'Transformers' looks unstoppable

'Ice Age,' 'Public Enemies' not likely to topple behemoth

The 'bots are still on the trot.

The mega-successful bow last week by Paramount's action sequel "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" has so transformed the competitive landscape, it's hard to see either of two rival tentpoles opening at No. 1 this weekend.

Just a few weeks ago, Fox's 3D animated three-quel "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" seemed to have a shot at debuting atop the Fourth of July weekend rankings. But despite continued prospects of a healthy bow, it's highly unlikely "Dawn" will capture session bragging rights.

Like Universal's Johnny Depp starrer "Public Enemies," "Dawn" breaks wide Wednesday. But its real industry showdown will come this weekend, as the Independence Day holiday falling on Saturday means boxoffice rankings will be based on a three-day span.

Comparing the Fox opener to its 800-pound holdover rival on that basis, "Dawn" should open in the $45 million-$50 million range, while Par's Michael Bay blockbuster could get enough of a boost from the boxoffice-friendly holiday to keep its soph-session drop to a modest 50%. That would give it a Friday-Sunday tally of $55 million or more this session.

Playing in 3,319 locations, "Enemies" looks likely to ring up $25 million over the weekend and perhaps $40 million for its first five days. "Dawn" is set for a record 1,606 3D auditoriums, with a total of 3,993 opening playdates and 4,093 engagements starting Friday; its five-day projection hovers at $60 million-$65 million.

The midweek opening for both new pics was scheduled with an eye toward stimulating word-of-mouth while maximizing boxoffice in a week when most students are off from school. But the "Transformers" sequel could take its biggest bite out of the new pics on Wednesday and Thursday, as its marketplace momentum remains strong.

Happily for the new pics and holdovers alike, the Fourth of July session is generally one of the more lucrative frames. So a rising tide of holiday biz should lift all boxoffice boats once the weekend arrives -- provided the battling 'bots don't hugely exceed expectations again.

One unknown is whether a significant number of theater operators will keep their "Transformers" moneymaker on more screens and in bigger auditoriums during its second weekend than might have been originally planned. In any event, distribution execs at Fox and Universal expressed calm resolve in the face of the looming clash with the behemoth holdover.

"I think we're as well-positioned as any picture can be in this marketplace," Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said. "People are ready for a new family movie."

Rated R, "Enemies" ought to hold its own against the other big pics by appealing to a distinctly older audience, Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. Prerelease interest appears solid.

"The tracking looks good," Rocco said. "I'm feeling really good about that."

Yet with such an adult-oriented target audience, Saturday could prove a bit soft for "Enemies," as many older moviegoers will be preoccupied with holiday barbecuing and the like. So Universal execs will be forgiven if they pray for a wet Fourth.

"That's why we opened on a Wednesday -- to take advantage of what's been a strong midweek play period recently," Rocco said.

Among the weekend's notable expansions, Sony Pictures Classics plans to broaden Woody Allen's Larry David starrer "Whatever Works" on Friday to more than 300 playdates from a previous 35.