The "Transformers" robots have put their 3-D ticket-price advantage to good use.
Distributor Paramount Pictures estimated Monday that "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" pulled in $116.4 million domestically over the four-day Fourth of July weekend and $181.1 million since opening Tuesday night.
Director Michael Bay's third installment in the sci-fi franchise has added $217 million overseas, bringing its worldwide total to nearly $400 million.
The studio says 60 percent of domestic business came from premium-priced 3-D admissions, which cost a few dollars more than 2-D screenings. Overseas, 3-D admissions accounted for 70 percent of ticket sales.
That's a good sign for Hollywood's 3-D business, which had waned as 3-D revenues dipped to 50 percent or less of the total for some recent releases.
"It proves that for 3-D to be successful, it has to be attached to the right kind of movie. This was this monumental Michael Bay blockbuster, and for something like that, people felt it's worth the money," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "It's all about maintaining good quality. If they see three 3-D movies in a row that look terrible, they're not going to put the money down again."
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, the animated adventure "Cars 2," slipped steeply in its second weekend with $32.1 million domestically, the movie losing steam more quickly than past features from Disney's Pixar Animation outfit.
"Cars 2" raised its domestic total to $123 million and topped $200 million worldwide.
The weekend's other new wide releases opened back in the pack. Universal Pictures' recession romance "Larry Crowne" opened quietly at No. 4 with $15.7 million despite the star power of writer-director Tom Hanks and co-star Julia Roberts. The movie stars Hanks as a downsized retail worker who heads back to school, where he falls for his public-speaking teacher (Roberts).
While "Transformers" and "Cars 2" played to young audiences, the over-35 crowd accounted for 81 percent of the audience for "Larry Crowne." Movies appealing to older audiences tend to stick around longer in theaters, and Universal executives hope fans will seek out the movie once Fourth of July festivities are behind them.
"For adults who are always preoccupied with barbecues and entertaining and family, my expectations were never greater than this," said Nikki Rocco, the studio's head of distribution.
The 20th Century Fox romantic romp "Monte Carlo" opened a weak No. 6 with $8.8 million. The movie stars Selena Gomez, Katie Cassidy and Leighton Meester as American travelers who get the princess treatment in Monaco after Gomez impersonates a European heiress.
Despite a big start for "Dark of the Moon," overall business slipped compared to last Fourth of July weekend. According to Hollywood.com, domestic revenues Friday to Monday came in at $239 million, down 4.5 percent from a year ago, when "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" opened with $83.6 million and "The Last Airbender" debuted with $51.8 million.
Skeptics felt the "Transformers" franchise had lost much of its luster after the new sequel pulled in far less money on opening day than its predecessor. "Dark of the Moon" launched with $37.7 million domestically Wednesday, down 39 percent from the first day gross of $62 million for 2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."
But "Dark of the Moon" has held up better day by day than "Revenge of the Fallen," closing the revenue gap between the two.
After just over six days in theaters, the new movie still is well behind the $200.1 million domestic haul that "Revenge of the Fallen" managed in only five days.
"Dark of the Moon" has far better reviews and probably is drawing more-favorable audience word of mouth than "Revenge of the Fallen," which was hated by critics and was a disappointment to many fans, despite the movie's $400 million domestic finish and $800 million global total.
"People didn't like No. 2 very well," said Don Harris, head of distribution for Paramount. "You had to get the word going that this movie is a lot better than No. 2. What you had was that people were lowering their expectations at the beginning. ... We might have started at a place significantly behind where No. 2 was, but as each day went on, we've played better than we anticipated."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Tuesday.
1. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," $116.4 million ($217 million international).
2. "Cars 2," $32.1 million ($24.4 million international).
3. "Bad Teacher," $17.6 million.
4. "Larry Crowne," $15.7 million.
5. "Super 8," $9.5 million.
6. "Monte Carlo," $8.8 million.
7. "Green Lantern," $8 million.
8. "Mr. Popper's Penguins," $6.9 million.
9. "Bridesmaids," $4.4 million ($7.2 million international).
10. "Midnight in Paris," $4.3 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.