47 Ronan

Universal's pricey tentpole starring Keanu Reeves hopes to avoid disaster bowing Dec. 25 in the U.S.

If a samurai movie can’t work in Japan, where can it?

Universal execs are asking themselves just that after the weekend’s weak performance of “47 Ronin” in Japan, where the mega-budgeted Keanu Reeves starrer launched ahead of the Dec. 25 Stateside bow, with a paltry estimated $1.3 million from 333 playdates.

The troubling local start did land the film first among foreign pics, though it ranked third overall behind two local-language films.

The Japanese territory is notoriously difficult to crack for international films, since the country has such a strong local market. That is true for nearly every foreign-language film in Japan, but for “47 Ronin,” which not only tells a story famous in Japanese folklore (albeit with great liberties taken), it stars popular local talent including Hiroyuki Sanada.

Also, the poor opening is not just bad news for “47 Ronin” locally as a soft set-up for the very competitive year-end holidays, but the sluggish start could forecast a similar fate elsewhere around the world, especially in the States, where the film doesn’t seem to be building much buzz, despite a marketing campaign already mid-swing.

Some box office analysts have the film pegged to gross just north of $10 million opening weekend, with a domestic cume falling short of $50 million. Such estimates could increase as Universal pours more money into the film’s marketing, however.

“47 Ronin” — which cost at least $175 million to produce, with Elliot Inc. as a financial partner — received one of the lowest consumer engagement scores (a composite based on questions measuring the level of consumer interest in a given movie concept) among holiday films from Piedmont Media Research.

By itself, the film’s score means little, though the soft composite often translates to disastrous box office for expensive pics. Universal’s summer bomb “R.I.P.D.,” for instance, received a score of 137, according to Piedmont. That said, Reeves helped raise “Ronin’s” overall score slightly.

Universal is launching the film in select Asian markets before Christmas Day, followed by 15 territories including the U.K. and Spain during the last weekend of the year.

Low-scoring samurai

How some of the holiday’s highest-profile films rank with audience interest:

Film (Domestic release date): Consumer Engagement Score

  • Lone Survivor (Jan. 10, wide): 235
  • Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 20, wide): 209
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec. 25): 170
  • 47 Ronin (Dec. 25): 160

Source: Piedmont Media Research

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