The 3D "Apes" movie collected $73 million in ticket sales from Friday through Sunday, according to estimates from Rentrak. "Transformers: Age of Extinction," a sequel that ruled the box office the two previous weekends, dropped to second place with takings of $16.5 million.
"Tammy," a Melissa McCarthy comedy about a fast-food worker who gets fired, claimed the No. 3 spot with $12.9 million.
"Apes" picks up the story of 2011 film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" 10 years later. Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, a brainy ape who leads his species and negotiates their interactions with the few humans who survived a deadly virus.
The films are reboots of the franchise that began with the 1968 classic film about apes that launch a revolution.
"Dawn" debuted stronger than 2011's "Rise," which grossed $54.8 million during its opening weekend. "Dawn" also exceeded pre-weekend forecasts for a debut of $63 million to $70 million at North American theaters. "Apes" added another $31 million in international markets for a global debut of $104 million, according to 20th Century Fox, the unit of 21st Century Fox which released it.
Critics applauded the new installment, with 91 percent of reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website recommending the film.
Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, said the debut was "the perfect box office storm. It's rare when critics and audiences like the same property, but it's not just a summer blockbuster. There's thought and intelligence to this movie," which cost $170 million.
The strong start for "Apes" helped lift summer ticket sales, which remain significantly behind last year. Theaters have rung up $2.484 billion since the beginning of May, down 20 percent from the same period last year, according to Rentrak.
"Transformers: Age of Extinction," starring Mark Wahlberg in the franchise's fourth film, is one of the season's biggest hits and last week became China's highest-grossing movie of all time. Global sales through Sunday reached $752.5 million, according to distributor Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. Comedy "22 Jump Street" finished in fourth place. The film starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as undercover cops collected $6.7 million at domestic theaters over the weekend.
Animated hit sequel "How to Train Your Dragon 2" earned $5.9 million to claim the No. 5 slot.