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As of yesterday (or, at worst, 12:04 am this evening), Bumblebee has passed $100 million at the domestic box office. That gives Paramount/Viacom’s $132m-budgeted prequel (or soft reboot) a whopping 4.61x weekend-to-final multiplier.
The well-reviewed/well-received 1980s-set prequel opened with $21.65m over its initial Fri-Sun frame and has used the holiday season to leg out. On one hand, you can argue that the debut was smaller than Hasbro and friends had hoped. On the other hand, it absolutely legged it out like a well-liked Christmas kid-friendly fantasy movie.
And, fun fact: It’s the leggiest Transformers movie ever. That’s extra impressive when you consider that only one prior franchise offering actually opened on a Friday.
For reference, Transformers opened on a Tuesday (with Monday previews starting at 8:00 pm back when that was a rare occurrence) and earned $70.5 million over the Fri-Sun portion of its mammoth $155m Tues-Sun debut.
Thanks to decent reviews, strong buzz and a lot of “Wow, this movie is the biggest fantasy action spectacle since Return of the King!”-level word-of-mouth, the Michael Bay actioner earned $319m domestic, right alongside Spider-Man 3 ($336m), Shrek the Third ($322m), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($309m) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($292m). And since folks like that one, Revenge of the Fallen was a relative breakout sequel two years later.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which started the pattern of these movies getting miserable reviews, opened with a whopping $62 million opening Wednesday, the second-biggest single day gross ever behind The Dark Knight’s $67m Friday a year prior. The film earned $200m in five days (second only to Dark Knight’s $205m Fri-Tues sprint at the time) and $108m over its Fri-Sun frame. It ended up with $409m domestic, which was around double its five-day launch (normal for a long weekend debut on or around July 4th weekend) but technically a 3.69x weekend-to-final multiplier. Ditto Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011, which earned $352m domestic from a $97m Fri-Sun launch (3.6x) and $162.6m Wed-Sun debut weekend.
Age of Extinction was the first of these to open on a Friday, and as such, it earned “just” 2.45x its $100 million Fri-Sun debut frame in the summer of 2014. But it remained huge overseas and was A) the biggest global grosser of 2014 and B) the last non-Disney/non-Universal movie to pass $1 billion worldwide (until Aquaman does the deed over the next several days). Transformers: The Last Knight opened with $44m over its Fri-Sun frame and $68m over its Wed-Sun debut, a frankly terrible sum for a franchise that once ruled the box office. And it ended with just $130m or a 2.9x multiplier even with that Wed debut.
That brings us to Bumblebee. The Hailee Steinfeld/John Cena coming-of-age fantasy, which mixes “a kid and their car” mythology with the likes of The Iron Giant, E.T. and Monster Trucks, is now the leggiest Transformers movie ever in North America despite being only the second one of these to open on a Friday. Now, to be clear, you can make the case that it did have a “five-day opening,” but that the debut was Fri-Tues (Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday this year) as opposed to Wed-Sun. If you count its first five days as the “debut,” then its multiplier is still 2.9x its $34m Fri-Tues debut frame.
That’s still leggier than the respective “long opening weekend to domestic final” multiplier of the first five live-action Transformers movies (2.05 x $155m in 2007, 2.05 x $200m in 2009, 2.17 x $165m in 2011, 2.02 x $121m in 2014 and 1.9 x $68m in 2017). With the caveat that Paramount moved this one to Christmas specifcially to take advantage of the Christmas-to-New Year’s holiday season, Bumblebee is still leggier than any prior Transformers movie. At a glance, it should end up just over/under the $130m domestic cume of Transformers: The Last Knight which would also be just over/under 6x its Fri-Sun debut. Even with Aquaman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sucking up oxygen, Bumblebee has stuck around.
With the Travis Knight-directed prequel finally kicking into gear overseas (including a $59 million launch in China), it is just over/under $300m worldwide. Unless it collapses here and abroad, I’d expect a global cume over $400m or a figure comparable to the $371m-$400m likes of Batman Begins, Star Trek, Superman Returns, Tron: Legacy and Snow White and the Huntsman. And as for the big “What now?” question, I’d wager that the odds are pretty good for another Transformers movie. Sure, Paramount would have preferred that Bumblebee earn closer to $500m than $400m, but they really would have preferred The Last Knight not crap out at $605m. It’s not entirely Bumblebee’s fault that the spin-off became a franchise savior.
As should be repeated, back when Bumblebee was green-lit, it was intended as an off-the-beaten-path spin-off/prequel Transformers movie, one that was testing the waters for the idea of a full-blown Transformers cinematic universe. But after Transformers: The Last Knight (which had too much worldbuilding and too little robot-smashing action) underperformed, the cinematic universe notion was essentially canceled and the little spin-off movie, which cost 40% less than the $195m to $220m-budgeted sequels, was retroactively turned into a soft reboot and a franchise-saving installment. You can make the same argument about Aquaman, whereby the spin-off movie was tasked with justifying the whole enterprise, which is arguably why both flicks had word-of-mouth-building pre-release sneak previews.
Presuming that the movie continues to stick around at least for the next few weeks, I’d say Bumblebee meets the relative criteria for a potential break-out sequel. It earned rave reviews, was popular with audiences, had a leggy theatrical run and while not insanely profitable wasn’t any kind of financial disaster. Like Batman Begins, it got folks excited for seeing popular characters from this brand as they would specifically exist in this specific world.
And even if the next Transformers movie doesn’t pull a proverbial Dark Knight (or X-Men: Days of Future Past), we should remember that Star Trek Into Darkness ($468 million) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ($545m) both out-earned their predecessors ($385m and $525m) in global grosses.
Moreover, Paramount/Viacom isn’t swimming in exploitable IP right now. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles down for the count, DreamWorks Animation now with Comcast and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which they launched in 2008 with Iron Man) thriving as Walt Disney’s crown jewel, it’s essentially down to Mission: Impossible, Star Trek (whose fourth movie may have just been canceled after Star Trek Beyond bombed) and Transformers.
Whether the series ever returns to its “king of the hill” status (doubtful, as I’d argue global audiences specifically flocked to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies because they were Michael Bay’s specifically over-the-top Transformers movies), Paramount can’t afford to just dump a once-successful IP just because the critically-acclaimed prequel/reboot merely did “relatively okay.”
Bumblebee may not have “saved” the Transformers series. But to quote that other Paramount IP, it gave the brand a chance… a chance to survive. And in case you’re asking, Transformers: The Movie earned 3.28x its $1.7 million debut weekend in 1986. So, yeah, Bumblebee was even leggier than that one from back in the day.
I’ve studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for 28 years. I have extensively written about all of said subjects for the last ten years. My outlets for film criticism, box office commentary, and film-skewing s… MORE