"Transformers: The Last Knight" had the box office all to itself this weekend, and yet, even without any other new wide releases, it still failed to impress.

True, most movies would kill for an opening weekend estimated at $45.3 million, or a five-day total (the movie opened Wednesday) estimated at $69.0 million. Indeed, that's just about where pundits expected the franchise's fifth installment to debut.

But the "Transformers" -- and director Michael "I demand things to be awesome!" Bay -- have higher standards. After all, the last installment, 2014's "Transformers: Age of Extinction," premiered with a $100.0 million first weekend. "Last Knight" marks the lowest debut in the series' ten-year history.

This is more bad news for Paramount this year -- the studio is in a costly slump due to such expensive flops as "Monster Trucks," "Ghost in the Shell," and "Baywatch" -- as well as for the franchise and its director. Critics have never liked these movies, but now, everyone else seems to be getting tired of the giant-robot films, even Bay, who's all but insisted that "Last Knight" will be his last "Transformers" movie.

And yet, there's reason for Paramount to celebrate (just a little) -- and reason for it to go ahead with its Bumblebee spinoff due next year: Overseas box office.
The "Transformers" movies may have seen diminishing returns in North America, but they just keep getting bigger abroad. "Age of Extinction" was the first film in the series to earn more than a billion worldwide. But while "Extinction" saw domestic earnings plummet from "Dark of the Moon's" $352 million to $245 million, it saw foreign earnings vault from $771 million to $859 million. So the overseas take now accounts for three-quarters of the franchise's ticket sales.

That figure has held with the release of the new movie, which has already earned an estimated $196.2 million abroad. $123.4 million of that, or 63 percent, comes from China -- which is insane. That marks the franchise's largest opening ever in the Middle Kingdom and the fourth-biggest debut in history for a Hollywood film in China. It's no wonder that China is now the linchpin to the success of virtually every Hollywood blockbuster.

At a reported production cost of $217 million (before an aggressive and costly marketing spend), "Last Knight" was an expensive movie to make. But with $265.3 million earned in its first five days, the movie could find its way to profitability, once all revenue streams are accounted for -- even after you account for marketing and distribution costs (more than $100 million) and the theater owners' share of the grosses (about half).
That worldwide success means a lot to Paramount, a studio that's lost money in recent years. In 2016 alone, it claimed a stunning loss of $445 million, about a fourth of which came from writing off "Monster Trucks" as a flop four months before it opened. Yikes.

Even so, despite a slate of movies that fizzled at the domestic box office in 2017, overseas grosses are slowly helping put Paramount back into the black. "Rings," "xXx: Return of Xander Cage," and "Baywatch" all looked like flops based on their North American earnings, but they all made a ton of money elsewhere, with somewhere between 58 and 87 percent of their sales coming from abroad. "Rings" and "xXx" ultimately earned back several times their cost in worldwide grosses, while "Baywatch" has earned back twice its cost and may well be profitable by the end of the summer.

Reviving old franchises -- and mining the vault and Viacom partners for new ones -- is a priority for Paramount, which lacks many of them. So far, their current franchises are "Transformers," "Star Trek," and "Mission: Impossible," all of which are aging fast. Until the studio comes up with some new ones -- "Baywatch" sequel, anyone? -- it's going to have to make do with these. No wonder there are three more "Transformers" movies in the works, including Bumblebee's spinoff.
Even without Bay, they should make money -- not just from foreign sales, but from merchandising. New Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos says he wants to make more movies based on Hasbro toys; besides "Transformers," Hasbro playthings have also yielded the "G.I. Joe" films for Paramount, as well as the successful "Ouija" horror series at Universal. (Meanwhile, let's all pretend that massive duds "Battleship" and "Jem and the Holograms" never happened.)

It's worth noting that all the other studios are using the same foreign-dependent strategy. Lots of 2017 movies that underwhelmed domestically, including Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" and Universal's "The Mummy," have raked it in abroad. (This is why Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise get to keep starring in movies, despite the meh response to their films in America.)

Even this year's biggest domestic hits, including "Beauty and the Beast," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," and "Wonder Woman," have earned the majority of their money overseas. In fact, among the top ten domestic hits of 2017, only two, "The LEGO Batman Movie" and "Get Out," earned more here than abroad.

Still, it's sort of funny that Paramount added Anthony Hopkins to the "Transformers" ensemble in "Last Knight," as if the venerable Oscar-winning actor's presence would bring in older or more highbrow audiences. As the scathing reviews (just 15 percent at Rotten Tomatoes), the unenthusiastic word-of-mouth (a tepid B+ from CinemaScore), and the weak domestic box office numbers suggest, "Transformers" isn't bringing in any new fans, at least not in the U.S.

But if you're one of those core fans, congratulations: your fandom will be rewarded by at least three more installments in the "Transformers" universe. And if you're an American or Canadian who's not a fan -- well, these movies weren't made for you. Few Hollywood movies are -- or will be, going forth.

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Poster
Transformers: The Last Knight
PG-132017
Based on 46 critics

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