At the end of the new Guy Ritchie joint King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, our cocksure hero and his jolly mates, having dispatched the villainous Vortigern, construct a good ol’ round table. You know, the one of Arthurian legend.
It’s no mere sight gag, but rather a blunt bit of, ahem, table setting on behalf of Warner Bros., which once upon a time hoped the film would inspire upward of five sequels, a shared cinematic medieval universe to rival Marvel’s blockbusters. Oh, to imagine the puckish and CGI-riffic adventures that Charlie Hunnam and his brothers-in-swords would enjoy around that piece of fabled furniture!
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Ritchie’s film, which cost $175-million to produce (all figures U.S.) before marketing, opened to an anemic $14.7-million in North America this past weekend, quashing any dreams of an endlessly profitable Camelot-verse. King Arthur’s failure can be traced to multiple factors – Ritchie’s ill-suited aesthetic, Hunnam’s questionable star power, audiences who’d rather see a talking tree dancing to Electric Light Orchestra – but more than anything it portends an unmovable problem that the industry will repeatedly come up against this summer: a disastrous addiction to intellectual property.
A bit of background: Ever since the success of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (which counts the various Iron Man and Avengers films among its chattel), Hollywood has been obsessed with digging up whatever IP is gathering dust in its vaults, and drafting up “shared universe” franchises to endlessly exploit whatever nostalgia those properties hold for an increasingly fickle and distracted audience. Disney made it look deceptively easy: sketch out a decade’s worth of interconnected movies and watch the billions roll in. But while some competitors have succeeded – namely, Universal’s Fast and Furious behemoth, which partly threw out the playbook by embracing diversity and focusing on original characters, so…