This weekend the critics acclaimed a new action movie a story of men and robots at war against a group of machines that could destroy part of the planet. That film was The Hurt Locker, about U.S. soldiers defusing bombs in Baghdad. It opened at just four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles and earned $144,000, for a robust screen average of $36,000. Meanwhile, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, another movie with war and robots and stuff blowing up and which the critics roundly denounced earned $26,000 per screen. But it invaded 4,234 screens in the U.S. and Canada, and in doing so, it smashed the five-day record for a movie opening on a Wednesday. Big news: reviewers have no impact on a mass-marketed movie.
Transformers 2, sequel to the 2007 hit based on the '80s TV cartoon series, is expected to have earned an astral $201 million, according to Paramount, its producing studio. That's nearly a third higher than the previous top Wednesday-to-Sunday take $152.4 million, for Spider-Man 2 in 2004 and within a hair of the all-time five-day total, $203.7 million (Friday to Tuesday), for last year's The Dark Knight. Add the $200 million or so that this Armageddon for machines picked up in foreign theaters over the same stretch, and you have a $400 million world domination. (We'll add just one more $200 million figure: that's what this T2 cost to produce.)
Among the human-being, or also-ran, movies, the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy The Proposal took second place with an honorable $18.5 million (a 45% drop from its $33.6 million win last weekend). The Hangover hung on with an additional $17.2 million, pumping its cume up to $183.2 million. Pixar's Up started its balloon descent with a $13 million take. And the new sick-child weepie, My Sister's Keeper, cadged a soft $12 million for fifth place.
It's a little warming to see, in this instant-gratification box-office era, that fully half of the weekend's winning movies have been around for a while: The Hangover in its fourth week, Up in its fifth, Night at the Museum 2 in its sixth, the graybeard Star Trek in its eighth, and the slow-release Away We Go finally breaking into the Top 10 in its fourth week. That mild comedy, about a couple finding that they are way more wonderful and sensitive than most of their friends and relatives, should be advertised with a smug-alert warning, but it's the one indie movie making any waves this month.
All these movies found their audiences through word of mouth. Transformers 2 got its gigantic turnout through brand recognition and auteur pull. No question: when director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg get out their toys to play, people will pay to watch even if it's a not-very-interactive video game in which the stars (Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox), and the audience too, are essentially passive onlookers at a 'bot convention where fights keep breaking out. For 2½ hours. The machine-made movie attracted nearly 30 million North Americans in the past few days. So who was looking at all the Michael Jackson tributes on TV? We'd guess: their parents.
Having achieved its goal of fleecing the public on a summer weekend, Transformers 2 will pass through the entertainment alimentary system and be forgotten, except by the filmmakers and their accountants, until 2012, when another installment will rise to repeat the process. The forlorn minority of critics hope that, sometime before then, The Hurt Locker will have found the audience it deserves.
Here are Box Office Mojo's official weekend estimates for the Top 10 movies:
1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, $112 million, first weekend; $201.2 million, first five days
2. The Proposal, $18.5 million; $69.1 million, second week
3. The Hangover, $17.2 million; $183.2 million, fourth week
4. Up, $13 million; $250.2 million, fifth week
5. My Sister's Keeper, $12.1 million, first weekend
6. Year One, $5.8 million; $32.2 million, second week
7. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, $5.4 million; $53.4 million, third week
8. Star Trek, $3.6 million; $246.2 million, eighth week
9. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, $3.5 million; $163.2 million, sixth week
10. Away We Go, $1.7 million; $4.1 million, fourth week