By John Young
Updated June 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • Movie

Yup, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is going to have a huge opening day, but determining exactly how huge is no easy feat. The $195 million action threequel was initially going to be released this Friday. But Paramount chose to move it up to Wednesday, only then to decide to sneak preview it Tuesday night at 2,700 3-D theaters (including 146 IMAX screens). This makes things a bit trickier for your box-office prognosticator, as there’s not much precedent for movies opening at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday. And should Dark of the Moon‘s Tuesday evening gross count toward its Wednesday opening-day figure? For the purposes of this post, I think so.

First, some background. The obvious points of comparison for Dark of the Moon are the two prior Transformers movies. Luckily for us, the first Transformers movie also started its run with “sneak preview” showings the night before its official release. Transformers earned $8.8 million from its previewscreenings on July 2, 2007 (a Monday). The following day, it brought in $27.9 million more, for a combined opening-day total of $36.7 million. The sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, didn’t offer any preview screenings. It opened on June 24, 2009 (a Wednesday) to a staggering $62 million (including $16.8 million from midnight shows).

Dark of the Moon will likely fall somewhere in between those two opening-day tallies. I don’t see it being able to match Revenge of the Fallen‘s $62 million, mostly because that movie, which won Worst Picture at the Razzie Awards, burned so many moviegoers. At IMDb, the original Transformers garnered a 7.2 rating from users, while Revenge of the Fallen mustered only a 5.9. But Dark of the Moon should easily surpass the first movie’s $36.7 million result. With the original Transformers, Paramount had the moderate challenge of convincing adults that it’s okay to see a movie based on a children’s toy line of alien robots. The franchise went on to gross $1.5 billion worldwide; in other words, mission accomplished. Audiences know exactly what they’ll be getting with Dark of the Moon, and never underestimate the allure of the familiar when it comes to predicting people’s moviegoing behavior.

The wild card here is 3-D. The first two Transformers were in 2-D, while Dark of the Moon was shot in 3-D and is being shown in that format at about 2,800 locations (starting on Wednesday). The last four 3-D releases — Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern, and Cars 2 — all earned less than half of their openings from 3-D theaters. But Paramount and director Michael Bay have been heavily promoting Dark of the Moon‘s 3-D version. The studio took the initiative of sending 2,000 theaters an extra-bright 3-D “print” of the movie, while Bay wrote a letter to fans on his website imploring them to see the movie in three dimensions. If moviegoers overwhelmingly opt for the 3-D version, Dark of the Moon could wind up with around $55 million its first day. However, if audiences continue to show signs of 3-D fatigue, $45 million is also a possibility.

My prediction: $13 million Tuesday night and $37 million on Wednesday (including midnight shows), for a combined opening-day gross of $50 million. Check back here on Thursday to learn what we think Transformers: Dark of the Moon — as well as Larry Crowne and Monte Carlo — will make over the holiday weekend.

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