Box Office: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Rakes in $8.8M Thursday Night

9:08 AM PST 06/27/2014 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf as the star of Paramount's blockbuster franchise in the fourth installment; overseas, the tentpole is breaking records in China and Russia.

Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction earned $8.8 million Thursday night, a strong start as it begins its North American box office assault. The tentpole began rolling out at 9 p.m. in 2,990 locations.

That didn't match the $13.5 million Tuesday night start of the last film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but it's one of the best showings of summer 2014 after Godzilla ($9.3 million), which opened to $93.2 million. In May, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 earned $8.7 million on Thursday night on its way to a $91.6 million debut. No summer tentpole crossed the $100 million mark in its first weekend, worrying Hollywood.

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Overseas, Age of Extinction is making big headlines, already earning $30 million, including record-setting Thursday midnight previews in China ($3.5 million) and a stellar $5.5 million Thursday start in Russia, the second biggest opening day of all time. The movie is No. 1 in all 22 markets where it opened Thursday or Wednesday, including Taiwan, where it grossed $1.4 million, the best opening day of all time (its two-day cume there is $2.6 million).

Age of Extinction went to great lengths to prosper in China, including shooting at some of the country's most iconic sights, such as the Great Wall.

The movie is a reboot of sorts in that it features a new leading man, Mark Wahlberg. He replaces Shia LaBeouf, star of the first three films in the Paramount and Hasbro toy-to-film series (as fate would have it, LaBeouf was arrested Thursday night and charged with disorderly conduct after disrupting a performance of Cabaret on Broadway).

Many believe Age of Extinction has a shot at becoming the first film of 2014 to hit $100 million in its debut, although Paramount is trying to temper expectations by noting it's been three years since the last film in the series, Dark of the Moon, played in theaters, taking in $97.9 million on its first weekend in 2011.

Age of Extinction, costing upwards of $200 million to make, is waiting to launch in many European and Latin American markets until after the World Cup.

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Young stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor also make their first appearance in the franchise. Age of Extinction takes place four years after a devastating face-off between the Autobots and the Decepticons in Chicago in the last film Dark of the Moon, and introduces the Dinobots (i.e., dinosaur robots) for the first time.

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No other movie dared go up against Age of Extinction and open nationwide this weekend, although a slew of specialty films begin their limited runs, including three from The Weinstein Co.: John Carney's Begin Again, starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine and Hailee Steinfeld, Korean film Snowpiercer (a Radius-TWC release) and French biopic Yves Saint Laurent.

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