It's not Michael Bay's fault the Transformers movie franchise reached the level of abomination before Bumblebee.
Sometimes finding the person to blame is as simple as looking in the mirror.
Think back to 2007 when Transformers hit theaters. Now, remember how much fun it was to watch. That reaction isn’t likely what you have towards the subsequent sequels in the Transformers franchise. Transformers movies have gone from okay to bad to worse since Michael Bay first brought our transforming childhood toys to life.
When the reigns were transferred to Travis Knight for prequel Bumblebee, things improved immensely. Bumblebee is mostly the Transformers movie fans deserve but it can’t erase memories of other Transformers movies. You can blame Michael Bay or you can be honest and admit where the real blame lies: In all of us.
Blaming Michael Bay for a Bad Transformers Movie Franchise
Michael Bay has a specific filmmaking style that not everyone adores. A script can land on Bay’s desk that is poorly structured and lacks any and all character development, mingled with cheesy one-liners and a host of stereotypes or offensive language, and it won’t matter as long as there’s plenty of action. The ability to throw in CGI effects is even better and usually a requirement, although he does love an authentic explosion.
We could theorize that his adoration for the quick-and-simple is due to his music video background, but there are plenty of music video directors who have gone on to make fantastic movies, such as Marc Webb and David Fincher.
There’s really no good explanation as to why Bay took the Transformers franchise and ran it into the ground, culminating in the need to throw up his arms and hand the reigns over to someone new — Travis Knight. That’s probably not what really happened but I like to think it is.
What we need to consider is that the Transformers franchise is much more than Michael Bay in the director’s chair. The screenwriters have a role in what happens onscreen too, and while Bay could have rejected their scripts, they still have to own what they wrote.
The Transformers Franchise Screenwriters Blew It
Here’s a theory as to the reason why the Transformers movies after Revenge of the Fallen were horrendous: The loss of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman as screenwriters. Orci and Kurtzman wrote Transformers and, with Ehren Kruger, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (the best movies in the franchise before Bumblebee). They then jumped ship and left Kruger alone to pen Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction.
If you’re questioning why Orci and Kurtzman’s departure from the Transformers franchise could affect quality that much, consider the other scripts they have written together.
Now, let’s look at some of what Ehren Kruger has done on his own or with other writers.
- Reindeer Games
- The Ring
- The Skeleton Key
- The Brothers Grimm
- Ghost in the Shell
This should concern you because Kruger wrote the screenplay for Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo.
The verdict: Orci and Kurtzman, with or without Kruger, means a decent or above decent Transformers movie. Kruger on his own signaled the demise of the franchise. But three other writers completely killed any hope for it to receive respect: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Ken Nolan.
The fact that these three screenwriters couldn’t deliver a great Transformers movie script with The Last Knight is actually quite shocking. Nolan wrote Black Hawk Down, and Holloway and Marcum were part of the writing team behind Iron Man — a perfect script! What happened with The Last Knight is beyond me but they managed to perpetuate the fact that the Transformers have never become the main characters of their own movies and the humans are obligatory pathetic necessities.
The Transformers franchise screenwriters do have to share the blame with Michael Bay for producing uninspired movies, but we still watched them.
Who’s Really to Blame for Horrendous Transformers Movies?
We can pinpoint Michael Bay and the screenwriters behind the Transformers movies for why they have gotten worse with each release, but it’s us – the moviegoing public – who continue to pay to see Transformers movies time and time again regardless of quality.
The quickest way to kill a franchise is for audiences to ignore it. Ever wonder why I Am Number Four, The Golden Compass, Percy Jackson, Beautiful Creatures, Ender’s Game, or The A-Team never developed into franchises? The movies bombed, whether they were decent or not. Mortal Engines is the latest with franchise potential to suffer this fate.
Now, The Last Knight should be considered a bomb — it only made $130 million domestically and critics and audiences hate it. Its international haul, though, was $475 million. Transformers movies make money overseas and that’s likely what motivates Paramount to continue churning them out. They may bomb in the States but the overseas money makes up for it.
Here’s the worldwide gross for each Transformers movie.
- Transformers: $709 million
- Revenge of the Fallen: $836 million
- Dark of the Moon: $1.1 billion
- Age of Extinction: $1.1 billion
- The Last Knight: $605 million
It’s a good sign that domestic and foreign audiences didn’t show as much money love to The Last Knight — they must have clued-in to the franchises failures after Age of Extinction. There is no death to the Transformers franchise, though, as long as audiences continue to flock to the cinema.
That’s the plain truth and why audiences are to blame for terrible Transformers movies. The creatives behind Transformers movies know it doesn’t matter how good or bad a movie in the franchise is — it’s still going to rake in the money.
The times may be a changing, though.
Ending the Vicious Transformers Franchise Cycle
The good news: It looks like Paramount wants to improve the Transformers franchise. In May 2018, the studio announced they were removing Transformers 7 (Bumblebee is considered the sixth Transformers movie) from its 2019 release schedule. And Hasbro did not include any live-action Transformers sequels on its Hasbro-Paramount movie slate during its 2018 investor preview. That means a reboot of the Transformers franchise could happen.
The news gets better: Michael Bay officially said he is no longer directing Transformers movies. His next movie is Netflix’s Six Underground starring Ryan Reynolds.
If Paramount takes a note from Travis Knight’s Bumblebee and the script Christina Hodson wrote and creates more, as FilmFracture’s own Brandon Schmitz put it, “humble, indie-inspired” Transformers movies from here on out, the Transformers franchise could do a complete 180. The movies can still have CGI and explosions, but with deeper connections between Transformers and humans.
Bumblebee’s worldwide box office to-date is $52 million — that’s not great. Paramount made the mistake of releasing it during a packed Holiday season and up against Aquaman. It doesn’t open in big-money China until January 4, 2019, so that should help boost its foreign gross. If it doesn’t prove to at least make what The Last Knight did at the box office, though, a Transformers movie franchise reboot may be in jeopardy.
It’s hard to imagine that Paramount will abandon the franchise altogether, which means they may just go back to the old formula. Standby to see if Bumblebee saves the Transformers franchise or whether it’s doomed to repeat its old mistakes. And if we continue to allow it to live on in shame, throwing money at it aimlessly, we only have ourselves to blame for a terrible Transformers movie franchise.