05 July 2007

Transformers - Box Office Smash & Sign of a New Reality

Toys matter. The little girls who first played with Barbie dolls became the first generation to finance the cosmetic surgery industry. The little boys who first read Buck Rogers's comic books became the first generation to finance Star Wars missile defense programs.

So what can we learn from the success of Transformers at the Box office?

Michael Bay’s giant freakin robots movie debuted with a massive $27.4 million on Tuesday, making it the biggest ever take ever brought in by any movie on a Tuesday. You might think the competition isn’t very fierce there, since Tuesday’s aren’t exactly prime movie going time, but the previous champ was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with a very distant $15 million.

There are a variety of lessons to be drawn from this. One, the generation that first played with Transformers are now old enough to drive to theaters. Two, nostalgia is a huge draw (how long before someone puts out a Captain Crunch movie, ala Pirates of the Caribbean?). But there is also a prediction in here.

Transformer toys were very clever. A car becomes a monster - a plane becomes a monster - a vending machine becomes a monster. Okay, they weren't so very clever because everything unfolded into a monster. But the concept was clever - something that could be one thing until it was folded into another thing.

Kids who grow up playing with Transformers are less likely to take the form as fixed. This generation is unlikely to see the school as a place for learning only and not a place for fun or work. They are less likely to accept a work place as a static place where only work can be done and no play or learning is expected. This is a generation unlikely to conform to institutional norms, expecting these institutions to transform instead.

Toys become the building blocks of social invention, the stepping stones of social evolution.

[I first heard Russell Ackoff make the point that with our analytical world model, we've set up very distinct places for work, play, and learning. Schools are places for learning but not fun or work, for instance.]


Dave said...

Cracker Jacks, if that is the correct spelling. Food and fun in the same package.

I'm not quite buying your premise on this one Ron.

Kids have used toys for enjoyment not withstanding the toy's intended use since, since there were toys. Playing cards can be used for a myriad of games, as building utensils, as throwing devices, objects to attach to the spoke of a bikes wheel with a clothes pin.

The difference you posit with transformers is that the designer/manufacturer built in all of two things in the toy.

Unwrap the present, peruse the the toy and then play with the box.

Transformers are late to the party to my mind.

Ron Davison said...


Hearty disagreement. I sit rebuffed (which is not nearly as liberating a feeling as sitting in the buff).

Actually, I read you comment, take your point, and reiterate my contention that toys do change a generation's sense of expectation.

Dave said...

Still rebuffed to my mind. I don't thind toys are different other than in some forms in any generation.

Kids are open to experience. The experience can be a toy, a Trnsformer, if you will, a box as posited in my comment. The kids' aren't any different by generation. What may be different by generation is the breadth of what is available to them to experience. Does that "change" their expectation? I guess we have to define the word.

I think each generation comes equiped with the same tools. Experience with the world probably happens "faster" these days. But I don't understand that because toys are different than they were in the last generation, or the ones before that,that "expectation" has changed. Maybe I have hear your definition of the word.

Ron Davison said...

Got it. You are saying that toys and play are what they are and are constants. The point I'm trying to make is that the toys we play with can actually change what we expect as adults.