Back to IndieWire

Why ‘King Arthur’ Flopped: You Can’t Make a $300 Million Movie Without Women, and Three More Reasons

Where was Lady Guinevere? That was one of the reasons that Warner Bros. and director Guy Ritchie earned just $15 million at the box office this weekend.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (8810910e)Charlie Hunnam"King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" Film - 2017

Charlie Hunnam in “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword”

Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

In the annals of Hollywood flops, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” holds a unique space. Not only did it gross just $15 million this weekend off of $300 million in production and marketing costs, its failure also is not an orphan. There are reasons — so many reasons.

Yes, Charlie Hunnam can’t open a movie, the reviews were terrible, and the marketing was as muddled as the filmmaking. However, “King Arthur” made four other wide-reaching and entirely avoidable mistakes — which means, maybe the studios will be wiser next time.

Here are some fundamental miscalculations:

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (8810910g)Astrid Berges-Frisbey"King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" Film - 2017

Astrid Berges-Frisbey in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

1. Women. There Weren’t Any.

The King Arthur legend has multiple elements, but among them is a love story involving the king, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot. This version followed what most of director Guy Ritchie’s films focus on: men, and otherwise male interactions. Guin hardly exists.

So, we had a story that incorporated fantasy, swords, sorcery, and FX, but didn’t bother with romance or significant female characters. Sometimes you can get away with that in Marvel epics, Star Wars, or the J.R.R. Tolkien universe — but those are properties that are far better known and beloved. (And even they’re wising up.)

The domestic audience is increasingly driven by older females. But “King Arthur” relied on younger male viewers — and there weren’t nearly enough of them.

READ MORE: Women Remain Afterthoughts as DC and Marvel Plan 18 Movies About Superdudes, 2 About Superheroines

Women have repeatedly proven themselves to be strong among fans of similarly themed stories, particularly on cable. (There’s “Game of Thrones,” but the “Outlander” franchise is defined by its older-female fandom.) Nevertheless, Warners decided to invest about a third of a billion dollars in the hopes of jump starting a new franchise, figuring that worldwide male audiences and those they brought with them would be so massive that female storylines were not only unnecessary, they might even be a turnoff.

The franchises of Marvel, “Furious,” D.C. Comics, and Star Wars all have managed to elevate female characters. “King Arthur” had the little-known Astrid Berges-Frisbey as a snake-controlling female known as The Mage — that’s medieval-speak for magician, so she doesn’t even really get a name. Maybe she was meant to be revealed as Guinevere in some future installment, but here she’s not his great love; she’s remembered for the snakes.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Raphael/Warner Bros./REX/Shutterstock (8810911a) Poppy Delevingne, Eric Bana "King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" Film - 2017

Poppy Delevingne and Eric Bana, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Warner Bros./REX/Shutterstock

2. They Released It On Mother’s Day Weekend

Want to guarantee a film with marginal female appeal gets even less attention? Release it on Mother’s Day weekend, a time period defined by female choice. Instead, women headed for “Snatched” with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as a mother and daughter on an R-rated vacation. Though no “Trainwreck,” the holiday boosted its appeal and a gave it a Sunday one-third better than initially projected ($8 million rather than $6 million). That gave it a decent $19.5 million total, almost a third better than “King Arthur.”

READ MORE: ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ Is Part ‘Game of Thrones,’ Part ‘Snatch,’ and All Bad — Review

Last summer’s “The Legend of Tarzan” was less catastrophic for Warners because it had female appeal in a loinclothed Alexander Skarsgård and in its integral romantic plot. The domestic run approached four times its opening weekend, way above average.

It’s possible this was a misguided attempt at counterprogramming (“Let’s release a film with minimal female appeal on a weekend when everyone else is going after women!”), but whatever logic that might contain collapses when the bottom line is so high.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (8810910b)Jude Law"King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" Film - 2017

Jude Law in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

3. Warners Was a Victim of the Crowded Calendar

Warners knew this movie was problematic and didn’t want to put it into the fray of battle. It came a week after the latest Marvel entry and a week before Ridley Scott’s “Alien Covenant” — the last weekend in the next two months without direct franchise or blockbuster competition.

However, one reason this weekend was available is its post-Marvel status: Even in second weekends, Marvel movies are formidable. So, to the question of, “Was this film necessary, at this budget?” we can add, “and was there room for it?”

Warners did decently with both “The Great Gatsby” on the second weekend of May in 2013 ($50 million) and with “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015 (post-Mother’s Day, but opposite the huge “Pitch Perfect 2”). Both were expensive, somewhat risky projects that were helped by the timing (which included heavily covered premieres at Cannes). But both of those had better reviews, clearer audience targeting, and female appeal.

Even an ideal rollout would have solved few of the film’s box-office issues, but this shows how a bad date can magnify the problems of a marginal project.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (8810912c) Charlie Hunnam "King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword" Film - 2017

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Bros./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

4.  The Budget Required PG-13; The Movie Needed an R

Popular box-office wisdom holds that if you want a shot at a billion-dollar worldwide hit, you can’t be rated R. “Deadpool” belied that approach with an edgy appeal that boosted its domestic take, but it did far less well overseas, including no release at all in China.

However, while the “King Arthur” story is old, the medieval genre has been redefined by the hard-R thrills afforded by “Game of Thrones,” “Outlander,” and “The Borgias” as well as earlier period sword-and-sandal stories like “Rome” and “Spartacus.” No one stints on the blood or the bodice ripping. Now we have poor “King Arthur” trotting in with some action, no sex, and toned-down violence.

“Gladiator” and “Braveheart” (both Best Picture winners, the former particularly successful) were R rated. It’s an appeal of an entirely different magnitude, but “The Passion of the Christ” might have been NC-17 because of violence were it not for consideration of its religious appeal.

Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged , ,


Comments

John R Vetick

Another reason is if you can’t make it better than the Arthurian classic film, “Excalibur,” then don’t make it!

    thevoid99

    Don’t forget Monty Python.

    SergioM

    Exactly! There have been many King Arthur films but Excalibur set the standard. Nothing before it or after it comes close (that is with the exception of Monty Python)

PLA

British actors don’t do well at the US box office. Period. Australian actors too, unless this is a comic book movie.

CHE

Charlie Hunnam can’t hold up a big budget movie.Pacific Rim had prove that.

billted

the ghostbusters remake had plenty of women in it
Are you sure that it wasn’t feminist enough was the problem

FITLBOX

How about a simpler answer? No one wants to see a badass version of Sword And The Stone? Content is the problem, period.

Hal

Another reason is that “King Arthur” has no scenes with dudes lighting up farts. That made “Lock, Stock and two smoking barrels” a hit! It’s probably not what females want, but he could have included maybe two women lighting up each others’ farts? A great artist like Guy Ritchie should know!

Sahara

To all the male haters, your liberalism reeks of intolerance towards the male sex. I am a proud woman of Hispanic, white and black heritage who feels stronger next to my alpha husband. I understand that his strength does not devalue me. I loved the movie for its strong male characters, its telling of the story and not catering to a liberal agenda, and finally, no love triangle! Your rant sounds uneducated, ludicrous, and whiny.

Point #1: You state there are no major female characters, even as you use a picture of Astrid above the clearly false statement. Astrid not only played a major character, that was instrumental in helping Arthur, but she was a very powerful mage! You contradicted yourself and lost your credibility.

Your ill-considered objection that Guinevere and Sir Lancelot were not included shows you did not get the film. This was obviously timed before the traditional period of the story to avoid the same old tale we already know. This was about the making of King Arthur. He had not even met Guinevere at this point of his life so how would it make any sense to include her. And by the way, love triangles are yesterday. Love triangles are anti-climatic and kill romance for sterling citizens.

Point #2: Why not Mother’s Day? Charley Hunnam and Jude Law; need I say more. Despite liberals’ attempts to indoctrinate society into feministic wimplings, real women want real men; alphas. Not your betas you try to push down our throats. I not only asked my alpha husband to watch the movie with me for Mother’s Day, I am taking my children so I can see it again.

You use the term “female driven” improperly as these are not females but debased male and female mimeographs of liberal social climbers who wield their power woefully. Legitimate women/females do not need a strong female character to feel validated.

Maybe the movie didn’t do well because of ignorant, short-sighted critics who I question even watched the movie! The people involved in making the trailer are part to blame, I will give you that. Their inclusion of the shaky cam scene was a huge mistake! It was 30 seconds of the movie that everyone negatively focused on when they had a brilliant movie full of action they could have included instead; correction of error.

Point #3: See Point #2.

Point #4: You contradict yourself again! You are of obvious liberal tendancies who just accused the film of not pandering to liberal feminists, yet you complain about no violence? Could you not be more inconsistent? You criticized the film for not having a strong female character, yet you complain about no sex? What is more degrading than lowering a female to the level of their value being based on their sexuality? I rather think it has to do with yourself and a depravity unaddressed.

ML

Ritchie don’t know how to handle big money. His only good movies were his 2 first. Hollywood is learning it too late.

Won’t be too surprised if someone takes Aladdin off his hands.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *