Whichever way you look at it, studio Fox has succeeded in positioning Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a bigger movie event than its 2011 predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn’s opening weekend of £7.1m plus £1.61m in previews compares with £4.73m plus £1.1m in previews for Rise. But it’s in the overall context that Dawn really scores. In summer 2011, Rise scored the sixth-biggest opening of the summer (excluding previews), behind the final Harry Potter film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Inbetweeners Movie. This year, if previews are similarly excluded, Dawn has posted the second biggest opening of the summer so far – and, in fact, of the year – behind only X-Men: Days of Future Past, with £7.55m plus £1.59m in previews.
Three years ago, Fox was attempting to reboot a seemingly ailing franchise that had come unstuck with Tim Burton’s less-than-fully-achieved 2001 Planet of the Apes. With Rise, it delivered a film that enjoys a robust 7.6 IMDb user rating and a decent 68/100 score at MetaCritic. The film’s final UK gross of £20.77m is a healthy 4.4 times its opening weekend figure – suggesting solid appreciation by cinemagoers. Dawn is now building on that platform.
The loss of James Franco from the franchise, with lesser-known star Jason Clarke now performing the lead human character, has had no impact. Fox savvily moved Andy Serkis‘ simian character Caesar into pole position, building on fan appreciation for him in Rise. Fox executives will happily note that future sequels are not dependent on rich pay deals for surviving cast members, suggesting Apes as that rare blockbuster asset that is not weighed down by significant profit participants. On the other hand, it’s questionable whether audiences would line up so enthusiastically for more Caesar films that lack Serkis’ digitally captured performance.