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Why Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes Blew Everyone Away At The Box Office

"Planet of the Apes" was one of Hollywood's first major sci-fi franchises, spawning a series of sequels, a TV show, a children's animated series, comics, books, and a steady stream of merchandise. It was the subject of an ill-fated reboot in 2001, but found renewed success starting with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in 2011. Now, after three hit films in the 2010s, the franchise is back with "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes."

The fourth film in the current cycle is set generations after the previous movie and shows the results of mankind's war with apes. The world is in ruins, humanity has fallen down the food chain, and ape society has prospered, even though the truth about its origins has been mostly lost to time. But all of that changes when an ape named Noa discovers a human woman (Freya Allen), whose ability to speak throws his entire belief system into doubt. The emergence of a power-mad ape named Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) — who leads an attempt to use ancient human technology to amass wealth and power — signals a fight for the very survival of their society.

Released to great fanfare, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" wasn't a guaranteed hit, but proved itself a worthy successor to the previous films. Amassing a strong opening weekend around the world, the film tallied an impressive $130 million in global grosses. How did it manage such a feat in a difficult time for theatrical movies? Read on to find out.

Spring is here and audiences are eager to get to the movies

Going to the movie theater can appeal to audiences at any time of the year; in the dead of winter, it's a nice excuse to get out of the house without having to brave the elements too much, while in the harshest heat of summer, it's a convenient way to stay cool. But spring might be the best time for moviegoers: the dreary cold days are over, the sun is shining, and that means people are happier and eager to go out. There's a reason, after all, that studios plan their biggest movies for the sunniest months of the year.

While studios used to focus most of their attention on the summer, the past decade has shown that pushing releases up into spring resulted in some of the biggest movies of all time, as with "Avengers: Endgame" and "Furious 7" both being released in April. "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" split the difference with a mid-May drop, which may have been the sweet spot — kids are coming close to the end of the school year, but the weather isn't nice enough yet to send folks on summer vacations. As a result, people may be feeling more excited to go to the theater, and "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" seems to be reaping the rewards.

Franchises can still rule at the box office

If the last 10 years have taught us anything about the state of the movie business it's that nothing is a safer bet than a sequel to a successful film. Better still, fully-fledged franchises are only getting bigger, even if there's growing concern about people getting tired of Marvel movies and other properties — like "Fast and Furious," "Transformers," or "Mission: Impossible" — aging out as well. 

Yet even if audiences are growing bored with many film series, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" demonstrates that a blockbuster franchise follow-up can be a great movie and sell a whole lot of tickets while impressing viewers with jaw-dropping special effects and a good story. Reviews from both critics and audiences have called out the luscious cinematography, suspenseful narrative and lifelike CGI, which only seems to keep getting better since the previous three "Apes" movies earned back-to-back-to-back Oscar nominations for VFX. 

Despite the film's strong box office opening, it remains to be seen if "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" can have enough box office legs to strengthen the franchise even further. 

It's the rare fourquel to earn its own existence

Franchises can be big business in theaters — and it's true that studios are increasingly reliant on them for regular revenue. But all too often, it seems, franchises run out of steam after a few movies but keep pumping out lesser sequels. It feels like studios, producers, writers, and directors keep going purely due to box office potential, rather than feeling the real creative drive to continue a story. We've seen examples of such fourth movie slumps with the likes of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, and more recently, the woefully disappointing "Thor: Love and Thunder." 

"Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes," by contrast, does the fourquel right, and its story provides a real motivation for the series to continue. It starts the story anew by flashing forward into the future and introducing a whole new cast of characters, both human and ape alike. The story completely alters the status quo, with apes now in firm control of the planet and humans de-evolving into a race of primitive — almost ape-like — people, unable to fend for themselves and barely able to communicate. Ultimately, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" works to subvert the notion that a franchise can't stay fresh after four movies, and audiences are responding. 

Fans finally get a true Planet of the Apes

When the franchise returned in 2011, it took "Planet of the Apes" back in time further than some probably expected (see the full series timeline here). Rather than being set in a world where primates run the planet, it began in the present and showed how genetic experiments led to human-like apes with a desire to rebel. The two sequels explored the fallout of that experimentation as an ape uprising forced humanity into a decades-long war between the two sides.

Unlike its direct predecessors, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" has a lot in common narratively with the groundbreaking original 1968 sci-fi classic, and that's surely a principal part of its appeal. For the first time, we see a world ruled by apes, who have their own society and have largely forgotten that humans were once the dominant species on the planet. Despite the popularity of the three previous films, and no matter how good they were, "Kingdom" presents the kind of story that longtime fans of the franchise have been eager to see, which may have helped bring audiences to theaters.

With a central character named Nova — a human girl clearly invoking the feral woman Nova from the original film — there are more than just surface-level parallels, too. A primitive ape civilization, humans living as animals, and a battle for the soul of the planet of the apes — fans looking to recapture the spirit of the first movie are finally getting what they always wanted.

The drama remains important, even if it isn't human

In 2000, director Tim Burton tried to revive the "Planet of the Apes" series by turning it into an action-packed science fiction roller coaster ride. That didn't quite work out well enough, so in 2011 it came back with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a smaller-scale, character-focused drama, and it soared. That trend continued with the next two sequels, and "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" ups the ante even further — by focusing mainly on ape rather than human drama.

The first two movies in the rebooted series focused more heavily on the humans, with the third entry, "War for the Planet of the Apes" splitting the narrative just about equally between both sides. But "Kingdom" puts the spotlight almost entirely on the apes themselves, with almost the entirety of the conflict played out between the ape characters, while a young woman named Nova provides the biggest human role. This helps set it apart from the previous three movies, and gives audiences further insight into ape society in a world where humanity has been all but erased. 

Because of the focus on apes, the film is able to get away with much more heavy-handed social commentary and political allegory. For some it may be a bit too unsubtle, but because it's centered on an almost alien-like society, it works well, and is just the kind of story that today's politically motivated mass audience can latch on to.

Theaters aren't what they used to be

The year 2020 did a number on most of society, and really threw the film industry for a loop. Since that fateful year, the theatrical business has changed radically, with many audiences not showing the same passion for going to the cinema as they once did. Though theaters have rebounded since 2020, it's been a slow process, with national ticket sales still lagging behind where things stood pre-COVID. Some believe that things will never get back to 2019's "normal," with the days of routine $100 million opening weekends perhaps over for good.

Nevertheless, as a franchise entry heavy on special effects and timed as a tentpole release, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" is capitalizing on general audiences' reluctance to go to the cinema. Since dramas aren't drawing crowds at movie theaters anymore, this gives a big sci-fi movie like "Kingdom" a window where it can attract moviegoers who might not ordinarily take a trip to the theater for a smaller movie in the current post-COVID climate.

While the reduced movie landscape is helping the film stand out in cinemas, its solid opening weekend is also providing the entire industry with a boost, especially with "The Fall Guy" bombing at the box office just a week earlier.

The series waited for the right time to return

Movie studios prefer not to wait too long between their big franchise releases. Look no further than "Star Wars": since 2015, Disney has dropped a new "Star Wars" movie every year between 2015 and 2019, while also releasing five new live-action TV shows with more on the way. But this desire to pump out new movies and TV shows can lead to serious franchise fatigue, and that kind of burnout can leave fans less excited to head to the movies. 

But "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" seems to have waited just the right amount of time to come back, with seven years elapsing since "War for the Planet of the Apes" in 2017. Admittedly, some of the delay was due to factors outside of the studio's control. Just as COVID-19 put Hollywood on hold, Disney's buy-out of 20th Century Fox in 2019 similarly slowed the development of franchises like "Alien," "Predator," and "Avatar," among others. 

Whatever the reason, the seven-year wait was enough to allow moviegoers to miss the franchise, while not waiting quite so long as to make them forget about it either. Similarly, younger audiences who saw the first three movies are now old enough to view the series with a bit of nostalgia, giving it a double-edged appeal. 

Critics praised Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

All three previous "Planet of the Apes" films in this cycle — "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and "War for the Planet of the Apes" — received glowing reviews from critics. In fact, each movie got progressively better critical scores on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, topping out at an eye-popping 94% for "War" in 2017. That, combined with its 84% audience score, left the series off on a high note while giving fans full confidence that they wouldn't be let down when they sat down to watch a sequel.

Though "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" mustered just an 80% critics score (as of this writing), it's enough to tell prospective audiences that this is another solid entry in the franchise. Sure, the power of professional movie reviews isn't what it used to be. But they're still a decent barometer for ticket-buyers to determine that there's at least some potential for greatness when they purchase their tickets. Meanwhile, the audience score of 79% is close enough to the critics' take that it underscores how professional reviews shouldn't be discounted.

Of course, there remains enough time for both critic and audience scores to change in either direction. But as it stands, its solid scores were enough to drive awareness and interest, helping to shoot "Kingdom" to the number one spot on its opening weekend.

Did Disney's influence affect the movie?

While it's likely that the seven-year gap between "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" was enough to make fans miss the franchise, it's also possible that the real-world events of the past seven years managed to get "Apes" perking up their ears as well.

In 2019, Walt Disney Studios took control of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise after buying 20th Century Fox, and it was fair for fans to wonder what its new owners might do with the property. Given Disney's family-friendly nature, would sequels de-fang the story and make it more palatable for younger viewers? Or would they give the filmmakers the same long leash and free reign to go wherever they wanted? That question was perhaps enough to get many moviegoers curious to get to theaters and see for themselves.

"I was excited as this has been the best franchise, but also a little wary since it's the first 'Apes' movie since Disney took over," read one fan review on Rotten Tomatoes. "I was pleasantly surprised how well it kept with the previous trilogy." If that sentiment is representative of the larger audience, it's no wonder the film had success — it answered the fans' questions in a positive manner, and the dollars came pouring in.

Kingdom faced weak box office competition

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" did well on its opening weekend was the film's surprising lack of competition. That was somewhat unexpected both because May is typically a big month for blockbusters, and because the last two "Planet of the Apes" movies faced off against tentpoles like "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "Spider-Man: Homecoming."

"Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes," however, had very little to contend with: not only was it the only major movie on its opening weekend, but the previous week's default winner, "The Fall Guy," tanked hard with audiences. Of course, "Kingdom" may have to deal with a big release in its second weekend, with the arrival of the Ryan Reynolds-led "IF," a family film from director John Krasinski that is already gaining box office buzz. But with "Kingdom" being the only adult action movie in the marketplace until "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" comes out a week after that, the "Apes" sequel has a chance to stash away some real dollars in the days ahead.

What the success of Kingdom means for the future

Now that "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" has answered the question of whether it would be a hit considering its seven-year layoff and all the changes we've seen to cinemas since 2017, the next question is what this renewed success means for the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. For starters, it's a solid bet we'll get another sequel. While director Wes Ball is interested in coming back, don't expect him to remake the original "Apes" movies just yet.

"There's so much story to tell," Ball told IndieWire, adding that he's already got ideas about further exploring the relationship between the human Nova and the ape leader Noa. But for Ball, it's more than just continuing to tell the story of those characters. "What I like about the franchise is that these movies hold up a mirror to our society, the things we're going through," he said. "And we get to look at ourselves and see humanity through these apes' eyes." With the box office success of "Kingdom," along with the ambiguous ending that left plenty of story left to be told, it's a fair bet that Ball will get a chance to utilize that mirror again.