Forecast: Fourth 'Transformers' to Fight Off Franchise's 'Extinction' This Weekend
Friday AM Update: Transformers: Age of Extinction earned an estimated $8.75 million from late Thursday shows. That includes $1.4 million from IMAX shows.

That number is in the same general ballpark as Godzilla ($9.3 million), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($8.7 million) and X-Men: Days of Future Past ($8.1 million). Godzilla and Spider-Man benefited from a 7 p.m. opening, though, while Transformers didn't open until 9 p.m. For the weekend, Transformers should wind up over $90 million.

Forecast: Rolling out at 4,233 locations this weekend, Transformers: Age of Extinction could be the first 2014 release to open over $100 million. It's unclear, though, if the addition of Dinobots and Mark Wahlberg is enough to combat the sense of "been there, done that" that's settled in around the fourth installment in this hugely profitable franchise.

The first three Transformers movies opened ahead of July 4th in 2007, 2009 and 2011. All three earned over $300 million at the domestic box office, and each installment improved upon its predecessor overseas. The third movie—the first in 3D—grossed a whopping $771 million outside of the U.S., which puts its worldwide total north of $1.1 billion.

While all three major box office hits, the second and third movies were maligned by critics and received mixed reactions from moviegoers (both have below a 6.5 rating on IMDb, which is poor for this genre). Historically, this isn't a good sign for the box office prospects of the next outing.

A strong comparison here is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, where goodwill from the first movie propped up two underwhelming sequels. For the fourth Pirates movie, the cast from the first three outings was largely replaced, though the main draw (Captain Jack Sparrow) stuck around. For Transformers: Age of Extinction, Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf in the lead human role, while fan favorite Optimus Prime is, of course, returning.

Ultimately, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides earned 22 percent less than its predecessor at the domestic box office; a similar result would not be surprising for the latest Transformers movie.

From an opening weekend perspective, it's tough to draw an apples-to-apples comparison with the previous Transformers movies. All three opened on either a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and therefore burned off significant demand by the time the weekend arrived. Fandango is reporting that Age of Extinction pre-sales are on par with those of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past. All three of those movies opened between $90 and $95 million. Paramount is also expecting a similar result this weekend ($90 to $100 million).

One thing that definitely won't help Transformers this weekend are its reviews. As of late Thursday afternoon, the movie had an abysmal 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. While the franchise has historically seemed critic-proof, this rating does seem low enough to keep at least a few potential moviegoers away.

Of course, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't made with the U.S. market in mind: the goal here is first-and-foremost to tap in to the franchise's massive overseas potential. More specifically, this movie is designed to play in China. The last outing earned over $160 million there, and the Chinese market has grown substantially since then.

In an effort to further increase the movie's appeal there, a significant portion of the movie is set in and around Hong Kong. It's practically a foregone conclusion that Transformers: Age of Extinction will earn north of $200 million in China, and there's a small chance that it actually grosses more there than it does in the U.S.

Meanwhile, The Weinstein Company is releasing Once director John Carney's Begin Again in five theaters this weekend. The movie has received mixed reviews, but its mainstream romantic comedy trappings and strong cast (Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo) suggest it could be a solid indie hit this Summer.

Sci-fi action movie Snowpiercer is opening at eight locations this weekend. The movie was a big hit last year in director Bong Joon-ho's native South Korea, and has strong reviews and a U.S.-friendly cast that includes Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. It remains to be seen whether distributor Radius-TWC (a division of The Weinstein Company) will give it the push necessary to really break out.

Forecast (June 27-29)

1. Transformers 4 - $96 million

2. How to Train Your Dragon - $15.5 million (-37%)

3. 22 Jump Street - $15 million (-45%)

4. Think Like a Man Too - $12.3 million (-58%)

Bar for Success

The last Transformers movie earned $98 million on its opening weekend, and that's after burning off $64.8 million worth of demand on Wednesday and Thursday. Based on that, Transformers: Age of Extinction ought to be opening at least on par with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which has the top debut this year ($95 million).

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