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Andy Serkis transforms into Caesar in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’
20th Century Fox

NEW YORK — Monkey business still pays. War for the Planet of the Apes took down Spider-Man: Homecoming at the box office, opening with an estimated $56.5 million in ticket sales.

Though a closer race was expected initially, Spider-Man dropped to second with $45.2 million after making its debut last weekend with $117 million. Director Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes pulled away thanks to strong reviews for the third installment of the rebooted Apes franchise. Led by Andy Serkis’ celebrated motion-capture performance as the ape leader Caesar, War for the Planet of the Apes won a 95% fresh rating from critics on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Apes led something of a summer anomaly: There is an unusual confluence of acclaimed films in release. Five of the top six at the box office (Apes, Spider-Man, Baby DriverThe Big Sick and Wonder Woman) boast Rotten Tomatoes approval ratings of 92% or better, and the sixth (Despicable Me 3) was largely received as a solid-enough family release.

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Peter Parker (Tom Holland) juggles his school life and superhero existence in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming.’
Sony

Summer, rarely a critics’ paradise, is suddenly flush with good movies.

“What I think sets the Planet of the Apes, these three films, apart from other franchise films, is that it’s not gratuitous sequel-itis,” said Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox’s distribution chief. “This is storytelling, and it’s episodic storytelling. It’s not ‘Well, let’s put the band back together.’ “

But there were also hints of franchise fatigue for the Apes series. Reeves’ latest edition came in closer to 2012’s Rise of the Planet of the Planet of the Apes, and well below the $72.6 million debut of 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film, which cost about $150 million to produce, added $46 million overseas. (Spider-Man: Homecoming was still king in foreign markets, where it added $72.3 million to bring its global haul to nearly $500 million.)

Animated sequel Despicable Me 3, with the voices of Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig, pulled in $18.9 million in its third week, bringing its cumulative total to $188 million. Edgar Wright’s music-driven crime caper Baby Driver followed with $8.8 million; its three-week gross is $73.2 million.

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Kumail Nanjiani stars in a film based on his true story in which an interracial couple tries to persevere despite their cultural differences but everything changes when one of them contracts a mystery illness.
USA TODAY

The weekend’s other most notable new entrant was Kumail Nanjiani’s acclaimed romantic comedy The Big Sick, which expanded to about 2,600 theaters after three weeks of limited release. The film, produced by Judd Apatow, made $7.6 million — a rare success for a comedy in a summer full of disappointment.

Horror film Wish Upon was the weekend’s only other new release. It opened with $5.5 million and a dismal C grade from audiences on CinemaScore.

Next weekend may well continue the streak of well-reviewed summer releases. Christopher Nolan’s World War II thriller Dunkirk lands in theaters following rapturous early reactions.

Final figures are expected Monday.

Contributing: Kim Willis

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Soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France fight against the German Army on the beaches of Dunkirk during the early stages of World War II.
USA TODAY NETWORK