'Transformers 3' Box Office: How High Can It Go?

'Dark of the Moon' might not make as much as 'Revenge of the Fallen,' but that doesn't make it a failure.

Last month, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" corralled $92.2 million over its opening weekend — the highest total of 2011. How could Jack Sparrow possibly complain? Well, that lofty sum was still well below the openings of both 2006's "Dead Man's Chest" ($135.6 million) and 2007's "At World's End" ($114.7).

The fact is, even the most robust of movie franchises tend to wane in terms of box-office bucks; the familiar pattern is a first film that sets the stage, a second installment that cashes in on the anticipation and then subsequent offerings that can't continue the upward trend. Such is the case with "Transformers."

There's much to celebrate with "Dark of the Moon," which enjoyed a first-day gross on Wednesday of $42.5 million (when you count midnight screenings), beating the first-day pull of "On Stranger Tides" (a Friday release, no less). That puts the third "Transformers" film on track for a seven-day debut of as much as $200 million or more. So why might Optimus Prime be dissatisfied with that opening? "Revenge of the Fallen" opened to $62 million on a Wednesday in 2009, on its way to a one-week total of almost $240 million.

Yet any dissatisfaction must be tempered with historical box-office perspective. "The fact that 'T3' didn't measure up to 'T2' isn't really a surprise, as the fatigue factor finally caught up to the franchise," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "This is the case for most films series as they reach the threequel. Plus, it didn't help 'Transformers' that the second film was, for the most part, trashed by critics, fans and even the filmmakers."

While "Dark of the Moon" is off to a comparatively slow start, some industry observers believe it could pick up over the holiday weekend. "Everything we're seeing on Facebook and Twitter indicates that word-of-mouth is extremely positive," said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com. "It's still a bit early to rush to judgment on how well this is going to hold up over the holiday frame. It could explode in a big way over the weekend."

Perhaps. Or not. There's no doubt the franchise took a public-opinion hit after the second film. And while the third one offers perhaps the finest use of 3-D since "Avatar," it comes at a time when audiences are battling back against a host of shoddy 3-D offerings by simply not paying the extra bucks for another dimension. "Dark of the Moon" is a victim of the three-dimensional failings of "Clash of the Titans."

At the same time, we can't ignore the worldwide situation. Globally, "Dark of the Moon" might well eclipse the $836 million total of "Revenge of the Fallen" (just as "On Stranger Tides" could end up being the biggest "Pirates" flick when international grosses are factored in). Thus, Optimus rejoices!

So where does all this leave "Transformers" going forward? Both star Shia LaBeouf and director Michael Bay have declared, in no uncertain terms, that they plan to end their involvement with the series after three films. Both creatively and financially, that might not be such a bad thing.

"This franchise needs new blood and a new angle going forward," Bock said, going on to suggest the fourth film needs to leave the familiar environs of Earth behind and deeply explore the robot alien's home planet. "Maybe a trip to Cybertron will be the spark 'Transformers 4' needs. Don't bring it to us, we'll come to you! But we will likely have to wait three to four years."

Check out everything we've got on "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

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