They can't all be winners. And it looks like no one really wanted a steampunk fantasy adventure about giant cities on wheels crushing everything in their path. Peter Jackson's mammoth Mortal Engines is already one of 2018's biggest flops after making its debut in theaters just this weekend. And it's on target for a $100 million loss or more.
There are bombs. Then there are epic flops. You can easily slide Mortal Engines into that second category. The movie cost slightly over $100 million to make, with tens of millions added to its global marketing costs. While Universal Pictures hasn't officially weighed in, executives at rival studios are estimating the losses to be $100 million or more. The movie has earned just $7.5 million during its debut weekend, going up against the critically acclaimed animated adventure Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Clint Eastwood's return to acting in The Mule. Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock had this to say about the disastrous opening weekend of Mortal Engines, which isn't going to bring in much more over the course of what is sure to be a short run at the local cineplex.
"This is a true Christmas disaster and a lump of coal for Universal. They took a big swing, and they struck out."
Mortal Engines hasn't quite finished its roll out in some international markets. China has yet to get the film on screens across the country, and that could serve as a saving grace. Though, the sci-fi adventure has failed to register in other major territories, coming up a bomb in Russia, the U.K., Australia and Korea. The global reception thus far isn't boding well for its continued expansion.
Universal has had a real marketing challange with Mortal Engines. The movie is heavy on CGI, and its premises is a little out there. The movie was co-written and produced by Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson, based on the book series by Philip Reeve. The novels aren't as well known in the States as some YA properties. And the movie doesn't carry any major stars to help shoulder the weight. Universal has had a hard time driving the narrative push of the movie home in its short 15 second TV spots and posters. Bock continued by stating this.
"Everybody is having a tough go trying to appeal to that YA marketplace. It's a generation gap between studios and what they think young audiences like. TV is getting it right, and movies aren't."
Many believe the wackadoo plot, which is hard to even comprehend on some levels, is the reason Mortal Engines took a nose dive. Then there is the constant bombardment of sights and sounds that are sure to make any moviegoer numb to the screen after two hours. It's not necessarily a pleasant experience to behold.
Many studios, such as Warner Bros. and Fox, said no way to the adaptation. The project was co-funded by Media Rights Capital, who came in with half the money to get this thing on its feet. Universal Pictures, who is distributing the movie in the states, paid for 30% of the overall budget. The movie also has other partners such as Legendary and Perfect World, who brought in the rest of the cash needed to ignite this stinker. And they are all feeling the brunt this weekend.
Universal Pictures will be ending the year on a down note. They did have a fairly decent year otherwise with the mammoth success of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the family friendly animated revival of The Grinch and the surprise hit of returning horror favorite Halloween. But Mortal Engines is going to look like a big red wine stain on Universal's white satin table cloth this year.
Peter Jackson and his team were hoping to turn Mortal Engines into the next big YA franchise. Whoops. Ain't happening now unless this thing blows the doors off cinemas in China. Mortal Engines lands within the ranks of other huge bombs in 2018 that include Robin Hood, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Sisters Brothers. Like any recent past year, 2018 sure did bring us some stink bombs. And on some level, you have to kind of revel in that. Variety was the first to bring this report.