John Carter. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. 47 Ronin. These titles are just a few of the expensive sci-fi/fantasy-based films to bomb at the box office since the turn of the millennium. If projections hold, it looks like distributor Universal and production studio Legendary Pictures are about to add a new name to that dubious list, in the form of their big-budget adaptation of the popular Warcraft gaming franchise.
Shot in early-2014 (it's been in post-production since then due to its extensive visual effects), Warcraft has traveled a long road to get to theaters, first entering development way back in 2006. Unfortunately, the filmmakers' efforts may prove to be for naught, based on early box office predictions for the film.
According to industry tracking (h/t Variety), Warcraft - which boasts a large $160 million production budget, not including marketing costs - is likely to earn a mere $25 million at the domestic box office during its June opening weekend. That would land it at around 3rd or 4th place overall for that period, coming in behind the horror sequel The Conjuring 2, heist follow-up Now You See Me 2, and probably the second weekend gross of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. To say that such a low number would be a disappointment for Universal and Legendary would be an understatement, especially after such a long gestation period for the project.
Adding to Warcraft's woes are negative early reviews from critics, which never do anything to help a film's box office take. With 18 reviews counted so far, Rotten Tomatoes rates Warcraft at a meager 22 percent, although a consensus has yet to be posted. Fellow review aggregator Metacritic is slightly kinder, rating the film at 37 percent. Still, it's hard to spin those numbers as anything positive. While bad reviews don't necessarily doom a movie at the box office (the Transformers franchise is proof of that), they can definitely make an already uncertain financial outlook look even more doubtful.
However, Warcraft (like John Carter) may yet see a decent international box office turnout. According to Deadline, the film enjoyed no. 1 openings in its first 11 markets (taking in $9.3 million) and is even tracking better than Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass in certain non-U.S. territories too. Even so, it's going to be difficult for Warcraft to turn a profit in theaters. Breaking even is probably a more realistic goal for Universal and Legendary to meet now, but even that might prove tough.
Conventional wisdom says that a studio movie needs to at least double its budget to break even during its theatrical run, due to the often exorbitant costs of both making and marketing a big tentpole. While Warcraft earning $320 million worldwide isn't out of the realm of possibility, the notion that it will do so is starting to look as fantastical as the film's plot, if the projected U.S. opening weekend number is anything to go by.
Warcraft hits U.S. theaters on June 10th, 2016.