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July 14, 2017

'Apes' aims to go out with a bang

The most under-the-radar success story in Hollywood concludes this weekend

"War for the Planet of the Apes" 

Science fiction was not a respected or even especially profitable genre of cinema in the mid-20th century.

Two films released in 1968, however, changed all that. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece,2001: A Space Odyssey,” is the one that posterity would remember but it was actually “Planet of the Apes” that initially made more money.

The picture, starring Charlton Heston, became a surprise success for 20th Century Fox by making $32.5 million dollars off a $5 million budget.

As a result, Fox rushed out four more films to increasingly diminishing returns. The franchise was seemingly dead but the studio never fully gave up on it.

Over the years, directors as diverse as James CameronPeter JacksonMichael Bay, Roland Emmerich, Chris Columbus and Sam Raimi were approached by Fox to resuscitate the franchiseFor a time, Oliver Stone was hired to oversee the project. In fact, pre-production very nearly began on a $100 million adaptation featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1995, but Fox wanted a funnier script.

These efforts culminated in 2001, when Tim Burton’s remake hit theaters with a $68M opening weekend. Although the film finished with $180M domestic and $362M worldwide, it was bashed by critics. Audiences weren’t thrilled either and its ending became as infamous as the original’s was celebrated.

So when Fox went back to the well 10 years later with an original story starring James Franco, who was fresh off his Oscars-hosting fiasco, even those who made the film were skeptical.

Furthermore, this new iteration would revolve around an Ape named Caesar as the protagonist, with Andy Serkis playing the character through motion-capture. Serkis is beloved by film geeks for his work as Gollum and Snoke in the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises, respectively, but it was an open question whether such a performance could carry a movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes” caught everyone by surprise then, when it opened with $54 million. The reboot, which scored an impressive 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, had strong legs and ended up grossing $176M domestic and $481M worldwide.

The success led to a 2014 sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The follow-up had a different director, a new human cast and was set 10 years after its predecessor. Those changes ultimately didn’t matter and they actually might have helped.

Powered by a 90% RT score, “Dawn” opened with $72M on the way to eventual domestic/worldwide totals of $208M/$710M.

Now the trilogy will conclude with “War for the Planet of the Apes” with Woody Harrelson joined Serkis’ Caesar. Matt Reeves, director of “Dawn” and the upcoming Batman solo movie, is also returning.

Early reviews are just as strong, if not stronger, than the first two with “War” currently sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s tracking for about a $60 million opening weekend.

Only Spider-Man stands in the Apes’ way. After overperforming last week, “Spider-Man: Homecoming ” is set to make another $50 million or so during its second swing.

The Apes films are targeted to a bit of an older audience, so while it’ll still be hampered a bit by the latest MCU blockbuster, it should also be able to hold its own.

Prediction: $61 Million

“Wish Upon”

The only other nationwide release hitting theaters is “Wish Upon,” a horror film from John R. Leonetti.

Leonetti’s last outing “Annabelle” was a major hit, bringing in $84 million in North America and $256 million around the world. That was a spin-off of the highly successful Conjuring franchise, though, rather than an original feature.

The $12 million budgeted release comes from the resuscitated Orion Pictures and Broad Green Pictures, which could really use a hit right nowWith the horror market open at the moment, the last big release was “It Comes At Night” a month ago, there’s no real genre competition.

“Wish Upon” is not being screened for critics, a common tactic for horror films as they generally aren’t well-received.

Prediction: $5 Million

Nick Field is the former Managing Editor of PoliticsPA and is a regular PennLive Opinion contributor. A Bucks County native, he graduated from American University in Washington, D.C.