(The Final Cut)
It may have sounded good on paper, but the latest King Arthur film revival has bombed at the box office.
The fantasy action flick had a $US175 million budget, but in its opening weekend made just $15 million at the domestic box office. Some analysts are now tipping it could lead to an overall loss of $150 million.
This is despite a marketing machine that went into overdrive — think multiple trailers, billboards, TV ads, and a whole social media strategy — and being released at more than 3,700 cinemas across the US.
So why has it performed so badly, and what can an autopsy tell us about the way modern films are made?
Was the story choice a misfire?
Director Guy Ritchie tried to tell this story of Arthur’s rise to the throne while injecting an element of fantasy into the traditional medieval landscape.
But people have moved on, film critic Zak Hepburn said.
“These legendary mythic chargers have been replaced for newer generations with superheros as our cultural tastes from generation to generation change,” he said.
“They won’t be gone forever, as all stories touch on the classic three-act structure of the ‘hero’s journey’.
“I think for now we have really said all we needed to say on screen about the legend.”
And there were already warning signs. The last time the Arthur legend was given the big-bang treatment was in Clive Owen’s 2004 adventure, and it also made a meagre $15 million on the opening weekend.
But the fantasy-history action genre is so popular?
Sure, Game of Thrones has become a global sensation by fusing a medieval world full of political machinations with fantasy elements.
But that doesn’t mean everyone can follow the same formula.
Matt Damon’s 2017 historical fantasy piece The Great Wall made a total of $US45 million in the US box office off the back of a $150 million budget, although was helped along to a profit by a strong showing internationally.
“It’s not surprising that studio executives figured another medieval epic based off an iconic character could work wonders for them,” Hepburn said.
“But it just goes to show, as more and more blockbusters go into production and are released weekly, the challenges of standing out from the crowd on the marquee or session time screen becomes more and more difficult.”
And Ritchie might not have helped the matter either.
The English director is best known for films that deal with cocky thugs and hustlers on the gritty streets of London. Ritchie told News Breakfast this film took him into new areas.
“I know what I’m doing in my familiar territory, and then this is unfamiliar,” he said.
“Gradually I’ve been snatching, consciously and subconsciously, different ideas for the genre, because it’s a genre I know nothing about, never taken a sojourn into.”
All of which leads to the bigger question:
Was this a bad team behind the film?
Not necessarily, according to University of Notre Dame media studies lecturer Ari Mattes.
“Ritchie is to be commended for his [perhaps] uncynical attempt to blend classic English myth with the contemporary gangster myth he’s been so instrumental in recreating for the 21st century,” Mattes wrote in The Conversation.
“Ritchie has built a career around infusing old genres and cultural myths with fresh energy … and King Arthur is no different.”
Then there are the actors.
Jude Law is the only A-lister in the cast, but hasn’t been able to bring in the audiences. (Supplied)
Idris Elba, James McAvoy and Colin Farrell were all reportedly offered roles but turned them down, leaving Charlie Hunnam to play Arthur and Jude Law to play the villain.
“Not exactly proven box office firepower,” Hepburn said.
Hunnam is perhaps best known for his lead role in TV bikie series Sons of Anarchy, and told News Breakfast playing Arthur was something of a childhood dream.
“What we wanted to do, or what Guy wanted to do, was make Arthur really relatable, accessible,” he said.
“I’ve never had as much fun as I’ve had on this film.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to compensate for his lack of bankable status.
“Casting unknowns in these roles is not a bad thing, but when you are up against giant tent pole releases, such as the Guardians of the Galaxy film, you really do need someone in that central role that mass audiences recognise and respond to,” Hepburn said.
Given the film had been in the works for years and the release was reportedly delayed multiple times, perhaps the real question is:
Should the studio take the blame for this?
There are grounds to say yes.
“Hollywood is franchise-mad at the moment,” Hepburn said.
“‘Shared universes’ are the thing now, where films form part of larger fabrics, and this is what has worked so well with the Marvel screen universe, and to an extent the DC films.”
There was talk this latest Arthur film could be the first of a six-part series looking at the wider story, but that appears to be killed off.
Warner Brothers domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein has said “the concept missed” and “we’re very disappointed”.
“The final release being pushed around was perhaps in an attempt to drum up hype, or perhaps the studio knew it had a problem on its hands and needed all the time it could to try and salvage it,” Hepburn said.
“It does feel like it was eventually just dumped.”
All of this doesn’t necessarily mean the film is bad — although that’s certainly Hepburn’s take.
On IMDB it had an average viewer rating of 7.3 after the first 18,000 votes, and on Rotten Tomatoes it had an audience score of 79 per cent.
“I really, really hope that we get to go make those films,” Hunnam told News Breakfast.
“I guess we’ll find out in about a month when we see how the film does and how people react to it.”
Sadly for Hunnam, it seems the verdict is in.