Universal's 'Change-Up' also opens at box office

On the heels of its successful “X-Men: First Class,” 20th Century Fox launches today another summer franchise rebirth, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which should easily conquer “The Change-Up,” Universal’s second R-rated comedy this summer.

“Apes,” bowing at 3,648 domestic locations, is expected to rise into the high-$20 millions, while U is predicting a more modest result for Jason Bateman-Ryan Reynolds starrer “Change-Up” (at 2,913) in the low-to-mid teens range.

Some rival studios have pegged both pics to do more business, but squishy tracking of late has Fox and U treading carefully.

Fox kickstarted its overseas rollout for “Apes” on Thursday in various markets including Australia and Russia, followed today by India and Spain. “Apes” launches this weekend in a total of 26 territories.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ $1 billion champ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ could easily continue its run atop the international B.O., with help from its China rollout added to the mix. Sony’s “The Smurfs” looks to provide competish in the family arena, though, with the pic expanding to 29 markets, in-cluding Brazil, France, Germany and

Mexico. Last weekend, “Smurfs” bowed day-and-date in Spain with a chart-topping $4.1 million.

Stateside specialty B.O. welcomes Samuel Goldwyn’s Rachel Weisz political drama “The Whistleblower” at seven engagements in New York and L.A., as well as Oscilloscope’s Sundance acquisition “Bellflower,” bowing at two U.S. locations.

Fox had originally planned to release “Apes” in June, but the studio moved the pic to November before finally settling on Aug. 5. The studio attributed the move to August to a desire to benefit from summer play time before youthful moviegoers head back to school.

Approximately 96% of K-12 students are still on summer vacation as of today. Next week that’s expected to drop to 79%, then 55% the weekend of Aug. 22.

But some B.O. pundits question how much “Apes” can benefit from students out of school. Pic is tracking best with males over 25, and there are doubts about how well under-25 auds will respond to a franchise more than 40 years old. (Fox’s Tim Burton-helmed reboot launched in 2001 with $108 million domestically.)

“Apes” has received mostly positive reviews, which could boost word of mouth. Fox also has spent considerable effort tubthumping the film’s Weta-developed special f/x, perhaps hoping to draw in younger auds.

The film, which cost a reported $93 million to produce, stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis as chief simian Caesar, via motion-capture technology.

U said it expects “Change-Up” to draw most support from under-25 femmes, who contributed to the pic’s sizable spike in tracking on Thursday. “Change-Up” also should attract men, especially those 17-25, given the pic’s R rating.

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Budgeted at around $52 million, “Change-Up” marks the summer’s sixth R-rated comedy and the second for Universal, following “Bridesmaids.” That pic, this year’s biggest B.O. surprise, has cumed $165.8 million — more than six times its opening gross.

It’s unlikely “Change-Up” will reach “Bridesmaids” heights (the film has a shorter summer run), but it could perform like “Horrible Bosses” or “Bad Teacher” (both will cross $100 million domestically this weekend). U has sold “Change-Up” in part on the pedigree of “Hangover” scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, as well as “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin.

“Cowboys and Aliens” and “The Smurfs” look to hold steady after their neck-and-neck debuts last weekend. “Smurfs,” with $51.1 million domestically, will likely parlay strong midweek biz into its soph sesh, having already surpassed “Cowboys” ($48.5 million).

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