‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Marks Disney’s Big Return to the Box Office

It’s been a while since Disney has gone this long without putting a big-budget tentpole in theaters, but it is finally stepping into the blockbuster game in 2024 this weekend with 20th Century’s “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.”

Disney hasn’t been entirely absent from theaters this year, releasing the horror film “The First Omen” and bringing “Star Wars: Episode I” back for a 25th anniversary re-release. But last year’s strikes forced the delays of higher-profile titles like Pixar’s “Elio” and Marvel Studios’ “Deadpool & Wolverine,” the latter of which is coming out at the end of July rather than the start of this month.

Now, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is getting released in a scenario that many other Disney films have found themselves in: with the box office needing a jolt. With Universal’s “The Fall Guy” needing to leg out just to break even, box office totals have fallen back to the low levels seen prior to the release of “Dune: Part Two” over the last three weekends.

“Apes” won’t have a “Dune: Part Two”-level launch, but it is projected for a respectable start in the low $50 million range. That’s slightly below the $56.2 million opening that its 2017 predecessor, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” made before inflation adjustment.

“War” went on to gross $146.8 million domestic and $490.2 million worldwide, well below the $710 million global count for the series’ top grosser, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” but a solid return against a $150 million budget.

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” which carries a reported $160 million budget, will try to match the performance of “War” with the help of premium formats, receiving full-scale marketing support from Imax. The film is also continuing the “Apes” reboot saga’s trend of consistently strong reviews from critics, earning an 86% Rotten Tomatoes score at the time of writing.

Combined with a projected $80-90 million international opening this weekend, “Kingdom” is in line to be a box office success for Disney after a 2023 in which several films like “The Marvels,” “Wish,” and “Haunted Mansion” were tentpole busts.

The question is whether it will have a box office run in the neighborhood of “War for the Planet of the Apes” or if it can stretch to the franchise record held by “Dawn.” That will likely come down to how successfully Disney has been able to convey to moviegoers that it is not necessary to watch the previous “Apes” reboot films to understand “Kingdom.”

Set “many generations” after the events of the reboot trilogy released by 20th Century Fox, “Kingdom” follows a new ape protagonist, Noa, as he seeks to free his clan from a warlord who has named himself after Caesar, the hero of the previous “Apes” films who has now become a mythic figure even as the details of how apes rose and humans fell from dominance have been lost to time.

As seen with the struggles of some of last year’s Marvel films, audiences are showing aversion to “homework” franchise sequels that require knowledge of several previous installments to truly enjoy. While familiarity of past “Apes” films will enhance the enjoyment of “Kingdom,” it can be enjoyed on its own merits.

Another advantage that “Kingdom” has is that while it maintains the melancholy tone of the “Apes” series, it is nowhere near as bleak as many past installments both before and after the reboot. With sweeping shots of beautiful forests reclaiming the ruins of human civilization and a plot about a young ape coming of age and rising up against a tyrant, “Apes” sets up a new saga that could go in a different direction than the one established in Charlton Heston’s 1968 classic.

If that can get uninitiated moviegoers off the fence, it could give the film stronger legs even when Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa” hits theaters on Memorial Day weekend.

It would also get Disney off to a big start with a summer slate that is heavily shaped by IP it acquired from the merger with 20th Century Fox five years ago. Along with the first “Apes” film under its ownership, Disney will release “Alien: Romulus” in August while “Deadpool & Wolverine” is paying off years of fan anticipation of seeing Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (characters from Fox’s “X-Men” universe) make their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut.

Beyond James Cameron’s wildly popular “Avatar” series, it has been unclear just how much value 20th Century is bringing to Disney’s theatrical endeavors. This summer will go a long way to clearing that up.

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