The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time

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How does Transformers stack up?

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Paramount Pictures

The third installment of director Michael Bay's blockbuster Transformers franchise hit theaters this week. The mammoth box office success of the first two films in the series lands Transformers as, on average, the fifth highest-grossing movie franchise of all time—and that was before Dark of the Moon's release. Critics, however, have not been as enthusiastic about the films as audiences have been, panning both the original Transformers and its first sequel. But taking both box office and critical score into account, how will Transformers compare to the Greatest Movie Franchises Ever?

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Even after adjusted for inflation, the average box office across the first two Transformers films is higher than Lord of the Rings, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively. Its critical reception, however, has not been so stellar. While the first movie merely underwhelmed critics, the second installment, Revenge of the Fallen, was reviled, going on to become the worst-reviewed movie to ever cross the $400 million dollar mark at the box office. In his review of this third film, Roger Ebert could only say, unflatteringly, that Dark of the Moon was "one of the more unpleasant experiences I've had at the movies." In ranking the 50 Greatest Film Franchises, we only took into account series that had three or more installments, which means that Transformers will now be ranked the next time the list is compiled. Considering our methodology weighs box office success and critical reception equally, how will Transformers negative reviews affect its eventual placement on the list?

Back in November, for the seventh Harry Potter film's release, we used a formula that took both box office totals and critics' scores into account to rank the 50 Greatest Movie Franchises of all time. Here's an abbreviated explanation of the process we used to come up with those rankings:

To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released. We then averaged those results.

To determine a film's critical success, we used Rotten Tomatoes' critics' scores. We then found the average for each franchise's films.

To call the Transformers franchise a cash cow would be an understatement, which makes it easy to understand why Bay, star Shia LaBeouf, and Paramount would all want to make a third film. But as we've already learned this year, releasing another sequel in a franchise is still a risk, one that can dramatically affect its ranking on the Greatest Movie Franchises list.

A fourth installment of the Scream franchise, released this spring, was the worst-performing film in that series, bringing its ranking down from 30 to 37. When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides kicked off the summer movie season in May, Pirates was one of the most successful franchises, ranking number 13. Now, thanks to poor reviews, it's number 17. The X-Men series had the opposite problem when it gambled on another sequel, First Class. The movie was well-reviewed, but a disappointing box office caused it to slip one spot, to number 16.

So how will the release of Dark of the Moon affect the ranking of Transformers? When averaging the box office and critics score of the first two films, the franchises ranks would rank number 41 on the list—shockingly low, considering that its box office rank would be number 5. Projections are that the film will perform at least as spectacularly financially as the others, but it will need a truly massive gross in order to combat what are already fairly negative reviews and improve its ranking.

Read a fuller analysis, posted when the seventh Harry Potter film hit theaters: "The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time." The gallery in the post has been updated to reflect current rankings—before Dark of the Moon's final box office or critical score is known.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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