The release of 2018’s Bumblebee movie was a huge move for Hasbro. After five blockbuster action films, taking the franchise in a new direction was a big gamble. With a new director at the helm, a shift in focus away from the action driven movies the series was built upon and setting the film some thirty years earlier than The Last Knight, it had everything to lose…
Waning Studio Confidence
On paper, it was clear that Hasbro and Paramount had concerns about the franchise. At the box office, The Last Knight performed badly, making considerably less than Age Of Extinction. On a domestic level, the takings had actually been in decline after Revenge Of The Fallen but had been supported by the international market but The Last Knight proved to be the last straw for the studio. Like playing real money pokies online, carrying on with the franchise was going to be a risk so changes had to be made…
It resulted in the budget for Bumblee being slashed dramatically, being almost half that of The Last Knight. While all of the films had been profitable overall – counting box office takings, home video and merchandise sales – it still didn’t instill confidence going forward. So that put immense pressure on Bumblebee…
A Change In Direction For Bumblebee
The audience for the Transformers movies has been split from the beginning. The die-hard fans have wanted the films to be closer to the original G1 series and comics. Those new to the franchise have generally been happier with the characters and storylines. And audiences simply looking for a sci-fi action flick have, again, left feeling entertained as has been reflected by the early successes.
But Bumblebee changed all of that. Instead of the previous films, it took the movie back to the franchises roots. Not only did Bumblee look like his original G1 design, but the film adopted the 1980s setting and style. Action was toned down and it focused more on storytelling and character development. Not only was the film still critically acclaimed, but it gained praise and approval from long-term fans who had been wary of the live action movies for so long.
A Commercial Flop?
Frustratingly for Paramount and Hasbro, Bumblebee wasn’t the huge cinematic sucess that they had hoped. Taking less that $500m at the box office globally, it’s the weakest performing of all the films, including the disastrous The Last Knight. But what were the factors that damaged the film’s takings so badly? One of the greatest factors to have an impact is that it was the first in the series to deviate from the summer release window, coming out just before Christmas 2018. Having to compete with other Christmas blockbuster movies as well as families often making arrangements for the holiday season was going to affect all but the strongest seasonal and family movies.
Another factor Paramount and Hasbro no doubt failed to take into consideration was the reputation of the previous movies. The declining box office takings were a clear indicator that people were staying away from the franchise. Die hard fans weren’t seeing the film as many times as expected (let’s be honest, many of us would have seen them multiple times), and others were simply waiting for the home video or streaming releases.
Truthfully, from my own perspective on this, after the disappointment of the first film I’ve not seen any of the rest in the cinema and relied on seeing them on day one of the blu ray releases and I’m sure I’m not alone.
But with the box office takings down considerably, could Bumblebee still be considered to be a financial success? In fact, yes it was. For as long as the franchise has existed Hasbro has seen the television shows and movies as just a small cog in the marketing of Transformers as a brand. Whatever is invested in the on-screen product is usually recovered several times over, not only in direct revenue (box office, broadcast/streaming rights, home video sales) but is more than made up for from merchandise and toy sales.
Fans happily flocked to the cinema to watch Bumblebee, but spent far more on toys, blu rays and merchandise long after the film was released. Hasbro acknowledged this confirming that they experienced a sales growth in their toy lines following the release of the movie.
A Bright Future
So knowing that the franchise was able to be profitable even if the box office wasn’t as strong as expected, it ensured that more movies were going to follow and as we all know, Rise Of The Beasts is set to hit cinemas this June. The G1 characters are being joined by some of their counterparts from the Beast Wars series this time and while some are excited, others aren’t too sure.
I’ve discussed it before here, but I was late to Transformers, being introduced to the show through Beast Wars. So it’s something that I should be excited for. But surprisingly I’m not. And I’ll explain more next time when I look at Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts.