We love movies. That’s why we write about them. We’re not actively rooting for any picture to fail. That said, failure is a big part of the Hollywood business, so understanding why something tanked still holds value. That’s where we are with Universal’s Mortal Engines, which earned just $7.5 million in its opening weekend.
Earlier this month, we looked back at the biggest box office flops of 2018. Before that, we pegged Mortal Engines as a potential bomb in two separate pieces. Fans in North America just aren’t that familiar with the source material, and Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson wasn’t a big enough draw as a producer. Throw in a crowded December schedule chock-full of blockbusters, and it’s easy to see why the film stalled. But the financial reality is far grimmer than what we anticipated.
With a budget ranging between $100 million and $150 million, not to mention expensive marketing costs, executives at rival studios estimate that Mortal Engines will lose more than $100 million, per Variety. Some dire projections even earmark the film as a $125 million write-down, as it has earned just $42 million worldwide thus far. There’s a very real chance the picture could be out of theaters by the new year, ending a calamitous box office run.
While the movie is still waiting for a release date in China, where big-budget CGI extravaganzas often turn a decent profit, expectations remain low. Warner Bros. and Fox both passed on the project due to its complicated hook—it revolves around mobile cities in a dystopian future—and lack of star power (it features no major Hollywood players).
“This is a true Christmas disaster and a lump of coal for Universal,” Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, told the outlet. “They took a big swing, and they struck out.”
According to Variety, Universal fronted roughly 30 percent of the costs.
But don’t feel too bad for the studio. Based on its domestic gross, it currently sits at second place behind Disney among the six major studios, largely thanks to the piles of money it made with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($417 million), The Grinch ($240 million) and Halloween ($159 million).