'Apes' Rules Planet

Box Office * Tim Burton's 'Planet of the Apes' takes over theaters with a $69.6-million opening, the year's biggest debut.


As the superior simian creatures in "Planet of the Apes" might say, audiences "went human" for Tim Burton's foray into action adventure, resulting in an eye-popping, three-day estimate of $69.6 million--the best debut of the year and the second-biggest three-day total ever, trailing only "The Lost World's" $72.1 million in 1997.

Along with "Pearl Harbor," this very loose, $100-million remake--starring Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter--of the 1968 ersatz classic was one of the most anticipated titles of the summer. And while it drove some critics up a tree, the highly recognizable title, playing on 3,500 screens, proved to be an irresistible draw for fans, appealing heavily to the over-25 crowd (62% of the audience, more than half of them male), many of whom remember the original and its four sequels.

The exit reaction was, in a word, "great," according to Bruce Snyder, head of distribution at 20th Century Fox.

The $25-million grossed by "Apes" on its first day was the best Friday ever for any movie and pumped some much-needed muscle into summer ticket sales for the last weekend of July, bulging attendance almost 18% ahead of last year. According to box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, the top 12 movies grossed a cool $143.4 million, based on weekend estimates.

At least for the time being, flesh-and-blood movie actors should be less concerned about being supplanted by computer-generated replicas on screen than by other species such as apes--or dinosaurs. After biting off more than $80 million in its first five days in theaters, "Jurassic Park III" reached the $100-million island Thursday night and then, predictably, headed south--by about 56%--in its second weekend as the more-evolved "Apes" dominated.

Still, "JPIII" grossed an estimated $22.5 million, bringing it up to almost $125 million in just 12 days. As with most sequels, the first-weekend haul should represent a hefty chunk of the film's total revenue. The same yardstick may apply to "Apes," as well, since this coming weekend the Homo sapiens will fight with another big-budget sequel, "Rush Hour 2," starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. The weekend after that comes the randy comedy "American Pie 2."

And don't forget talking pets like "Cats & Dogs," which continued to delight the kiddies, taking in another $4.5 million in its fourth weekend for sixth place, lifting it past $80 million. The chattering critters in "Doctor Dolittle 2" are also proving irresistible, as the Eddie Murphy comedy crossed $100 million on Sunday, aided by the estimated $4.1 million gross in its sixth weekend--a drop of only 13%.

"America's Sweethearts," the ensemble comedy starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack, also got mauled by "Apes," dropping 48% to $15.7 million in its second weekend. But with a 10-day total of nearly $60 million, the Hollywood satire should probably hang in long enough to become another of Roberts' $100-million-grossing titles.

The third weekend for "Legally Blonde," starring Reese Witherspoon, was quite perky, with only a 19% drop, grossing approximately $9 million for a 17-day total of around $60 million--not bad for a movie that cost less than $20 million to make.

In fifth place, the heist drama "The Score" managed to withstand the "Apes" siege, grossing an estimated $7.1 million in its third outing and nearly $50 million so far.

"The Fast and the Furious" is not over yet, grossing an additional $3.8 million, lifting it to $132 million. In ninth place, "Scary Movie 2" faded to a $2.6 million estimate and a total of $67 million in its first month. Still loitering in the top 10 after 11 weeks is the lovable ogre "Shrek," which took in about $1.7 million for a year-leading total of $255.5 million.

Among specialized films, the British comedy "Greenfingers," starring Helen Mirren and Clive Owen, blossomed to a nice $71,000 start on nine screens in New York and Los Angeles. Jon Favreau's wanna-be mobster comedy, "Made," expanded to 105 theaters and pulled off $631,000 for a three-week total of about $1.3 million.

The quirky comedy "Ghost World" is slowly catching on with $128,000 in its second weekend on eight screens in three cities and $305,000 to date. And the rock drama "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" grossed $115,000 on 11 screens for a two-week total of $367,000.

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