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Though Universal Pictures underperformed a few times this year with films like Oblivion and the notorious flop R.I.P.D., the studio found huge success with other films and managed to bank more than $2 billion in foreign grosses for the first time in its history. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Carl Rinsch’s Japanese historical fantasy 47 Ronin will be adding much to that total, at least not in Japan, where the film took in a mere $1.3 million from its premiere. On the one hand, you think it would be a major project there since it’s based on a Japanese legend, but on the other hand, it’s a completely ludicrous take on the legend which probably didn’t appease everyone they intended.
But let’s take a step back from plainly saying the film is a bust by putting it in context. 47 Ronin only opened on 333 screens, earning a per-screen average of around $3,900, which is respectable. Japanese audiences tend to flock to locally produced films which are often either animated or based on other franchises, such as TV shows. (For instance, Rinsch’s film was beat out by the animated TV series feature Lupin vs. Conan.) As well, Deadline states Japanese filmgoers are unlike American audiences who flock to opening weekends as if they were limited engagements. There’s still a chance 47 Ronin will pick up speed, or at least maintain this steady intake, over the next few weeks. The only two Hollywood films to crack the country’s top 10 films this year were Monsters University and Ted, which was produced by Universal.
Opening in another 18 international markets throughout the month, 47 Ronin could use every little bit of box office success, as it’ll be tough for the film to earn back its reported $175 million production budget. While there is some interest in the film here in the U.S., a lot of that interest is stemmed from the questions, "Why did they spend so much money on this, and why is Keanu Reeves in it?"
Reeves plays a slave who is saved by a team of samurai to help them avenge the death of their murdered master, a story that has lived on in lore for hundreds of years. Of course, the movie also throws in giants, demons, ghosts and a whole host of other supernatural entities, which waters down the legitimacy of the original tale and can’t seem very respectful to those who honor the legend.
Of course, Universal’s Despicable Me 2, with its $76 million budget, will soon be released in China to add a few more million to its gargantuan worldwide gross of $918 million. That should more than balance any losses 47 Ronin may endure, and might also help the studio thinking twice before dumping that much money into supernatural efforts that no one is clamoring for.
All that said, I can’t wait to watch it when it comes out in a couple of weeks on December 25, as an underperforming film isn’t necessarily a bad one. After all, R.I.P.D. made me laugh like three times.