‘King Arthur’ Bombs: Why Guy Ritchie’s Latest Was a Royal Miss

king arthur legend of the sword
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a massive flop; let the pointing (and wagging) of fingers commence!

The project from Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow landed with a thud after earning only $14.7 million domestically during its opening weekend off an estimated $175 million production budget, not to mention marketing costs. Not even overseas grosses — which have propped up big-budget films, not in the least limited to “Pacific Rim” and “Warcraft” that would have been considered bombs otherwise — could save “Arthur,” which brought in $29.1 million internationally this weekend. Audiences have received the movie relatively well, earning it a B+ CinemaScore, but the same cannot be said for critics, who sliced and diced the picture down to a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The weekend tallies and critical and audience consensus are the result of a years-in-the-making story, eventually directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Charlie Hunnam. So how did the big-budget film become what could be remembered as the biggest flop of the summer, or even the entire year?

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Was the IP too tired? The legend of King Arthur is one that has been told and retold in various forms, not unlike many of the superhero movies that dominate the modern-day box office. But this flop feeds the narrative that Warner Bros. is banking too much on reviving stale ideas after misfires including “Pan,” “The Legend of Tarzan,” and, most recently, “Chips.” Still, Ritchie has made good money off an old idea with his take on Sherlock Holmes in 2009 and its sequel in 2011, which both grossed over $500 million worldwide. Ritchie addressed the idea in an interview with Variety’s Kris Tapley.

“It didn’t occur to me that it was a dusty or unexciting title,” Ritchie said. “To me, I fancy the challenge of — a bit like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ — I thought, ‘Oh, I’m familiar with that. I think I can do something with that.’”

Did the delays kill buzz? When Ritchie signed onto “Arthur” in 2014, he attached himself to a script by Joby Harold that was conceived as the first part in a six-film series set in one contained universe. Three years later, the film was finally released.

“King Arthur” was originally slated for a July 22, 2016 release, which ended up belonging to Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond.” Warner Bros. released the low-budget supernatural horror film “Lights Out” instead, which was a surprise hit. “Arthur” was pushed to a Feb. 17, 2017 release, only to be pushed again to March 24, and then finally to its ultimate date of May 12. If IP already causes rumblings of being tired, delaying a film’s release several times might only hinder potential excitement.

Did recasting get in the way? Starting in 2011, years prior to Ritchie’s involvement, Warner Bros. was adapting an Arthur-based project with director David Dobkin called “Arthur and Lancelot.” At the time, Kit Harington and Joel Kinnaman were attached to star, and later Colin Farrell was thought to bring the star power necessary to see the project through. Neither iteration was brought to production.

When Ritchie reignited talks of reviving the property, Idris Elba’s name was floated to play a Merlin-esque character. Neither the actor nor his character made the 2017 release.

Does Charlie Hunnam lack star power? Charlie Hunnam is a relatively untested star. Although he toplined “Pacific Rim,” the actor is most well-known for “Sons of Anarchy,” which ran for seven seasons on FX. Whenever a film tanks, the star shares some of the responsibility. But Hunnam’s role in “Arthur’s” lack of draw seems more like a small piece of a large puzzle.

Was it the recutting? Ritchie’s original cut of “King Arthur” was three and a half hours long. The final product clocks in at two hours and six minutes, which some critics, including Variety’s Peter Debruge, have identified as feeling more characteristic of Ritchie than a sprawling Arthurian epic.

“I was desperate that it would be an entertaining three and a half hours,” Ritchie told the Ringer’s Sean Fennessey. “Two hours into it, I knew I was in trouble.”

But Ritchie defended his process of trying to make the “worthy, extended version” before chopping it down to a movie that fits within his own oeuvre. “If I went to the studio and said, ‘This scene is going to cost me $3 million and it’s going to be ten seconds long,’ it’s very hard to get your nut around that,” Ritchie said.

So what? Despite this catastrophic flop, Ritchie has a potential reputation rehab project in place with Disney’s live-action “Aladdin.” The studio has had nary a miss recently with remakes of “Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast” each topping $1 billion worldwide. Warner Bros., too, has several shots at redemption with titles including “Wonder Woman” and “Dunkirk” in the summer pipeline and “It” hitting theaters in early fall. But while the residual effects of “King Arthur’s” financial losses have yet to be seen on a grand scale, the jab of earning title of “summer’s first big flop” can only be felt once a year.

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  1. Curly says:

    So here is the problem with this. Ritchie is trying to force a pastiche of modern day cultural British stereotypes onto a classic story. If instead he had actually tried to adapt to the genre itself then maybe he would have actually achieved something.
    Instead he has created a movie that only appeals to hipsters and those who want to observe a caricature of todays UK.
    Yes it is good for directors to put some of their own ideas even in classic stories, but please. Guy Ritchie has become a cliché of himself and tries to force things where they don’t belong. I have no doubt at all that those who did see the movie would have enjoyed it, but I also have no doubt at all that the box office numbers are a result of the fact that a huge number of people knew they would hate the movie from the trailer. Sadly for me, I knew I would hate it and still went – more fool me:(

    • Neal George says:

      It was a great film. One of the best I have seen for a long time. People are so doped up on Hollywood dross they can’t recognise the real thing.

  2. Betsy says:

    King Arthur was riveting. Fast paced, well cast, well acted. I was on the edge if my seat. I would recommend it to anyone who would like to lose themselves in a movie. The camerawork, graphics, sound….all of it. There is nothing in it that should be changed. Anyone interested in history, sorcery, magic would follow it. Critics be damned. I want to see what Guy Ritchie can come up with next. Thank you.

  3. Jim says:

    Is there a scene of King Arthur’s men lighting up farts ? That’s classic Ritchie & I expect no less! Nobody lights up farts better !

    • Kane says:

      Yes, Guy’s the master at that ! Maybe that’s whats missing from this dud…Remember filmmakers: Lighting up farts like in “Lock, Stock” is better for boxoffice than smelling farts like in “King Arthur”.
      The don’t teach you that at film school, I’m afraid.

  4. John says:

    The producers should get Guy Ritchie some meds for his dyslexia, so he can read the script properly before production starts…oh, wait: There are no meds against dyslexia. So why did they hire him in the first place? Too bad, now, they need antidepressants. Hope they work.

    GET RIDD OF RITCHIE BEFORE HE DESTROYS YOU !!!

    • Harold says:

      It always striked me as odd that someone who had suffered in his youth from “severe dyslexia” somehow had become – through magic – as an adult a “voracious reader”….at least this is something you can read in the online bios of Guy Ritchie, which were probably written by his PR people.

      I’m all for empowering people who have learning problems, because without reading and writing you’re fu*ked, because there are very few jobs you can do, for example directing blockbuster franchises.

      But Guy Ritchie presented himself as some kind of wonder boy, who could overcome this problem without much trouble – which is a BIG LIE.

      By lying about the problems that dyselxia cause and presenting himself as someone who ‘mastered’ it, he actually contributes to the stigma of the millions who couldn’t.

      Ritchie should be honest about the problems he has even writing an Email.
      He should be honest about the problems he has reading a synopsis without an assistant.
      He should be honest about the massive problems you have directing a giant franchise-setting
      blockbuster without the ability to properly read and write.

      But, no, why should he be honest, when printing the legend of the ‘magic man’ sounds so much better.

      I really hope that the producers who lost a cool $150 mill. now understand that dyslexia is no joke.

      • George says:

        Many, many people suffer from various forms of dyslexia, including directors Steven Spielberg and Steve McQueen. And these people know how to tell a story, right?

        Even if you have problems with reading and writing, all dyslexics develop many strategies to compensate and adjust.

        Especially if you have some money, this should be no problem, having an assistent etc.

        The real problem with Guy Ritchie was never dyslexia, but ADD (attention deficit disorder).

        He’s so bored so fast, that he edits his movies faster and faster, even if it becomes incomprehensible for most people, I guess.

        Maybe his 3.5 hours version was actually good?

  5. Ari Manuel says:

    A seriously untalented dolt who directs nothing but losers..When producers need tax losses, they call’
    Ritchie..Not only do people walk out of movie theaters midway through his garbage, Madonna walked
    out on him too.

  6. I had zero interest in this movie the moment I saw the trailer. It’s completely wrong tonally. Rock music for a story out of classic mythology? Really? Arthur wearing what looks like a modern day sweater? The movie also seems to pay hardly any attention to the classic story of Arthur–no Lancelot, no Guinevere, no establishing of Camelot, etc. I LOATHE movies that mangle classic stories so they can forcibly jammed into the mold of “modern sensibilities”. Add to that comments about an incoherent plot (which doesn’t seem to matter to those who only care about hyperactive action and CGI effects), and it’s no wonder the movie went nowhere. It’s amazing to me how people would rather blame “lack of names” or “bad marketing” for a failure, instead of BAD creative choices by a director.

    • Betsy says:

      You call the soundtrack “rock music”? And whats wrong with spinning fantasy into history in order to fire imagination and create a movie?

  7. Bad Marketing says:

    Having a big star will not save a bad film. The movie will be bad regardless but having a reputable actor with box office draw will help a move like this from completely financial failure. The more recent movies with familiar IP that come to mind are Ghost in the Shell, Assassin’s Creed, Dracula Untold, The Mummy, etc. They were all “bad” movies according to critics but did not financially flop to this scale because they had bigger names and better marketing.

    • Shaun D Lyon says:

      Well, considering The Mummy hasn’t been released yet…If you are going to comment please do some homework first.

      • WordsOfWisdom says:

        It will do better than $14.7 million opening weekend which is one of the most abysmal openings for a big budget film ever.

  8. Randi says:

    I LOVED this film!!! I never go to the theater because movies are so poorly mad now-a-days. But this film was amazing from start to finish!!! Cannot wait for #2!!!

  9. Tynee H says:

    I loved the films I thought it was amazing loved the characters and the special effects…don’t care what anyone else says bad about it I give is A+

  10. Joe says:

    America may have quit going to the movies. Maybe now it’s just a by-the-hour day care center. If it doesn’t have talking animals, it’s in trouble.

  11. Payam says:

    The writer of this article gives no real reason or makes no solid argument as to why this movie is a flop other than saying it didn’t make enough money. ” delaying the release date ” has nothing to do with a movie being a ” flop “. What i have to say is I just watched this movie and it was amazing. Whoever is reading this, go and watch this movie, you will not be disappointed. Yes maybe the marketing was bad, but the movie is great. On the other hand guardians of Galaxy is horrible. In the context of art, money is not always the number one variable mr/ms writer.

  12. giantslor says:

    The problem was the marketing. It looked like just a generic mega-budget fantasy-action movie trying to capitalize off of LotR, Hobbit, and GoT. The characters and story looked so cliched — little good guy is oppressed by big bad guy, good guy gets powerful weapon and beats bad guy. Meh. Give us more of the story, give us a reason to care about these characters. Nothing about the trailers (except the Led Zeppelin song) grabbed me. Whoever made the trailers failed miserably.

    • Tony says:

      Giantslor is exactly right. When you go to the movies every weekend, you see a lot of trailers and this one just had “bomb” written all over it. It looked like an old tired rehash of a hundred other movies. I may see it later but yes, that Marketing department needs work. Same with “Snatched” and “Chips” by the way

    • EricJ says:

      And–as if the entire movie wasn’t action-cliche’d enough–with the “Vertical Tagline” actor-closeup poster, yet. Y’know, at this point, I know enough to avoid ANY movie that uses that, it’s turned out to be a good rule of thumb.
      Well, at least I’ve still got Excalibur on Blu-ray.

  13. Julie Russell says:

    I had the perfect ending to a perfect day at the show with my 17-year-old Son, we both LOVED the movie! It had either a perfect ending or…. the beginning of the next chapter, hopefully, the later…

  14. Jimmy Green says:

    It was excellent. Really enjoyable. A feast for the eyes, heart and soul.

  15. Tee says:

    I thought King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was fantastic. I saw it today in Mothers Day. A big production, well paced with a twisted of refreshing humor. The cast was also refreshing, and the sound track omg I need to obtain it.

  16. The movie is brilliant. Ritchie’s take on the Arthurian legend is fresh and fantastic and I can’t say enough about how phenomenal his direction of the movie is. Then… the cast – WOW! Hunnam is like John Wayne (yes, I’m that old) – his presence takes up the screen and he is SO believable and charismatic in the role of Arthur. Jude Law makes an amazing antagonist. THIS movie is phenomenal – all on it’s own. It’s a great family movie – no sex, some language, some violence – but not that in-your-face type. The special effects enhance the story rather than make the story. It’s a fabulous take on a rich legend and I was SO impressed with the acting and dialogue, the story telling and directing. Don’t listen to paid reviewers – see it in the big theater, it’s worth the price of admission!

    • Ben says:

      how long have you worked in the studio marketing department? Yeah, it is that obvious

      • Ben, I saw the movie twice this weekend. I loved Ritchie’s take on the tale. I happen to love Arthurian legends. I loved the pacing of the dialogue. The scene where Arthur grows up is absolutely brilliant from a story-telling stand point. The music was fabulous. The special effects didn’t over power the movie. It was about a guy having to choose to take on responsibility that put friends and family at risk. It was awesome. But I prefer character-driven movies with witty dialogue.

  17. Marc says:

    I’m tired of the narrative that The Legend of Tarzan was a flop along the lines of Pan. Lazy journalism at its laziest. Do your research and don’t just push your pre-determined narrative. Pan made $128 million Tarzan made $356 million.

  18. John says:

    “Arthur grows up in a brothel to become a street thug” was all I needed to hear, to lose interest.

  19. Cheryl Wheless says:

    It was GREAT!!!!

  20. Frank says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Great effects and an interesting twist on the King Arthur story line. Critics are ass clowns….just go see it.

  21. M says:

    It wouldn’t have bombed if the Merlin characters were brought back

  22. Can’t wait to see it. I’m not sure this move would ever do well in the USA, where King Arthur just isn’t seen in the same way it is in the UK. The lack of a star name hasn’t helped.

  23. Farfig Nugen says:

    Joby Harold is the one to blame. Terrible writer who got unbelievably lucky in his entry into the studio system. Would love to know how his career trajectory took place…

  24. EricJ says:

    1) “Was the IP too tired?” – No: You’ve never HEARD so many Net discussions this week of fans telling new kids to go out and rent 1981’s “Excalibur” instead, or at least parents to show Disney’s “Sword in the Stone”, both of which at least make a danged lick o’ sense compared to the original story.

    2) “Did the delay kill buzz?” – Let’s just say it didn’t -help-. When a delay happens, audiences know why.

    3-4) “Did recasting get in the way? Does Charlie Hunnam lack star power?” – Ohh, so that’s who that was!

    5) “Was it the recutting?” – It was the cutting, or recutting, of what was FILMED, that was the problem.

    6) “So what?” – So, the problem is that we’re talking about Warner’s biggest nuclear summer tentpole flopola since “Pan”, another movie taken from free classic literature they hoped to insanely “reinvent” into a new big-budget franchise by Making Up Crap. Except that this one had the good luck to be from Guy Ritchie, who happened to have a bit of luck with Sherlock Holmes, and could now do no wrong…Or. Could. He?

    The problem, if we have to point fingers, is WARNER: Warner believes that all of cinema now revolves around Franchises, and they’ve run out of franchises.
    Tolkien came to an end and the Hobbit reboot found no love, Harry Potter still has yet to prove its new life with the Fantastic Beasts, snicker, “universe”, and Kong of Skull Island dropped off of moviegoers’ radar rather quickly once Beauty & the Beast showed up.
    If Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League follow the downward spiral the recent movies have, Warner will have nothing -left- to franchise, unless they go back to the public library and see what other classic books they can turn into CGI-pumped lunacy from scratch. Guy Ritchie can’t fix -every- classic-literature hero, and he sure couldn’t with this.
    Somewhere out there are a few interesting screenwriter spec-scripts–yes, big-budget commercial ones–that Warner, Sony, Fox and Universal will never look at, because they’re terrified of making movies the audience doesn’t already know. And when one studio already seems to be running out of those, what happens to the others?

    • Corvo says:

      @EricJ you blame Warner search for franchise as the culprit, but Disney is doing exactly the same. They keep on releasing sequels, remaking animated films as live action, and even their new movies like Frozen and Moana are relying on the princesses universe.

      The difference is that Disney is doing a good job in creating crowd pleasers, and Warner are not there yet.

      • Required says:

        The difference is that Disney has ALWAYS been about franchises even though it was mostly all ages focused while using Touchstone/Hollywood as a traditional movie studio. Disney upped the IP race with their purchase of Pixar Marvel and Lucasfilm. Warner and other studios are just catching on and searching for any IP they can scrap together for a franchise. Warner has a better start than the others with the DC brands but these other studios are finding it difficult as there just aren’t that many brands left to acquire.

  25. Dunstan says:

    This film looked terrible from the trailers – especially if you’ve seen “Excalibur,” the terrific take on the Arthur legend written by Rospo Pallenberg and John Boorman; directed by the latter.

    In fact, the trailers looked laughable, with enough CGI for ten films.

  26. Berek says:

    Everyone I know wants to see it but we all thought it was coming out this summer. Certainly didn’t think they’d try to bring it out while people are still seeing guardians.

  27. willy wonka says:

    TBH I think Hunnam was King Arthur was a bad casting. I still think of someone like Clive Owen when I think of King Arthur

  28. Steve says:

    Critics be damned. This movie was entertaining and brought Arthur to light like no other movie has, it is a shame that the critics now control the tomatometer, as that helps a lot of people decide what to see.

    • William says:

      Graham Chapman was a better King Arthur and The Holy Grail was intentionally funny.

    • mjweir0317 says:

      Right, I mean let’s not let anyone who actually knows anything about the movie business give an opinion. It’s much more crucial that your neighbor fanboy tells you what he thinks. He’s all that matters. And that, in a nutshell is what’s wrong with the movie business these days. No one goes because every single film is for the fanboy contingent. Everyone else is home watching the amazing stuff done on cable and streaming television.

      • Stu says:

        Exactly, on all points. When bad movies flop, maybe, just maybe, it’s not actually the fault of critics or websites that compile reviews but the fault of all the people involved in green lighting and making a trashy film.

  29. BR says:

    Enjoyable enough flick. Sometimes these things connect, sometimes they don’t. I’d rather watch a million misfires than sit through reheated garbage like Beauty and the Beast.

    • willy wonka says:

      Are you kidding me? This movie was TRASH and RT seems to agree as well cause it’s got a 30% score. I’d rather watch B&B a million times then sit through this crap.

      • JerriBelle says:

        Rt critics is for losers. What does audiences think? That’s all that matters in the real world. There have been tons of successful movies that audiences love and pompous critics kill.

      • Berek says:

        Rt critic’s score is pretentious garbage what’s the audience score.

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