For a line of toys based on changing shape, Transformers are a pretty predictable — and profitable — bunch.
The franchise that enrages critics and enraptures fans did it again this weekend, pummeling the competition on its way to a decisive No. 1.
'Transformers: Age of Extinction' morphed into $100 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
The debut met most analysts' stratospheric projections and underscores Michael Bay's canny measure of public appetites. Like the previous three Transformers films, Extinction was excoriated by critics. And again, moviegoers didn't care.
Some analysts suggested that last week's arrest of former franchise star Shia LaBeouf boosted awareness of the 2½-hour film. Not that the movie needed it.
"Whether an arrest scandal and general meltdown of Shia LaBeouf helped or hurt the fourth Transformers project is up for debate," says David Mumpower, analyst for Box Office Prophets.
"What cannot be argued is that Michael Bay continues to be bulletproof," Mumpower says. "He releases movies that critics despise but consumers passionately support by voting with their wallets."
Indeed, Extinction scored just an 18% approval rating from the nation's film critics, says Rotten Tomatoes. But moviegoers had a different read, giving the movie an A-minus with pollsters CinemaScore.
More impressive, the debut comes despite indications the franchise was struggling. The last installment, 2011's Dark of the Moon, collected $352 million — impressive, but well below 2009's Revenge of the Fallen, which amassed $402 million.
Gitesh Pandya, analyst for Box Office Guru, praised the film for finding a hot replacement lead in Mark Wahlberg.
"They have not had a new story in three years so demand (was) there," he says. "Plus the menu is changed up enough to put something new on the table.
Rentrak's Paul Dergarabedian notes that the opening is the year's biggest, supplanting April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which bowed to $95 million. He says the debut underscores Wahlberg's standing as "one of the most consistently bankable stars working today."
The comedy sequel 22 Jump Street took a distant second with $15.4 million, followed by How to Train Your Dragon 2 with $13.1 million.
Kevin Hart's Think Like a Man Too claimed fourth with $10.4 million, while Angelina Jolie's Maleficent rounded out the top five with $8.2 million. Final figures are due Monday.