A bold scheduling move from November to August paid off big for 20th Century Fox’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which swung atop the worldwide B.O. with $77.4 million.

“Apes” earned most of its debut from the U.S., with an estimated $54 million, and saw an astonishingly small 1% dip from Friday to Saturday. Overseas auds contributed $23.4 million, which is reason for optimism as the pic expands since only four of the pic’s 25 debut territories (Australia, Russia, Spain and Taiwan) are among the top 15 international markets.

The Fox pic’s opening tally is even more impressive considering August was once deemed a B.O. slow period both domestically and abroad. Not anymore: Consider Sony’s $45.2 million overseas expansion of “The Smurfs,” which was topped only by a miraculous fourth-week showing by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” posting $61.8 million for an overseas cume of $791.1 million. Globally, pic’s tally is at $1.13 billion, making it the third-highest grosser ever after “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

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Domestic totals were up 22% overall vs. the same frame in 2010.

Universal, however, ended its summer (following hits like “Fast Five” and “Bridesmaids”) with a pair of disappointing pics, “The Change-Up” and “Cowboys and Aliens.”

“Change-Up” landed in fourth place with an estimated $13.5 million — in line with pre-weekend tracking but still lower than any of this summer’s five previous R-rated comedies. Meanwhile, “Cowboys and Aliens” struggled in its soph sesh, earning an estimated $15.8 million. Its perf was bettered by “Smurfs,” which grossed $21 million for a Stateside cume of $76.2 million. “Cowboys” has totaled $67.4 million.

At the specialty B.O., Oscilloscope’s apocalyptic romance “Bellflower,” a Sundance pickup, debuted at two locations, averaging a solid $12,000 per screen. Pic already has booked more than 200 theaters in U.S., with an additional 300 set throughout early September.

Samuel Goldwyn’s political thriller “The Whistleblower” also bowed in limited release, posting a fine per-screen average of $8,300 from seven engagements. Distrib plans to expand the film into the top 10 U.S. markets on Friday.

Risky monkey business

As with “X-Men: First Class,” Fox took a considerable risk in reinventing the “Apes” franchise. But positive word of mouth helped propel awareness for both.

Chris Aronson, senior VP of domestic distribution for Fox, said strong buzz for “Apes” was fueled by better-than-expected critical response. “We’ve had reviews that highlight just how groundbreaking this movie really is,” Aronson said. “Plus, we have special effects that never have been seen in service of a great story.”

“Apes” posted a tad less than what “First Class” earned opening weekend ($55.1 million) — a notable achievement for “Apes” since “First Class” launched in June. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was originally skedded for June, then pushed to November to allow more time for special effects before Fox skedded it for August in hopes of creating a tentpole.

So far, “First Class” has tallied $351 million worldwide — a tall order for “Apes” to reach, since the film has a shorter summer window. But given the pic’s reported $93 million budget (not including P&A costs), boosted by a positive A- CinemaScore rating, “Apes” will likely end up a profitable venture for Fox.

As the first “Apes” pic in a decade, it wasn’t clear how much resonance the 40-year-old franchise would have with younger viewers. (Fox’s Tim Burton-helmed offering launched in 2001 with $108 million domestically). “Apes” skewed slightly more heavily to adult and male filmgoers.

U’s “Change-Up,” however, brought in mostly women, at 59%, with an even split between moviegoers over and under 25. “Apes” could see more turnout among under-25 auds over the coming weeks, with 79% of K-12 students still on summer vacation as of Friday. “Change-Up” will have more a limited potential aud given the pic’s R rating.

Summer’s R overload

“Change-Up,” toplining Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, is the sixth R-rated comedy to bow this summer, which could have contributed to the pic’s soft bow, according to U.

Of the bunch, Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover Part II” has done best with a cume of $253 million, though U’s first raunchy laffer, “Bridesmaids,” became the season’s standout performer, legging it out to $165 million. Even “Bad Teacher” and “Horrible Bosses” (the summer’s third and fourth R-rated comedies, respectively) reached beyond $100 million in U.S. grosses.

For that reason, U is holding out hope for “Change-Up” as it enters holdover mode.

“Ryan and Jason have amazing chemistry in this film, and we’re optimistic that people will respond to that in the coming weeks,” said Kori Bernards, senior VP of media relations for U. “These kinds of films often find their way with audiences.”

“Change-Up” launches internationally on Aug. 11, but American comedies typically don’t travel well overseas. (“Bridesmaids” has done exceptionally well with $89.9 million overseas; “Horrible Bosses” has totalled $24.9 million from 32 markets in three weeks.)

“Cowboys,” which dropped an overall 57%, didn’t become the summer tentpole U had hoped, while “Smurfs” (off 41% domestically) successfully kickstarted a new franchise for Sony.

Rory Bruer, prexy of worldwide distribution at Sony, said “Smurfs” is performing particularly well in Europe and Latin America, led by Brazil ($6.7 million) and France ($5.9 million) as the film’s top two markets.

Also doing solid business overseas, Warner’s “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” bowed in China with an estimated $25.5 million for the “Potter” franchise’s highest opening at the Chinese B.O. Meanwhile, despite losing 3D screens to “Potter,” Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” held well in China, grossing $6.9 million for a boffo local cume of $137 million after just three weeks.

Par’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” with $27.5 million over the weekend, crossed the $100 million mark internationally, boosted by a strong $2.5 million opening in Spain.