Pic beats Sunday's box office projections

For overseas auds, it seems the third time really is the charm as Paramount’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” got off to an outstanding start with $416 million globally in just six days. Domestically, the threequel set a Fourth of July four-day record with $116.4 million, though it lagged the six-day opening sesh of the second “Transformers” pic by 6%.

“Dark of the Moon” has cumed $235 million internationally since Wednesday, added to $181.1 million from Stateside plexes through Monday.

Overseas, the film outpaced its predecessor, “Revenge of the Fallen,” by 55% (based on five-day figures at $218 million). The international-domestic schism mirrors the performances of “Spider-Man” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”: The second entry in each series did better Stateside than the third picbut were overshadowed internationally by the threequels (see separate story).

Like Disney’s fourth “Pirates” offering, “On Stranger Tides,” “Dark of the Moon” was in 3D — a significant advantage over its predecessor, especially overseas, where auds purchased a higher proportion of 3D ducats than Stateside moviegoers at 70%.

But 3D also saw a much-needed resurgence domestically, with “Dark of the Moon” collecting 60% of its opening from 2,789 3D locations, including 146 Imax runs. Imax contributed an estimated $23 million globally this weekend, repping the first time Imax crossed $20 million for a single pic in an opening frame.

3D has struggled with U.S. moviegoers in recent months, brought to a new low the previous weekend by “Cars 2’s” 40% 3D debut share.

Par vice chair Rob Moore attributed the declining percentages — at least, in part — to the influx of 3D pics. “There are so many 3D releases, audiences now are going to pick and choose which films to see in 3D,” Moore said, before adding that the format has become a tool more for event filmmaking. “If the 3D is good, audiences are going to pay for it.”

Despite a hopeful counterprogramming bid, stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts were unable to get the attention of many moviegoers under 35. Universal’s “Larry Crowne,” fully financed by Vendome Pictures for a reported $30 million, eked out $15.7 million in four days at 2,973. Generally poor reviews were a problem for the overwhelmingly over-35 auds, who actually read reviews.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox/New Regency co-production “Monte Carlo” grossed from 2,473 U.S. playdates an estimated $8.8 million from Friday to Monday.

Four-day grosses overall were better than had been expected Sunday, since the studios had thought sunny weather would cut into B.O. more.

Overall domestic totals from Friday to Sunday were up 6% vs. last year’s holiday frame when “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” bowed with $64.8 million in three days. But with Fourth of July on a Monday this year — the holiday typically isn’t a big moviegoing day — weekend figures through Monday are projected to fall behind 2010 by 3%.

Franchise fatigue?

While “Dark of the Moon” failed to surpass 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen” at Stateside plexes, the newest “Transformers” pic did beat a major franchise sequel for the Fourth of July crown: “Spider-Man 2″ previously held the four-day holiday benchmark with $115.8 million.

The $215 million bar set by “Revenge of the Fallen” in its first six days (and $123.8 million in four) provided a tough act for “Dark of the Moon” to follow.

Prior to its release, the most optimistic B.O. observers suggested “Dark of the Moon” could reach as high as $200 million domestically, with $170 million at the low end. Pic’s ultimate Stateside cume, including last Tuesday’s 3D-only engagements (a total $5.5 million), perhaps points to renewed energy for the franchise.

How “Dark of the Moon” will play over the coming weeks is uncertain (Warner’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ launches worldwide on July 15), but consider a few positives this weekend:

“Dark of the Moon,” which may have seen residual negative word of mouth from the second pic, hasn’t done well with critics but received a glowing A Cinema-Score rating from moviegoers.

Not surprisingly, pic played best with those under 25 — a review-agnostic demo — who repped 55% of the aud; men accounted for 62% of the aud. Both leading demos helped the pic in Imax, with exhib prexy Greg Foster saying, “‘Transformers 3′ appeals right to our core audience’s sweet spot and reconfirms that fanboys seek out Imax for iconic blockbusters like this.”

The film also had strong Saturday-Sunday holds across Europe. That’s significant because the pic bowed on a Wednesday, leaving plenty of time for word of mouth to spread before the weekend.

South Korea contributed the largest overseas take, with $28 million through Sunday, followed by Russia, which posted $22 million, and the U.K. ($16.5 million). Only two 3D powerhouse territories didn’t open this weekend: China and Japan.

Fourth of July alternatives

U distrib topper Nikki Rocco posited that “Larry Crowne,” which received a B CinemaScore, could stick around to unearth more grown-ups once barbecues are finished. “There’s always an adult film that tends to linger in the market, especially during the summer,” she said.

Fox senior VP-general sales manager Bert Livingston said “Monte Carlo” hit the tween and teen demo, with 80% femmes: “It’s a small movie, and I think it worked.”

Next weekend, R-rated comedy “Horrible Bosses” launches alongside Sony’s family-targeted “The Zookeeper.”

Among this weekend’s top holdovers, Par’s “Super 8″ dropped just 35% in its fourth frame for a four-day take of $9.5 million.

Disney/Pixar’s “Cars 2″ claimed the No. 2 spot in its soph sesh with $32.1 million but fell 60%. Sony’s “Bad Teacher” followed with $17.6 million, dropping 54%.

At the specialty B.O., Sony Pictures Classics’ Woody Allen-helmed “Midnight in Paris” continued to impress, with a four-day estimated gross of $4.3 million. That puts pic in the top 10 for its sixth straight week; cume is $34.5 million.

ATO’s Sundance title “Terri,” with John C. Reilly and Jacob Wysocki, debuted this weekend at six locations in New York and L.A., averaging $13,754 per screen. Pic opened at $82,521 through Monday.

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