“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?
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.