By almost any measure, $69 million is a heck of a lot of money.
Not so for “Transformers: The Last Knight,” which is tracking to make that much in North America during its five-day opening frame. The problem isn’t just that it’s up against a $217 million production budget, although that’s part of it. With China powering an estimated $196.2 million international opening, Paramount and Hasbro are leaning on the film’s global appeal to justify its place in the series.
But the bigger red flag for “Transformers” No. 5 lies in the franchise’s history of opening at around $100 million domestically for the past three installments. This raises a lot of questions, all centering around who or what is to blame for “The Last Knight’s” lower numbers. Here are three reasons why the movie may have underperformed.
1. Franchise Fatigue Strikes Again
It’s a different verse of the same song. This summer has seen sequel after sequel show signs of weakness at the box office. Save “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which has outgrossed its originator, and you’re left with “Alien: Covenant” (a long-awaited disappointment); “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (the smallest North American opening since the original); “The Mummy” (a domestic flop); and “Cars 3” (another franchise low opening). With even more “Transformers” movies in the works — most likely without director Michael Bay — the studio should hope new blood can save the franchise from further decay.
2. Reviews Killed Word of Mouth
Critics have never exactly loved a “Transformers” movie before, but that hasn’t seemed to hurt the bottom line — could “The Last Knight” signal a change in how word of mouth spreads? The latest installation currently has a 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, and follows a trend of movies that have underperformed at the box office that also just might not be all that high-quality. While the studio is seeing an uptick in approval from its youngest demo, a B+ CinemaScore overall is tied for a franchise low. Contrast that with “Wonder Woman,” which received almost unanimously positive reviews and outperformed expectations. Yes, there are many reasons why one might see “Wonder Woman” and not “Transformers,” but the critical consensus is one direct contrast between how each recent film has performed.
3. No Hook to Make it a Must-See
2017 — even more so than 2014 when the last “Transformers” movie was released — is a year of too much. Too many blockbusters crammed into the summer season. Too much television. Too much nonstop cable news covering White House drama. The choice to go see a movie is just that (a conscious decision) and for a movie to drive conversation, and possess the all-powerful quality of being a must-see, it has to offer something different. Michael Bay’s latest seemed to lack a strong enough hook. That’s not to say there wasn’t an attempt. For example, Bay shot nearly the entire movie on Imax 3D cameras, which would seem to create a need to see the movie on the big screen. Also, a trailer for the movie showed Optimus Prime fighting Bumblebee, which sparked a question among fans: Why? But, in the end, the movie has failed to cut through the cultural conversation, or even seem different from the last installment in any significant way. For that reason, among others, audiences decided to take their money elsewhere.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Haddock is in theaters now.