Toy company-turned movie franchise machine Hasbro has seen mixed success with their adventures in blockbuster filmmaking. After their first highly profitable Transformers film, as well as a solid (albeit critically derided) follow-up in Revenge of the Fallen, the company saw the releases of both G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and, more recently, Battleship, which both opened to lukewarm critical responses and underwhelming (but slightly profitable) box office hauls.
Following in the profitable footsteps of the prior robots in disguise films, Transformers: Dark of the Moon brought in a staggering $1.1 billion - ranking as number 5 on the all time global box office chart (unadjusted for inflation). As a result, most moviegoers would assume that when it comes to the Transformers movie franchise, Hasbro would be eager to stress an "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" approach for the upcoming Transformers 4. However, it now sounds as though the story might not just take Transformers fans off-world, it could drastically switch up the film's iconic robot cast - in the interest of generating more revenue from movie tie-in toys.
According to a write-up at TFW2005, which highlights key announcements from Hasbro at the UBS Best Of Americas 2012 Conference, despite an astronomical box office take for Transformers 3, the toy maker did not feel as though the accompanying toy sales lived up to expectations. Why? Brian Goldner, Hasbro President and CEO, claims the films have largely focused on the same group of hero and villain robots - resulting in limited variation for the toy line.
Goldner asserted, for Transformers 4, the story would center around a new batch of robots - for the purpose of refreshing the toy line. Here's the relevant, and obviously paraphrased, information from the TFW2005 report:
[The failure to meet expectations for the toys were] because of same characters in all three movies. This is why Transformers 4 will have a new cast of [robot] characters and it will be a story revolving around these new characters. Goldner said Transformers will branch out to more categories. For example; during Transformers 3, they had an idea to expand the Transformers brand [to the] Little Kids segment. This was the origin of Rescuebots said Mr. Goldner. Soon the idea took a separate life and evolved [into] a separate toyline. [Goldner] said it’s normal for any brand to experience this situation (what happened to Transformers 3 toyline) and stated that brands need re-imagining, [reinventing], and hinted that the same is to happen with Transformers 4.
We've known for some time that Transformers 4 would be a departure from the original trilogy of films, changing out the primary human cast, adding a number of new robots, and setting up the franchise for new directors - so that Michael Bay can stop saying Transformers [fill in the blank] will "be his last." However, it was long expected that the film would still maintain a number of the key Transformers - to retain certain continuity elements (and, subsequently, the established audience).
Of course, Goldner is not saying that every established Transformer will be replaced, plus a number of familiar faces did meet their end in Dark of the Moon, but it's hard to know at this point where the filmmakers intend to draw the line - since many of the deluxe action toys (with a higher profit margin) have typically featured characters that would be hard to remove from the franchise altogether (like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee). Given the love for these fan-favorite characters, especially among younger demographics that would buy the toys, it's hard to imagine Hasbro can clean the slate entirely. Could the filmmakers be planning an approach similar to the upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation - which is an in-continuity reboot with only a few returning faces?
In addition, it's hard to know what exactly "branch out to more categories" might mean - especially since the example given, regarding the "Little Kids segment" isn't likely to inspire a lot of confidence in fans of the blockbuster film franchise or die-hard Transformers lovers who have enjoyed the more mature themes explored in the various comic book, and certain animated series, additions. Plus, it's unlikely that Bay will deliver a PG movie - especially since a "kid-friendly" set of Transformers is at odds with earlier details indicating the film would be a "serious" toned sequel to Dark of the Moon.
Goldner also confirmed that the studio is still targeting a 2014 release, meaning the gears are already turning on the Transformers sequel. Considering a summer release is less than two years away, it's likely that the filmmakers and Hasbro have a pretty clear idea for the next installment story - as well as how they'll be able to implement a batch of new robots (and toys). Unfortunately, we're not privy to that information yet - so any potential story ideas (Galvatron, Unicron) or drastic continuity shifts (Beast Wars) would be pure speculation (or pipe dreams). Either way, after playing through Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (which features countless nods to Transformers lore), we wouldn't mind if this new cast of robot characters happened to include a few Dinobots.
In the meantime, reminisce by checking out our Transformers 3 Character Guide as well as our Transformers: Complete Movie Character Guide and let us know which new robots in disguise you'd like to see introduced in Transformers 4.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Transformers 4 as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.
Transformers 4 is scheduled to hit theaters on June 29th, 2014