Will 'Transformers' become worst-reviewed $400 million hit?

  • Stars Megan Fox, left, and Shia LaBeouf are helping

    Stars Megan Fox, left, and Shia LaBeouf are helping "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" rake in the box-office bucks - despite strong negative reviews.

Published: 7/2/2009 12:00 AM

After just five days, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" was halfway to $400 million domestically, a box-office milestone only eight other movies have reached. If it climbs that high, the "Transformers" sequel will be by far the worst-reviewed movie ever to make the $400 million club.

And Hollywood Reporter projections are correct, "Transformers" - which opened June 24 - stands to boost its box office near to $300 million by the end of the holiday weekend.

Critics and mainstream crowds often disagree, but "Revenge of the Fallen" sets a new standard for the gulf between what reviewers and mass audiences like.

In its first five days, the movie pulled in more than $200.1 million, the second-best result for a movie in its first five days, just behind "The Dark Knight" with $203.8 million. Even after its whopping $60.6 million opening day, "Revenge of the Fallen" was packing theaters, a sign that unlike critics, who mostly hated the movie, audiences felt they were getting their money's worth and were giving the flick good word-of-mouth.

Critics "forget what the goal of the movie was. The goal of the movie is to entertain and have fun," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, which is distributing "Transformers" for DreamWorks. "What the audience tells us is, 'We couldn't be more entertained and having more fun.' They kind of roll their eyes at the critics and say, 'You have no idea what you're talking about.'"

According to Paramount's exit polls, 91 percent of the audience thought the sequel was as good as or better than the first "Transformers," which received far better reviews.

Most of Hollywood's all-time biggest hits are accompanied by either good or at least passable reviews, and some can be among the year's most-acclaimed, such as this year's "Up" and "Star Trek" and last year's "The Dark Knight," "WALL-E" and "Iron Man."

Not so for the new "Transformers." On Rottentomatoes.com, a Web site that compiles critics' opinions, the sequel had only 38 positive reviews out of 187, a lowly 20 percent rating usually reserved for box-office duds.

Many critics who liked the movie had reservations, praising the movie's visual effects and relentless action but generally advising audiences to check their brains at the door.

The critical drubbing was a new low for "Transformers" director Michael Bay, never a favorite among professional movie reviewers. But he has long been a favorite among fans, scoring hits with the first "Transformers" and such flicks as "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor," "Bad Boys II" and "The Rock."

Like blockbuster maestro Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced many of Bay's movies, the director aims to please audiences, not critics.

"He really had blinders on when it comes to what he believed the picture needs to be, and then he executed it," said Brad Grey, Paramount chairman and chief executive officer. "He's a director who is the definition of blockbuster at this point. His grosses speak for themselves."

Bay's previous worst score on Rottentomatoes was 23 percent for "Bad Boys II," followed by 25 percent for "Pearl Harbor." Even his commercial flop "The Island" rated well above the "Transformers" sequel, with 40 percent positive reviews.

Of the eight movies that have grossed more than $400 million domestically, four scored 90 percent or higher on Rottentomatoes: "The Dark Knight," "Spider-Man," "E.T. the Extra-terrestrial" and "Star Wars." Two others, "Shrek 2" and "Titanic," topped 80 percent.

The other two had mixed reviews but still came in far higher than "Revenge of the Fallen," with "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" scoring 63 percent and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" rating 53 percent.

This year's biggest hits so far had terrific scores, "Up" with 97 percent and "Star Trek" with 95 percent. Both movies have grossed about $250 million, a number the "Transformers" sequel will soar past this weekend.