box office dawn of the planet of the apesFor the past few weeks, box office observers (including this column) have been worried about a big summer slump. After all, summer revenues are down nearly 20 percent compared to the same point last year, and the overall take for 2014, which was ahead of the previous year's earnings in April, has since fallen to 4 percent below 2013's numbers. Last weekend's Independence Day haul was the lowest since 1999, when Will Smith had a rare bomb with "Wild Wild West."

Not that there have been many huge flops this summer, just a series of high-priced disappointments that earned well below expectations, from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" to "Transformers: Age of Extinction." That lackluster streak has left pundits wondering whether there's still enough time and enough potential hit movies in the pipeline for 2014 to catch up to 2013. Would this weekend's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" spark a turnaround?

The short answer is no, though "Apes" did even better than expected, debuting with an estimated $73.0 million on a weekend with no other new wide-release competition. (Experts had predicted an opening in the high 60s.) The long answer is: even if "Apes" wasn't enough to rescue summer all by itself, summer may not actually need rescuing.

It's all a matter of skewed perspective, argues Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for tracking firm Rentrak. "If we weren't comparing to the record-breaking summer of last year, it would seem like a normal type of summer with some hits and some misses," he told"But when week after week, we're compared to the massive results from a year ago that propelled a record summer, then no question we're going to be lagging behind." He added: "Fast forward to next year, and this will all be a thing of the past. It's cyclical."

Certainly, "Apes"' bigger-than-expected opening is a healthy sign. And there are others. Overall, this week's box office receipts were up 12 percent over last week's. The movie "Tammy," which was expected to fall steeply in its second weekend, slipped just 40 percent to an estimated $12.9 million, for a total so far of $57.4 million. Indie musical "Begin Again" cracked the top 10, nearly quadrupling its screen count to 939 and earning an estimated $2.9 million (good for ninth place), for a three-week total of $5.3 million. And Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" -- the much-praised experimental film shot over the course of 12 years of its growing star's life -- earned the second-highest per-screen average of the year ($71,800). It's only playing on five screens so far (for a debut totaling $359,000), but its strong debut bodes well for its expansion nationwide.

If Dergarabedian is right, then the most encouraging sign for a recovery this summer is the way he talks about last summer. If you recall, last summer was marked by a number of high-profile flops, including "R.I.P.D." and "The Lone Ranger." There were so many expensive duds that even Steven Spielberg was warning that the whole studio distribution system was just one or two mega-flops away from collapse. And yet it turned out to be a record-breaking $4.8 billion summer, one whose hits ("Man of Steel," "Monsters University," "Despicable Me 2," "Iron Man 3," "World War Z") we remember as benchmarks for this summer and whose failures we have all but forgotten.

Photo courtesy Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Movie Poster
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Based on 48 critics

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