Box Office: Can 'Warcraft' Win the Battle Without the U.S.?
Legendary's big-budget video game adaptation has already won over fans in Germany and Russia, and is counting on doing mega business in China.
If prerelease tracking is right, Legendary Entertainment and Universal's Warcraft will only open to $22 million-$24 million in the U.S. this weekend, a poor showing considering its hefty net production budget of $160 million.
But the game is far from over for the adaptation of Activision Blizzard's classic video game.
Even if Warcraft underperforms in its North American run, the foreign box office could push it into the black, led by China, where Legendary and parent company Dalian Wanda are plotting the widest release of all time for the pic, which rolls out Wednesday night in the Middle Kingdom, a holiday. To boot, Warcraft is being released in a 3D run in China, where Wanda is the country's largest cinema owner.
As of Monday night, Warcraft had already racked up well north of $20 million in advance ticket sales in China, beating Avengers: Age of Ultron and fast approaching Furious 7, which ultimately earned $391 million at the Chinese box office, the top showing of all time for a Western release.
The apparent frenzy in China to see Warcraft — fans of the game are estimated to be at least 10 million strong — has prompted some box-office analysts to predict an opening in the $120 million-$150 million range.
And Warcraft has already amassed $75 million elsewhere at the foreign box office, where it has rolled out in 28 markets. It's doing especially well in Russia and Germany, earning $17.3 million and $10 million, respectively, in its first 11 days. And the 11-day total in France is a solid $7.8 million. This past weekend, it landed in the U.K. with $5.5 million, including previews.
Warcraft has 37 more countries in which to open, including China, South Korea and the U.S. Universal is distributing the tentpole everywhere except China, where it marks the first film released by Legendary in the Middle Kingdom since the production company was bought by Wanda earlier this year. As such, it's a defining moment for the Wanda-Legendary partnership. (China Film Group and Huaxia are the official distributors.)
Warcraft boasts a myriad of financial investors, reducing the risk for any one party. Those backing the movie include Legendary/Wanda, Universal and a raft of China companies, including Tencent Pictures, China Film Group, Beijing Taihe Entertainment Co. and Huayi Brothers Media Group.
With so much China money in the pot, the various parties are making sure Warcraft gets the biggest profile possible in theaters. It will play in a record-setting 67.5 percent of all theaters in mainland China, where there are some 39,000 screens (Furious 7 played in 62.8 percent).
There have been reports in local media about loyal gamers banding together to rent out whole cinemas for viewing parties in Shanghai and Shanxi province. And the film has sold out all of the 285 Imax midnight screenings being made available.
In the U.S., Warcraft will begin rolling out in theaters Thursday night before playing everywhere Friday. Tracking suggests it will lose the weekend to The Conjuring 2 and Now You See Me 2, although the race with the latter could be close. Warcraft has been skewered by critics and doesn't boast any A-list movie stars.
If it opens in the low $20 million range, box-office analysts project Warcraft will top out at $75 million domestically. To break even, it will likely need to gross at last $400 million worldwide, meaning an international gross of $325 million.
Thomas Tull's Legendary has been working with Blizzard to bring Warcraft to the big screen for a decade. Directed by Duncan Jones, the film stars Travis Fimmel, popular Hong Kong star Daniel Wu, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer and Robert Kazin.
Patrick Brzeski contributed to this report.