Transformers Turns Bigger Cinematic Failures Into Better Box Office

The latest reboot of Transformers, fourth in the franchise’s run, is a terrible film, according to critics. But bad reviews did nothing to slow the movie down. It stormed through theaters in its opening weekend, grabbing more revenue from domestic ticket sales—$100 million—than any film that made its debut this year. That’s on top of its coup in China, where it broke the record on Imax large-format screens, according to Bloomberg News. It’s expected to draw a big portion of total box office sales from Asia.

It was an impressive feat, and it continued a trend for Michael Bay’s long-running series, which has withstood bad reviews like a giant robot shrugging off bullets and swatting away small missiles. Just how powerful are the Transformers? We decided to figure it out by mashing up opening weekend box office revenue (adjusted for inflation) with each film’s rating on, a website that aggregates critical reviews into a single score on its “Tomatometer.” We ran the same set of calculations for nine of Hollywood’s other recent big action franchises to measure which films performed the best financially with the least amount of critical support.

One thing that is immediately clear—and not surprising—is that Americans don’t care about ratings when it comes to big-budget action films. Of the 47 movies analyzed, the correlation between opening weekend revenue and positive reviews was 0.13, almost no relationship at all (the closer the correlation is to 1, the more the ratings would affect revenue).

That’s not to say these are all bad movies. On average, in fact, the action films boast 69 “tomatoes” out of 100. But for every Harry Potter finale—a film that drew both high ratings (96 tomatoes) and huge opening weekend ticket sales ($179)—is a Pirates of the Caribbean finale that manages a big haul at the box office ($95.4 million), despite crummy critical response (33 tomatoes).

The Transformers franchise is on another level when it comes to making millions. Of the property’s four films, the correlation between ticket sales and critical success is -0.81. Put another way, the worse a film is in the eyes of a critic, the better it does with consumers. The latest offering—Transformers: Age of Extinction—harvested $100 million with a paltry tomato rating of 17.
Here’s another way to look at it: For each tomato, Transformers has earned $3.14 million in opening weekend ticket sales. No other action franchise in the past two decades has made so much money off of bad reviews. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a distant No. 2, with $2.12 million in box office revenue for every tomato.

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