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Will robots have legs?

Times Staff Writer

The robots demolished the competition last week at the box office. But just how far can their metallic legs carry them?

“Transformers,” the DreamWorks-Paramount co-production about shape-shifting robots that bring their battle to Earth, has launched in the heart of a summer in which few films have displayed much box-office stamina.

“Transformers” opened to $152.6 million in its first 6 1/2 days in the U.S. and Canada, Paramount Pictures estimated Sunday. That was the best weeklong opening run ever for a nonsequel, eclipsing the original “Spider-Man.”

Worldwide, director Michael Bay’s sci-fi epic has grossed $246.1 million, even though it has yet to open in about 60% of overseas markets.

“Michael has created images that you’ve never seen in a film before, and that translates everywhere,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

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For the weekend, “Transformers” grossed an estimated $67.6 million domestically, far ahead of the No. 2-ranked “Ratatouille.”

The studio was encouraged by how well the film was playing across all demographics since it opened the night of July 2.

Six films have had higher total grosses for their first seven days -- including last summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” at $196 million -- but each has been a sequel.

Reviews for “Transformers” have been respectable and audiences have given it high marks in exit surveys and at the movie fan site IMDB.com. Ticket sales have been strong in heavily Latino and African American markets, Paramount said.

Females age 25 and up have been the most enthusiastic in their exit surveys, with about 85% saying they would “definitely recommend” the movie.

Moore said many parents were “starting to get comfortable with the idea of bringing younger children” to the PG-13-rated movie, which he compared to the “Spider-Man” films in its intensity.

Nonsequel PG-13 films are often the trickiest for parents to gauge, he said, because there is no previous franchise installment for parents to consider for content clues.

“Transformers” has played so broadly because Bay and the screenwriting team “very consciously created a story with heart and humor to complement all the visual effects,” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said.

Even so, several of this summer’s top movies, including “Spider-Man 3" and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” have done much of their domestic business early on and slowed quickly. That’s one reason industry results in the U.S. so far have been disappointing.

The romantic comedy “Knocked Up” and now the animated adventure “Ratatouille,” which dropped a modest 38% in its second weekend, are among the few films this summer to show strong legs.

Early predictions of the industry’s first $4-billion summer at the domestic box office now look like “a bit of a longshot,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of research firm Media by Numbers.

Summer receipts stand at $2.3 billion, up moderately from the same point in 2006 thanks to higher ticket prices, but attendance has dipped.

Paramount executives declined to predict how big “Transformers” could become, but it appears to be on track to earn $300 million to $325 million domestically and $650 million to $700 million worldwide.

That would make it a bona fide blockbuster but put it well below “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Spider-Man 3" on a worldwide basis, both of which hauled in about $900 million.

The “Spider-Man” and “Pirates” films have bigger stars and benefit from being third installments of their franchises.

Shia LaBeouf, the star of “Transformers,” is an up-and-comer but not as widely known as Tobey Maguire or Johnny Depp.

Sequels tend to become increasingly global in their popularity once a franchise is well-known around the world, Moore said.

Overseas receipts for the first “Pirates” and “Spider-Man,” for example, were slightly over 50% of their worldwide box-office totals, but for the latest installments they climbed to more than 60%.

“Transformers” will probably eventually test that trend. Sequels are rumored to be in the works, although Paramount has yet to announce any.

The next key film of the summer arrives Wednesday, when Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” opens.

josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

After the opening

In a crowded market this summer, several of Hollywood’s major movies have seen their domestic box-office receipts fall sharply in their second weekends, although a few have shown strong legs.

*--* 1st week total Movie (in millions) 2nd week drop “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver $58.1 -65.5% Surfer” “Spider-Man 3" 151.1 -61.5 “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s 114.7 -61.5 End” “Shrek the Third” 121.6 -56.4 “Evan Almighty” 31.2 -51.5 “Surf’s Up” 17.6 -47.5 “Ocean’s Thirteen” 36.1 -45.4 “Knocked Up” 30.7 -36.0

*--*

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Source: Times research, BoxOfficeMojo.com

Los Angeles Times


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