By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian film-goers will be the first to see the third sequel of the "Transformers" franchise at a Moscow premiere on Thursday, as Hollywood increasingly turns its attention to audiences in emerging markets.
Stars from the $200-million, 3D blockbuster "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" will grace the red carpet at the 33rd Moscow International Film Festival -- a rare world premiere in the Russian capital, which is increasingly beating Western rivals for the honor of hosting such openings.
"I'm really proud we are doing a premiere here: I think it's a wonderful world stage," director Michael Bay told reporters in Moscow, where a crowd of fans waiting for autographs outside one of the city's main hotels attested to the Russian film audience's growing appetite for Hollywood movies.
"Moscow is an emerging market, it plays a very important international role in terms of film," Bay said.
Russian box offices hit record earnings of $1 billion last year riding the success of foreign blockbusters, which raked in 1.5 times more than Russian movies, according to the independent industry tracker Movie Research.
"When a large American company offers us a world premiere... and brings 80 Hollywood representatives, we can't refuse, we have no right to refuse because it's another sign of hope" for the Russian film industry, film-maker Nikita Mikhailkov told journalists.
However, he cautioned that the Russian movie industry was losing film goers to Hollywood blockbusters:
"Most new releases in our market are American, which benefits the U.S. distributors and producers. This is a nearly 120-million-member audience: It's a large market," he said.
As the weakening dollar increasingly pushes Hollywood to look to emerging markets for profits, Bay said he planned to take the movie to Brazil and China following its Russian launch.
But he said his decision to open "Transformers" in Moscow was influenced by his own Russian roots.
"I grew up during the Cold War. My grandfather, who is from Russia, said I would never make it into the film business... That's partly why I'm here," Bay said.
Actor Shia LaBoeuf said "Dark of the Moon" -- whose action plays out against the backdrop of the U.S.-Russian space race -- was the best yet in the saga.
"The third movie is the best one. It's the strongest script we've ever had, it's the best character development, it's paced well, it's shot incredibly," LaBoeuf, who starred in all three movies, told Reuters.
"Technologically, it's the most advanced, just the best special effects we've ever devised!"
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Shockman and Yana Soboleva; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Steve Addison)