"Transformers: Age of Extinction" overcame the worst reviews of Michael Bay's career to deliver the summer's first $100 million weekend. The rest of the world came in just over double that at $201 million. With the World Cup having finished its intense initial round and little competition from new films either stateside or abroad, Paramount picked the ideal weekend for the return of the mighty Hasbro franchise.
Going into the summer, anticipation was high for sequels and series films. But some surprisingly robust originals have made up for the relative softness of some of the more touted films (which did not sustain long runs). But this weekend the focus was on proven entities (regarded as far more viable worldwide), with a rare Top Four sweep. This isn't unusual: early June 2011 saw "X-Men," "Hangover," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels lead the way. Over the last three weeks, four of the five wide studio releases were sequels. (And struggling Broadway adaptation "Jersey Boys" struggled.)
Despite the biggest opener of the year, grosses for the Top Ten fell from the same weekend last year by $10 million, to $170 million. Year to date, with the summer continuing to lag, is now down just under 2% from 2013. July looks promising, though, with a new Melissa McCarthy comedy raunch-fest among the next weeks' new entries. But the trend is discouraging.
1. "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (Paramount) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire:; Metacritic:
$100,000,000 in 4,233 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,624; Cumulative: $100,000,000
Michael Bay rebooted this franchise with a new set of actors (led by Mark Wahlberg, who starred in his "Pain and Gain" last year) but otherwise kept the focus on robots, explosions and expensive CGI with this fourth go-round. The three earlier entries grossed more than $1 billion domestic, over $2.5 million total worldwide. The formula clearly still works, at least as an initial draw. Comparisons with other "Transformers" opening weekends are inexact. This is the first in the series to open Friday rather than midweek: the previous two both had three-day opening weekends in the range of $97-108 million after taking in $64-91 million in their initial days before, putting their totals at this point far ahead of this sequel.
So this appears to be something of a falloff. But that the gross is the best opener of the summer, ahead of other strong contenders that also didn't start midweek, is a victory for Bay and Paramount. All of the tentpoles this summer seem to be be lagging a bit, so relative drop here (at least in the U.S.) is no surprise. All these blockbuster super-productions are suffering from the same malaise -- younger males are losing interest compared to earlier passionate interest. Audience surveys showed that 58% of the initial audience was 25 or older (as well as overwhelmingly male).
Though most of the creative team returned, Bay shuffled the cast. Mark Wahlberg was the big name, and now adds a franchise hit to his range of recent successes (including "Lone Survivor," "Ted"). He and Bay had previously worked together on the much smaller budget "Pain and Gain" last year.
What comes next: Unchallenged among action films for next weekend's holiday audiences, this might have a chance to avoid the steep second stanza fall that has been seen with many big budget films recently. But with a $215 production budget and hefty marketing costs, this will need continued strong international returns to make this into a boffo success.
2. "22 Jump Street" (Sony) Week 3 - Last weekend #2
$15,400,000 (-44%) in 3,426 theaters (+120); PSA: $4,495; Cumulative: $139,837,000
In its third weekend, bolstered by a much stronger opening, the new "Jump Street" is now ahead of the total gross for "21" two years ago, with the weekend also better by a small margin. Helped by being the sole broad comedy in the market at the moment, but clearly also getting good word of mouth, this looks headed for $200 million.
What comes next: Hard to imagine Sony not looking interested in sequels, which might depend on the other options the now in-demand costars have.