As we noted in our roundup of the weekend box office last week, Guy Ritchie’s would-be blockbuster King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword flopped hard, the sword of financial disaster pulled smoothly from the stone of foolish expectations and held aloft for all to see. Current estimates have the film on track to lose upwards of $150 million, and the movie now holds the record for the third-worst opening of all time for a movie with such a wide release and giant budget. So now the Monday-morning quarterbacking can begin: What are the reasons this project was such a catastrophic box office failure, other than being a film where Guy Ritchie took the Arthurian legend and updated it to include lots of gun-wielding gangsters and convoluted plots where knights call each other “bruv”? (Full disclosure: We may not have seen the film yet.)
A new video from Ben at What Culture runs down a list of 10 possible arguments for why yet another movie about a guy waving a sword around in mythical ancient times failed to catch the public’s imagination. Some of them are more compelling than others, to put it mildly. Obviously, the real answer is a multiplicity of factors, one of the most obvious being how little impression the film made despite a gigantic marketing budget. (Seriously, our office runs on pop culture coverage, and most A.V. Club staffers were only vaguely aware the movie was coming out.) But let’s run down the reasons:
- Charlie Hunnam can’t sell a blockbuster movie. There’s probably an element of plausibility here, in the sense that a marquee name would’ve attracted at least a small percentage more of the movie-going public. Still, it doesn’t account for the surfeit of crickets heard in multiplexes across America.
- Audiences don’t care about King Arthur. Based on a highly scientific poll we just conducted with six people in the office kitchen, we can verify this claim. The kids aren’t clamoring for yet another update on a centuries-old legend.
- The lack of female characters. It probably didn’t help? But it was far from clear in the marketing (mostly Charlie Hunnam holding a sword) this would be the case, so it’s more a retroactive realization.
- Strong box-office competition. This feels like a key factor. It opened the week after Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. People who wanted a big entertaining spectacle had just been sated or were still coming out for more of the space opera, to the tune of a $63 million second weekend.
- An inconsistent marketing campaign. As the video sensibly points out, the rollout strategy (dour initial trailer, followed by a much more appealing one) seems especially stupid in this instance. “King Arthur, less fun than you’ve ever seen him before!” isn’t a great way to build buzz for your big, silly action movie.
- The ridiculous $175 million budget. People don’t really care about budgets when it comes to why they go see a movie. This has more to do with the epic size of the flop—the amount of money it’ll lose relative to cost—than any reason people didn’t see the movie. But yes, the fact that it cost more than Doctor Strange is fucking moronic.
- The golden age of TV. This is a dumb argument that can literally be applied to anything, anywhere, at any time, with equivalent logic. TV being good doesn’t make people not want to see movies. A better variant on this argument would be that people are getting their fill of fantasy period pieces on television right now. From Game Of Thrones to Outlander, unless people see something that seems notably different from their beloved shows, there’s far less impetus to check out a big-screen version of what they’re already getting, and in quality form.
- The scathing critical consensus. Again, this probably didn’t help matters. Movies with soft opening nights will often pick up business on Saturday and Sunday, if positive word of mouth travels. In this case, the response of most audiences seems to have been ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- A six-movie franchise. It’s almost certain roughly 95 percent of the public had no idea this was the first installment of a planned six-film series. Did you? Admittedly, had we known, it would’ve surely dampened our energy for seeing King Arthur even further, but no, not a leading contender.
- It was in development for far too long. This is a real inside-baseball claim. Most people have no idea about the length of a film’s development, and unless it’s a particularly topical or timely movie, it doesn’t much matter. No one was rushing this into production expecting to capitalize on America’s feverish love affair with Jude Law as The Young Pope.
So the real cause of its failure is undoubtedly a combination of several factors, the leading ones being the subject matter, marketing campaign, box-office competition, and the prevalence of similar stories on TV. Oh, and the movie not being very good. That never helps.