"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" now rules this year's box office as the blockbuster sequel became 2011's top domestic hit with $261 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Paramount Pictures' sci-fi smash starring Shia LaBeouf remained No. 1 in its second weekend with $47 million and shot past "The Hangover Part II" to first-place on the domestic chart.
Debuting in second place with $28.1 million domestically was the Warner Bros. comedy "Horrible Bosses," featuring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as bumblers plotting against their nasty supervisors.
Opening at No. 3 with $21 million was Sony Pictures' family tale "Zookeeper," with Kevin James as an animal tender who gets romantic advice from the talking critters in his care.
Domestic business dipped overall, with revenues totaling $158 million, down 18 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Despicable Me" led with a $56.4 million debut, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Despite predictions of a monster summer that would easily surpass last year's anemic one, revenues since the first weekend in May have slipped slightly behind those of summer 2010, according to Hollywood.com. With tickets costing more this year than last, that means admissions are down even further compared to summer 2010, when domestic attendance was among the lowest in the past decade.
The third "Transformers" sequel is climbing fast, but other familiar titles such as "Cars 2," "X-Men: First Class," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" are not living up to the domestic earnings of their predecessors. Even "The Hangover Part II," which had a huge opening weekend, is coming in below the original one domestically.
"This is when we're supposed to be pulling well ahead of one of the lowest-attended summers of the last 10 years, which was last summer, and we're not doing that," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "Given all their entertainment options now, it really takes a lot for people to see a trailer and say, `Oh, we've got to go out and see that."'
A familiar title that fans will be rushing out to see arrives this coming week with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the finale of one of Hollywood's biggest franchises.
Warner Bros. general sales manager Jeff Goldstein said the studio expects the eighth "Harry Potter" film to be the top-grossing entry in the series.
Though summer revenues are lagging, "'Potter' will change all of that next week," Goldstein said. "Going into this weekend, the industry was off year over year, but I think now we're going to close that gap."
For the year, domestic revenues are at $5.5 billion, down 8.6 percent from 2010's, while attendance is off 10 percent, according to Hollywood.com.
Yet international business has been Hollywood's salvation, with overseas fans turning out in huge numbers.
Disney's latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" adventure remains the year's top-grossing hit worldwide at $1.02 billion. Overseas markets accounted for $785 million, just over three-fourths of that total, highlighting how critical international business has become for Hollywood, which once depended largely on domestic ticket sales.
The new "Transformers" sequel added $93 million this weekend overseas, bringing its international total to $384 million and global haul to $645 million, No. 2 for the year behind "Pirates."
"From the distributor standpoint, people are looking at these movies as world events much more than just domestic events," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony, whose "Zookeeper" padded its domestic take with a $7.5 million launch in 19 overseas markets.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," $47 million ($93 million international).
2. "Horrible Bosses," $28.1 million.
3. "Zookeeper," $21 million ($7.5 million international).
4. "Cars 2," $15.2 million ($26.9 million international).
5. "Bad Teacher," $9 million.
6. "Larry Crowne," $6.3 million.
7. "Super 8," $4.8 million ($2.5 million international).
8. "Monte Carlo," $3.8 million.
9. "Green Lantern," $3.1 million.
10. "Mr. Popper's Penguins," $2.9 million.