OPINION: Why Lionsgate Felt the Need to Make Robin Hood
Lionsgate’s Robin Hood missed the mark. With a budget around 100 million dollars, the film only managed to pull in 23.2 million dollars in its first two weeks. The golden rule is that films need to gross 2.5x their budgets to be profitable, and with big releases such as Aquaman, Bumblee, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse coming in the next few weeks, Robin Hood doesn’t look poised to carve a dent in its massive budget.
Deadline Hollywood cited “audience apathy” for a “recycled property” (among other things, mainly that the film wasn’t very good) as reasons for the film bombing. So, you’re probably scratching your head and asking yourself: Why was this film even made? And why do studios keep making Robin Hood movies?
That second question is more easily answered than the first, so let’s start there. If it seems like movies based on Robin Hood are a dime a dozen, that’s because they are. In all, there have been an uncountable number of movies based on Robin Hood, with the most recent major studio release prior to this year’s release coming just eight years ago in 2010. Sony has even flirted with the idea and with a whole potential universe of interconnected Robin Hood movies, ala the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But why are studios seemingly so obsessed with Robin Hood?
The mythology of Robin Hood falls under public domain, which means that the rights to the characters and mythology belong to the public. In short, anyone is free to make a Robin Hood movie, so long as they create their own, original story not based on a movie someone else made (Sony can’t continue a franchise that, say, Universal started). Any story written before 1923 falls under public domain, which also explains how every studio is able to make adaptations of works written by Shakespeare or adaptations of The Great Gatsby. So, now that we know how studios can make their own Robin Hood movies, the question remains: why would they make their own Robin Hood movies?
It all comes down to the arms race that’s taken place in Hollywood since Iron Man debuted in 2008 to critical acclaim and millions of dollars. Box office records are being shattered and tickets are being bought at record pace, but, unlike the saying goes, this rising tide isn’t raising all ships. Predominantly, the rising box office is only raising ships that have the rights to superhero franchises, something that film studio Lionsgate, who produced Robin Hood, doesn’t happen to have. Much like the NFL, Hollywood is a copycat league, and everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon that makes them the most money. In today’s world, that bandwagon is interconnected cinematic universes.
It seems like every film studio is trying to model itself after the Marvel Cinematic Universe (see Sony’s idea for a shared Robin Hood-verse above as proof). In this interconnected web of superhero movies produced by Marvel Studios, each movie essentially acts as an episode in a TV show, taking in other characters from other popular movies and building up story-lines to be resolved in the giant team up Avengers movies. Almost every movie is a must-see event that viewers are forced to watch every installment of to be caught up in the story or be left behind when their favorite character returns to the big screen.
This, of course, is difficult to achieve. Warner Bros. is having trouble getting their shared superhero universe off of the ground, and Universal’s Dark Universe, an interconnected universe populated by name-brand monster movies (such as Frankenstein and Dracula), faltered before takeoff. Creating a shared universe with characters from the Robin Hood mythology, as Sony already has flirted with, would be a way to create an interconnected universe, but it’s not at all guaranteed to be a success.
So, if a studio can’t create an interconnected universe, the next best thing to do is to use name brand recognition to get butts into seats. If people know who your character is before you make a movie about them, you’re more likely to be successful, as you have less advertising work to do. Entirely new properties are a hard sell, which is why so many movies are adaptations of books, sequels, or reboots.
If you wanted a character with name brand recognition to kick off a new shared universe, Robin Hood is one of the few action-oriented characters free to use that potentially could jump-start a new cinematic universe. But if studios don’t want the risk of filming several interconnected movies all at once, another option they can take is to create a film that starts a new franchise.
Right now, superheroes are gigantic business. Avengers: Infinity War made over 2 billion dollars at the box office this year. Even smaller scale heroes, like 2015’s Ant-Man made over 600 million. But if you can’t create a superhero film, a good decision would be to make your main character (in this case Robin Hood) as close to one as possible.
Robin Hood did exactly that, with several reviews referring to Robin Hood as “Batman, but with archery”. It’s an easy creative decision to turn Robin Hood into something of a Batman (or, more accurately, Green Arrow) type character that performs amazing, superhuman feats of archery and/or hand to hand combat.
Throw in some explosions, a charismatic lead (Kingsman’s Taron Egerton, in this case), another bankable star in Jamie Foxx, and it’s easy to see how Robin Hood got the greenlight. If it does well enough, it could even get a sequel that introduces new characters to spin out into their own movies. But the trouble was that Lionsgate never announced any plans past Robin Hood. There’s always the implicit promise of a sequel if things go well for a film, but it’s one thing for a studio to be thinking it, and another thing for them to announce it.
People love connected stories, after all, and if a film isn’t announced to be the start of a new universe of franchise, (and there was no guarantee that this year’s Robin Hood would do either), it almost feels perfunctory, like a movie that you can wait to see later. This means death for a movie’s box office gross.
Really, the only thing Lionsgate did wrong was not making the film any good, if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed (with a putrid 17% approval score). If your film isn’t going to launch a franchise, then you need spectacular visuals or a fantastic cast to get my butt in the seat, something that’s going to wow me the Skyscraper does, or create a unique experience the day A Quiet Place did. Robin Hood, by all accounts, had none of that.
But at the end of the day, even if you do all those things correctly, your movie could still flop anyway. Just look at Overlord, the recent WWII: But With Zombies movie that just came out last month. It was critically well received, but hasn’t managed to recoup its budget after three weeks in theaters, flopping despite its glowing critical reception.
One reason it might have failed was that it just wasn’t must-see TV, like the Marvel movies are. There’s no connective tissue to Overlord, no franchise to start, no Avengers to lead in to, it just tried to exist on its own and failed commercially. It’s a risk studios take when they make a movie.
Studios risks are considerably less when they make a new chapter in an interconnected universe, start a new franchise, and/or have an action-oriented character with name brand recognition. Robin Hood had the potential to be a quasi-superhero film, but failed on so many levels. If a studio can’t provide me with an experience, a reason to go see your movie, your movie probably won’t be successful. The decision to make Robin Hood isn’t necessarily baffling, it’s baffling as to why they didn’t make it good.
This is the standard in 2018, for better or worse, and movie studios like Lionsgate know what they’re signing up for when they release a movie like Robin Hood. The decision to produce a Robin Hood movie may not be an inspired choice, but sometimes it’s the only choice studios have.