Hollywood is often skewed because it no longer makes original epics on a large scale such as “The Northman,” director Robert Eggers’ bloody story of the Vikings about a warrior’s quest to avenge his father’s death.
However, Focus Features, Universal’s independent brand, ventured into not only supporting The Northman, but also releasing the film in theaters across the country. Driven by positive reviews, the film grossed $12 million from 3,865 North American theaters over the weekend, enough to secure fourth place in the domestic box office charts. Not bad for an arthouse movie, huh?
Except for the inconvenient fact that “The Northman” cost to produce ten times higher than your normal production cost. How much does the film actually cost to discuss; Eggers loudly and proudly tout their $90 million production budget in the press, much to the chagrin of their financial investors. They question Eggers’ calculations, privately saying the final figure was closer to $70 million after tax incentives were taken into account.
At this point, call it a wash. It’s still a huge amount spent on an R-rated medieval Icelandic drama, one that isn’t necessarily meant to appeal to mass audiences. Complicating finances further, “The Northman” was advertised heavily through television advertisements, as well as billboards pasted in populated areas such as Times Square (some of which weren’t exactly the case). Ascend as planned). With a hefty price tag and mediocre ticket sales, “The Northman” already looks like a big money loser for the studio, as well as a cautionary tale about dwindling budgets.
“In terms of original content, keeping the budget in check is critical,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “If all goes well, you can spend that money on the second part.”
Focus features mitigated the responsibility by co-production and co-financing the film with New Regency. But Northman needs to become a sensation in overseas markets to avoid dumping either company in red ink. To date, Northman has raised just $11.5 million from 41 international markets, bringing its global balance to $23.5 million.
In North America, box office sages predict “The Northman” will end his theatrical run with $30-40 million. Although critics defended the film, getting a “B” CinemaScore from ticket buyers means word of mouth will only take it so far. (Maybe that’s why The Northman was launched across the country to start, rather than as a platform version, which aims to slowly gain traction.)
This fact means that the film has a lot of ground to make internationally. Box office experts estimate that “Northman” must generate at least $140 million worldwide to cover its production budget. However, adding tens of millions in marketing means that a movie like “The Northman” likely needs to make close to $200 million to break even in its theatrical run. In this case, Focus has some flexibility in its finances due to Universal’s agreement with exhibitors to put movies on digital platforms in as little as 17 days. Expect the company to put “The Northman” on premium video-on-demand and parent company Peacock’s streaming device as soon as legally possible — then pray to Odin that the films become an instant hit.
Technically speaking, The Northman appears to be a triumph, with critics praising its visual appearance and bold vision. Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk and Willem Dafoe star in the film, based on the legend of Amelith. (Did Focus executives get Marvel’s Amelith wrong when they green-lighted the film with an extraordinarily high budget?) For The AV Club, critic Tomris Lovely wrote, “Eggers’ immersive approach and stylistic flair create one wild battle scene worthy of applause after another, as a reminder viewers due to him being one of the most unique visual artists working today.” On top of that, “The Northman” proved Eggers could work on a huge budget, which could prove crucial for Universal if the director were interested in overseeing a franchise movie.
Internally, studio executives were pleased with the film and its critical consensus. But in today’s theater scene, traditional Hollywood actors can’t inject that much responsibility into theatrical films, if they want to make money as well as art. With the focus being a small cog in a publicly traded media conglomerate like NBCUniversal, it’s a safe assumption that they’re interested in the former, not just the latter. Other studios have been successful in exploiting less certain business opportunities, such as Channing Tatum’s road trip comedy “Dog” ($61 million domestically) and Paramount’s Gonzo sequel “Jackass Forever” ($57 million domestic), because they’ve managed to keep budgets off the hook. On the huge size too.
With “The Northman,” focus features don’t make outlandish details, like a movie’s budget or financial results. The studio described this weekend’s result as “a success on every front.”
“We are excited that this bold and daring film resonates with audiences around the world,” said Lisa Bonnell, Head of Domestic Distribution for Focus Features. “It is a major artistic achievement and a win for us at the company. We have always believed in Robert Eggers’ unique vision as a leading filmmaker – and we are thrilled to be on this journey with him.”