Bumblebee in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." (Paramount )
It's a pattern that the studios have been seeing for a while: a "franchise" movie opens to solid box office domestically and spectacular business internationally. And so it was with "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
The third "Transformers" film, the first in the franchise to be released in 3-D, opened in the U.S. and Canada on Tuesday night and has since grossed $181.1 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. While that's a decent domestic start for the film, the movie's six-day ticket sales still fell short of the second "Transformers" film, "Revenge of the Fallen." That film, which did not have the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges, collected $214 million in the same time frame in 2009.
But international grosses for "Dark of the Moon" were far higher than they were for "Revenge of the Fallen." The latest "Transformers," about alien robots that transform into vehicles, took in a potent $217 million from 58 markets this weekend –- 51% ahead of "Revenge of the Fallen's" $129.6-million opening.
The two other new films that opened over the holiday, "Larry Crowne" and "Monte Carlo," didn't have as much to celebrate. "Larry Crowne," a romantic comedy directed, co-written by and starring Tom Hanks along with Julia Roberts, grossed $15.6 million over the four-day weekend. That wasn't unexpected but still it was a weak opening for a film starring two A-list movie stars. "Monte Carlo," a teen romance featuring Disney Channel star Selena Gomez, collected an even more modest $8.8 million.
Both films were beaten by last weekend's No. 1 film, the 3-D animated "Cars 2," which made an additional $32.1 million. The news wasn't all positive for Disney's Pixar, though, which made the movie. The sequel had a disappointing 60% drop in ticket sales, the biggest second-weekend decline for any animated film ever released by Pixar. "Bad Teacher," also in its second week of release, came in third at the box office this weekend. Audiences who saw the film last weekend assigned it a not very promising average grade of only C+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, but the movie was still able to grab $17.6 million this weekend.
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon," meanwhile, was a crowd-pleaser. "Dark of the Moon" received mediocre reviews (though still much better than the critical drubbing for the second film in the series), but was nonetheless embraced by audiences. Those who saw the film — 62% of whom were male — loved it, giving it an average grade of A. While "Dark of the Moon" had grossed far less than "Revenge of the Fallen" on Wednesday, its Friday-through-Monday total only lagged 6% behind the second "Transformers" film. That indicates that the latest film could have stronger buzz than "Revenge of the Fallen," which received a B+ CinemaScore.
"Revenge of the Fallen" ended up with $402.1 million in ticket sales at the end of its domestic run — a number "Dark of the Moon" may be able to match. But the third film, which cost Paramount about $200 million to produce, will probably outgross the second overseas. The latest "Transformers" film is already well on its way to surpassing the $434-million international haul of "Revenge of the Fallen," due in part to 3-D ticket prices. Overseas, roughly 70% of ticket sales for "Dark of the Moon" came from 3-D screenings, compared with around 60% domestically.
"It's interesting that there are certainly markets where the 3-D moviegoing experience has become the preference," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount. "In the U.S., we had to win a lot of people back to 3-D. But this opening says a lot about the growth of international business. We put a lot of energy into growing this property internationally. It was a big initiative and it paid off."
Indeed, Paramount has been banking on the film's international success, even holding the movie's world premiere in Moscow earlier this month. This weekend, the movie took in $22 million in Russia and $30 million in South Korea, where it had the nation's biggest-ever opening for a film.
"Larry Crowne," however, failed to resonate as broadly. While the poorly reviewed movie about a middle-age man who decides to attend community college after losing his job had only a soft opening, both Hanks and Roberts have seen worse. Their 2007 film "Charlie Wilson's War" only grossed $9.7 million over its first three days in release.
The audience who saw "Larry Crowne" was largely comprised of older females — 81% of the crowd was over the age of 35. The film received an average grade of B.
While the debut was disappointing for a film with such recognizable stars, it could end up as profitable because it was inexpensive to produce. The picture was financed by Vendôme Pictures for about $30 million, but is being released by Universal Pictures, which is paying for the film's marketing and collecting a distribution fee.
"Monte Carlo," which stars tween singer-actress Gomez as a young woman who travels to Europe and is mistaken for royalty there, was better received by its 80% female audience, which gave it an average grade of A-. Like "Larry Crowne," the teen flick also had a small budget. The PG-rated film was produced by Fox 2000 Pictures — a 20th Century Fox label — and New Regency Pictures for about $20 million. Overseas, the movie opened in 11 markets, including Russia and Singapore, and grossed $1.3 million there.