In what looks to be another case of summer franchise fatigue at the domestic box office, Paramount’s Transformers: The Last Knight opens tonight in the U.S. and it’s projected to be the lowest opening in the Hasbro cinematic series with a five-day take of $70 million at 3,800 theaters.
That said, once foreign is tabulated from 42 markets this weekend, Last Knight is looking at a $237.5M-$270M worldwide start, which on the high end could be the second-biggest opening of the summer after Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($271.8M). Last Knight‘s overperformance hinges on China.
The Last Knight cost a reported $217M, which is $7M more than the $210M spent on its previous chapter Transformers: Age Of Extinction. Throughout the years, Paramount has jumped the movie around the calendar in the late June-July 4th corridor, opening the pic on different days such as Tuesday, Wednesday and ultimately Friday — 2014’s Age of Extinction posted $100M over three days per Paramount.
Critics have always hated Transformers movies with its Rotten Tomatoes score dropping from 57% Rotten with the first title in 2007 to its lowest rating of 18% with Age Of Extinction. That fourthquel marked a change-up in its leading man from Shia LaBeouf to Mark Wahlberg.
Paramount was wise and held media screenings only last night for Last Knight. Whenever studios do this nowadays, it’s a means to delay bad word of mouth. Reviews are embargoed until 4 PM tonight PST, three hours before “Optimus Prime Time” when Last Knight opens in 546 3D Imax and RealD venues at 7 PM, before hitting 3,000 locations at 8 PM. Last year, in an effort to control critical backlash, Fox held U.S. press screenings for Independence Day: Resurgence on the Friday it opened. The pic wound up with a 31% Rotten Tomatoes score and a $41M No. 2 opening behind Finding Dory.
Age Of Extinction per Deadline’s film finance sources, minted a profit of $250M after all ancillaries with an estimated $30M in revenue coming from merchandising — the real reason why studios continue to keep these dusty franchises in business, particularly with the wane of home entertainment monies. Age Of Extinction and 2011’s Dark Of The Moon cleared $1.1 billion and $1.12B at the global box office, respectively, and the trick for Paramount is getting Last Knight to that same result.
Many of those benchmarks have to do with China, where Transformers has grown exponentially with the country’s exhibition infrastructure, with the first 2007 title grossing $37.1M there and the fourth title Age Of Extinction making 8.6x that with $320M. That broke Avatar‘s record as the biggest-grossing film in the Middle Kingdom, though Age Of Extinction was ultimately beaten the next year by Universal’s Furious 7 ($391M) and this year by The Fate Of The Furious ($392M).
This weekend alone, Last Knight is looking to debut to $80M-$100M in China. The film is expected to top its last outing in the PROC, but whether it can pass F8’s take will be borne out after this weekend. Bay and the team traveled last week to a premiere in Guangzhou. Chinese singer Jason Zhang, who sang a promotional song for the film, was also there. The Last Knight has a local marketing partner in Wanda (owner of the most screens in the Middle Kingdom). Weying Technology has also invested, as has Huahua with which Paramount is involved in a slate deal. Contrary to Age Of Extinction, Last Knight was not made under a co-operation agreement and shot locally — that may be a good thing as some of the Chinese product placement partners last time around got snippy pre- and post-release. It also featured Li Bingbing.
It is also unclear whether China will hold its annual blackout on foreign pics in July. Despicable Me 3 is the last Hollywood movie currently scheduled that month (on July 7) so it’s not known how much runway Last Knight will have. That’s not the same demo, but it’s about maintaining screens.
Elsewhere abroad, the initial suite of Last Knight is leaving out Latin America, France and Spain which will come later (a strategic move to get away from competition). But the 42-territory launch, which is set to rake in $167M-$200M, is a touch bigger than the 37 in which Age Of Extinction bowed in a slightly later corridor three years ago with $183M (at today’s rates). China was also included then. Majors that didn’t go first on Age Of Extinction included Brazil, Mexico and Germany — that was an effort to avoid clashing with World Cup soccer play that summer.
A London premiere was held Monday for the film and earlier this month, a promotional stunt was pulled at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in which an 1815 painting by Auguste Mayer featured a Transformer in the foreground of a naval battle. The film also shot partially in the UK. On Age Of Extinction there was major growth in markets like Brazil and Mexico versus Dark Of The Moon, although others fell including the UK. Each film has grown in overall overseas box office from the last. Age Of Extinction ended with about $859M internationally. China led, followed by Russia, Korea, Germany and the UK.
Last Knight is the only wide release at the domestic box office this weekend. Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 is expected to ease 45% for a second-weekend take of $29.5M. Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman also looks to hold at 45% in its fourth weekend with $22.7M and will easily clear the $300M threshold, becoming the fifth DC title to do so after Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad. Lionsgate/Codeblack’s All Eyez On Me is projected to decline 55% in its second weekend for $14.5M.