The hit “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” took at the box office was more than just a flesh wound.
Warner Bros.’ and Guy Ritchie‘s spin on the origin of the famed King of Camelot cost a reported $175 million before P&A, but only made $14.7 million in its opening weekend.
Not only did “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” more than quadruple that total with its $63 million second frame performance, “King Arthur” also finished behind the Amy Schumer/Goldie Hawn comedy “Snatched,” which made an estimated $17.5 million.
There’s probably no rescue in sight from overseas markets either, as the film has only made $3.7 million in China in its first two days in theaters. With such little traction with audiences on both sides of the Pacific, it’s looking like “King Arthur” will finish in the red, though Warner Bros. won’t take a full hit as the film was co-produced with Village Roadshow, who co-financed with Ratpac Entertainment.
So what led to such a woeful defeat for Arthur and his Knights?
1.) The origin tale formula
It would be wrong to say a fantasy film can’t work in the summer. After all, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most popular titles in pop culture today. But for audiences to get intrigued by a modernized version of a classic tale, something new needs to be brought to the table.
“King Arthur” failed to do this, instead relying on an origin tale that deviates little from the classic Hero’s Journey formula. Critics panned the film for turning the Arthurian legend into a rote tale where Arthur spends his life on the streets before learning of his true identity and being pushed into leading a revolution against the traitorous relative who robbed him of his birthright. “In true Joseph Campbell style, this reluctant hero refuses over and over before finally accepting his destiny,” wrote TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde.
A film about Camelot in 2017 would have been better served getting right to the adventures of the famous medieval superteam that the Arthurian legend is best known for rather than eschew it for a rags-to-riches story that audiences around the world have seen many times before.
It’s hard to fault the marketing team for not being able to come up with something that could grab attention on billboards and at bus stops. Still, the black and white posters of Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law as Arthur and his evil uncle were not going to hold up well against the colorful promo material for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” the gold-and-black spin on the ubiquitous skull and crossbones for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” or the striking, evocative visions of horror created for the “Alien: Covenant” poster.
The tagline on “King Arthur” posters reads, “From Nothing Comes A King,” which conveys the message that this is the tale of Arthur’s rise to the throne; though, again, audiences are already getting their fill of such a story by watching Jon Snow rise from bastard child to King of the North on HBO on Sunday nights.
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3.) Guy Ritchie
Not too long ago, Guy Ritchie had produced a pair of successful adaptations of classic literature in the form of “Sherlock Holmes” and its sequel, “A Game of Shadows.” Both films grossed over $500 million worldwide, with the first film earning leading man Robert Downey, Jr. a Golden Globe.
But now, without RDJ to put in front of his camera, the English director has produced two straight box office flops for Warner Bros. In August 2015, Ritchie’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” only grossed $109 million worldwide against a $75 million budget. The same probably won’t be said for “King Arthur.” Ritchie will have the magic of Disney on his side for his next project: a remake of the animated classic “Aladdin,” due out in 2019.
“King Arthur” had originally been slated for a July 2016 release, but was pushed to Feb. 2017, then March, and then finally to this slot. Meanwhile, reshoots were ordered for the film while the title was changed from “Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur” to “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Such constant creative rejiggering not only creates audience skepticism, it also drives up production costs that have deepened this film’s financial struggles.
5.) Charlie Hunnam
Hunnam is probably the least to blame. Certainly, “King Arthur” could have used a lead actor with a bigger pedigree to help drum up interest in the film the way Downey, Jr. did for “Sherlock Holmes.” But audiences have shown a willingness to turn out even when there’s no marquee name in the cast.”Get Out” is a fine example of this, as its most prominent cast member was “Girls” star Allison Williams, while leading man Daniel Kaluuya had been best known prior to starring in Jordan Peele’s horror film for a lead role in an early episode of “Black Mirror.”
While Hunnam’s performance in “King Arthur” only drew applause from a few critics, he received much greater praise last month for his leading role in Amazon Studios’ art house offering, “The Lost City of Z.” Strong performances in indie titles have led to big blockbuster roles for Hollywood stars in recent years. Just look at Brie Larson’s jump from an Oscar-winning performance in “Room” to top roles in “Kong: Skull Island” and “Captain Marvel.” Hunnam’s potential as a blockbuster actor could still be found in another film.
6.) There’s just no stopping Marvel
Since Marvel movies set up permanent camp on the first weekend of May with “Spider-Man 3” 10 years ago, it has been hard for any rival blockbuster to find traction with a MCU entry still fresh in theaters.
Over the past decade, the films that have performed best in this release slot are ones that can provide an effective alternative to Marvel’s adrenaline-fueled spectacle rather than compete against it. The most successful examples are Warner Bros.’ “The Great Gatsby,” a $150 million film that got a $50 million opening and a $351 million global total; and Universal’s “Bridesmaids,” which made $288 million worldwide against a $32.5 million budget.
By comparison, the 2010 action film “Robin Hood” made $321 million against a $200 million budget after releasing a weekend after “Iron Man 2.”
The second weekend of May could be a good launching point for a mid-budget feature, but studios will be hard-pressed trying to convince audiences to get their action fix from anything other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.