The projected $250 million finish for Transformers: The Last Knight in China may appear healthy in Paramount’s books, but its significant decline from 2014’s Age of Extinction signals a change in fortune not only for China’s most lucrative franchise, but Hollywood franchises in general.
Paramount’s Transformers franchise is the perfect metric to gauge the health of Hollywood in China. The five installments have released on average every two years over the past decade as either the highest-grossing or 2nd highest-grossing film of the year, and their dominance in the territory has coincided with the exponential box office boom in the market as a whole.
The graph above charts the percentage growth in both the Transformers franchise and China’s annual box office from 2007 to 2017 and remarkably, the two almost perfectly mirror each other through the first four installments — Transformers (2007), Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Dark of the Moon (2011), and Age of Extinction (2014).
And while it would’ve been farfetched to expect The Last Knight‘s box office performance to match the projected 80% increase in annual box office from 2014 to 2017, the significant 17% decline from The Age of Extinction is a worrisome sign for both Paramount and other Hollywood studios who have become far too complacent thinking that Chinese audiences will swallow whatever garbage they shove down their throats.
The $250 million disaster of Transformers: The Last Knight in China — and yes, it is a disaster — is not the only warning sign Hollywood studios have been receiving from Chinese audiences in recent years. Fast and the Furious not withstanding, reliable franchises such as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe are starting to see fatigue, and the most successful films in terms of audience satisfaction and legs at the box office have been original films like Zootopia, Hacksaw Ridge, and A Dog’s Purpose.
Again and again Chinese moviegoers are telling Hollywood studios with their wallets they want to see something different, that they are tired of hackneyed plots and recycled stories, but again and again the studios churn out the same crap. In a young, developing film industry like China where audience tastes change on a dime and toxic word of mouth can spread to a Tier-15 city in a few hours thanks to the ubiquity of WeChat, Hollywood’s old way of doing things means they will fall further and further behind the curve.
$250 million may not jolt Hollywood studios out of their China daydream, but if they don’t start waking up, the nightmare could just be beginning.