Box Office: Universal's '47 Ronin' Likely to Result in $175 Million Loss

3:46 PM PST 12/27/2013 by Pamela McClintock

Anticipating a major financial hit, Universal took the unusual step of writing down the cost of the samurai epic over the course of the last year.

First-time feature director Carl Rinsch's long-delayed 47 Ronin could result in a $175 million loss for Universal Pictures and co-financing partner Elliot, based on a poor showing so far at the Christmas box office and an equally troubling start in Japan earlier this month.

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At this pace, Universal may only recoup its marketing spend, leaving Ronin's pricey $175 million budget exposed. It could well prove the year's second-biggest miss financially after The Lone Ranger, which prompted Disney to write down at least $190 million.

Universal has long known that the ill-fated samurai epic, starring Keanu Reeves, was in trouble and wrote down the film over the course of the last year. That's allowable once a movie is completed, according to Universal insiders. Universal is still enjoying its most profitable year in history, fueled by a string of hits and led by Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6 (its other major blemish was R.I.P.D.).

The studio took the unusual step of explaining its accounting process in the days leading up to Ronin's release. "Universal Pictures regularly evaluates its film slate for potential adjustment. In the case of 47 Ronin, we adjusted film costs in previous quarters, and as a result, our financial performance will not be negatively impacted this quarter by its theatrical performance."

47 Ronin, requiring extensive reshoots, was first set to open in November 2012, but its release was pushed back twice, finally opening on Christmas Day.

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The film has grossed $10.7 million in its first two days domestically. It took in a solid $7 million on the holiday itself but fell a steep 48 percent on Thursday to place No. 8.

Box office observers believe Ronin, about a band of samurai in early 18th-century Japan, may post a five-day debut in the $20 million to $21 million range, a poor number considering its cost and putting the movie on course to only earn $50 million to $65 million domestically.

Internationally, 47 Ronin has grossed a soft $12.8 million to date from 22 territories, with more than half coming from Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. It will be playing in a total of 29 markets by Sunday.

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