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‘Transformers’ to Ignite Summer Box Office with Possible $100 Million Opening

Transformers: Age of Extinction” thunders into multiplexes this weekend, aiming to prove that the summer blockbuster is anything but an endangered species.

The Paramount Pictures release is on track to generate more than $100 million over the weekend when it debuts in 4,200 locations, 353 of which are Imax. The studio is being more conservative with its projections and putting the number between $90 million to $100 million.

If it hits those lofty heights it will rank as the year’s biggest opening. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” currently ranks no. 1 with $95 million.

“The market is wide open for a big hit and the brand recognition of the (Transformers) franchise is pretty staggering,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Even if it doesn’t win the summer or the year at the domestic box office, its overseas potential is huge and that’s the name of the game.”

To that end, Paramount is planning an ambitious international rollout that will see “Transformers: Age of Extinction” open in 37 markets, including such key territories as South Korea, Australia and Russia. The comparable gross for opening weekends in these territories for the most recent film in the series was $162 million, which provides a sense of the franchise’s global appeal and profitability.

The big plum will be China, where the picture will open day-and-date with the United States after having filmed extensively in the country and on national landmarks such as the Great Wall. China, the world’s second largest market for film, could contribute $200 million or more to the sequel’s bottom line, analysts say, topping the more than $160 million the People’s Republic contributed in receipts for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

The “Transformers” films represent a license to print money for Paramount and Hasbro, the company behind the iconic toyline — having brought in more than $2.6 billion at the global box office and $7 billion in merchandising.

They’re also opening weekend juggernauts. The most recent film, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” bowed to $97.8 million when it premiered in 2011, and the other franchise entries, 2007’s “Transformers” and 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” have premiered to $70.5 million and $108.9 million respectively.

It has been an uneven summer when it comes to major studio releases. Films like “Godzilla” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” have stuck the landing with huge opening weekends, only to fade quickly through their second or third week in theaters. Only “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has cracked the $200 million mark domestically, although the web-spinning adventure could crawl over the line this weekend.

“It’s so hard to differentiate a tentpole movie at this point,” said Bruce Nash, founder of the box office stats site The Numbers. “They’re all sort of boxed in by the formula. They have to have the 3D version, the requisite special effects and elaborate sound, but there hasn’t been the kind of dominant franchise this summer that’s going to rise above that sameness.”

Well, a globe-straddling smash may have finally arrived. Analysts say that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” represents the summer’s best chance at fielding a film that does over $1 billion in receipts.

Pre-sales have been robust, with Fandango reporting the film represents 96% of its weekend ticket sales and MovieTickets.com saying its sales for “Transformers: Age of Extinction” are more than 82% higher than for the most recent film at the same point in its cycle.

As for the film itself, Michael Bay will once again ride herd over the battling robots, ensuring that there will be oodles of Magic Hour lighting and ear-shattering explosions. The film also upgrades in the star power department, swapping out celebrity-loathing Shia LaBeouf for the more klieg-light friendly Mark Wahlberg.

The addition of Wahlberg and the easy-on-the-eyes duo of Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor should reinvigorate the franchise, analysts say, potentially positioning it for parts five and six.

“It was like adding the Rock to the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It reinvents it.”

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