Box Office Wrap: Going Ape for Rise of the Planet

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AP / 20th Century Fox

Caesar the chimp and James Franco, in a scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Monkey see, monkey wow! Rise of the Planet of the Apes earned $54 million at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates, to win the box office weekend. That's a decent amount for a summer action movie: just above Green Lantern's $53.2 million and below X-Men: First Class's $55.1 million, for 10th place among the top 15 weekend openers since late April. But it's a sensational figure for a movie that industry savants had forecast would bow to less than $40 million. Flinging those predictions against the multiplex walls like so much feces, Rise attracted audiences from all demographics and a luminous A-minus rating from CinemaScore's survey of exiting moviegoers.

Preoccupied with Rise, the theatergoing public kept its filthy paws off The Change-Up, in which mild-man Jason Bateman switches bodies with wild-man Ryan Reynolds. The season's latest, lamest R-rated comedy premiered to a weenie $13.5 million to finish in fourth place, behind last week's photo-finishers The Smurfs (holding well at $21 million) and Cowboys & Aliens (collapsing like a drunk in a Western saloon with $15.8 million). Other potty-brained farces have bloomed this season — The Hangover Part II earned $253.3 million at North American theaters, Bridesmaids took in $166.4 million, Horrible Bosses $105.2 million and Bad Teacher $97.5 million — but the turgid returns for Friends with Benefits and The Change-Up suggests that, after a busy summer, the fanciers of gross-out comedies are all grossed out.

This weekend, anyway, they preferred watching more serious monkeyshines of the Planet of the Apes species. The 1968 original, starring Charlton Heston in a world of damned dirty apes, spawned two sequels, two prequels, two TV series and a 2001 remake directed by Tim Burton that enjoyed a first weekend of $68.5 million (nearly $100 million at today's ticket prices) and a worldwide total gross of $362.2 million. Rise is a reboot of the franchise and arguably a remake of the 1972 Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which featured a chimp named Caesar with a human caretaker and a secret simian insurgency. This time the human friend is James Franco, and Caesar is actor Andy Serkis — not in a prosthetic monkey mask but in motion-capture scans that turned Serkis into a realistic chimpanzee with human feelings and an above-human intellect. The sensational CGI work brought audiences in; the strong story and climactic ape vs. cop face-off on the Golden Gate Bridge sent them out happy.

Complementing its high CinemaScore rating, Rise garnered respectful reviews, for an 81% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "It's not just surprising but kinda shocking," wrote Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood, "that TIME magazine declared this '2011's Best Film So Far.' " Surprising, shocking and kinda untrue, since TIME's very favorable review called Rise only "the year's finest action movie."

In Indieland, The Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz as a U.N. observer protesting a sex-traffic racket, earned an O.K. $58,100 in seven theaters; Bellflower, Evan Glodell's hallucinogenic end-of-the-world buddy art film, opened to a strong $24,000 at two sites; and Raoul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon took in $11,500 at two venues — pretty good for a 4½-hr. movie in Portuguese, though it may not birth a 43-year movie franchise.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, $54 million, first weekend
2. The Smurfs, $21 million; $76.2 million, second week
3. Cowboys & Aliens, $15.8 million; $67.4 million, second week
4. The Change-Up, $13.5 million, first weekend
5. Captain America: The First Avenger, $13 million; $143.2 million, third week
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, $12.2 million; $342.8 million, fourth week
7. Crazy Stupid Love, $12.1 million; $42.2 million, second week
8. Friends with Benefits, $4.7 million; $48.5 million, third week
9. Horrible Bosses, $4.6 million; $105.2 million, fifth week
10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, $3 million; $344.2 million, sixth week