When I was down in Texas last week, I heard the sad news that Guillermo Del Toro’s much anticipated Lovecraft film At the Mountains of Madness had been cancelled. Like everyone else, I was taken aback. Now that I’ve read up on it, though, I just say that Universal was absolutely correct to pull the plug.
Del Toro’s project would have entailed an R rated horror film with a $150 million (!) budget. To break even at the box office, the film (factoring in another $100 million for worldwide publicity and print costs) would have required a $500 million worldwide box office gross to break even.
Del Toro’s most successful films up to now, Blade II and Hellboy II, both raked in a comparatively puny $150-160 million worldwide. A larger issue is the R rating, which Del Toro maintains would have been for intensity rather than gore or anything, and I believe him. But it’s still an R rating, and even aside from the track record for R rated horror films, the most sucessful R rated movie EVER was Passion of the Christ, which made $370 million worldwide. So At the Mountain of Madness would have had to top that historic benchmark by about 40%.
[Correction: See comments section below] But it’s still an R rated movie, and only three of those, ever, have crossed the $500 million line worldwide. And none of those was a horror movie. The only R rated horror movie to come close is the Exorcist, from an age when R rated movies did better, and with forty years of extra releases and such factored in.
It’s easy to reflexively side with the ‘artist,’ and in this case, Del Toro actually rates that title. Even so, the thing about film as opposed to writing or painting or whatever is that before you make your dream project, you have to go to someone and ask them to give you, in this case, basically $250 million dollars to see the film made and distributed worldwide. Given that, you can’t expect vulgar economics and even more vulgar ass-covering to play a part.
It is galling, admittedly, that at the same time Universal is now spending $200 million to make a film based on the Battleship board game. Sadly, though, as an action film with a PG-13 rating, that film is still a better bet (although not much of one, I suspect) than a $150 million Lovecraft adaptation.