Now that War for the Planet of the Apes has played in theaters for about a month, it's time to take a look at its box office performance to see how big a hit it was for Fox. Few film franchises in the 21st century have been as pleasantly surprising as the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, which starred Andy Serkis as Caesar - a highly-intelligent ape who struggles to find his place in society and eventually becomes a Moses-like figure for his kind. Many were skeptical of the first installment, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it became a sleeper hit thanks to its emotional story and state-of-the-art visual effects. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, set a new high for the property, grossing $710.6 million worldwide.
With two acclaimed entries under their belts, Fox was confident this summer's War for the Planet of the Apes would be able to continue the hot streak, positioning it as one of their tentpoles. From a critical perspective, the trilogy finale managed to rival its predecessors (read our review), but it's been lagging behind commercially at this point in its run. As business slows down for the sci-fi drama, we're going to analyze the numbers to see it War can be qualified as a box office success.
Back in 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes made an impressive $72.6 million in its opening weekend, but War was never expected to reach that figure. The earliest projections indicated a haul of around $65 million during the first three days, but the actual results were even below that. Debuting in mid-July, War for the Planet of the Apes made $56.2 million, which was high enough to top Spider-Man: Homecoming and win the weekend, but was a step down for a series that had garnered excellent word-of-mouth. Recent studies have found Rotten Tomatoes scores influence whether or not audiences see a film in theaters, so some felt War's 93% rating should have led to a more fruitful weekend. Planet of the Apes has never been one to break box office records, but there was a noticeable gap between War and Dawn.
In the weeks since, War struggled to stay afloat. During the film's second weekend, it took a sizable 62.9 percent drop, having to contend with Christopher Nolan's acclaimed World War II drama, Dunkirk. As of this writing, War has made $137.7 million domestically, which trails the $160.1 million posted by Rise at the same point in its respective run. Surprisingly enough, it seems unlikely War will be able to reach or top the Stateside total of Rise, which was $176.7 million. In the late summer/early fall of 2011, Rise stayed in the top 10 on the charts for seven consecutive weeks, holding steadily as the buzz built. War is already out of the top 10 five weeks into its release and didn't have nearly as strong legs. It's no longer in high demand and should continue to slide down.
This is an illustration of how timing can be everything for a film's prospects. Both Rise and Dawn were fortunate enough to not face much competition. The former, which premiered during the typically slow time of August, essentially had the multiplex to itself for an extended period of time, as it didn't face many other high-profile genre offerings. In the case of the latter, it arrived in the wake of the critically-panned Transformers: Age of Extinction and was able to really stick around for a few weeks before Guardians of the Galaxy took over theaters. In contrast, War went toe-to-toe with the beloved Homecoming in its first weekend and then was no match for Dunkirk during its second frame. The combination of the MCU's return and an early Oscar contender proved to much for Apes. Additionally, the comedy Girls Trip surpassed expectations, which made it difficult for War to stand out.
So, in the United States, War for the Planet of the Apes is poised to go down as the lowest-earning installment of the trilogy. However, that doesn't mean it's a box office failure. There are several examples of films that struggle domestically, but are boosted to profitability thanks to the worldwide gross. Fox will be hoping something similar is in store for Caesar and company, but the figures there aren't exactly what they're looking for, either. And it could cause the studio to rethink the future of the franchise.