The war is over and the apes have won — at the multiplex, at least.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second installment of the rebooted sci-fi franchise, stampeded to an easy win at theaters this weekend.
Dawn pawed $73 million, according to studio estimates from box-office firm Rentrak. Analysts expected about $60 million.
The debut marks a solid improvement over its predecessor, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which opened to $55 million and went on to collect $177 million.
Solid reviews and word-of-mouth could propel Dawn, the eighth movie in the ape franchise, to an even stronger run.
"As one of the longest-running franchises of all time, Apes has stood the test of time," says Rentrak's Paul Dergarabedian.
In addition to being an expensive film that utilizes motion capture, director Matt Reeves says 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' is a character story. He tells Carly Mallenbaum he approached the story "as a 'Godfather' with apes." VPC
"Again we see how the quality of the previous film sells tickets to the sequel," says Tim Briody, analyst for Box Office Prophets. "Dawn benefited from some of the strongest reviews of the summer, and in something you don't see often among summer tent poles, the word 'intelligent' is being tossed around."
Briody says the debut "is very good in what's been a relatively disappointing summer season."
Andy Serkis, star of the "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and the film's motion coordinator Terry Notary teach USA TODAY's Bryan Alexander how to walk like a primate. Video produced by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Robert Hanashiro
While kids were the primary focus of 20th Century Fox's advertising campaign, old-school ape fans turned out as well. According to online ticket retailer Fandango, 87% of advance-ticket customers said they'd watched at least one of the five original movies, which ran from 1968-1973.
Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction was bumped from the top spot after two weeks at No 1, taking second place with $16.5 million.
Melissa McCarthy's comedy Tammy took third place with $12.9 million, followed by the sequel comedy 22 Jump Street with $6.7 million.
The animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2 was fifth with $5.9 million.
Final figures are expected Monday.