Movies based on video games have a poor track record. More often than not, the appeal doesn't translate, or it is misinterpreted by the filmmakers. They rarely do well at the box office, either. Only a select few have been hits, and there really aren't any that you could accurately say have been outright blockbusters. Warcraft was supposed to change all that.
The 2016 fantasy film, directed by Duncan Jones, was based on Blizzard's World of Warcraft games that are beloved, and have been for years. Millions of people around the world play them on a daily basis. On paper, at least, the movie should have been a home run.
Instead, it struck out. Warcraft couldn't even crack $50 million at the North American box office. The Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at just 28%. It would be hard to say whether film critics or fans of the game were less impressed.
Despite the underwhelming reaction, the stories behind the scenes of Warcraft are actually quite interesting. In some cases, they help to explain what went wrong. Most of all, they illustrate that, for better or worse, everyone involved in the production was honestly trying to deliver something that met audience expectations. We're going to break it all down for you now.
Here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About The Warcraft Movie.
Uwe Boll is a notorious German filmmaker who used a tax shelter in his native land to fund a series of videogame-based movies. The end products were widely reviled, not just by film critics but by gamers as well.
Despite inexplicably managing to feature some recognizable stars, Alone in the Dark, Postal, and BloodRayne all suffered from being badly written and sloppily made. They also bore little relation to the games that inspired them, which only added to the animosity.
When Blizzard decided to make a Warcraft movie, Boll thought it was right up his alley. The company disagreed, refusing to allow him anywhere near their popular property. The director told MTV's movie blog that he reached out to Blizzard about securing the rights, only to be rebuffed. They felt that his track record was extremely poor and that a bad Warcraft movie would harm the game's popularity.
Blizzard first attempted to launch a Warcraft movie in 2006. By 2009, they had some semblance of a script in place. At the annual BlizzCon that year, CEO Paul Simms began unveiling some details of the planned production. One of the tidbits he dropped was that the team had to start over storywise.
The original idea was to make the universe from first RTS Warcraft game the movie's setting. The plot would be fairly basic, detailing a war between Orcs and humans. After developing the idea more, Blizzard realized this was the wrong way to proceed. Part of that was because the more popular iteration of the game was the MMO. The film needed to be based on that.
The other, bigger reason, was that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies had become blockbusters, and they realized it would detrimental if their movie looked and felt too similar.
There are multiple theories as to why Warcraft performed so terribly in the United States. Some people blame the release date, which put the movie up against a couple other heavy hitters on its opening weekend. Others say it wasn't enough like the game to score with fans. Still others say that it was too similar, meaning that non-fans found it inaccessible.
The poor reviews certainly didn't help.
In truth, it was probably a little of all these things. Duncan Jones has his own particular theory, though, and it has to do with the game itself. "I think there might have been an element of cynicism," he told Thrillist. "A lot of guys and girls out there have had their relationships broken up because their significant others played too much Warcraft. Or, for whatever reason, they don't like Warcraft because of a rivalry with another game they prefer."
A movie with the scope and extensive effects work of Warcraft was obviously going to need a “big” director. With that in mind, Blizzard approached Sam Raimi, a man who knew how to make epic-sized motion pictures, having helmed the popular Spider-Man series. Raimi was excited to take the gig, telling reporters that he had an idea for a stand-alone story that would take place within the World of Warcraft universe.
Production issues conspired to prevent the public from ever seeing his vision. During development of Warcraft, Raimi was offered -- and accepted -- the chance to direct Oz: The Great and Powerful for Disney. It, too, was an effects-heavy affair that ended up consuming a great deal of his time.
Blizzard needed to move forward on their project and couldn't afford to wait for him to be done. With that, the company and Raimi parted ways.
All movies go through a casting process where different actors are at some level of consideration for key roles. Warcraft is no different. A slew of popular young thespians were considered for the movie, including There Will Be Blood's Paul Dano and Hell on Wheels star Anson Mount. The late Anton Yelchin, who was at the height of his popularity coming off the Star Trek movies, was also sought after.
Most interestingly, Colin Farrell was within an inch of being attached. He told several reporters that he'd met with Duncan Jones about taking a role. While he wouldn't reveal which character he might be playing, the actor enthusiastically called the script "amazing."
When the final cast list was made public, though, his name was not on it. Snagging a key part in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released that same year, was the likely culprit.
Director Duncan Jones came on board Warcraft after Sam Raimi's departure. A fan of the video game, he was excited about the opportunity to bring Blizzard's world to life. He was, however, extremely disappointed with the screenplay the company had in place.
"It was the stale fantasy trope of 'humans are the good guys, monsters are the bad guys," he told the New York Times. "It just didn't capture in my gut what made Warcraft -- the idea of heroes being on both sides." He subsequently pitched a different take on the material, suggesting an approach that wasn't so black-and-white.
He found a supporter Blizzard's senior vice president for story and franchise development, Chris Metzen, who said the team "just about jumped out of our chairs in joy" when they heard Jones's view. From that moment forward, the goal for Warcraft was devising a story that showcased "a common humanity."
Making a movie is difficult for a director. There are so many details, big and small, to be considered simultaneously. It takes an immense amount of focus to give each of them the attention they deserve. That job becomes exponentially harder if the director has something else on his mind, as Duncan Jones did.
Jones was a newlywed when he started working on pre-production of Warcraft in 2012. That was certainly a source of joy, yet there was a touch of tragedy underneath. His new wife, Rodene, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy during this period. In addition to taking on all that comes with making a big-budget, FX-heavy motion picture, he was understandably attending to her physical health and emotional well-being.
Fortunately, Rodene recovered, and the couple went on to become parents the same month the film hit theaters.
Warcraft was Duncan Jones's third feature film, following Moon and Source Code. What do all three films have in common, aside from him in the director's chair? They're all in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, for sure. That's obvious. Less obvious is a hidden musical Easter egg that ties the movies together.
Chesney Hawks is an English pop singer whose 1991 song "The One and Only" hit #1 in the UK and went Top 10 in the United States. Jones used that song as an alarm clock wake-up in Moon and a ringtone in Source Code. He wanted to find a way to insert it into Warcraft, as well. Since a pop song in this fantasy world would be anachronistic, he hired Hawkes to play a bard in the movie and sing a medieval arrangement of the tune.
Sadly, that cameo was left on the cutting room floor.
In case you weren't aware, Duncan Jones' father was kind of a big deal. That's because he was legendary rock star David Bowie -- a man who sold millions of records, started fashion trends, and was nothing short of a musical icon.
Whereas the director's wife had cancer at the start of pre-production, his famous dad passed away from the same disease as the movie was in post. "My film started and ended with cancer," Jones told a reporter.
Bowie was, by all accounts, incredibly supportive of his son's filmmaking career. Although he didn't live to see Warcraft hit theaters, the Ziggy Stardust rocker was able to screen a rough version shortly before his passing. "I showed him an early, early cut," Jones told the New York Times. "He was very excited for me, and was pretty amazed about how we achieved some of the visuals."
The very clear intention for Blizzard, financier Legendary Pictures, and studio Universal Pictures was to release Warcraft during a lucrative moviegoing season. It was an expensive film to make, as well as something that they hoped would kick off a big-screen franchise, complete with sequels and maybe even spinoffs.
Christmastime seemed perfect, since kids and teenagers would be getting off school for the holidays, allowing it to play strongly for weeks. A Dec. 18, 2015 release date was set.
That plan abruptly changed when Disney and LucasFilm announced their intention to debut the highly-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the same date. Knowing that their film could never compete with something that would undeniably be a cultural landmark, Team Warcraft blinked. The next high-profile cinematic season was summer, so the opening was bumped six full months, to June 2016.
One of the most notable things about modern day box office is that movies aren't just made to play in North America; they're made to play globally. Studios have discovered that it's entirely possible to produce a film that earns a billion dollars worldwide. Consequently, when they green-light big-budget epics, they're doing so with an eye on the international market.
China is one of the key countries targeted. It has a large population, and moviegoing is a massively popular pastime there, as are video games. For that reason, Warcraft was expected to play very well. Audience interest in the picture was sky high. So high, in fact, that it broke a record, opening on a whopping 67.5% of the country's approximately 39,000 screens.
The previous record-holder was another Universal release, Furious 7, which played on 62.8% of China's screens.
Warcraft opened on June 10, 2016, the same weekend as two high-profile sequels, The Conjuring 2 and Now You See Me 2. The competition was tough. It became clear immediately that the movie was in trouble, given that it opened to a three-day gross of $24,166,100 -- a weak debut given the reported $160 million budget. From there, it fell dramatically.
When all was said and done, the movie earned just over $47 million in North America.
So it was a big flop, right? Not so fast. Warcraft played better in other countries, most notably China. Foreign grosses totaled over $386 million. Combined with what it made here, that meant a combined worldwide take of $433,677,183. The numbers weren't astronomical -- and nowhere near the billion-dollar mark everyone involved was clearly hoping for -- but they were certainly respectable.
In fact, Warcraft is the highest-grossing movie based on a video game.
When movies are cut together, they tend to run long. The first assembly of some can run as much as three or four hours. From there, it's a matter of paring things down until the desired pace is achieved. As it stands, Warcraft runs 123 minutes.
At one point, it was forty minutes longer.
Jones told Thrillist that getting his movie to a reasonable length was complicated, amounting to "a death of 1,000 cuts." He added, "when you make a little change, it doesn't seem like a big deal. When you keep making those little changes...suddenly you're basically spending all of your time trying to work out how to patch up what has been messed around with."
Don't count on seeing a longer director's cut of Warcraft. Many of those trims were made before the extensive CGI work was done. Jones says finishing them at this point would cost millions.
On the surface, a Warcraft sequel seems unlikely. However, given its respectable overseas grosses, there has been talk of making a follow-up. Duncan Jones has said that he'd be up for one, given that he spent several years working with various production departments to conceive the look and style of the film. He has ideas for the next installment -- and possibly even one after that.
At a special London screening of Warcraft in the summer of 2017, he revealed where the story would go. "This first film is about establishing the world, and showing Durotan helping his son escape a dying planet," Jones explained. "So, to me, the idea over the course of three films would be for Thrall to fulfill that vision of Durotan to create a new homeland for the Orcs."
Whether this happens remains to be seen, but it's clear Jones has a direction in mind.
You've made an expensive movie that's designed to be a blockbuster. It doesn't exactly light the world on fire, and critics hate it. What do you do? If you're Duncan Jones, you fess up to the picture's faults.
When asked about Warcraft in interviews, he's acknowledged that making a potential blockbuster is much different than making the independent films he was used to, thanks to the bureaucracies of the major studios, where every executive in a suit wants to put his or her personal stamp on a creative project. He not only had to please Universal, but also the folks at Blizzard, who were protective of their property.
Jones understands complaints that the pacing is a little jumpy from having to trim it to a studio-mandated length, admitting that it frustrates him, too. Although he's proud of much of Warcraft, he agrees that it's far from perfect.
What are your thoughts on Warcraft? Does it live up to the game, or is a huge disappointment? Tell us what you think in the comments.