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Holiday Weekend Box Office Gets Off to Record-Setting Start with 3-D Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood June 30, 2011 at 6:19AM

The buzz has grown to a crescendo on Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Whatever you do, see the movie in IMAX 3-D, because Bay and ILM VFX supervisor Scott Farrar have taken on the challenge of outdoing the 3-D standard set by James Cameron's Avatar and by Jove they've done it. (I saw it at IMAX's own screening room; here's perfectionist Bay's letter to theater projectionists.)
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Thompson on Hollywood

The buzz has grown to a crescendo on Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Whatever you do, see the movie in IMAX 3-D, because Bay and ILM VFX supervisor Scott Farrar have taken on the challenge of outdoing the 3-D standard set by James Cameron's Avatar and by Jove they've done it. (I saw it at IMAX's own screening room; here's perfectionist Bay's letter to theater projectionists.)

By no means does Transformers trump Avatar's storytelling magic, nor will it outpace it at the worldwide box office. But do try to overlook Transformers awful story (please don't let Shia LaBeouf run around again dragging his girl toy amid falling debris; he shows more emotion for his yellow autobot buddy Bee) and instead recall the amazing aerial shots in Bay's Pearl Harbor, with the POV of a falling bomb hitting its battleship target. This Transformers immerses you inside astonishing battles. Shots of soldiers jumping out of helicopters and flying like squirrels toward Chicago skyscrapers, and people sliding down a breaking glass office tower, are breathtaking. Yes, I want to see this movie again. Thus it is no surprise that fans have rushed to see this, and the third Transformers will make a ton of cash--which it needs to do because it clearly cost more than Paramount's claim of $200 million. Challenging Cameron doesn't come cheap. Anthony D'Alessandro dissects the July 4th weekend numbers below:

Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

Director Michael Bay’s three-quel Transformers: Dark of the Moon energized $42.7 million in its Wednesday bow and Tuesday previews from 4,011 venues, an amount that makes Paramount executives as hyper as the director’s style. What makes them so excited? It’s the best opening day in a sluggish year, beating Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tide’s $34.9 million, not to mention it’s a solid start for a film that cost $200 million.

Yet what looks like fireworks, is merely sparks in the history books and it’s questionable whether 3-D is to blame, even though it apparently repped a notable 60% of the gross at 2,700 locales--a boom for a format whose shares have fallen under the 50% mark this year. Transformers 3 is far from an opening day record, filing below its 2009 predecessor Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($62 million). It's also a distant second best for an Independence Day start, trailing behind the holiday’s all-time record-holder The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ($68.5 million), but ahead of 2004’s Spider-Man 2 ($40.4 million) after counting $5.5 million Tuesday nights. By Monday, Paramount is expecting $155-170 million in six days, which is decent tentpole moolah, but still below the July 4th $180-million record of Spider-Man 2 and beneath the $215 million racked up by Transformers 2’s initial six days.

Comparisons to previous openers aren’t difficult to draw because of the calendar and the marketplace: Transformers 3 was clearly intended to be an Independence Day tentpole, and given how the holiday hops around the calendar, studios typically go for a midweek launch to capitalize on business leading up and coming off the holiday. Thus, films touting five to seven days bows have been the norm.

Transformers 3’s first day bodes good and bad for 3-D: On the up side, it’s one of the higher opening bows for a 3-D release and it completely outstrips the first day of its first film which banked $27.9 million in 2-D. Subtracting the $5.5 million from Tuesday night previews, Transformers 3’s $37.2 million charts under the $41.1 million racked up by Disney’s Toy Story 3, the 3-D opening day champ. On the same note, given Transformers 3’s spot in the annals, it’s arguable that 3-D upcharges are still keeping most crowds at bay from Bay’s foray with the format. It’s easy for distributors to poll folks and learn why they showed up at a movie. The hard part is learning why audiences stayed away. From Paramount's point of view: 3-D is a driver at this point in time. Nonetheless, Transformers 3 is in the right place : July 4th is the date crowds associate with this successful series and the lengthy bow allows Paramount to tout the higher figure. Here’s the good news for Transformers 3: Those showing up gave it an A Cinemascore, a big plus over Revenge of the Fallen's B+. Guys and fanboys had their butts in seats at 62%. With 55% of the crowd under 25, Transformers 3 disproves the notion that youngsters have turned their backs on cinema-going this year.

Critics would rather break down in their cars on an L.A. highway than sit through another Transformers film: the latest chapter earned a 36% rotten.

Two years ago, The New Yorker’s David Denby hysterically summarized Transformers 2: “Two sets of leaden-voiced, plastic-and-metal monsters, the Autobots and the Decepticons, having failed to settle their differences over a parking space on an alien planet, fight it out on Earth…. These things can fly, climb, knock over walls, bore holes, change shape back into cars or trucks, dance the cancan in the pre-First World War Folies-Bergère."

But the whole Transformers concept is a studio’s pipe dream come true: The worse the reviews, the more outstanding the grosses. In the end, audiences rule.

Elsewhere this weekend, Universal and Fox are respectively splitting the female demo with Tom Hanks’ second directorial feature Larry Crowne and the feature adaptation of the Julie Bass novel Monte Carlo. As of Thursday morning, it looks as though Transformers 3 is leading the female demo away: Larry Crowne should earn in the lower teens at 2,972 sites from Friday through Monday while Monte Carlo is eyeballing $7-8 million at 2,473. Nothing to worry about here as both pics were cheap and arrived with financers. Vendome bankrolled Larry Crowne for $30 million which stars Hanks and Julia Roberts in their second combo after 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War ($66.7 million). Monte Carlo, which stars Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester, was co-funded by New Regency for $20 million.

This article is related to: Directors, Franchises, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Reviews, Box Office, Exhibition, Production , Transformers, Sci-fi, Sequel, Action, Paramount/Vantage/Insurge/CBS, 3D, VFX, Digital Future


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.