It’s time for real talk, Hollywood: You need to stop trying to make King Arthur a thing.The weekend’s horrible performance for Warner Bros.’ “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is only the latest evidence. The epic was made for around $170 million (after marketing, you’re looking at around $300 million) but only earned a tiny domestically. That should be the last nail in the coffin for anymore attempts to make a feature-length film about the legendary British leader and his mythic sword in the stone.
Warner Bros. hoped director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch”) could bring a hip and flashy King Arthur to the screen as he did with his successful “Sherlock Holmes” franchise. But one of the many problems that swirled around “Legend of the Sword” (perhaps its biggest) is that it lacked the talents of Robert Downey Jr., who starred in “Holmes.” That’s not a knock against “King Arthur” star Charlie Hunnam. He’s an incredible talent, but he doesn’t have the presence or audience draw that Downey has (yet).
The movie tried to counter that with a flurry of CGI tricks to hopefully dazzle audiences, but it’s obvious now that people didn’t take the bait.
The first big box-office bomb of the summer
There were other warning signs the casual moviegoer rarely notices. The movie had numerous release-date changes, meaning executives still wanted to tweak the movie, and this was a project that originated under a previous head at the studio. New boss, new ideas. That mix of factors often leads to what WB now has on its hands in “King Arthur,” the first big bomb of the summer-movie season.
But WB isn’t the first studio to attempt a recent gritty King Arthur movie. In 2004, Disney released “King Arthur” in the middle of the summer and also found low returns (especially domestically). Directed by Antoine Fuqua on the heels of his success helming “Training Day” and starring Clive Owen as the king and a scantily clad Keira Knightley as Guinevere, the movie only earned in the United States (it was saved by its $151.6 million take overseas). Disney should have stopped with the successful 1963 animated movie “The Sword in the Stone.”WB brass did have some kind of logic here. Execs were clearly trying to capitalize on the current “Game of Thrones” fandom. But the HBO series obviously has the hook of a book series that’s every bit as beloved as “Lord of the Rings.” And its enticing stew of explicit violence and sex works on premium cable in a way that doesn’t translate to the big screen. (The new “King Arthur” is rated PG-13.)
But it’s time to just put King Arthur to bed. And perhaps any medieval movie or any movie involving heroes on horses with swords – after all, a “Ben-Hur” reboot was the massive blockbuster bomb of summer 2016. Or at least let’s be very selective with them.
Hey, medieval movies had a good run: “Excalibur” (1981), “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (1999), “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975). But it’s obvious that if there isn’t a whole lot of nudity and gore mixed in with sword battles and big creatures, audiences will just pass and wait for the next Marvel movie.