Features and Columns · Movies

The Original Movies That Wouldn’t Be Box Office King

Both Joe Cornish and Steven Knight deserved better.
Patrick Stewart Merlin
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
By  · Published on January 28th, 2019

Rotten Tomatoes recently proved that remakes “suck,” based on their typical low scores on the site. Sure, but a lot of them make money, as evidenced in the continued success of The Upside (the movie is remarkably holding steady in its third week). Sequels also regularly receive worse reviews than their predecessors, but the slammed trilogy capper Glass is still in first place at the box office in its second weekend (surprisingly not dropping terribly from its opening), albeit with fewer tickets sold in the same period than the two movies that came before it. Everyone says there’s not enough originality at the multiplex these days, but then they ignore sourceless releases like Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King and Steven Knight’s Serenity, both of which came up short in their debuts.

The two new titles had different things going for them. Serenity, which sold as a steamy adult thriller, a neo-noir with a bunch of Oscar-caliber talent on display, did not fare well on the Tomatometer. Yet deeper digs into the criticisms of the movie show it was recommended by many for anyone who loves a good piece of trash now and again. The Kid Who Would Be King aimed for kids and their nostalgic parents. While an original work, the fantasy film is based around Arthurian legend and intently recalls genre family fare of the ’80s. Critics mostly appreciate the well-executed throwback, enough for it to be Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but moviegoers didn’t care.

Back in November, Box Office Pro forecast much better openings for both The Kid Who Would Be King and Serenity. The predicted figures then were around 1.7 million tickets sold ($15 million) for the former and 1.1 million tickets sold ($10 million) for the latter. The same site tempered expectations last week, forecasting the equivalent attendances of 1.1 million for The Kid Who Would Be King and 0.6 million for Serenity. The reality for each was even lower. According to Box Office Mojo, The Kid Who Would Be King drew just 0.8 million people in North America over the weekend to debut in fourth place with a gross of $7.2 million Serenity much further down the chart with only 0.5 million tickets sold, a gross of $4.4 million.

Serenity’s failure isn’t surprising given that it’s an unfamiliar property without critical favor. There was a lot of buzz around the movie going into the weekend, but that was mostly for its batshit twist, which could be read about online without the need to actually buy a ticket. As for The Kid Who Would Be King, the fact that there is no built-in fanbase from a YA novel or other previous material means young audiences just couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. Ironically, some people seem to have actually thought it was a remake, others have stated that even though “original,” the movie looked too familiar. And those who did see it and were polled by CinemaScore on Friday night only gave it a so-so B+ grade. At least it has already sold more tickets total than Cornish’s 2011 debut, Attack the Block, though it also cost a whole lot more, too.

Both movies will likely find audiences later on smaller screens, and that’s been common for original works for decades, though more so in recent years. Perhaps The Kid Who Would Be King will be remade or serve as a major inspiration for another film in 30 years. But it won’t spawn a sequel, which is fine since it’s a closed book, story-wise. But it could easily have become a franchise had it performed better, and some future fans may see a missed opportunity there and complain that moviegoers sadly avoided it in theaters in its time, all the while probably missing out on the latest original auteur treasure. Serenity, meanwhile, will just be cherished as a guilty-pleasure cult classic in due time.

Sometimes I wonder if original movies, especially those that might have franchise potential like The Kid Who Would Be King, should just avoid theaters themselves. They could be dropped to a streaming service for easy access, not unlike how pilots for new TV series are offered up free online to woo and hook viewers. And then, once an audience is there, sequels can be produced for the big screen. Since that’s what’s mostly filling up cinemas and box office rankings anyway lately. I know, that idea makes absolutely no sense business-wise even if it’s sort of worked inadvertently in retrospect for some properties. Anyway, the real hope is just that Cornish and Knight, both of them clever creators, can keep on making interesting original movies whether they hit big at the box office or not.

In other box office news, Aquaman just passed The Dark Knight Rises to become the highest-grossing DC Comics movie worldwide with $1.09 billion. I guess we know what people are really into at the movies. Of course, the number one film worldwide of all time is an original work (Avatar), so there’s hope for the next The Kid Who Would Be King

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Glass – 2.1 million (8.1 million)
2. The Upside – 1.3 million (7 million)
3. Aquaman – 0.8 million (35 million)
4. The Kid Who Would Be King – 0.795 million (0.8 million)
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – 0.68 million (18.7 million)
6. Green Book – 0.61 million (5.4 million)
7. A Dog’s Way Home – 0.57 million (3.4 million)
8. Serenity – 0.49 million (0.5 million)
9. Escape Room – 0.46 million (5.3 million)
10. Dragon Ball Super: Broly – 0.3 million (3.1 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.