China Box Office: ‘Transformers’ Fatigue Spreads to China

Paramount executives and other investors aren’t likely wringing their hands this week after Transformers: The Last Knight debuted in China with $120 million*, but beneath those box office numbers lie some troubling signs suggesting Chinese moviegoers — who have contributed an increasingly larger share to the franchise’s global box office over the past decade — are losing interest in Michael Bay’s bombastic vision.

Considering director Michael Bay‘s Transformers films have been reliable box office juggernauts in the world’s second largest film market — the first four installments are either the top-grossing or second highest-grossing films in the year they were released and 2014’s Age of Extinction was the first film ever to earn $300 million in China — box office expectations were naturally sky high for The Last Knight.

Many had considered Paramount’s sequel a legitimate challenge to Furious 8, China’s current highest-grossing Hollywood film with RMB 2.517 billion* ($368 million at current exchange rates), and even a possible candidate for the rare RMB 3 billion club, home to just one other film, Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid.

And on the surface, The Last Knight’s box office numbers didn’t disappoint: RMB 813 million* ($118.9 million) was a 29% increase over Age of Extinction‘s debut from 2014 and almost double The Last Knight’s franchise-low North American opening.

But digging below these opening weekend numbers could give pause to forward-looking Paramount executives and other investors even while they celebrate a profitable film boosted by lucrative product-placements and a minimum box office guarantee.

Audience ratings for The Last Knight, dismal across the board and by far the lowest of any Transformers film, point to a sub-2x opening weekend multiplier that will leave The Last Knight well below its predecessor’s $320 million. That combined with dwindling attendance — an average of just 45 moviegoers per screening compared to Age of Extinction‘s 92 — clearly indicate franchise fatigue.

Paramount execs won’t likely be losing sleep over any of this, but the studio missed out on an incredible opportunity to build on the (bizarrely) consistent positive word-of-mouth its Transformers series had earned in China.

Now fickle local audiences, incredibly quick to turn their backs on once-popular franchises and increasingly skeptical of Hollywood pandering and non-sensical plot lines, appear to have joined North American audiences in their disdain for Bay’s bombastic blockbusters and that ill-will will likely carry over to future Transformers sequels.

*All listed grosses are adjusted to remove online ticketing fees. For a primer on why CFI reports this way, see here.