When Transformers: The Last Knight is released on June 23rd it will be nearly 10 years ago to the day that director Michael Bay released his vision of everyone’s favorite robots in disguise on screen in a live action adaptation for this first time.
With it being a 10 year anniversary of sorts and the announcement the other day from Michael Bay that there are 14 more Transformers films already written (yes, 14) it only seems fitting we go back 10 years to 2007 and see how these films have fared.
First, a bit of history. Depending on when you were born, you may not know that Transformers have been around a lot longer than 10 years. In fact, early versions of the robots appeared in Japan in 1983 made by a company called Takara Toys who released a line named Microman: MicroChange. These first released robots, MC-01 Micross, MC-02 Jaguar and MC-03 Condor, would later go on to make up the first wave of Mini-Cassettes that would be forever known as Rumble, Ravage and Laserbeak! Cool right?
Later that same year a Hasbro rep spots these Microman toys at the Tokyo Toy Show. By the end of that year Hasbro-Bradley had secured the rights for North America, bought the toy molds and changed the name to the more marketable Transformers. By spring of 1984 issue #1 of the comic book series is released and the toys have hit the shelves. Later that year on Saturday morning September 17, the first episode of the Transformers cartoon titled “More than Meets the Eye, Part 1” premieres on U.S. television. On August 8th almost two years later Transformers: The Movie is released expanding the already popular brand to all corners of the world. The rest is history…
Flash forward to 2003. Don Murphy was originally planning a G.I. Joe film adaptation but Hasbro suggested adapting the Transformers franchise instead. Tom DeSanto joined Murphy and they met with comic book writer Simon Furman for input. DeSanto chose to write the treatment from a human point of view to engage the audience, while Murphy wanted it to have a realistic tone, reminiscent of a disaster film. Steven Spielberg, a fan of the comics and toys, signed on as executive producer in 2004 and was the one that suggested “a boy and his car” theme should be the focus of the film. In the original draft, the Transformers themselves had no dialogue, as the producers feared talking robots would look ridiculous. Luckily, the writers felt that even if it would look silly, not having the robots speak would betray the fan base and dialogue was written.
Michael Bay was asked to direct by Spielberg on July 30, 2005, but he dismissed the film as a “stupid toy movie” originally but he wanted to work with Spielberg so he agreed. Bay considered the first draft “too kiddie”, so he was the one who increased the military’s role in the story. And in a move that had many questioning early on their dedication to the original material, the studio had signed a deal with the General Motors car company who would supply all the vehicles for the film. This would initiate changes to the original characters car designs most of which were not GM type vehicles, irritating fans in the process. Gone was Bumblebee’s beloved Volkswagen Bug in favour of a Chevrolet Camaro.
The film would be released in July of 2007 and go on to make more than $700 million at the worldwide box office. General audiences loved the slick action sequences but hardcore fans were divided citing redesigns of the characters, too much human exposition and a weak representation of Decepticons as reasons to be less than thrilled. Casting Peter Cullen to return as the voice of Autobot leader Optimus Prime calmed the waters a bit but some fans questioned as to why he didn’t show up until almost the mid point of the film.
The success of that film gave the studios the confidence to greenlight sequels as well as put into active development other robot properties such as Voltron and Robotech. It also made household names of stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, who would appear in follow ups as well.
The sequels that followed, 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen, 2011’s Dark of the Moon and 2014’s Age of Extinction would all be directed by Bay and receive the same negative reviews but continue to make more and more money at the box office. The trend being domestic numbers dropping in favour of higher international takes, in particular the China and other Asian markets. Age of Extinction in particular was heavily marketed towards China with the placement of many Asian products, a bulk of the film taking place in Hong Kong and casting local favorite Li BingBing in a major role.
Many continue to question the presence of Michael Bay as director stating the franchise could use a fresh start. Despite his box office success with these and other films, Bay has found little critical praise, and his name is often used when describing low quality big budget action films. The term “Bayhem” has been turned into lexicon when describing his filmmaking style. Bay has responded to these criticisms, saying “I make movies for teenage boys…”. Still, hard to understand some of the decision making behind Autobots Skids and Mudflap, not to mention the abomination that was Devastator in Revenge of the Fallen.
Officially there are two more Transformers movies planned to be released after the Last Knight but no director has been attached yet. Bay himself has said on two previous occasions he would not return to the franchise only to return to direct each time.
The franchises first spin-off which will focus on the Autobot Bumblebee, is set to be released on June 8, 2018 and is being directed by Travis Knight. This will be Knight’s first live action feature after garnering critical success with last years wonderful Kubo and the Two Strings. One would think if this spin-off performs well, Knight could be the one to replace Bay and carry the franchise forward.
The only thing that can be certain is that as long as they keep making lots of money we could very well see all 14 of these Transformers scripts get made into motion pictures. This new installment seems to have all the same money making ingredients the others have had and almost on queue, the negative reaction to the footage recently aired at CinemaCon coupled with the trailers has begun. Still, with only four releases to date, the franchise has made nearly $4 billion worldwide with a per release average of almost $780 million. Like it or not, those are big numbers folks…
Till next time…