Robots seize $29.1 million at box office

Never has Independence Day been such a picnic for the film biz.

DreamWorks and Paramount’s “Transformers” made July 4 box office history with an estimated Wednesday take of $29.1 million that easily beat out the previous record holder, the $22 million “Spider-Man 2″ spun on July 4, 2004.

Domestic cume for “Transformers,” which is playing on 4,011 screens, is $65.7 million heading into the weekend. Worldwide total is $119 million.

Almost every pic benefited from the unprecedented holiday surge. Traditionally, Independence Day itself sees a dip in ticket sales compared to other days in the same holiday frame, but not this year. Overall box office is estimated to be the biggest on the books for July 4.

According to Rentrak, total receipts were $60.5 million. In 2004, when “Spider-Man 2″ played, total take was $44.2 million, the previous record-holder. Last year, box office was $31.8 million on Independence Day, with “Superman Returns” at No. 1. In 2005, July 4 box office receipts were $29.2 million.

Box office forecasters say inclement weather, including rain on the East Coast and a heat wave in the Southwest and in Southern California, probably helped ticket sales.

Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” cooked up an estimated $10.2 million from 3,940 screens Wednesday, after taking in $7.9 million on Tuesday, upping toon’s total domestic take to $72.6 million. Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard” drew an estimated $6 million from 3,408 engagements after $4.5 million the day before. Total take is now $63.2 million.

Michael Moore’s docu “Sicko” coughed up an estimated $1.2 million Wednesday as the film expanded onto 626 screens. Total take is around $6.9 million.

Warner Bros. laffer “License to Wed” rung up an estimated $5 million on the holiday from 2,401 screens. Pic bowed at an estimated $2.2 million when opening Tuesday. Cume is $5.2 million.

Opening on Wednesday, MGM’s “Rescue Dawn” took an estimated $37,878 from five screens in Gotham and L.A. for a healthy per-screen average of $7,575. Warner Independent Pictures debuted “Introducing the Dwights” on four screens, taking in $11,596 for a per-screen average of $2,899.

Box office forecasters expect Michael Bay’s “Transformers” to hit the $125 million mark for its 6½-day opening. Pic, based on the Hasbro toy robot line, was penned by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

“Transformers” is looking to be the first nonsequel tentpole hit of the summer, as well as a likely franchise for DreamWorks and Par. Its perf will also be a shot in the arm for Bay, whose last film, “The Island,” was widely considered a dud after such box office hits as “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon.”

As the holiday weekend opens, Fox Searchlight bows Sundance entry “Joshua” on six screens.

Overseas, Paramount looks likely to dominate, with “Transformers” and “Shrek the Third” battling for the top slot against Fox’s widened release of “Live Free or Die Hard” — titled “Die Hard 4″ in foreign markets.

“Transformers” is expanding from 10 to 22 markets, with the foreign cume a beefy $53.5 million in its first eight days through Wednesday, led by South Korea with $17.5 million and Australia with $9.8 million.

“Die Hard 4″ makes a major move this weekend with launches in three of the biggest foreign markets — France, Mexico and the U.K. Overseas cume was $44.4 million through Wednesday. 

The current frame will also see BVI launch “Ratatouille” in Latin America after grossing $8.9 million in six markets, with Russia drawing the most coin. And Universal is launching raunchy domestic hit “Knocked Up” in its first foreign market, Australia, but will wait until late summer to expand to most European territories.   

BVI’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is expected to reach a milestone today in passing “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” as the fifth highest international grosser of all time with a cume of $614.7 million.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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