Box-Office Preview: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' Aims to Scare Away Summer Blues

The critically acclaimed sequel is on track to eclipse the $54.8 million opening of 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"; Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" launches at the specialty box office.

All eyes are on Fox and Chernin Entertainment's sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to shore up the North American box office after a dismal Fourth of July holiday.

Prerelease tracking suggests the critically acclaimed sequel could approach or cross $60 million in its debut, although tracking has been notoriously unreliable this summer (Fox is estimating between $55 million and $60 million). In August 2011, origin pic Rise of the Planet of the Apes bowed to roughly $54 million.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best-reviewed tentpole of summer, sporting a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of early Wednesday.

Directed by Matt Reeves, the sequel returns Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar the ape, who has decamped to the forest of Marin County with hundreds of other genetically evolved apes and primates. When they are threatened by a band of humans who have survived a worldwide plague, a fierce divide erupts regarding whether peace can be restored, or whether war is the only way to determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

The sequel, costing an estimated $170 million to make, opens three years after origin movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes reinvigorated the iconic franchise. That film, directed by Rupert Wyatt, took in a strong $481.8 million at the worldwide box office, including $176.8 million in North America.

This time out, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Enrique Murciano and Kirk Acevedo are featured in the human cast. Reeves directed from a script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on the characters created by Jaffa and Silver.

As with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel is drawing widespread praise for its use of motion capture. It's also being released in 3D.

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Hollywood is hopeful the weekend will restore some balance to the domestic box office, where Fourth of July weekend revenue was down a steep 44 percent from last year, leading to a summer revenue decline of nearly 20 percent.

Overseas, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins its initial assault, rolling out in 28 territories, including major markets Australia and South Korea. The tentpole is waiting to roll out in many larger markets because of the bottleneck created by the World Cup.

Peter Chernin's Chernin Entertainment developed and produced both Ape movies.

The specialty box office sees the launch Friday of Richard Linklater's high-profile indie drama Boyhood, for which he won the best directing award at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival following the film's world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Boyhood, starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane, was shot intermittently over a 12-year period in order to chronicle the story of boy as he grows up in a divorced household. IFC Films opens the drama in New York and Los Angeles. The film had a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of early Wednesday.

Sundance entry Land Ho! also makes its debut in Los Angeles and New York. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the adventure comedy, a U.S.-Iceland co-production.