Robots beat the rat race

'Transformers' nabs $67.6 mil; 'Ratatouille' 2nd

The morphing robots of director Michael Bay's "Transformers," which first attacked movie theaters last Monday, continued to stomp across the North American boxoffice during the weekend. The movie took in an estimated $67.6 million, bringing its domestic tally at the end of its first week to an estimated $152.5 million.

With "Transformers" in the winner's circle, second-weekend holdovers "Ratatouille" and "Live Free or Die Hard" took the place and show positions, respectively. "License to Wed," the antic romantic comedy that was the weekend's other new wide release, was relegated to fourth place with an estimated $10.4 million.

On the specialty front, Michael Moore's "Sicko," playing in 702 theaters in its second weekend of wide release, held onto the ninth-place slot it occupied the previous frame as it took in $3.7 million to bring its gross to date to an estimated $11.5 million.

Still, the top 10 films for the weekend, which grossed an estimated $156.2 million, couldn't compete with last year's frame, when "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which opened on a Friday, racked up a three-day gross of $135.6 million. For the top 10, business was down 25% according to Nielsen EDI.

The Fourth of July can be a problematic date as movies compete with family gatherings and fireworks. But this year's holiday proved to be a centerpiece for midweek business that turned into a weeklong moviegoing binge.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $349.5 million, up a dramatic 27% from the $274.8 that was collected during the comparable week a year ago. Year to date, the 2007 boxoffice is $4.89 billion, up more than 6% compared with last year's $4.65 billion, though admissions remain flat.

DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures agreed to co-produce "Transformers" before Viacom, Paramount's parent company, acquired DreamWorks in late 2005, and Bay -- despite a decision to shoot the movie in Los Angeles -- managed to keep its budget at a relatively restrained $150 million.

If Sunday estimates hold, the PG-13 action movie based on the popular Hasbro toy line, which played in 4,011 theaters, will have achieved the biggest-grossing first week for any nonsequel film. Having taken in an estimated $152.5 million in its first 6 1/2 days since launching with 8 p.m. showings last Monday, "Transformers" will have edged ahead of 2002's "Spider-Man," which collected $151.6 in its first seven days. That also would place "Transformers" in seventh place among all seven-day openings, a list top-heavy with sequels and topped by "Dead Man's Chest," which grabbed $196 million in its first seven days.

Following "Norbit," "Blades of Glory" and "Disturbia," the movie becomes the fourth bearing the DreamWorks logo that Paramount has released to a No. 1 bow. The movie's young star, Shia LaBeouf, who also appeared in "Disturbia" and lent his voice to "Surf's Up," has had a film in the top 10 for thirteen weeks in a row.

"At DreamWorks, we're most excited that the movie is playing so broadly," DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy said. "If there was a group that we wouldn't have said we would necessarily attract, it was older females, but moms are now going to the movie with their families and giving it strong recommends."

Concurred Rob Moore, Paramount president of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations: "We started out with a core young male audience, but as we've seen it play into the weekend, it's starting to get a a younger audience as moms get a handle on the movie's PG-13 and are taking younger boys, which is really great."

Lorenzo di Bonaventura, one of the film's producers, credits the movie's reach to the fact that "we made two decisions up front. Number one, we had to please the fans, who had a sense of the franchise; and, two, we had to give nonfans something to relate to since they don't come to the table with the same sense of history about the characters. We made a conscious effort to create a human story that coexists with the Transformers mythology."

Having targeted the Fourth of July holiday early on, a date that also worked for Paramount/DreamWorks' "War of the Worlds" two years ago, the studio saw the gambit pay off. By moving up the opening from Wednesday -- as was originally planned -- to Monday, Paramount assured itself a full week's worth of dominance before it must battle Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which opens Wednesday.

Internationally, because Paramount also is handling "Shrek the Third" and facing competition from "Harry Potter," "Transformers" began a five-week rollout in Asia. It has opened in 29 markets, representing about 40% of the international marketplace, and has collected an overseas gross of an estimated $93.6 million, bringing its worldwide haul to more than $246 million.

Despite the "Transformers" juggernaut, "Ratatouille" and "Die Hard" held their own. Buena Vista Pictures' release of Pixar Animation Studios' food-obsessed rat's tale, the previous weekend's top film, fell just 38% as it took in an estimated $29 million. Crossing the $100 million mark on Saturday, its cume stands at an estimated $109.5 million, putting it just slightly behind the 10-day gross of the $117.1 million notched by last summer's "Cars."

20th Century Fox's "Die Hard" picked up an additional $17.4 million to bring its domestic tally to an estimated $84.2 million, a figure that the previous "Die Hard" movie -- 1995's "Die Hard With a Vengeance" -- took six weekends to achieve.

In fourth place, Warners' "License," directed by Ken Kwapis, attracted a female audience with Robin Williams starring as a gung-ho marital counselor who spells trouble for Mandy Moore and John Krasinski. The PG-13 movie has attracted an estimated $17.8 million in 2,604 theaters since its Tuesday bow.

In the fifth spot, Universal Pictures' "Evan Almighty," which fell 46%, is losing traction. Its weekend take of $8.1 million brings its total to $78.1 million.

Lionsgate's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "Sicko" had the best hold of the top 10, falling just 18%. Its weekend haul of an estimated $3.6 million brings its account to an estimated $11.5 million, close to surpassing the total gross of 2004's "Super Size Me" ($11.53 million).

"After 10 days in national release, 'Sicko' has brought in $11.5 million, well ahead of 'Bowling for Columbine,' which took eight weeks to get to the same point," Weinstein Co. co-head Harvey Weinstein said.

Although it finished in the 11th spot, Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" crossed the $300 million mark, the third film this year to do so. Its weekend take of an estimated $3 million brings its domestic gross to an estimated $301.7 million.

As for exclusive bows, MGM's "Rescue Dawn," Werner Herzog's PG-13 tale of a fighter pilot's struggle to survive after crashing in Laos during the Vietnam War, took in $104,000 on six screens for an average of $17,333. Its cume stands at an estimated $161,793. It will add 25 theaters as it expands into the top 10 markets this weekend.

Fox Searchlight's "Joshua," a sinister, R-rated family drama directed by George Ratliff, found an estimated $51,086 on six screens for an average of $8,514. It moves into 20 additional cities Friday.

Warner Independent Pictures' "Introducing the Dwights," an R-rated Australian comedy directed by Cherie Nowlan and starring Brenda Blethyn, scored an estimated $31,000 on four screens for an average of $7,750 and an estimated cume of $46,000. It will add 40 runs Friday.
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