Now that months have passed since it’s release it’s time to talk about a movie that turned out to be one of the major flops in film history. Mortal Engines, based on the novel of the same name by Philip Reeve.
A critically acclaimed book series becoming a box office bomb. How is that even possible? The Worldbuilding of Mortal Engines was a great basis, the story is intriguing. A great steampunk story (which is included in this Best steampunk novels lists). In conclusion, the source material is just excellent.
Then, what happened?
Mortal Engines expectations
The first Mortal Engines movie, directed by Christian Rivers and released in the USA on December 14, 2018 was expected to be a success. And it made sense they thought so, for various reasons:
This post-apocalyptic adventure is based on the first novel of a best seller series
Of course, when your script is based on a best-seller, your grossing expectations will be way higher than also. Oppositely, there will be a more demanding audience and two different spectators to content: the readers, who expect a worthy adaptation of a world they already know about; and the ones who don’t know about the book series, who will be in need of a proper worldbuilding explanation. Sometimes it gets hard to get that balance, in bestseller movie adaptations being able to make everyone happy is not an easy feat.
Mortal Engines also relied on Peter Jackson’s popularity
Peter Jackson not only directed The Lord of the Rings movies but also these movie adaptations are on the list of the highest grossing fantasy movies of all time. Having such a persona supporting a project surely is a major asset.
Mortal Engines had Peter Jackson as a claim, even though he was not the film director but instead, his role was as a producer and co-screenwriter.
One of the book’s premise draws your attention: Predator cities
You might love it or hate it, but seeing cities moving and devouring other cities is striking no matter what.
Mortal Engines production budget was higher than $100 million
A similar budget to other big productions such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with a Budget of $93 million or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with a Budget. $125 million.
Given such favorable conditions, one would expect this movie adaptation to be a major success. Was it? Not at all.
Mortal Engines Box office
Mortal Engines grossed $83,614,964 worldwide ($16 million in the United States). As a result, this movie adaptation didn’t even recoup its production budget. Mortal Engines’ theatrical run was not precisely good, it flopped.
Mortal Engines was released alongside Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mule. Just so you can compare, Spiderman’s movie box office was $375.4 million with a $90 million Budget. Similarly, The Mule had greater results at theaters than Mortal Engines. This movie had a box office of $171.3 million with a $50 million budget.
So yes, people went to the cinema, but not to watch Mortal Engines.
Why did Mortal Engines movie flop?
A film can underperform for several reasons, sometimes the negative word of mouth or external circumstances, as would be the timing of the film’s release, are to blame. But this does not seem to be the case. True, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mule turned out to be more than worthy competitors. But Mortal Engines had so much on its favor it would be absurd to think its flop was mostly due to issues unrelated to the film itself.
The reason Mortal Engines movie was a Box Office Bomb
Basically, Mortal Engines movie failed to deliver. The film adaptation turned off the spectators, the book fans weren’t satisfied, while the ones who didn’t know about the novels weren’t either.
A terrible trailer?
For some, it all started wrong, the trailer was not appealing at all. The general opinion was “The trailer looks terrible”. Given how important a good movie trailer is since it’s one of the main ways to attract an audience before the release of the film, things couldn’t have started worse.
While the books are addressed to kids, the movie was more focused on a Young Adult audience. Some say the audience is a bit tired of dystopian, young adult book series after The Hunger Games or the Maze Runner movie adaptations.
The book’s premise might be misleading
While the concept of cities devouring cities might sound shocking, it can also seem a bit simplistic and absurd if it’s not properly explained. Which, I assure you, the book explains perfectly well.
Fans reception and Critics reception
No matter the source, the general opinion is the following:
Filmaffinity : 4.9/10.
Tomatometer: 26%. A bad review is denoted by a rotten green tomato splat (59% or less).
As you see, the film did not rise to the challenge of its original source
Here are some critic reviews of Mortal Engines movie:
“The story is bloated and, despite flashes of imagination, overly familiar. And the dialogue, peppered with well-worn catchphrase.” Washington Post
“Most of Mortal Engines is a wearying blast of CGI and genre-cribbing (most egregiously, director Christian Rivers hired composer Junkie XL to seemingly lift, wholesale, his soundtrack from “Mad Max: Fury Road”).” NY Post.
Philip Reeves opinion
While other authors have complained about the movie adaptations of their novels, this does not seem to be the case of Philip Reeve. The author seems to be fine with the movie adaptation as he posted on his official website.
The film has a kind of family resemblance to The Lord of the Rings movies, as you’d expect, but it’s shorter than any of those (about two hours, plus credits). It reminded me of the original Star Wars, too. It’s tremendously well paced; intense action sequences come at you pretty regularly but don’t hang around long enough to outstay their welcome, and they’re punctuated by quieter bits which are often surprisingly affecting.
This is not always the case, J.R.R Tolkien’s son (Christopher Tolkien) stated that Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of his father’s work had “eviscerated the book”. Where the films that different from the books to make Tolkien’s son say this? Here you have Lord of the Rings book vs movie.
Similarly, Rober Riordan (author of Percy Jackson & The Olympians series) was not happy at all about the movie adaptation of his novels, a project that eventually got canceled. Percy Jackson’s author even posted the notes he had sent to the film producers and which they didn’t take into account and therefore: Here you have Lord of the Rings book vs movie
Will there be a Mortal Engines 2?
The second book in Mortal Engines series, Predator’s Gold, might never have a movie adaptation. Even though there has not been any official announcement regarding this issue, it seems pretty unlikely that Mortal Engines 2 will be released someday after the losses of the first movie.
Peter Jackson was asked about a Mortal engines sequel:
“I hope so. We have no idea. Because it is totally in the hands of whether the film does the business that would warrant more. But that is four movies I would love to see for sure. We have the first one, I would definitely love to see the first 3 for sure.”
It seems that having an entire movie adaptation of this steampunk tetralogy series is quite improbable. But who knows? Maybe a Mortal Engines sequel is still possible.
For those who watched the movie and want to know how the story goes on, it is a great time to start reading the books. If you want to know in Which order you should read Mortal Engines here you have the answer: How to read Mortal Engines.
Even if you didn’t like the film, you really should give the book series a try. They are worth reading.
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