With ‘Tomb Raider,’ ‘Ready Player One’ And ‘Rampage,’ Warner Bros. Bets Big On Video Games
MGM and Warner Bros.’ Tomb Raider reboot opened in nine Asian markets in advance of its global opening this Friday. The $90 million+ Alicia Vikander vehicle earned $14.1m on around 3,425 screens, hopefully setting the stage for a healthy debut in North America, China and 43 other markets. Comparatively speaking, the numbers were on par with Angelina Jolie’s Salt (which eventually earned $295m worldwide in 2010), 10% higher than Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, 44% ahead of Ghost in the Shell, 82% higher than the first Hunger Games movie and double the comparative debuts of Red Sparrow and the Divergent movies.
I’m seeing the movie tomorrow and the review embargo drops on Wednesday, but word around the campfire has been… cautiously optimistic. Oddly enough, it is just one of three relatively big would-be tentpoles that Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. is dropping in the next month, all three of which are either straight video game adaptations or heavily rooted in the rules and tropes of video games. We’ve got Tomb Raider opening this Thursday night, we’ve got Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage (based on the classic 1980s coin-op) opening on April 13 and we have Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One opening on March 29.
Spielberg’s Ready Player One debuted last night at the SXSW festival to mostly positive notices (in an admittedly friendly environment), which is a must if the big-budget action fantasy is to overcome its soft initial ($35 million on opening weekend) tracking and lack of on-camera star power. Conversely, IP is queen with Tomb Raider. Vikander is an Oscar-winning actress but this isn’t 2001 where Angelina Jolie could help power Tomb Raider to a huge ($47m) debut weekend. But Dwayne Johnson and the promise of The Rock fighting/protecting giant animals is a bigger draw than any attachment to a cult 1980s video game.
That doesn’t even count Universal/Comcast Corp. and Legendary’s Pacific Rim: Uprising, which has a video game-ish premise (giant robots versus giant monsters) and will (judging from the marketing) presumably has video game-ish concepts (specifically the whole “avatar” gimmick behind the robots). That’s four of the five big movies, alongside Walt Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, that will tide us over between Marvel’s Black Panther and Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, and three (if not four) of them deal in the realm of video games. We’ve got two “not based on a video game” video game-ish movies versus two video game adaptations, three of which come from the same studio.
Considering the poor box office track record for straight video game adaptations compared to the “like a video game” offerings, it will be interesting if the “not actually based on a video game” video game movies do compared to the video game adaptations. The irony is that the former (Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., Warcraft, etc.) often hide or disguise their source material as if a video game is a more shameful origin than a comic book, a theme park attraction or a beach read. Meanwhile, the likes of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Inception, John Wick or Edge of Tomorrow use game mechanics and tropes to their narrative advantage.
As of this moment, Simon West’s $131 million-grossing Tomb Raider is still only the second video game flick to top $100 million in North America, alongside Sony’s animated Angry Birds ($103m. Many of the biggest video game “hits” (Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, the Resident Evil franchise) are female-led fantasies. Moreover, if all three of WB’s video game flicks score big over the next 30 days, then A) they will have three solid tentpole hits heading into the summer and B) they may be able to rebrand themselves as a home for halfway decent video game movies as opposed to just the house of Batman and Harry Potter.