Box Office: 'Transformers 4' Enjoys Strong Friday for Shot at $100 Million Weekend

Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf as star of Paramount's big-budget action franchise.

Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction is doing strong business at the Friday box office, where it could approach $40 million for the day, the best performance of the year. And if traffic holds on Saturday, the Paramount tentpole has a shot at becoming the first movie of 2014 to hit $100 million in its first weekend.

Age of Extinction would have to best the $95 million launch of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in early April to score the top opening of 2014 to date.

Overseas, Age of Extinction has already grossed $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. 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.

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The $200 million-plus tentpole 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, an out-of-control LaBeouf was arrested Thursday night and charged with disorderly conduct after disrupting a performance of Cabaret on Broadway).

Paramount is trying to temper expectations by noting it's been three years since the last film in the series, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, played in theaters, taking in $97.9 million on its first weekend in 2011 (the studio is suggesting a debut in the mid-$90 million range). Sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen grossed $108 million in its first weekend, a franchise best.

Age of Extinction, costing upward of $200 million to make and earning dismal reviews, took in $8.8 million Thursday night as it began rolling out in select theaters at 9 p.m.

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That didn't match the $13.5 million Tuesday night start of 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.

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.

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.