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Will Transformers 3 Become the Biggest Movie that Sucks, or the Best Movie that Flops?

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There is precedent for both outcomes. Which one is most likely to befall the sequel to Revenge of the Fallen?

Tonight at midnight, movie theaters all across the country will begin showing Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the long-awaited third installment to the Transformers movie franchise. Presumably the last in the series, Dark of the Moon comes after the enormously successful (and generally well respected) original and the depressingly disappointing (and generally despised) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

While the first film dazzled with unbelievable special effects and an impressive – dare I say remarkable – presentation that left us in awe, the sequel was a forgettable (and regrettable) disaster. It was too long, the battle sequences were not very good, and the story was so bad it made the film hard to watch. Not even the special effects, which weren't any better than the original, could save Revenge of the Fallen.

In order to become the smash hit that Paramount (NYSE: VIA) and DreamWorks (NASDAQ: DWA) are hoping for, Dark of the Moon must rise above the last film's shortcomings and convince moviegoers that this sequel is worth seeing.

Can it be done? Are Bumblebee and Optimus Prime enough to send $150 million worth of moviegoers into theaters this week?

“Fallen” on Hard Times

Thus far, this has not been a great summer for Hollywood. Frankly, it has not been a great summer for moviegoers either. Between the cluster of catastrophic comic book films and a complete lack of anything that screams “must-see!” (anything except for Another Earth), this summer has been a real snoozer.

In financial terms, Cars 2 has been the only bright spot this season, pulling in $66 million last weekend, roughly $7 million more than expected. In Pixar terms, however, $66 million isn't that much money. And in terms of quality, Cars 2 is good, not great. It is hard to imagine that the film will go on to earn as much as Up or Toy Story 3.

Setting the Stage…For Disaster

During the spring, we saw a terrible sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, rise to unbelievable (if not questionable) success. We also saw a great film, Scream 4, crash and burn as moviegoers stayed away from what they feared would be another disappointment. This is where Dark of the Moon could run into some trouble.

From day one, the Scream and Pirates franchises have followed a similar path. The first chapter in each saga was met with great success. They quickly became the leading films within their respective genres (horror and action/adventure/comedy). Similarly, both films were followed by disappointing sequels that set the stage for a depressing third chapter.

Aside from a few diehard Pirates fans, I could not find anyone who wanted to see or has already seen On Stranger Tides. Scream 4, on the other hand, seemed to have a fair amount of interest from people who were curious but never actually went to the theater. Among the 15 people I know who have seen it, only one was disappointed. “Not scary enough,” he said.

Historically, Scream 4 was destined for failure. While its ticket sales could have been huge, there was very little hope that the film would be good. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who liked Scream 2, and while the third chapter was a moderately better film, its fandom was just as weak.

The same can be said for the second and third Pirates films. While I can tell you that there is a depressingly large number of Pirates lovers who will go see any Pirates film Disney (NYSE: DIS) produces, I do not believe that they comprise a large enough group to buy $90 million in opening weekend tickets. This means that there are many other moviegoers – people who may not even like pirates outside of Johnny Depp – who willingly paid to see On Stranger Ties.

Frankly, I'd like to know why. Why would moviegoers return to a series that showed no signs of improvement while simultaneously shunning another?

For the record, Scream 3 made about $12 million less than Scream 2. The third Pirates film, however, earned roughly $114 million less than the second installment, while On Stranger Tides earned $80 million less than the third chapter.

The worst part of this story is that, if Dark of the Moon follows in the footsteps of either Scream or Pirates, we will end up with a film that is great but fails to profit, or a film that's terrible but makes millions – but still not as much as its predecessor. That's not good for us or for Hollywood.

Is There Hope?

Realistically, you can't expect moviegoers to completely forgive Michael Bay for nearly killing the Transformers trilogy with Revenge of the Fallen. Inevitably, some people who saw the first or second film will not return for Dark of the Moon. While there may have been a brief time when the sale of 3D tickets (which cost more than standard movie tickets) could have made up the difference, moviegoers are getting bored with this new technology.

The one thing that could save Dark of the Moon is the fact that the film should have no trouble eclipsing the $100 million mark during its first six days at the box office (June 29 to July 4). If the film is actually good, the initial ticket buyers should be able to generate enough word-of-mouth hype to ensure that the film goes on to gross $300 to $400 million domestically. If, however, the film is as bad as the second chapter, moviegoers are likely to stay away.

It should also be noted that the recent trailers and TV spots for Dark of the Moon are far more exciting than the ads for Revenge of the Fallen. This could be a crucial element in the coming days. Good and consistent advertising are essential to a film's success.

The Critical Reception

I typically stay away from movie reviews until I've seen the film myself, but this review from the Chicago Tribune really caught my attention.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon [is] a work of ineffable soullessness and persistent moral idiocy.”

To be perfectly honest, that makes me want to see it even more than I already did.

And no, I'm not being sarcastic.

Follow me @LouisBedigian

Posted-In: Chicago Tribune dreamworks Michael Bay Paramount PiratesTech Media General Best of Benzinga

 

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