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When an actress who isn’t even in a movie gets as much — if not more — press for cosplaying at a premiere as the movie itself, that’s probably a sign that audiences aren’t exactly excited for what’s happening up on the big screen.
Sure enough, tracking for Legendary’s Warcraft shows that people aren’t exactly lining up to check out Duncan Jones’ cinematic version of the World of Warcraft game, with the movie on track to make somewhere around $24 million in its opening weekend here in the U.S. It’s already opened elsewhere around the world, to varying levels of success. In China, it opened massively, and in the U.K., it made $5.3 million in its opening week. (By contrast, Captain America: Civil War made four times that amount.)
But why isn’t Warcraft eliciting more excitement? While World of Warcraft‘s popularity might have peaked some years ago — in 2010, it was reported that the online role playing game had an impressive 12 million subscribers, compared with the 5.5 million+ subscribed at the end of last year — it remains the most-subscribed MMORPG, successful enough to support a standalone annual convention for the game’s creator every year. 5.5 million subscribers is nothing to laugh at, especially when you consider that the Captain America comic book only has an average of around 36,000 sales in the U.S. this year.
And Warcraft has the epic sweep (and alien races, albeit in fantasy form) of a Star Wars, at least in theory: Worlds in peril, heroes having to abandon their families, homes and tribes in order for the greater good! This, surely, is what the audience wants — at least judging by the wild success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So… where are the people losing their minds in excitement for this movie?
To be fair, they exist. Despite terrible reviews, there remains an outcrop of hardcore World of Warcraft fans who’re thrilled to see the property on the big screen, finally. The problem is that there are relatively few of them, and that excitement isn’t crossing over to anyone else. Why not?
For my part, as one of those seemingly disinterested parties, I can claim a general lack of excitement around high fantasy that might be shared by audiences in these superhero-obsessed times — but that personal preference doesn’t explain the success of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, or even the Game of Thrones TV show, all of which essentially offer Warcraft-esque mythology with an added layer of literary respectability. (Additionally, there’s the success of Star Wars, which really is just high fantasy with added robots and spaceships when it comes down to it.)
Could it be, then, a marketing campaign that failed to present the movie as having a particular appeal outside of its genre? The trailers for Warcraft dealt with the plot of the movie in such broad strokes that it came across as impressively generic: There are monsters and the humans have to fight against them, plus special effects and a sad monster. Oh, and dragons.
It’s exactly what anyone would expect from a fantasy movie, but it’s also exactly what anyone would expect from a fantasy movie; there was no character or conceptual surprise to suggest that it would shift from the movie people have already built in their minds from whatever earlier, similar movies they’ve already seen. Really, who wants to spend time or money watching that?
And then there’s a simpler, yet more worrying, possibility for studios and filmmakers alike: that the audience’s dance card is simply filled. Think back to the various potential franchises and movie series that lie discarded around the landscape of the last few years — Tomorrowland, Jupiter Ascending, The Man From UNCLE, Fantastic Four and so on.
Is it simply possible that audiences can only care about a limited number of franchises at once, and between existing series like Marvel, Star Wars and, to a lesser extent, DC, Transformers and irregular entries like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, there’s just no space left for anything else?
(If true, that theory might also explain also explain the year of failed sequels that Hollywood is having to come to terms with.)
Whatever the reason, perhaps the failure of Warcraft could hold some lessons for filmmakers moving forward — ensure that audiences have something to connect to beyond genre tropes, maybe — meaning that the various orcs and humans won’t have died in vain. And for the Warcraft fans upset at the likely doom facing their favorite franchise, there’s a silver lining there, too: Pacific Rim got a sequel thanks to international success, so a Warcraft 2 is not impossible…
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