The Transformers franchise is well-known for being a box office draw. After all, it’s pretty hard not to get excited about giant robots beating each other up for two hours. However, that wasn’t always the case, and the box office story of the franchise is pretty interesting.
From humble beginnings in 1986 to the absolute box office dominance in the early 2010s, there’s no denying that no matter how much money the movies make, the Transformers movies have cemented themselves in cinematic history as the definition of a blockbuster.
It might surprise new fans of the franchise, but the classic 1986 movie was a box office bomb. As the stats from Box Office Mojo show, the movie made less than $6 million in the box office, against an estimated budget of $5 million to $6 million. It’s a pretty bad sign when you open 14th place behind an obscure Rob Lowe chick flick.
There are many theories about the film’s failure, but the most popular theory is it was simply lost in the sea of classics that were released around that time. Movies like Short Circuit, The Fly, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are only some of the classics that the movie had to contend with. However, the movie did become a cult classic on home video, so Transformers fans (and Hasbro) sighed with relief.
Despite being the most critically acclaimed Transformers movie of all time, Bumblebee didn’t reach the same heights that its big, loud, Bayverse brothers did. Box Office Mojo‘s statistics show that Bumblebee made about the same profits domestically as The Last Knight, but significantly less internationally. However, the movie was considered a moderate success by studios.
The movie had a relatively streamlined budget of $100 million, easily earning it back domestically. The reason for Bumblebee’s rather low overall box office returns could be attributed to franchise fatigue. This led people to believe Bumblebee would be more of the same. Thankfully though, Bumblebee saved the dying franchise from certain doom, and fans are excited about the new movie.
The second box office bomb in the franchise’s history (after the 1986 movie), one would be shocked to think that the over $600 million (according to Box Office Mojo) made by the movie was considered a failure. When put against a production budget of nearly $260 million, however, the poor domestic earnings, as well as underperforming internationally, meant the studios lost $100 million from this film.
Unlike the 1986 movie, The Last Knight’s failure isn’t simply from mismanagement or being up against a crowded summer of other blockbusters (though those were certainly factors). The real reason is the disinterest in the franchise at this point, and Michael Bay continuing to stray from the core Transformers canon. What should have been Michael Bay’s swan song turned into more of a goose honk.
The simply named Transformers made its explosive entry known with its solid box office earnings both domestically and internationally (according to Box Office Mojo‘s statistics). The franchise had an ambitious (for the time) budget of $150-$200 million and easily made it back. Not to mention, the home media sales (yes, DVDs were still a big thing in 2007) contributed to its massive success.
As far as the Bayverse movies go, the first entry is considered by many to be the best of the series and is the highest-rated Transformers movie set in the Bayverse. At this point, the franchise hasn’t gotten bloated yet and started the beloved Witwicky plotline. Plus, the updated designs were a completely different take on the iconic G1 characters’ designs and introduced them to a completely new generation of children who would follow the franchise growing up.
Revenge of the Fallen is the best-grossing movie domestically in the entire franchise, according to Box Office Mojo. A lot of that can be attributed to the excitement that people had for the franchise. A completely new universe, showcasing a big new villain that new Transformers fans had never seen before. People wanted more from this universe and Revenge of the Fallen delivered.
Funnily enough, Revenge of the Fallen was the only movie in the franchise that Michael Bay has openly called “crap”. The combination of a writer’s strike as well as dealing with a very stressful production cycle led them to release a messy movie, plot-wise. However, it seems audiences didn’t mind, as, despite criticisms, the movie is still the third highest-grossing movie of the franchise.
Despite being the second worst-performing Bayverse Transformers movie domestically, Age of Extinction holds the title of highest international gross. Thanks to an impressive international gross of over $800 million (according to Box Office Mojo), the movie managed to make back its production budget of $210 million despite the very low domestic earnings.
A huge part of Age of Extinction‘s success can be attributed to Michael Bay’s shrewd understanding of the market in China. At the time, China had started showing blockbusters that cultivated the country’s culture, and Age of Extinction featured Chinese characters and had a huge chunk of the movie occur in Hong Kong. Plus. the fact that it’s a movie about giant robots beating the bolts out of each other doesn’t hurt.
The climactic end to Sam Witwicky’s story also happens to be the highest-grossing movie in the entire franchise. Boasting a strong domestic box office and the second-highest international gross in the franchise (according to Box Office Mojo), it’s no wonder that Dark of the Moon would take the title. It’s not hard to see why this movie holds it too.
For starters, it’s the conclusion to a trilogy of movies that people have generally enjoyed for the past few years. It introduces some of the best Transformers characters such as Shockwave and Soundwave into the universe (only to promptly kill them off, but that’s not the focus here). Combine that with the franchise being at its peak both creatively and culturally, Dark of the Moon handily takes the title of highest-grossing film in the franchise.
NEXT: Every Transformers Movie, Ranked (According to Rotten Tomatoes)