‘Gods of Egypt’: Anatomy of a Big Budget Bomb

Gods of Egypt
Courtesy of Lionsgate

There’s no surefire formula for success.

That lesson was brought painfully home to Lionsgate this weekend after “Gods of Egypt,” its $140 million fantasy epic, collapsed at the domestic box office, opening to a meagre $14 million. Its failure comes at a difficult time for the studio, which said goodbye to “The Hunger Games” last year and will end its “Divergent” series next year with the release of the final installment, “Ascendant.” They leave a gap that Lionsgate is still scrambling to fill.

“Lionsgate is in crisis mode,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “If you look at what they’ve released so far this year, nothing has worked. They’ve had the opposite of the Midas touch right now.”

It’s not that the company hasn’t tried to find someone or something to fill Katniss Everdeen’s shoes.  Just as they once talked of “Gods of Egypt” as a potential new film franchise, so too did Lionsgate brass once talk up the Johnny Depp comedy “Mortdecai” and the Vin Diesel action flick “The Last Witch Hunter” as films likely to inspire future sequels. Instead they flopped.

And while recent films such as “John Wick” and “Now You See Me” have performed well enough to lead to follow-ups, they’re not merchandising juggernauts on the level of “Hunger Games” or “Twilight,” an earlier hit that gave investors the false hope that Lionsgate had figured out a way to bottle “tween spirit.”

“It’s much easier to ride the wave of success of an ongoing franchise,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “It’s obviously much more difficult to start one. It requires a huge commitment of time, resources and money.”

Reaction on Wall Street has been brutal, particularly after “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” the franchise finale, became the lowest-grossing film of the series. Lionsgate’s stock, which was trading at more than $40 in November, has lost nearly half its value.

The failure of “Gods of Egypt” won’t be ruinous to Lionsgate. Using a stew of tax breaks and foreign pre-sales, the company limited its financial exposure to $10 million on the picture’s budget. That’s one of the reasons that Lionsgate shares didn’t plunge in the lead-up to the film’s disastrous opening, closing Friday up 1.83% at $20.64.

In a statement to Variety, Lionsgate distribution co-president David Spitz said, “We built a strong financial model so we could take a big swing in hopes of creating a new franchise with very little financial risk. The film didn’t work as well as we hoped but fortunately our downside is very limited.”

The financial prudence is admirable, but in the case of “Gods of Egypt,” it was wedded to a creative caution that proved ruinous. First, the film badly misjudged the current desire to see diverse faces on screen. Despite having “Egypt” in its title, the picture’s cast was made up entirely of white actors. It’s diversity was of the pan-European variety, with Scottish star Gerard Butler and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau bringing a geographically questionable flavor to the Nile setting. The casting prompted a backlash, eventually leading to an apology from director Alex Proyas.

Then there was the film itself. Its CGI creatures, mythical backdrop, and sword and sandals milieu felt ripped off from “Clash of the Titans,” “The Immortals,” and “300.” Moreover, its digital wizardry is out of step with a move in films such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” towards more practical, in-camera effects. What felt fresh and revolutionary five years ago, came off as stale and overly familiar today.

In retrospect, “The Hunger Games” seems like a no-brainer. But it’s easy to forget that Lionsgate was bucking conventional wisdom when it greenlit the dystopian adventure. Jennifer Lawrence was hardly a household name and, at the time, studios were wary of backing action films with female leads, falsely believing that female moviegoers steered clear of violence and male ticket buyers would feel alienated.

Moreover, the subject matter — a story of kids killing kids in gladiatorial combat — would have given many studios pause. Instead, the novel aspects of the film, a sense that it was unlike the comic book movies and toyline spinoffs flooding theaters, was what allowed “The Hunger Games” to draw crowds.

Going forward, Lionsgate is bullish on projects such as a new “Power Rangers” film and an adaptation of “The Odyssey.” Part of their confidence stems from the fact that both are based on known quantities. In an age where it’s getting increasingly difficult to break through the cultural clutter and capture consumers’ attention, that may be an advantage, but the studio would do well to find a new and innovative angle for each of these familiar properties.

There’s a dictum the studio should keep in mind. The writer Gustave Flaubert once advised artists to “be orderly in your life … in order to be violent and original in your works.” In the case of “Gods of Egypt,” Lionsgate’s financial model enabled the studio to keep its fiscal house in order, but its creative team could have afforded to get more savage and innovative in their artistic choices.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the “Divergent” series ends in 2016. 

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  1. The black woman on the left looks more like an egyptian goddess than the white girl , they both look like tourists lol

  2. Gajonka X says:

    Unique visuals, a 10 year wait finally over as we get Butler back in 300 general form..his one liner alone locked me up to go see this thing about the eye of horus, satan, osiris, and the devil. I think Proyas is getting what he deserves – after all he is the director that changed things up on the set of the CROW- and he was the idiot in charge when Lee was shot. So –

  3. In your face says:

    So stick to the same old same old. Not enough people care about originality. But so many bloggers and commenters want original content. Many happy medium is known properties having a some what original content much like mad max fury road, or Deadpool.

  4. mary says:

    Quite simply Lionsgate should actually research what audiences really like and want . Also they would do well to not underestimate the value of a good story, plot, humour, and sharp up to the minute effects prod design cinematography etc .
    Oh and I bet they wish they could have kept Rob Pattinson looking as young as Edward Cullen for another 10 years.

  5. Mishi says:

    I actually liked the movie. It wasn’t that bad.

  6. Aaron says:

    Closer for Divergent series is Allegiant, not Ascendant. Honestly, research it a bit more.

  7. Nan says:

    Lionsgate has done pretty well with two big franchises. I actually enjoyed Gods of Egypt, you never know this might be the film that does 200M in China.

  8. Joel Emmett says:

    The “Power Rangers” and “Odyssey,” however popular their sources/milieus have been, like “Egypt,” may be decades late.

    Lionsgate might be better served, for instance, by talking Stephenie Meyer into a Rogue One-like spinoff picture — or better yet, a sequel — within The Twilight Saga’s universe. Thousands of people are still taking *pilgrimages* to Forks, Washington, the setting for the saga. Three or four years from now could be just about right.

  9. TheBigBangof20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    More than 100 million people in the US are middle aged and older. They would still see more movies if their tastes were respected and not ignored by bean counter focus groups. The old business model of catering only to young people is no longer a box office guarantee. Millennial kids are too fickle and have too many digital entertainment options. This is the 21st century. It’s time that Hollywood targeted the taste of mature audiences with their high concept content instead of the oversold video game or social media generation.

    • Alex says:

      Excellent point. I agree 100%. I suppose I’m reaching that middle age grey area but it seems to me I’m part of the last generation that still views going to a theatre as the primary way to see a film. My parents and other seniors do as well. Those in their early 20s and teens deem streaming on Netflix or on their phones as the primary way of viewing films. Money can be made that way still but if studios want to keep the theatre experience as a major financial source of income they really could put more emphasis on catering to adults, the last population that gives them business on a regular consistency.

      • I love when people make assumptions about my age group. Going to the movies is absolutely one of my, and many of my friends’, favorite things to do. There are next to no good movies on Netflix. People subscribe to Netflix for TV shows.

      • Don Jamony says:

        This simply isn’t true.

        As someone in their early 20s going to the movies it the only way to experience new films I want to see.

  10. Willy T Ribbs says:

    Go go Power Rangers!

  11. Bogusz says:

    Gods of Egypt trailer looks almost like a cheap crap made for Sy-fy channel, so why would anyone expects that is gonna be a sucsess?

  12. Chizz says:

    Earth to Brent: CGI “wizardry” was not fresh and original five years ago, just as it isn’t now.

  13. Rudy Mario says:

    Lions gate is finished. It was mwrly a two pony/films studio. The article’s writer buys into all that creative accounting verbiage which is bs.
    As for the two future film, the Odessay looks or sounds like another Gods of Egypt.

  14. Moon says:

    Wait! A studio that has released within the past 5 years the Twilight saga, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series is having financial difficulties? And if so, are we supposed to feel concerned for it while people like Charlie Kaufman and Jim Jarmush are making their films via kickstarters campaigns?! I don’t think so.

  15. Bill says:

    Why yes, everyone would have otherwise flocked to this film but they found the cast wasn’t diverse enough?

    Variety writers need to get out of L.A. or New York for maybe one day per month so they stop seeing everything from the viewpoints of their PC cocoons.

    Their relentless efforts to define everything in terms of race is why I am not renewing my print subscription; it’s just become tedious.

    • Bill , everything you said is 100000% accurate

    • John says:

      Completely agree. The whole movie was utterly ridiculous, so apart from some obsessive SJWs ,who’s looking for ethnic realism in casting for a film like this? What killed the movie was that it managed to look mundane and gaudy at the same time; it was led by a cast of no-names, it seemed like a thousand other movies of the same kind, and Gerard Butler can’t open a movie.

    • joy karen says:

      You’re so right. Why can’t they just admit that this film just sucked; it sucked in its own pitard. Ha ha.

  16. Matt says:

    Yes, everyone really wants to see ‘The Odyssey.’ Lots of kids have read it. What America and the rest of the world wants is another sword and sandals epic.

    Just kidding. No one wants to see ‘The Odyssey.’

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