Box Office Guru Wrapup: Apes Mighty in #1 Debut

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Audiences all hailed Caesar as the primate at the center of the sci-fi prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes conquered the North American box office with an opening that rose well past industry expectations. Conversely, the latest in this summer's parade of R-rated comedies The Change-Up generated a lackluster debut finishing in fourth place. But the overall marketplace remained robust thanks to the incredible breadth of titles. For the first time all year, seven different films made over $10M over the weekend.

Fox scored another solid top spot debut this summer with a franchise origin story as Rise of the Planet of the Apes soared to an estimated $54M opening weekend. Playing in 3,648 theaters, the PG-13 film averaged a muscular $14,803 and ranked as the third best debut of the summer for a 2D-only film after The Hangover Part II ($85.9M) and X-Men: First Class ($55.1M) which like Apes revisited a popular sci-fi franchise by exploring the origins. Both X-Men and Apes were well-liked by critics.

Starring James Franco as a scientist that discovers a way to boost intelligence in chimpanzees, Apes lacked any major starpower and was the twelfth action film of the summer leading to expectations not being too high. But an exciting marketing push and strong reviews helped to spark interest allowing Apes to generate the fifth biggest August opening in history. The new technique of a human actor playing the apes through motion-capture technology created intrigue too. An encouraging A- CinemaScore grade bodes well for the road ahead and next weekend does not have any new action films opening so Rise may not fall the way most pics of this genre do. With a reported budget of $93M, the revenge-against-humans pic got off to a terrific start.

Internationally, Rise debuted in 25 markets and bowed to an estimated $23.4M. Most of the markets were not major. Bigger territories like Germany, France, and the United Kingdom open next week.

Sony's family hit The Smurfs enjoyed a terrific hold in its second weekend dropping only 41% to an estimated $21M for a solid ten-day start of $76.2M. With no new choices for parents, and opening weekend audiences spreading positive word-of-mouth all week, the PG-rated comedy remained the most popular item for kids as they near the end of their summer vacations. Smurfs, which can continue using "#1 Comedy in America" in its ads for another week, should find its way past the $125M mark and could go much higher if it continues to show strong August legs. The pint-sized gang made a big splash overseas where it debuted in much of the world this weekend with an estimated $45.2M from about three dozen international territories for a $52.7M cume including the early launch in Spain. The worldwide tally for the $110M production sits at $128.9M.

After opening last weekend a bit ahead of Smurfs, the sci-fi Western hybrid Cowboys & Aliens fell a much larger 57% in its second outing to an estimated $15.7M giving Universal $67.4M after ten days. The Daniel Craig-Harrison Ford actioner may break $100M domestically, but won't go much higher. That makes for a disappointing run for the expensive $163M budgeted production which involved top-tier Hollywood names like Jon Favreau, Steven Spielberg, and Ron Howard. By comparison, Spielberg's other sci-fi production this summer Super 8 fell by only 39% in its sophomore session after an opening weekend that was about even with Cowboy's. With a much more modest $55M budget, that creature feature broke the $200M global box office mark this weekend.

Opening in fourth place to disappointing results was Universal's body-switching comedy The Change-Up which grossed an estimated $13.5M from 2,913 locations for a mild $4,635 average. It was the latest in a long line of R-rated summer comedies and many moviegoers felt they had enough already. Plus bad reviews told audiences that this was not some special film worth taking another trip to the multiplex for. Ticket buyers have already spent an incredible $760M+ this summer on Crazy, Stupid, Love, Friends With Benefits, Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher, The Hangover Part II, Midnight in Paris, and Bridesmaids. All are comedies aimed at adults, most with R ratings. The Change-Up was too little, too late.

Starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as friends with different lives who swap bodies, the raunchy pic carried a cost of $52M which is high for a comedy. Females made up 59% of the audience while those over and under age 30 were evenly split. A discouraging B CinemaScore indicates a rough road ahead, especially with four new releases hitting theaters next weekend including yet another R-rated comedy, 30 Minutes or Less. Bateman and Reynolds both scored $100M+ grossers earlier this summer with Horrible Bosses and Green Lantern, respectively. But Reynolds is surely having a summer he would like to put behind him as Lantern has been a big-budget dud with only $160M worldwide to date. Cameron Diaz has made more with her comedy Bad Teacher which has banked over $180M globally with only a fraction of the budget.

Close behind in fifth with an estimated $13M was the super hero flick Captain America: The First Avenger which declined by 49% in its third frame. Paramount's domestic total stands at $143.2M. International markets brought in an estimated $27.5M this weekend sending the overseas cume into nine-digit territory with $103M for a worldwide gross to date of $246.2M. Marvel's three-pack of comic book pics this summer - Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America - have now smashed the $1 billion mark in combined global box office. Next summer is sure to be even bigger with The Avengers kicking off the season on May 4 and reboot The Amazing Spider-Man landing on July 3.

Ranking sixth was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which also became the top-grossing global hit of 2011. The final wizard pic dropped 45% domestically to an estimated $12.2M elevating the 24-day total to a massive $342.8M putting it at number 18 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just behind the latest Transformers. Overseas delivered huge numbers again thanks to a robust opening in China. Official estimates were not available for that market but the studio reported a rough count of $25.5M contributing to the international weekend haul of $61.8M allowing the cume to surge to $791.1M. Potter's worldwide total rose to a stunning $1.13 billion surpassing the $1.04 billion of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to become 2011's number one global grosser. In addition, the 3D franchise closer now ranks third on the all-time worldwide box office list behind the James Cameron duo Avatar and Titanic. A final haul north of $1.3 billion seems likely.

A trio of comedies aimed at adults followed. Steve Carell's Crazy, Stupid, Love held up very well in its second weekend slipping only 37% to an estimated $12.1M for a solid ten-day tally of $42.2M. A final gross in the neighborhood of $75M could result for Warner Bros. Sony's Friends With Benefits fell a sharp 49% to an estimated $4.7M bringing the 17-day gross to $48.5M. The revenge tale Horrible Bosses followed with an estimated $4.6M, off 36%, for a $105.2M cume for Warner Bros.

Falling 51% in its sixth round was the worldwide smash Transformers: Dark of the Moon with an estimated $3M lifting the domestic haul to $344.2M. That puts Michael Bay's latest robot warfare flick at number 17 on the all-time list. Overseas, the Autobots film kept rising with an estimated $17.5M for an international haul of $693.5M and a mammoth global gross of $1.04 billion. The biggest market outside of the United States continues to be China which has now banked a stunning $137M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $153.8M which was up a healthy 43% from last year when The Other Guys opened in the top spot with $35.5M; and up 22% from 2009 when G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra debuted at number one with $54.7M.

Follow Gitesh on Twitter: @giteshpandya

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