'Apes' goes bananas, jolts 'Jurassic' at B.O.

America went bananas for “Planet of the Apes” this weekend, launching 20th Century Fox’s update of the sci-fi classic to a nonholiday record $69.6 million in estimated box office.

As the second-best three-day bow ever, “Apes” fell just short of becoming history’s king of the jungle. Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” grossed $72.1 million over Friday-Sunday of 1997’s Memorial Day weekend.

U’s latest dino sequel, “Jurassic Park III,” fell 56% from its opening frame to $22.5 million in second place this weekend. Fall repped the seventh consecutive weekend in which a No. 1 opener failed to hold the top spot in the following frame.

Still, “Jurassic Park III” — an estimated $92 million production — boasts an impressive 12-day domestic cume of $124.8 million. And with a whopping 3,438 engagements, it’s no surprise the pic fell far this weekend, U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco argued.

Many theaters booked “Jurassic Park III” on two or more screens, boosting pic’s print count to almost 5,000 — a level once considered unthinkable. The onset of such super-wide releasing means pics often burn off a bigger portion of potential audience in opening days, Rocco said.

“When you open a film on 5,000 screens, it is inevitable the dropoff is going to be significant, as we have seen this summer with so many films,” she said.

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder, while “giddy” over the huge “Apes” bow, acknowledged a hairy second-week drop could be in the offing.

“If we only have a 40% drop next week, we’ll be dancing in the aisles,” Snyder said. “But I think it’s got to be bigger, because there was such a sense of urgency to see it on the first weekend.”

Indeed, the biggest “Apes” grosses came on its opening day, followed by a 1% drop on Saturday and an estimated 20% falloff penciled in for Sunday. Boffo three-day perf came despite critical reviews running mostly mixed to negative.

“Apes” auds skewed 54% male — less than expected — and with 62% of patrons over age 25, pic has “lots of room to grow,” Snyder said. He credited helmer Tim Burton and topliner Mark Wahlberg for pic’s 800 pound gorilla of a bow.

“The younger people weren’t really familiar with the original,” the Fox exec said, “so I think a lot of this is based on Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg and what they brought to the party.”

Career bests

Bow was a career best for both. Wahlberg next can be seen in Warner Bros.’ pop-music drama “Rock Star,” which opens wide Sept. 7.

“Apes,” produced for an estimated $100 million, bested a previous nonholiday record bow marked earlier this year by U sequel “The Mummy Returns.” Opening — staged in a studio-record 3,499 theaters and 5,800 screens — was a best ever for Fox.

“They really have a long tradition of success in sci-fi films,” observed Tom Borys, prexy at B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Fox franchises in the genre include “Star Wars,” “Alien” and “Cocoon.” But despite killer perf and pic’s sequel-friendly ending, a Fox spokeswoman said the studio “hadn’t started the process” of developing another “Apes” project.

Bananas cream ‘Nutty’

Monkey mania provided industrywide B.O. with some heft this weekend, as frame’s $155 million repped a 17% uptick over the same frame last year, when “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps” opened at $42.5 million. Sesh also marked 2001’s best weekend so far.

Year-to-date, ’01 is 6% ahead of last year at $4.61 billion in total B.O., according to EDI data.

Meanwhile, “Apes” tread a bit less heavily on Sony/Revolution Studios’ ensemble laffer “America’s Sweethearts.” With topliners including B.O. darling Julia Roberts, pic wooed an estimated $15.7 million for a 48% soph-sesh drop in third place.

“Given what’s been going on, I think it’s an above-average hold,” Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake said.

‘Blonde’ still buff

In fourth place, MGM laffer “Legally Blonde” grossed $9 million for a scant 19% drop in its third weekend. And Fox’s “Dr. Dolittle 2″ shed only 5% in its sixth frame for a $4.2 million perf in sixth place to move cume to $100.8 million.

DreamWorks’ computer-animated phenom “Shrek” similarly refused to go away, with laffer poking its green-ogre head into the 10th spot after two weeks out of the B.O. top 10. Pic’s three-day perf of $1.7 million in its 11th sesh raised domestic cume to a year-best $255.5 million.

There were no other wide bows this weekend, but Fireworks/Goldwyn laffer “Greenfingers” grossed $71,000 in a limited release on nine Gotham and L.A. theaters for a fertile $7,908 per-venue average.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fine Line’s transsexual musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” measured $115,000 in 11 theaters for a good-natured $10,455 average a week before expanding to 40 engagements.

Vivid ‘Ghost’ frame

MGM/UA’s quirky laffer “Ghost World” grossed $128,000 in eight Gotham, L.A. and Seattle locations for a full-blooded $16,000 average en route to adding 14 theaters in seven markets Friday.

Artisan’s mob laffer “Made” made $631,000, as it added 19 engagements for a total of 105 and concocted a per-theater average of $6,009. And Firstlook’s laffer “Bread and Tulips” grossed $30,000 as it unspooled in a single Gotham venue.

Next weekend, wide openers include New Line’s sequel actioner “Rush Hour 2,” Disney’s G-rated “The Princess Diaries” and MGM’s period melodrama “Original Sin,” starring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie. Miramax bows its director’s cut “Apocalypse Now Redux” in exclusive Gotham and L.A. engagements.

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