Box Office Guy: War for the Planet of the Apes

Patrick Reardon

After a slew of unnecessary sequels (I'm looking at you Transformers and Jack Sparrow!) and questionable reboots (Mummy, Alien, etc.) summer movie season has largely been a dud thus far. But with a nice bounce back for the "Spider-Man" franchise last weekend (22% increase over the previous spidey flick) things are looking up a bit. And this weekend it looks like moviegoers will be treated to a worthwhile sequel in the form of "War for the Planet of the Apes." But will Caesar and company build upon the previous "Apes" movies or will franchise fatigue get to them as well?

The "Planet of the Apes" franchise has a long and eccentric history at Twentieth Century Fox. Thanks to some groundbreaking make-up effects and a surprisingly game Charlton Heston, the original "Apes" was a surprise hit for Fox in 1968 (grossed an estimated $220m when adjusting for inflation). The film spawned four sequels in the early 1970s. While these sequels weren't as successful as the original, they were still profitable for Fox. But after 1973 the series took a long hiatus.

Despite a lot of rumored remakes over the years (including one with Arnold Schwarzenegger) the "Apes" franchise laid dormant until 2001 when director Tim Burton brought the property back to life. Burton's take on the material was a financial success ($68.5m opening, $180m domestic total) but many felt the film was sorely lacking from a creative standpoint. It definitely falls into the category of "seen by many, loved by few." Fox decided not to produce any sequels to Burton's film and they were back to the drawing board.

Flash-forward a decade to 2011 and Fox was finally ready to reboot their sleeping franchise. Whereas all of the previous "Apes" films featured human actors wearing simian costumes, this new take would feature CGI apes (based on the movements of actors in motion capture suits). Based on the work of Weta Digital (Gollum from "Lord of the Rings," plus several other CG creations) and with significant advances in VFX technology, Fox was convinced that this was the way to go. This gamble paid off as "Rise of the Planet of Apes" opened up with $54.8m on its way to a solid domestic total of $176.8m. Even more surprising was that the film was well reviewed and even spawned a best supporting actor campaign for Andy Serkis' motion capture performance as Caesar. Not only was a sequel a given because of its financial success, but audiences actually wanted a sequel (this isn't always the case).

In 2014 "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" improved upon the success of its predecessor with a $72.6m opening and a domestic haul of $208.5m. Once again, there was an "Apes" film that delivered both financially and creatively. With this success it was clear that audiences would get a proper part three to wrap up this trilogy. But will this new chapter be able to pull off the hat trick?

Based on the early buzz, "War for the Planet of the Apes" is just as good (if not better) than its predecessors and delivers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Fox is so confident with what they have that they lifted the critic embargo weeks ago, which is a rarity these days since social media can now help sink a movie before it's released. Logically speaking "War" should be able improve upon the performance of "Dawn," right? Unfortunately the movie business rarely works logically.

This weekend I believe "War" is going to take a slight dip from "Dawn." This says more about the state of the movie business than it does about the perceived quality of "War." Once you get outside of the Marvel cinematic bubble, sequels have had a rough go of it over the past two years. Here are just a few sequels from the past 18 months that have failed to outperform their predecessor: "The Fate of the Furious," "Star Trek Beyond," "Jason Bourne," "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Independence Day: Resurgence," "The Conjuring 2," "Cars 3," ‘Despicable Me 3," etc. Trust me, this list could be a LOT longer.

The combination of sequel fatigue, competition from the second weekend of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and a high price tag (FB$705) will likely prevent "War" from being a great FML lineup anchor this weekend. I think it opens up somewhere between "Rise" and "Dawn" (at about $60m). I think there are better potential anchors out there in terms of value (i.e. "Spider-Man," "Despicable Me 3"). So while I plan to see "War" this weekend it's very unlikely I'll play it unless the Thursday night number blows me away (I'm not going to hold my breath).

The only other wide release this weekend is the horror movie "Wish Upon." This hails from the director of "Annabelle" and might as well be called the "Horror Movie of the Month For July" (it's being released just about a month after June's "It Comes at Night"). It's priced in a way that is daring you to play it (FB$92). Normally I'm hesitant to disregard a horror movie, but I'm leery here. Not because of the content, but because of the distributor.

"Wish Upon" is being distributed by Broad Green Pictures. They've been around for two years and have distributed fifteen movies. But only three of those releases went out wide and none of them have been horror movies. Their best opening thus far was the Robert Redford & Nick Nolte geezer comedy "A Walk in the Woods" in 2015 ($8.2m opening). In order to be relevant "Wish Upon" probably has to make $8m or more to compete for the bonus. Until Broad Green establishes some sort of track record in genre films I'm not going to trust them. Although horror movies are always a candidate to over-perform I'm not a believer in "Wish Upon."

With "War For the Planet of the Apes" priced so high, it comes down to either "Spider-Man" or "Despicable Me" as my anchor. Based upon the second weekend drops of recent Marvel films ("Captain America: Civil War" -60%, "Guardians Vol. 2" -56%, "Doctor Strange" -50% and "Ant-Man" -56%) I expect "Spider-Man" to fall about 55%.

Even though "Despicable Me 3" dropped a steep 54% last weekend, I expect it to stabilize due to the lack of other options out there for small children. "DM3" isn't a sexy anchor but I think with "War" and "Spider-Man" going after a similar audience they may cannibalize each other just enough to benefit Gru and company.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. War for the Planet of the Apes (FB$705)
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming (FB$586)
3. Despicable Me 3 (FB$201)
4. The Big Sick (FB$143)
5. Baby Driver (FB$93)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Wonder Woman" It dropped a very respectable 43% in its second weekend (after a monster $103.3m opening weekend). Since then it's had weekend drops of 30%, 40%, $37% and 38% respectively. These are pretty remarkable holds, especially when you factor in all the new competition it has faced every week. If this trend continues "Wonder Woman" should find itself in bonus contention with a thrifty cost of FB$68. And at this rate it could end up as the highest grossing film of the summer.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend brings us a potential Oscar contender and a potential Razzie contender. In one corner is Christopher Nolan's World War II epic "Dunkirk" and in the other corner we have Luc Besson's "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." I'll let you figure out which one is the Oscar contender. Also opening wide is "Girls Trip" which will try to succeed where "Rough Night" struggled earlier this summer.

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