The dark side of the moon is probably the only place in our solar system where 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' didn't lay waste to the box office. The three-quel set an Independence Day weekend record with an estimated $97.4 million from Friday to Sunday. Its four-day earnings amount to an estimated $116.4 million, for a total (since its Tuesday-night preview opening) of $181.1 million. Not bad for a week's work.
The film did about as well as predicted. Pundits had guessed a three-day weekend take of about $100 million, given the new installment's 3D and IMAX surcharges, which, along with ubiquitous marketing, would steamroll over the tremendous ill will generated by the previous sequel and the generally dismissive reviews of the current movie. 'Transformers' easily beat the July 4 three-day weekend record set by 'Spider-Man 2' ($88.2 million). It also boasts the biggest three-day opening of 2011, topping 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' ($90.2 million).
Internationally, 'Transformers' earned an estimated $372 million from Friday to Sunday, making it the third biggest three-day international opening of all time. What's more, according to Paramount, some 70 percent of that international gross (and 60 percent of the domestic gross) came from 3D screens, bucking the current trend of 3D fatigue among moviegoers.
Not faring as well as the cars-turned-robots of 'Transformers' were the cars-turned-spies of 'Cars 2.' After debuting at No. 1 last week, 'Cars 2' slipped to second place and lost 62 percent of its business, the steepest second-week drop ever for a Pixar movie. From Friday to Sunday, the weakly-reviewed sequel earned just an estimated $25.1 million. Over the whole holiday weekend, it earned $32.1 million, for a total to date of $123.0 million.
'Bad Teacher' also suffered a steep second-week drop, falling 55 percent to an estimated $14.1 million from Friday to Sunday, landing in third place. Besides unenthusiastic reviews, the film was competing for older female viewers this weekend against newcomer 'Larry Crowne.' For the four-day weekend, 'Bad Teacher' earned an estimated $17.6 million, for an 11-day total of $63.0 million.
'Larry Crowne' opened at No. 4 with an estimated $!3.0 million over three days and $15.7 million from Friday to Monday. It was expected to struggle against 'Transformers,' but still, pundits had guessed at a three-day debut in the high teens. Middling reviews meant that the comedy had to sell itself entirely on the presence of stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, who've been on every possible TV show to promote it over the last couple of weeks. Still, this is an awfully weak opening by the standards of both of these box office royals.
Coming in fifth was Super 8,' whose four-day total edged out that of 'Monte Carlo,' thus preventing the romantic comedy from enjoying a top-5 extended holiday weekend debut. The monster flick earned an estimated $7.5 million from Friday to Sunday (down 38 percent from a week ago) and $9.5 million for the whole holiday weekend. In four weeks, 'Super 8' has earned $110.1 million.
Although Friday-to-Sunday estimates had placed 'Monte Carlo' at No. 5, over the four-day weekend, the Selena Gomez vehicle had to settle for a sixth-place debut, with a gross estimated at $8.8 million. Seemingly smart counter-programming, the film was aimed at tween and teen girls, an audience not expected to be too interested in 'Tranformers,' 'Cars 2,' 'Bad Teacher,' or 'Larry Crowne,' yet it pulled in only an estimated $7.6 million from Friday to Sunday. That's even less than Gomez scored last summer with the three-day opening of 'Ramona and Beezus' ($7.8 million), a kids' movie that didn't even have teen appeal. Guess the Disney Channel starlet isn't a box office draw yet.
For all of the box office success of 'Transformers,' it still wasn't enough to stem the 2011 slump. At the midpoint of the year, total box office stands at $5.2 billion, down 7.8 percent from this time a year ago.
The full top 10 (four-day totals):
1. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' $116.4 million (4,013 screens), $181.1 million total
2. 'Cars 2,' $32.1 million (4,115), $123.0 million
3. 'Bad Teacher,' $17.6 million (3,049), $63.0 million
4. 'Larry Crowne,' $15.7 million (2,973), new release
5. 'Super 8,' $9.5 million (3,088), $110.1 million
6. 'Monte Carlo,' $8.8 million (2,473), new release
7. 'Green Lantern,' $8.0 million (3,280), $103.7 million
8. 'Mr. Popper's Penguins,' $6.9 million (2,861), $51.9 million
9. 'Bridesmaids,' $4.4 million (1,389), $153.8 million
10. 'Midnight in Paris,' $4.3 million (858), $34.5 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.