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Mark Wahlberg Canine Pic ‘Arthur The King’ Gets Scraps At The Box Office: Here’s Why

How does an “A” CinemaScore and 4 1/2 star PostTrak movie with a major star and a dog underdeliver at the box office?

The adventure sports-charged, doggie-with-a-heart title Arthur the King from Lionsgate had no chance of winning a crown this weekend with an $8M-$10M projection. However, many expected this well-received movie to come at the top of expectations. It did not with a $7.5M opening.

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Also, the misfiring of “A” CinemaScore, mid-budget movies at the box office is becoming a trend.

Arthur the King‘s underperformance had to do with the fact that it looked ripe for streaming by today’s standards and not theatrical, right? That’s why people didn’t show up? Yeah, but that’s not 100% of the reason.

True, stars need to have a come-to-Jesus with themselves when making streaming movies in conjunction with theatrical titles: Do you water down your marquee image by making yourself available for free at home? Wahlberg’s action title, The Family Plan, was AppleTV+’s most-watched movie ever, reportedly.

To paraphrase/quote Sidney Poitier’s advice to Denzel Washington, “If they see you for free all week, they won’t pay to see you on the weekend.” Hollywood stars should get tattoos of that.

Channing Tatum in 'Dog'
Beefcake and pups do sell: ‘Dog’ opened to near $15M.

However, dog movies are a business on the big screen — and still are, going all the way back to Rin Tin Tin, Benji, and Old Yeller. This despite various genres (i.e. comedies, rom-coms, middle budget movies, which Arthur the King is) being gobbled up by streaming, thus conditioning audiences to stay home and avoid theaters.

Case in point: A recent doggie feature success is MGM’s Channing Tatum movie, Dog, which was made for $15M, opened to $14.9M and legged its way to $61M stateside, $84.8M global. A definite bow-wow post-pandemic in 2022, at a time when audiences were slowly coming back to cinemas. In fact, Dog was seen as one of the catalysts that brought women back to cinemas, the audience being one of the most jittery to return post-Covid (Dog pulled in 54% women, 73% over 25).

Before Dog, as far as non-IP canine movies go, pre-Covid, there was Warner Bros’ Max, which opened to $12.1M and reached $42.6M domestically in 2015. Going way back in the mega pre-streaming days of 2008, Disney had Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which posted a lucrative $29.3M opening, $94.5M domestic take, and $149.2M global, and spawned a sequel.

Arthur the King, which was co-financed by Entertainment One (eOne) pre-sales and Tucker Tooley Entertainment, had a cool adventure bike racing element to it. Lionsgate in trailers clearly sold it on the big screen of that. So what gives? Why did Arthur the King fall apart?

Sources close to the studio assert profit, which is so not the victory lap to take on an “A” CinemaScore movie that fell short at the box office. Lionsgate only had a P&A commitment on Arthur the King, with an ad budget north of $20M+ and no minimum guarantee. That’s a very low threshold for them, a feasible one to cash cow off of. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the streaming-rattled theatrical marketplace for studios has become about bare minimum P&As to get titles over the hump of theatrical into home entertainment, where the real money is. Theatrical on these mid-budgeted titles has become an advertising mechanism for home sales. Arthur the King is on a 31-day theatrical window (not 17-day).

Cute enough? Not so, so let’s skip the family audience.
Cute enough? Not so, so let’s skip the family audience.

Lionsgate, in its marketing, chiefly went after male sports audiences, not family or faith-based (Wahlberg himself can pull in a quotient of that crowd), and that’s where this movie is coming up short on its gross, I’m told. It didn’t get the typical Saturday matinee family bump.

The choice by the studio not to double down on family audiences stemmed from the fact that the movie centers around a troubled, haggard dog, not a cute one. However, the Belgian malinois in Dog wasn’t the prettiest Hollywood star, and he also played opposite a beefcake with abs and guns. Together, they did business. Yesterday’s grosses for Arthur the King at $2.8M were down -6% against $3M Friday (which included $825K in previews from Thursday and Monday secret screenings).

“This is a movie like Boys in the Boat which could have played to the middle of the country,” says one box office source. Also missing from Arthur the King‘s grosses is Canada. The movie was sold exclusively to Prime Video there, and the pic will debut on the streamer at a later date.

West and South were the best regions for Arthur the King. However, Northeast was weak, and I’m told that’s because spring break wasn’t in full force there. To date, in March, this weekend showed the most K-12 schools off (28%), as well as colleges (40%), more than Dune: Part Two‘s opening weekend.

Interestingly enough, Harkins theaters and Phoenix overperformed wildly on Arthur the King. The movie played well in the chain’s Monday Secret screening series, while Phoenix had a rainy cold front over the weekend, which sent moviegoers into theaters. In addition, the circuit over-indexes on dog-themed and Wahlberg films. They boasted a nearly 3% share on Tatum’s Dog.

But there’s more on Arthur the King. Despite Lionsgate targeting the sole sports demo, the movie was always a bit of a feathered fish. The real cost of the movie before presales, I’m told, was $40M. That was too big a price of a movie for this conceit. It’s one of the reasons why Paramount pushed away from the title, in addition to the movie not being a prime vehicle for Wahlberg’s crowd, who savor him in action roles.

Arthur the King, on paper, was akin to the TV reality show Amazing Race, with low stakes (how suspenseful is stopping the race?). Also, for rival movie marketing execs in its sports angle, the movie wasn’t an exact slam dunk with family audiences.

eOne presales for Arthur the King were $18M. Domestic was shopped around after Paramount dropped the project. I hear MGM expressed interest, but Lionsgate finally acquired the movie in a deal that wrapped prior to the eOne merger. Tooley previously had a deal with eOne.

Some sources also believe this weekend wasn’t the right weekend for Arthur the King, that it would have fared better at Easter or later. That is, if Lionsgate chose to lean into faith-based and family. There’s nothing for families over Easter weekend outside of fanboy-skewing Godzilla x King: The New Empire. In addition, currently, there is a slew of faith-based titles in the market, including Ordinary Angels, Cabrini and the Chosen episodes.

‘Plane’ made enough profit to fund half of Lionsgate’s overhead.
‘Plane’ made enough profit to fund half of Lionsgate’s overhead.

Lionsgate recently underdelivered on another A+ movie, Ordinary Angels, which opened to $6.1M. We’ve seen their Kingdom Story fare do much better with the faith-based. The studio is very frugal when it comes to marketing, reportedly underspending by $40M by average studio P&A standards to get John Wick: Chapter 4 to its record franchise domestic opening of $73.8M.

Reportedly, Lionsgate’s Plane ($32.1M domestic, $74.5M worldwide) made $35M in profit, a great deal of cash to cover 50% of the studio’s $70M overhead. While the optics of each film at the box office may not show it (go figure), the studio prides itself on keeping a scrappy business formula of low costs and high margins.

Per sources, a $10M opening on Arthur the King would have yielded a final domestic result of $35M-$40M versus the $20M+ domestic it’s looking at now.

While studios still embrace the theatrical downstream ancillary business model post-Covid and are making the most financially in their attempts to harness streaming-distracted moviegoers, unfortunate quandaries remain for mid-sized movies and the filmmakers behind them: Will motion picture studios ever spend enough again to turn them into compelling events? Or is the audience for smaller movies, outside of horror, never returning?

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