The monkey business is a good business to be in at the box office.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" roared to $73 million on its opening weekend, one of the summer's best debuts, according to studio estimates Sunday. The 20th Century Fox sequel easily surpassed the $54.8 million opening to 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," the reboot of the fabled chimp franchise.
In a summer heavy on hype but thin on quality, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has proven to be one of the few hits that combined both spectacle and substance. Directed by Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield"), the 3D "Dawn" has drawn enthusiasm from critics and moviegoers alike, particularly for the motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis as the film's lead ape, Caesar. In the film, Caesar's tribe suspiciously encounters a colony of surviving humans on a planet overrun by intelligent apes.
Jason Clarke and Keri Russell also star as more peaceful humans looking for a way to coexist with the apes.
During a recent red carpet premiere Russell told CBS News, "There was enough serious hardcore monkeying going around that there didn't need to be any funny monkeying going on."
"When you get the kind of reviews we got and the audience actually agrees, it's the kind of rare thing where critics and audiences come together and say this is a great movie," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution at Fox.
A sequel to be directed by Reeves is already in the works to further extend the franchise that first began with 1968's "Planet of the Apes," based on Pierre Boulle's French novel. Four movies followed in the 1970s, as well as a failed 2001 reboot by Tim Burton.
But "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" will easily dwarf previous installments. It added $31.1 million overseas from 26 markets, for a global opening gross of $104.1 million.
"If every summer movie had this kind of release, that would be amazing," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak, praising the film's intelligence, entertainment value and marketing. "It combines all the elements of what a smart summer film should be."
After two weeks on top, the Michael Bay action sequel "Transformers: Age of Extinction" slid to second with $16.5 million. Its three-week domestic total is now $209 million for Paramount. The Melissa McCarthy comedy "Tammy" came in third with $12.9 million. Though bad reviews have dampened the response to McCarthy's latest, the relatively low-budget release has made $57.4 million for Warner Bros. in two weeks.
The big opening for "Dawn" helped give the summer box office a shot in the arm, but it wasn't enough to stop an overall downward trend. The weekend's box office was down nearly 24 percent from the corresponding weekend last year, according to Rentrak. The summer overall is down 20 percent from last year, which was a record season for Hollywood.
The thinness of the summer schedule is a big reason for the drop. Whereas last year had multiple big-budget releases jockeying for position against each other, many weekends this summer have had little blockbuster competition. Last year's same weekend featured the openings of "Grown Ups 2" and "Pacific Rim," in addition to recent holdovers like "Despicable Me 2" and "The Heat."
Instead, the most notable other new release this weekend was Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," an independent film Linklater shot over 12 years to capture the natural aging of his cast. One of the most acclaimed films of the year, the IFC Films release opened in five theaters for a robust $76,000 per-screen average.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released on Monday.