Forecast: 'Apes' Sequel Swings In to Theaters This Weekend
Friday AM Update: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes earned an estimated $4.1 million from Thursday night shows beginning at 10 p.m. That's a significant improvement on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which earned $1.25 million at midnight.

Unfortunately, it doesn't compare favorably to recent releases. That number is less than half of the Thursday night openings for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Godzilla and Spider-Man benefited from 7 p.m. showtimes, though Transformers was essentially in the same position as Apes.

Another unflattering comparison: on the same weekend last year, Pacific Rim scored $3.6 million from late Thursday shows. For the weekend, the movie wound up with just $37.3 million.

Apes should still be safely over $50 million for the weekend. But the odds of it breaking out to over $75 million now look slim.

Forecast: Coming off the slowest Fourth of July in over a decade, the box office should get a boost from one of the Summer's most-anticipated movies this weekend.

Playing at 3,967 theaters (3,133 with 3D), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should at least match its predecessor's $54.8 million debut. With goodwill from that movie and some of the best reviews of the year, it's possible that Dawn actually opens quite a bit higher than that.

The original Planet of the Apes earned $32.6 million in 1968 and spawned four sequels that arrived yearly from 1970 to 1973. Those follow-ups received mixed responses and dwindling box office returns, and the franchise was retired from the big screen for nearly three decades.

The 2001 remake, directed by Tim Burton, set a July opening weekend record with $68.5 million, and ultimately earned over $180 million total. The movie received poor marks from critics and audiences, though, and a sequel never came together.

A decade later, 20th Century Fox gave it another try with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Instead of relying on men in suits, the apes were brought to life with the performance-capture technology utilized on movies like Lord of the Rings and Avatar. The mix of strong effects and a character-driven story yielded surprising results: the movie was one of Summer 2011's biggest hits with $176.8 million.

Three years later, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up where Rise left off. The apes have established a community in the woods north of San Francisco, while the human population has been all-but-extinguished by the virus that was unleashed in the last installment. As a result, Dawn has a grimy post-apocalyptic aesthetic that helps differentiate its visually from the more vibrant original.

Another significant change is that Jason Clarke is replacing James Franco as the human lead (though Gary Oldman has been a bigger part of the marketing). That move shouldn't hurt Dawn, though, because the real star of the show here is Caesar. Andy Serkis' motion-capture performance was a stand-out in the first movie, and marketing for this movie suggests that Caesar is even more central this time around.

Marketing has also gone a long way to set up a clear conflict between the apes and humans. A war appears to be brewing, and it's definitely not a cold one: imagery of apes riding horses and firing assault rifles indicates that this will be more action-oriented than the first movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should also get a bit of a boost from strong reviews: as of Thursday afternoon, it was hovering around 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which would be the highest score yet for a major release this Summer.

Still, the movie does have some drawbacks. Its dark palette, intense violence and lack of humor will make it a very tough sell with family audiences. It's also the latest franchise movie in a Summer packed with franchise movies; are audiences going to rush out for this one the way they did with Spider-Man, X-Men and Transformers? Probably not.

Fox is expecting mid-to-high $50 millions, which would be a bit better than the last Apes movie ($54.8 million). Fandango's data is a bit more optimistic: the online ticket seller is reporting that Apes sales are on-par with last year's World War Z, which opened to $66.4 million.

This is the latest movie this Summer for which the domestic box office will only represent a small slice of the pie. Rise of the Planet of the Apes earned $305 million in 2011, and that was without 3D premiums. With three years of expansion in the international marketplace (China in particular) and the addition of 3D, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is essentially guaranteed to earn over $400 million internationally.

While Apes is the only new nationwide release this weekend, there is one nationwide expansion. After earning $2.2 million in two weeks of limited release, Begin Again expands to 939 locations this weekend. It's likely that it cracks the Top 10 with between $3 and $4 million this weekend.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood opens in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. The acclaimed movie follows a boy's life from age 6 to 18; to accomplish this effect, Linklater shot a few days each year over a 12-year period. The movie's strong publicity campaign has emphasized this unique approach to filming, and has subsequently made this one of the most buzzed-about independent movies in quite some time.

The movie is also receiving extraordinary support from critics: with around 70 reviews tallied, it has a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. All of this suggests that Boyhood is going to do massive business in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. While the 166-minute runtime will limit the number of shows, it will almost certainly average at least $50,000 per-theater (possibly much more).

While it's possible that the movie becomes a word-of-mouth hit from here, there are a few data points worth noting. Linklater's last movie, Before Midnight, received similarly strong reviews and had an established fanbase thanks to predecessors Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It ultimately wound up with a modest $8.1 million.

Meanwhile, distributor IFC Films is one of the biggest companies in the independent film world, though they aren't really known for breakout hits: in the past decade, their highest-grossing movie was Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams ($5.3 million). Of course, they also handled My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which earned $241.4 million in 2002.

Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how Boyhood performs as it expands throughout the country over the next few weeks.

Forecast (July 11-13)

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - $70 million

2. Transformers 4 - $17.7 million (-52%)

3. Tammy - $12.8 million (-41%)

-. Begin Again - $3.3 million

Bar for Success

Even with cynicism surrounding the tarnished brand, Rise of the Planet of the Apes still managed to open to $54.8 million in August 2011. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ought to be selling at least as many tickets; with the addition of 3D pricing, this needs at least $60 million this weekend.

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