$8 mil from midnights sets up long holiday weekend

It’s too soon to tell whether Paramount’s exclusive 3D run of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and Michael Bay’s cheerleading will pay off for the flagging format, but a 70% share from $8 million in midnight grosses is promising.

In total, “Transformers” kick-started the long Fourth of July weekend with $13.5 million on Tuesday night, of which $5.5 million came from all domestic 3D and Imax screenings after 9 p.m. Imax, which has the pic only in 3D, contributed nearly $1.4 million of the total, or 10%, for a per-screen average of $9,246.

“This is a fantastic start to what we know will be an explosive July Fourth holiday for ‘Transformers,’?” said Imax prexy Greg Foster.

The film earned less from midnight grosses than “The Hangover Part II” ($10.4 million), but more than what “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” collected from latenight runs ($4.7 million). “Hangover II” collected $135 million in its first five days; “Stranger Tides,” $90.2 million in three days. (Neither played before midnight opening day.)

“Stranger Tides” saw the year’s first big dip in 3D for a major tentpole pic, with 46% (“Cars 2″ declined even further with 40%, according to Disney). Par hopes “Transformers” will reverse that trend, thanks to tactics like the early 3D-only engagement, and Bay’s vocal tubthumping for the format.

While the film’s 70% 3D midnight share points to a promising start, it’s partly because fewer 2D screens were available. Out of a total 2,800 midnight runs, only about 100 locations were not showing the pic in 3D.

“Transformers” is expected to collect anywhere between $150 million to a more optimistic $200 million in six days domestically.

Pic expands today to a total 4,011 U.S. locations, with playdates in 60 overseas markets.

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