The shape-shifting robots of Transformers have taken on a new form: huge piles of cash.

The sci-fi saga Transformers, DreamWorks' and Paramount's big-screen take on the Hasbro toys, debuted with $67.6 million US in ticket sales in its first weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. That gave it $152.5 million since opening with preview screenings Monday night.

Top weekend ticket sales at Canadian and U.S. theatres:

  1. Transformers: $67.6 million
  2. Ratatouille: $29 million
  3. Live Free or Die Hard: $17.4 million
  4. License to Wed: $10.4 million
  5. Evan Almighty: $8.1 million
  6. 1408: $7.1 million
  7. Knocked Up: $5.2 million
  8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: $4.15 million
  9. Sicko: $3.65 million
  10. Ocean's Thirteen: $3.5 million
(Estimates from Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures to be released Monday.)
If the weekend figures hold when final numbers are released Monday, that would give Transformers the biggest first week revenues ever for a non-sequel, surpassing the $151.6 million of 2002's Spider-Man.

But factoring in today's higher ticket prices, Spider-Man drew more people in its first week, about 26.1 million, compared with 22.5 million for Transformers.

Transformers was directed by Michael Bay and features a cast led by Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, who are among the humans hurled into the action when two races of warring robots bring their feud to Earth.

The movie's striking visual effects and the Transformers brand— which debuted in the 1980s with toys, a TV show and an animated movie— proved irresistible for audiences, said Rob Moore, Paramount's head of worldwide marketing and distribution.

"Michael Bay created something visually that people hadn't seen before," Moore said. "When you look at a jet plane flying under a bridge then flipping and turning into a robot, those kinds of images people found incredibly unique and compelling."

Transformers also took in $93.6 million in 23 other countries where it has played since June 28.

However, the overall domestic box office plunged. The top 12 movies took in $161.5 million, down 23 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest opened with what was then a record weekend of $135.6 million.

"The good news is we've got another big one right around the corner with Harry Potter," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "We should be looking at a strong midsummer boost that'll hopefully carry through to the end of summer."

The weekend's other new wide release, the Warner Bros. comedy License to Wed, took fourth place with $10.4 million, raising its total since debuting Tuesday to $17.8 million. It stars Robin Williams as a minister who forces an engaged couple (Mandy Moore and John Krasinski) through a tortuous marital boot camp.

The previous weekend's No. 1 flick, Disney's animated Ratatouille, dropped to second place with $29 million, raising its 10-day total to $109.5 million. Ratatouille held up well in its second weekend as revenues fell just 38 per cent, compared with drops of 50 per cent or more for many other big summer movies.

Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End took in $3 million to climb to $301.7 million domestically, following Sony's Spider-Man 3 and DreamWorks Animation's Shrek the Third as $300-million hits this year.

In limited release, MGM's Rescue Dawn debuted strongly with $104,000 in six theatres. It stars Christian Bale in the real-life story of a U.S. pilot struggling to survive after he's shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War.