LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Autobots and Decepticons begin slugging it out at the box office Wednesday as "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Michael Bay's sequel to his 2007 hit, opens for business.
The Paramount/DreamWorks production is invading 4,626 theaters in North America, including 169 Imax locations. In many locations, screenings were expected to start just after midnight.
Since its box office domination is assured -- most competitors stayed away from confronting "Transformers" head-on -- the only question now is how muscular the alien robot tale, based on the Hasbro toy line, will be.
The first "Transformers" grabbed $155.4 million in its first seven days. By the end of this weekend, its sequel could hit a number in that same neighborhood -- but in just five days.
"This looks like it could be one of the biggest Wednesday openers -- with a shot of being the biggest," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said, predicting a five-day haul in the $130 million-$150 million range.
Paramount's competitors are betting the five-day number could climb higher than that, but Moore said, "'Transformers' should open bigger than the first one, but to forecast beyond that is a little insane."
Comparisons are tricky since the two "Transformers'" movies are adopting slightly different rollout patterns.
"T1," debuting in 4,011 theaters, opened on a Monday evening on July 2, 2007, and played through the Fourth of July holiday, which that year fell on a Wednesday. Fanboys flocked to the movie's Monday showings, which took in $8.8 million, and momentum built for its Tuesday and Wednesday screenings, dipped a bit on Thursday, and then rallied for a Friday-Sunday weekend of $70.5 million.
"T2" is forgoing early evening screenings -- movie theater owners have to wait until a minute after midnight to throw the switch -- so grosses from those midnight shows will roll over into the movie's opening Wednesday figure, which could rise to $35 million-$40 million. The Friday-to-Sunday number should outdo that of the first movie, checking in at $80 million-$90 million.
The suspense will be whether the newest "Transformers" can set a record along the way.
The five-day record for a Wednesday opener belongs to 2004's "Spider-Man 2," which notched $152.4 million. "Transformers" is likely to find itself in similar territory.
The mark for the biggest first five days, which belongs to "The Dark Knight" -- a Friday opener that raked in $203.8 million in its first five days -- is expected to stand.
Similarly, "Knight" also holds the record for biggest single-day and opening-day gross: $67.2 million, and that's another record that almost any film would be hard-pressed to topple.
Set "Knight" aside, though, and "Transformers" looks pretty formidable on its own terms. While Bay has been worrying that the studio hasn't gotten the word out, that doesn't appear to be the case. Tracking is coming on strong, and there is evidence that the movie's potential audience has expanded.
Movietickets.com reported Tuesday that the film, which now accounts for 93% of the online ticket seller's sales, had sold out more than 600 performances nationwide, including 274 midnight showings.
While men of all ages were primed for the original movie, younger women are showing almost as much interest as older males in the sequel, according to Moore. And even older women, many of whom will be bringing younger sons, are showing an openness to the movie.
"The cast is higher profile -- Shia (LaBeouf) has been in 'Indiana Jones' and 'Eagle Eye,' and Megan (Fox) has become a celebrity in her own right," Moore noted. That has contributed to the interest on the part of younger women, he said.
The rest of Hollywood has made Paramount's job easier by clearing a path for "Transformers." Competing studios booked May full of big-ticket movies -- "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Star Trek," "Angels & Demons" and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" -- but have mostly opened smaller comedies in recent weeks.
And since none of those earlier movies has turned into $300 million domestic grossers, the door is open for "Transformers" and, possibly, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which opens July 15, to reach for those heights.
At the same time, "Transformers" is also breaking worldwide. It opened during the past weekend in the U.K. and Japan and bows everywhere else in the world this week, with the exception of India, where it will set down July 20.
Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters