassed that mark, even besting the estimates of its own studio.
In addition to its healthy U.S. box office gross, "Dawn" earned $31.1 million overseas, with many large markets still to come. This points to the possibility that "Dawn" will surpass "Rise" in worldwide box office, a major surprise for a sequel.
Right Film, Right Time
The summer of 2014 has not been stellar for Hollywood. While there have been fewer out-and-out bombs than in 2013, there have also been fewer major successes. "Dawn" was able to take advantage of the lack of strong competition to earn big box office grosses in week one. It is also one of the few movies to exceed opening-weekend projections this summer.
With only a few exceptions ("X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Edge of Tomorrow"), most films have left critics cold this summer. That is not the case with "Dawn," with many critics citing it as the best wide-release film of the season. This surely played into the decision for audiences to check out the highly acclaimed movie. Indeed, studio tracking indicated that opening-weekend audiences were evenly split among those over and under the age of 25, meaning that the movie has drawn interest from all types of audiences.
With "Edge of Tomorrow" leaving theaters quickly in June, there has been a dearth of interesting science fiction offerings in July. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is filling that niche. It helped tremendously that the director, Matt Reeves, brought the same intense energy that made his film "Cloverfield" a hit in 2008. Critics have lavished praise on the film's special effects and its story. The fact that "Dawn" is receiving glowing reviews for its look and its content means that it is a major hit all around.
Interestingly, the second film in the rebooted "Planet of the Apes" series actually mirrors the fourth film in the original "Planet of the Apes" series, 1972's "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes." That film, directed by J. Lee Thompson, opened to mediocre reviews but managed to become a modest hit, grossing $9.7 million against a $1.7 million budget. Thompson made one more "Planet of the Apes" film, 1973's "Battle for the Planet of the Apes," before the series went dormant for nearly two decades.
It appears as if the rebooted "Planet of the Apes" series shows no signs of stopping thanks to the success of "Dawn." Indeed, 20th Century Fox has already staked out a release date of July 29, 2016, for the next film in the series. Matt Reeves is scheduled to return as director, further raising the potential for success for the third film.
It appears as if Fox has made the right call to reboot the "Planet of the Apes" movies, as the studio is investing money in strong special effects and compelling storytelling. Audiences are responding in droves, sending an encouraging sign to Hollywood that well-made movies do not go unnoticed, particularly against less-than-stellar competition. With "Dawn" earning some of the best reviews of any film in the "Planet of the Apes" franchise — including the classic 1969 original — it seems as if those involved have found the right formula for success.