May 15 2014, 5:25am CDT | by Forbes
Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise is like the Joker’s Christmas special in that early Batman: The Animated Series episode. They are the films that “nobody wants to see, but everyone will watch.” This Paramount (a division of Viacom, Inc.) franchise is one that pretty much everyone claims to hate, that everyone claims represents the nadir of big-budget blockbuster film making. Yet Transformers ($709 million worldwide), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($836m), and Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($1.12b) have made an average of $889m worldwide apiece.
In terms of per-film averages, that’s behind only Harry Potter ($965m over eight films), the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films ($964m over five films), and Pirates of the Caribbean ($932m over four films). In many ways, the Transformers films break the rules when it comes to franchise film making. The rules that often apply to mega-budget franchise properties just don’t seem to apply to Michael Bay’s robot-fighting spectacles. No one seems to like them, but yet the grosses don’t seem to be diminished all that much by how disliked the prior installment was. There is no “Tomb Raider Trap” effect for these films.
They also make no effort to market to women in any stereotypical sense, all-but-stating that the main female roles are there purely for t&a and selling the uber-macho male fantasies about manly men doing mortal combat with vehicles that turn into death robots. While most of the very biggest franchises at least attempt to appeal to both genders (think Avatar, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean), the Transformers films have almost nothing to offer the female movie goer. They are the most explicitly male-pandering franchise around, basically a gender-reversed Twilight Saga. But at least the Twi-Hards actually like the various Twilight films.
At best, you’ll find most film writers admitting to liking the first film with its “boy and his car” narrative that kept the robots in the background for most of the picture. But even that (inexplicably) well-received initial installment is now usually lumped in with the generally loathed sequels. Yet there is little doubt, despite what would otherwise be a surefire contender for franchise fatigue, that Transformers: Age of Extinction will be among the biggest-grossing films of the summer if not the very biggest. This apparent contradiction arguably stems from two specific factors.
First of all, the very people complaining loudest about how much they hate Michael Bay or loathe the Transformers films will likely be first in line at that Thursday night IMAX screening come June 26th. Just as the people most up in arms about Ben Affleck playing Batman will be among the first to see Batman Vs. Superman. The “nerds” complain the loudest, but they will show up to geek-friendly movies no matter what. Part of the ongoing success of this franchise to an acknowledgement that said film nerds don’t represent mainstream movie culture as much as they like to think we do. The regular moviegoers, the ones who fuel the vast majority of ticket buyers for these kinds of movies, don’t necessarily obsess over the intricate details of these kind of movies as you or I might.
What we have to remember is that the vast majority of moviegoers of all demographics don’t very much care if a film based on an 80′s cartoon involving giant robots smashing each other to bits is “good.” They come for the big-scale action scenes, the vulgar humor, and the slapstick comedy that we’ve come to expect from these films. They don’t mind that Bay drags out a solid 105-minute robot-smashing action thriller into a 2.5 hour would-be epic or that the films can’t decide to be kid-friendly romps or borderline R-rated action comedies. Even if they do, they are only going to see the film once in a theater anyway, so who cares if it “works”? Those who come to a Transformers movie for the basest possible reasons will still show up once every few years for their fill of robot-smashing fun and ignore the stuff that doesn’t work.
We’ll see if franchise fatigue sets in this time around. As we saw with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ($240m/$1b), domestic audiences may well take a step back only to watch overseas audiences pick up the slack. The film ended up being a co-production with (among others) China Movie Channel. Transformers: Dark of the Moon earned $165 million in China alone, $100m more than Revenge of the Fallen, and a trick that Paramount would like to repeat this go-around. Also helping matters is that the film cost “just” $165m, a big comedown from the $200m Revenge of the Fallen and the $195m Dark of the Moon and just above the $150m original installment.
The film does seem to have a slightly smaller in scale than the Chicago-trashing Dark of the Moon, while having an honest-to-goodness movie star like Mark Wahlberg will theoretically lessen the domestic fatigue (as will Dino-Bots). In all likelihood, the critics will howl, the fans will protest, but everyone will see it once and it will make nearly $1 billion worldwide anyway. Either way, whether it’s an artistic improvement or not, it will be interesting to watch. Transformers: Age of Extinction drops in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D on June 27th, 2014. As always, we’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy the delightfully silly “Battle Cry” song from the group Imagine Dragons, which has a goofy appeal to a moviegoer who grew up with fantastically cheesy action movie songs from the likes of Kenny Loggins, Frank Stallone, and Survivor./>/>
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