Transformers: Age of Extinction is raring to go and ready to win the summer box office for Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA). So far, the summer movie season has been off to a solid, but not spectacular start. Sony saw its Amazing Spider-Man 2 bring in less than blockbuster numbers, but scored a win with overperforming R-rated comedy 22 Jump Street. Fox enjoyed a successful reenergizing of its X-Men property with Days of Future Past, but its DreamWorks Animation collaboration How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks to perform well below expectations. Meanwhile, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) has posted a hit with Godzilla, but Edge of Tomorrow will likely just break even, and intended July release Jupiter Ascending has been moved to the February wasteland.
Now, responsibility falls on Transformers to raise the summer total and secure the future of the film series. Is Age of Extinction a lock to clear $1 billion? How will it fair against other films in the franchise?
Will negative reviews doom Extinction?
Transformers: Age of Extinction has been getting savaged by film critics, but the broader series exemplifies the concept of being critic-proof. No movie in the franchise has managed to gain glowing critical endorsement, yet each iteration has managed to improve on its predecessor's global box office total.
The first Transformers revved up approximately $710 million unadjusted at the global box office, sequel Revenge of the Fallen totaled approximately $863 million, and trilogy-capper Dark of Moon cleared $1.12 billion. The fact that Age of Extinction is being described in less-than-flattering terms likely will mean little for its box office totals, particularly because the Transformers series isn't aimed squarely at American audiences anymore.
Domestic decline vs. foreign growth
If you look at box office figures adjusted for inflation, Transformers: Dark of the Moon has the lowest domestic gross in the series. Age of Extinction is likely to come in below its immediate predecessor's $353 million domestic haul. That said, growth in foreign markets (particularly China) gives the new robot action movie a good chance of reaching the previous film's domestic total. Extinction has been predicted to have the country's biggest-ever opener, and strong performance in Asian markets should help the film reach the $1 billion neighborhood.
Will Transformers suffer for being a soft-reboot?
Early in the production of Age of Extinction, many close to the film were eager to dub the project as something of a series reboot. Former stars Shia La Beouf and Megan Fox are nowhere to be found this go around, replaced by ex-Funky Buncher Mark Wahlberg. What effect this transition has remains to be seen, but promotional materials for the film have mostly put the emphasis where it belongs: giant battling robots. The film should turn in a global performance similar to Dark of the Moon, even if it fails to surpass that series high-point.
What the Autobot performance means for Batman and Superman
Age of Extinction's box office haul should provide some relevant feedback for high-profile releases farther down the pipeline. There has been a fair amount of speculation that Warner Bros.' Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice will underperform, and the newest Transformers could provide some insight into that speculation. Much of the reasoning for doubting the introduction to Warner's Justice League heroes has stemmed from a belief that the movie is trying to do too much, and that the quality of the film will suffer.
Look for Age of Extinction to cast doubt on that theory and resoundingly prove that critical adoration is not a prerequisite for box office magic in the current industry climate. How to Train Your Dragon 2 has already cast the predictive value of critics into question, and the new Transformers is on track to make bank despite being a bad movie by most reviewer accounts. Films like Dawn of Justice will succeed based on brand and well-cut trailers, regardless of input from the critical establishment.
Will Extinction breathe new life into the Transformers series?
With most of the summer's heaviest hitters out of the way, Age of Extinction is a lock to win the summer crown. Domestic decline for the series will have to be offset by growth in international markets, so whether or not it can pass the series high of $1.12 billion remains a bit shaky. Still, the floor for the movie's performance looks to be about $850 million, so it should build a good total regardless of whether it bests Dark of the Moon. Look for the weekend's box office results to offer comforting feedback to those producing big budget blockbusters that might fail to pass critical muster.
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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.