After years of false starts, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower story is finally getting a live-action adaptation. As we’ll cover a bit more in-depth later this week, Sony Pictures should be applauded for the gamble they took on King’s sprawling sci-fi fantasy series. Unfortunately, word on the street is that the movie leaves a lot to be desired. Sony isn’t screening the film for critics until 24 hours before it opens, a tell tale sign that they don’t have much confidence in the film (think 20th Century FOX (FOXA) with the Fantastic Four reboot).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Obviously, Sony is hoping to make some late-summer money here and with a reasonable budget of $60 million, according to Deadline, The Dark Tower can do that.
For starters, the movie does have Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba at the top of its marquee. Elba may not be a movie star in the traditional sense of the term, but he is one of Hollywood’s “it” guys right now (deservingly so) and McConaughey is McConaughey. There is some name power here to go along with the King brand and its built-in fan base.
Despite the varying quality of big screen King adaptations, his source material seems to provide a decent floor at the box office. 2013’s Carrie opened to $16.1 million before earning a so-so $84.7 million off a $30 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo. 2007’s The Mist earned nearly $60 million off an $18 million budget and that same year 1408 powered its way to $131.9 million worldwide off a $25 million budget. While Carrie and The Mist may not have been out-and-out hits, they also weren’t flops.
Sony is likely hoping that The Dark Tower could be its next big franchise taking up space in the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones fandom. Given the movie’s mid-sized budget, it doesn’t need to come anywhere close to Fellowship of the Ring money to be a success, though Sony obviously wouldn’t mind. The first weekend of August allows it to be the final hurrah of summer with little competition until early September, meaning solid word of mouth could give it legs. But overall, Sony would likely be pretty happy if The Dark Tower ended up with The Emoji Movie opening weekend numbers ($25-$30 million).
But given the movie’s lack of hype and the muted reactions to its trailers, the studio may have to temper its expectations. The Dark Tower feels similar to Cowboys & Aliens ($174.8 million worldwide off a $163 million budget), a vague sci-fi adventure with no easily-digestible through line in its marketing. Casual moviegoers are still confused what The Dark Tower is even about (then again, so are some book readers). This could be a case where a light weekend and viewer burnout from a busy July sees audiences avoid theaters all together and The Dark Tower is lucky to claw together $15-$20 million.
Push comes to shove, we’re leaning towards the lower end up the spectrum in terms of audience turnout for The Dark Tower. Sorry, Sony.