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'Apes' top box office; 'Smurfs' hold on to No. 2

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Apes have climbed to the top rung of the weekend box office.

The 20th Century Fox action thriller "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" took in $54 million to open as the No. 1 movie, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That was about $15 million to $20 million more than analysts expected for the "Apes" prequel, though well below the $68.5 million opening of Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake 10 years ago.

Featuring James Franco, Freida Pinto and Andy Serkis, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" tells the story of how lower primates began evolving to take over Earth from humans.

The film was well received by critics, who found it a smarter-than-average summer action flick. Its impressive visual effects rely on performances from Serkis and other actors as the foundation for photo-realistic apes created by digital artists.

Sony's family tale "The Smurfs" remained at No. 2 for the second straight weekend with $21 million, lifting its domestic total to $76.2 million.

Universal's sci-fi Western "Cowboys & Aliens," which debuted at No. 1 a week earlier, narrowly ahead of "The Smurfs," fell to third with $15.8 million, raising its total to $67.4 million.

Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman's comedy "The Change-Up," also from Universal, opened a weak No. 4 with $13.5 million. The movie centers on two old friends -- a successful but frazzled attorney and family man, and a womanizing slacker -- who magically trade bodies.

With $12.2 million domestically and $61.8 million overseas, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" raised its worldwide total to $1.13 billion. In the past week, it became this year's top-grossing global release, passing the $1.04 billion haul of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."


Big bid for Transatlantic

NEW YORK (AP) -- A unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has bid $3.25 billion for insurer Transatlantic Holdings.

Berkshire's National Indemnity Co. is offering $52 per share in cash for Transatlantic. That tops the price the company would get in its agreement to be bought by Allied World Assurance Co.

In a letter released by Transatlantic on Sunday, National Indemnity said its offer isn't subject to due diligence or financing conditions. The company said it wants a formal response from Transatlantic no later than the close of business Monday.

If the offer is accepted, National Indemnity would want a $75 million break-up fee if the transaction did not close by the end of the year.

Transatlantic's board said it would carefully weigh the offer by National Indemnity and asked its shareholders to wait until it has a chance to judge it before taking action. But the company also reaffirmed its recommendation of the deal with Allied World Assurance, which is based in Switzerland.

Berkshire owns The Buffalo News, and Buffett is the newspaper's chairman.


Iran oil takeover urged

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new oil minister says the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard's economic conglomerate should replace foreign oil and gas companies.

Rostam Qasemi told the official IRNA news agency that the economic conglomerate, Khatam-ol-Anbia, should be improved. He didn't elaborate.

Qasemi was the chief of Khatam-ol-Anbia before becoming oil minister last week. He told IRNA that he still feels like he works for the Revolutionary Guard.

Khatam-ol-Anbia is considered the Revolutionary Guard's most important financial unit and is the largest contractor of government projects in Iran.

5-year plan for tallest tower

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- The investment company headed by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal says it plans to complete the world's tallest tower in just over five years time.

The $1.2 billion tower will be roughly two-thirds of a mile (1 kilometer) high. It is part of a $20 billion mega project.

Currently, Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world's tallest tower at 2,717 feet.