Bumblebee's Box Office Lessons
The good news for Paramount is that Bumblebee was not a total loss. Because its production budget was a very manageable $135 million, its break even point was roughly $270 million. It's clearly passed that at the worldwide box office, turning a $97 million profit based on ticket sales. That margin will definitely expand once ancillary revenue like home media sales comes into play (and, to be fair, Bumblebee still playing in theaters), but these results are hardly what Paramount was looking for. $97 million wouldn't be enough to cover the costs of the hypothetical Bumblebee sequel the studio is interested in, so if that followup does indeed move forward, the studio has to rethink their strategy a bit.
Since Bumblebee received positive reviews and was well-liked by those who saw it, it's safe to say the spinoff fell victim to an awful release date. Paramount's desire to have a holiday blockbuster in the first Star Wars-less December since 2014 is perfectly understandable, but the multiplex was way too crowded this year. Aquaman (which targets largely the same demographic) opened in theaters on the same day as Bumblebee, and Mary Poppins and Spider-Verse were also there as options for families. As evidenced by The Last Knight, general viewers were beginning to tire of Transformers movies, which put Bumblebee at a disadvantage. Yes, Justice League didn't break any records and caused Warner Bros. to drastically shift the entire DC Extended Universe, but at least Aquaman represented something new. There had never been an Aquaman movie before, and its trailers promised breathtaking spectacle. Much like Solo, promotional materials for Bumblebee did little to showcase why this was a must-see on the big screen. It never felt like an "event," even as the good reviews piled up.
Perhaps smartly, there currently are no upcoming Transformers movies officially scheduled on Paramount's slate. Transformers 6 was supposed to come out this year, but the studio ultimately pulled it before any real headway was made (most likely due to The Last Knight's gross). The wise thing to do would be to move ahead with the Bumblebee sequel, but make sure to put it in a position where it can thrive. Paramount needs to find a less competitive window for it so it can post a healthy gross and help the property return to form. If summer or the holidays are too crowded, it would behoove Paramount to think outside the box. Black Panther shattered records in February. Captain America: The Winter Soldier earned $714.2 million worldwide in April. Audiences have shown they'll come support a good film no matter what time of year it premieres. Should the Bumblebee sequel have the marketplace to itself, it ideally will perform better. If not, then it might be time to let Transformers rest.
One thing's for sure - Paramount should absolutely bring back the creative team of director Knight and writer Christina Hodson, both of whom have ideas for where they want the sequel to go. They do not deserve any of the blame for why Bumblebee came up short at the box office. They did their job extremely well and delivered a film reminiscent of old school Amblin productions bursting with a big heart. Usually, when a movie struggles at the box office and becomes a catalyst for changing things, it's because a new artistic voice is needed to reinvigorate things. Bumblebee's disappointment is more on the studio. They lucked into a winning combination, and Knight & Hodson deserve a second chance at legitimate success. Hopefully, Paramount doesn't drop the ball again.
Bumblebee is a pretty interesting box office case. It's by no means a bona fide flop (Paramount didn't lose money on it), but it isn't a runaway smash either. The spinoff falls into the tricky middle ground where the studio needs to proceed with caution moving forward, or else they'll potentially lose a tentpole. Paramount is in dire straits when it comes to blockbusters (remember, Star Trek 4 was just cancelled), so fingers crossed they figure something out.