Paramount’s fantasy adventure has great reviews, but now it must sell itself to casual audiences who have never rolled for initiative
Paramount/eOne’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” has received rave reviews since its SXSW premiere and has all the makings of a crowd-pleasing spring hit. But with a $150 million reported production budget, success is not a guarantee.
At the start of the week, box office trackers were projecting an opening weekend in the low $30 million range, nowhere near enough for this blockbuster to turn a profit. Since then, reviews from critics have come in praising the film as a fun adventure: very accessible to audiences who have never played “Dungeons & Dragons” while rewarding fans of the tabletop game with plenty of nods to the mythology of the Forgotten Realms.
“’Dungeons & Dragons’ was made for everyone, not just fans. That’s one of the reasons why we went with this release slot. We felt that the SXSW premiere would provide that foundation for word of mouth that can keep spreading over the next few weeks,” Paramount’s domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson told TheWrap.
So far the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 91% critics and 94% audience, with the latter coming from several dozen reviews from public sneak preview screenings this past weekend. With that buzz, tracking has risen slightly to $35 million-40 million, with rival distributors telling TheWrap that they believe the film will open on the upper end of that scale.
Still, that tracking for a colorful, rollicking PG-13 fantasy blockbuster with four-quadrant appeal is below the $44 million opening of the blood-spilling “Scream VI,” which shows how much of a challenge Paramount faces in selling this movie to audiences who have never heard of the phrase “natural 20.” While the genre has produced very famous cultural touchstones like “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones,” undiluted fantasy has historically been a hard sell at the box office, and lack of familiarity with “D&D” may be a dealbreaker for casual moviegoers.
Such a dealbreaker could be made worse if “John Wick: Chapter 4” and the upcoming “Super Mario Bros. Movie” end up being more direct competition to “Dungeons & Dragons” than anticipated. While the three films are different in almost every way, it is possible that adult moviegoers looking for action turn to “Wick” while families and adult moviegoers looking for lighter fare turn to “Mario,” leaving “D&D” stuck in between.
On the flipside, there’s a scenario in which “Dungeons & Dragons” is able to build momentum as a four-quadrant blockbuster that carries it through the release of “Super Mario Bros.” next weekend and into April, where the competition will be lighter until “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is released in early May.
If that happens, “D&D” could enjoy a run similar to Sony’s “Uncharted,” which last year opened to $44 million in late February and finished with a modest theatrical profit with $148 million domestic and $401 million worldwide. “Uncharted” faced a similar situation to “Dungeons & Dragons”: It was based on a PlayStation series that hadn’t been played by a significant slice of the moviegoing public, but which drew in casual moviegoers anyway as a swashbuckling adventure film that contained nods to its video game source material but didn’t alienate newcomers in the process.
There are some differences. While “Dungeons & Dragons” has Chris Pine and a post-“Bridgerton” Regé-Jean Page, “Uncharted” had Tom Holland just two months removed from the cultural juggernaut that was “Spider-Man: No Way Home. “Uncharted” also came out in a far less crowded box office market. Regardless of how much overlap there is between the audiences of “D&D” and “Mario,” the release of the latter will assuredly deal a blow to the second weekend of “D&D” simply because of the strong pre-release buzz the Illumination animated film is enjoying.
But if “Dungeons & Dragons” can draw substantial walk-up ticket sales thanks to pre-release reviews and opening day audience buzz and secure an opening of at least $40 million, a profitable theatrical run is still on the table. But in that case, it probably won’t be until the weekend after the release of “Super Mario Bros.” that its box office fate will be clear.
“It’s not traditional for a blockbuster’s profitability to be reliant on the third weekend, but in this case with April having such a clear runway, what’s not to say that ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ gets the word of mouth it needs and performs like ‘Puss in Boots 2,’ which at first was overshadowed by ‘Avatar 2’ but keep on rolling?” said Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.