He is very big and very venerable. And we don’t talk about Alexander Skarsgård in The Northman (although), but the film’s resounding flop at the box office.
Since The Witch and The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers is one of Hollywood’s most watched directors. His singularity as an author and the success of his first two stories on a small technical scale (few sets and actors) made him an excellent candidate to enter the very closed club of auteur blockbuster directors. All he needed was an entrance ticket.
Unfortunately, The Northman will not make him the new Denis Villeneuve: despite the presence of Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke or Anya Taylor JoyRobert Eggers’ first “big” budget is a huge failure, one of the biggest flop of 2022. What happened?
PS: Needless to say that we are quite sad about this failure
First, the budget: there are different stories. The director himself talks about $90 million, while Regency, the main production company behind the film, is talking about $70 million instead. variety. Still, it’s more than the 65 million dollars initially put on the table, the fault of difficult outdoor production and above all an interruption in filming due to Covid contamination. Please note that we are only talking about production costs here, and that even if we base ourselves on the low range of 70 million dollars, we must add to this the costs of promotion and distribution of Focus Features in the US and Universal in the rest of the world.
A sum that may seem ridiculous if we compare to the average price of the contemporary blockbuster around 200 million dollars, but, as in boxing, you have to pay attention to the weight category in which you are. For a film produced by a minor independent studio, whose story is not the adaptation of a brand, and on the sole faith of the name of a young author known for his productions drawing more towards the arty than the general public, it’s actually a hell of a sum that many directors dream of – randomly, Gone Girl for example was made for 61 million dollars. In its category, and by its epic tone, The Northman is indeed a blockbuster in terms of ambitions.
He had come to cut everything
In view of all this, it is no exaggeration to say that the miserable $68.6 million raised worldwide represents a disaster on more or less all levelsespecially since only half of this sum comes from the American market, the most attractive in terms of revenue. The Northman is a deadweight loss that does not even manage to equal its cost of production, even when estimated downwards. Same Morbiusthe most publicized oven of 2022, does better: with a similar production budget estimated between 75 and 83 million dollars, the vampire put 164 million dollars in his piggy bank.
To tell the truth, The Northman is so weak in terms of (non-)profitability that it plunges directly into the 5th flop of 2022, before 355 with Jessica Chastain ($28 million in revenue for a budget of $75 million), Blacklight with Liam Neeson (15.5 million receipts for a budget of 43 million), and the great dunce of the year moonfall by Roland Emmerich (44 million dollars in receipts for a budget of… 150 million, ouch). How to explain such a failure, a fortiori when the critical reception of the film is unquestionably favorable (without overflowing with enthusiasm, admittedly), unlike the four other dreadful ones? The answer is quite simple: The Northman repelled the general public.
Why don’t you love me?
THE CAUSES OF RAGNARÖK
“You have to have a master’s degree in Viking history to understand the slightest trick in this film”. Don’t laugh, it’s a real comeback that was made by one of the audience members of the disastrous test screenings that were conducted by Regency ahead of the film’s release. Despite the incorrigible popularity of Norse mythology for ten years now (Skyrim, vikings, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, god of war…), The Northman was seen as too cerebral, too pointed. A simple glance at the rating aggregators of the public is enough to understand it: with a very mediocre B on CinemaScore, the historical-intello-arty-boring image sticks to the skin of the film and prevents word-of-mouth positive.
Give me your ear
Another reason given by Deadline : The Northman came out the same day as A talent in solid gold with Nicolas Cage, a film aimed at exactly the same target audience – rather adults. Bottom line: the audience in question dispersed on launch day and both films crashed. The Northman finished in fourth position at the box office the weekend of its release, a stone’s throw from Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets , sonic 2 (both however already released more than a week before) and The Bad Guyswhile a first place was within reach without A talent in solid gold.
Deprived of both the symbolic momentum and the media spotlight that a first place brings, The Northman only has handicaps. Add to that a rather shy marketing (probably because of the announced failure and to avoid spending too much) and badly done, interspersed with a few monumental fairies (the film posters in the American subway… on which the title was missing), and the recipe for disaster is complete.
“So you got that poster ready for The Northman?”
“Yeah, boss! We already printed it and put it in subways all over New York!”
“You made sure the title was on it, right?”
—Isaac Butler (@parabasis) April 4, 2022
Nah, but it’s forbidden this kind of error normally damn it…
NO VALHALLA FOR ROBERT EGGERS?
Is there a lesson to be learned from this bitter failure? Yes, and it is unfortunately very dark. In the current state of the market, there is virtually no prospect for big budget independents, what are commonly called middle films: a budget that is neither astronomical like the gasworks of the majors and their steamroller marketing, nor small, even microscopic, like most independent productions. Of course we will be taken out Everything Everywhere All at Oncethe indie hit of the year that only cost $20 million, but cases like this only happen once a year, and they always overshadow the farandole of broken pots behind them. .
Certainly, The Northman is a more expensive work and more difficult to access, but the concomitant crash ofA talent in solid gold – also well received by critics, but lukewarmly received by the public – says a lot. The whole question now is whether this lack of perspective is due to a lack of curiosity among the public, or to the excessive number of films released each year, in a market that is moreover saturated with giga-blockbusters monopolizing the media space. . A market that is still not recovered from the Covid and therefore all the more hostile for who is not Batman, Tom Cruise or a T-Rex capable of imposing itself in less than a week at the box office.
A big muscular guy wants revenge on another big muscular guy, it’s still not hard to understand
Last big unanswered question: what will happen to Robert Eggers? Despite his recognized and undisputed talent, he has probably just seen his chance to establish himself as a new director of popular auteur films pass under his nose. Knowing also that he has already made it known that joining the machine (notably superheroic), as Chloe Zhao and james gunndid not interest him, the prospects in the world of big-budget films are reduced for this author with an already difficult pedigree, on the edge of the experimental.
The solution could come from outside support: James Gray could not have done Ad Astra without the active and financial support of Brad Pitt, and it is interesting to note that Denis Villeneuve made the leap into mega-budgets after fifteen years of career and thanks to Ridley Scott, who entrusted him with the keys to blade runner 2049. And, despite the film’s financial failure, that didn’t stop him from making Dunes afterwards. Moreover, despite The NorthmanRobert Eggers is far from being cooked: between his remake of Nosferatu in trouble and the development of a mini-series on Rasputin, the gentleman already has a lot to do before attempting a breakthrough in the eyes of the general public.