'Apes' Rules Planet


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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