'Transformers' in high gear already

Sequel heads into weekend with $60.6 mil

Debuting Wednesday to an estimated $60.6 million in 4,234 theaters, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" already has begun its triumphal rounding of the boxoffice bases that should see it set a record or two by weekend's end.

Once Michael Bay's PG-13-rated sequel to the 2007 hit based on the Hasbro toy line staked out the upcoming weekend, there was never any question that it would dominate the frame. Competitors steered clear of the date, with only Warner Bros. fielding the feel-good weepie "My Sister's Keeper" in a modest bit of counterprogramming.

So the new "Transformers" -- machine-tooled with the help of a budget said to have approached $200 million -- isn't really competing against the other current releases -- the Paramount release is out to do battle against the record book.

If Par's Thursday morning estimate holds, the sequel already can claim the distinction of the biggest Wednesday opening ever. It vaulted ahead of 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which bowed to a one-day gross of $44.2 million.

It came unexpectedly close to challenging "The Dark Knight," which holds the records for biggest opening-day gross and best single-day gross: It collected $67.2 million when it opened last year on a Friday. And it squeezed ahead of 2007's "Spider-Man 3," which debuted to $59.8 million, which had enjoyed runner-up status to "Knight" in the best single opening-day list.

"Transformers' " accelerated takeoff was turbo-charged with the help of $16 million from midnight screenings, included in that $60.6 million opening number.

On its first day, the movie took in $4 million from 169 Imax theaters, a record for the large-format systems, where "Star Trek" had set the previous record of $3.5 million in May.

Entering the weekend, the Paramount/DreamWorks co-production -- which is looking to draw in all four audience quadrants with the help of its young stars, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, whose profiles have grown considerably since the first movie -- looks on track to surpass the debut of the first "Transformers," which opened on a Monday evening and collected $155.4 million in its first 6 1/2 days. By the close of business Sunday, the sequel probably will have passed that mark and in just its first five days.

In doing so, it also would overshadow 2004's "Spider-Man 2," which holds the record for the best Wednesday-through-Sunday opening with $152.4 million.

"Transformers" still would have a hard time challenging "Knight" for the best five-day gross of all time, $203.8 million. "Knight" was a hit with the fans and critics. Not so "Transformers," which as of Thursday had a low-ball 22% approval rating at Rottentomatoes.com.

But Bay's movies have never depended on critics. During the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its debut, the first "Transformers" pulled in $70.5 million. If its sequel maintains its momentum, it will best that number, attracting $80 million-$90 million and possibly more as it heads toward a five-day gross of at least $150 million-$175 million.

The holdovers at the multiplex will have to settle for doing business in "Transformers' " shadow. Disney's rom-com "The Proposal," last weekend's top grosser, Warners' breakout comedy "The Hangover" and Disney/Pixar's animated "Up" should all move down a notch, as they register numbers in the high-teen millions.

The PG-13 "Sister's Keeper," starring Cameron Diaz in the tale of a family dealing with one daughter's leukemia, is aiming to lure older female moviegoers from the "Transformers" juggernaut. One of its selling points is that it's directed by Nick Cassavetes, who directed "The Notebook," a leggy, summer sleeper. "Keeper," though, is probably looking at a gross around the $10 million mark for its opening weekend.

For the handful of moviegoers who turn a deaf ear to "Transformers," the specialty arena will host several new titles.

Miramax will present Stephen Frears' period romantic drama "Cheri," starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates and Rupert Friend.

Roadside Attractions may benefit from the world's focus on events in Iran as it releases Cyrus Nowrasteh's "The Stoning of Soraya M.," which examines the plight of one Iranian woman.

And Summit Entertainment introduces Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq-set "The Hurt Locker," a critical hit on the festival circuit, in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. On Rottentomatoes.com, that film's approval rating had reached an enthusiastic 97% on Thursday.
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