Has Warner Bros. Waited Too Long for '300: Rise of an Empire'?

on February 18, 2014

roae.pngBy Shawn Robbins

Seven years ago, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures exploded onto the scene with their visually-striking and instantly quotable ad campaign for Zack Snyder's 300, based on the original Frank Miller graphic novel. The dismal advertising campaigns of 2005's Batman Begins and 2006's Superman Returns, among others, had previously forced WB to overhaul its entire marketing department in time for the March 2007 adaptation. What followed was a $71 million opening weekend--the biggest March debut ever, having since been topped only three times--made all the more impressive by the fact that it was an R-rated film outside of peak moviegoing season.

300's $456 million global (including $211 million domestic) revenue more than quadrupled its combined production and marketing costs. A sequel was immediately on the studio's mind.

Flash forward to 2014. In the intervening years, Miller penned an original story for the purposes of both a comic and cinematic sequel, while Snyder--although originally intending to direct again--stayed on as producer and instead helmed last year's Man of Steel. Without a doubt, though, director Noam Murro has maintained some of the original's distinct visual style for 300: Rise of an Empire, set to debut on March 7 after being pushed back from an August 2013 release.

Will seven years prove too long a wait?

Initial online buzz for Rise of an Empire has been sketchy, but not altogether disappointing. The film's 7,947 tweets over the past week represent nearly the exact same level of Twitter buzz as Pacific Rim showed at the same point in its pre-release cycle. The 300 sequel is also 39 percent ahead of Immortals, 78 percent ahead of Wrath of the Titans, and 145 percent ahead of 47 Ronin.

Facebook activity is a mixed bag. The good news is that the original film's popularity has helped the franchise's fan page generate nearly 11.2 million "likes". The bad news is that the page is adding new fans at a very slow rate compared to where most franchises should be while on the verge of launching a new sequel.

Flixster's user base swings things back in a positive direction with a strong 98 percent "want to see" score across more than 75,000 voters. The latter figure ranks 58 percent stronger than Pacific Rim, and triple the number of Wrath of the Titans.

On the whole, 300: Rise of an Empire will likely suffer from several elements. As a non-top-tier franchise, the sequel's best window for maximum commercial success would have been within two or three years after the original's release when buzz was still tangible through record-breaking home video sales and cable airings.

Additionally, with Gerard Butler's Leonidas--the unquestionable star of the first entry--nowhere to be found this time due to the character's glorious demise, general audiences don't have the necessary sentimental character attachment to make Rise a must-see event. The fact that multiple films have since mimicked 300's cinematographic palette--including this sequel itself--also dilutes the once-unique attraction which audiences hadn't seen before 2007.

Still, the online buzz indicates noteworthy fan interest. It's far from universally optimistic, but there's likely enough to prevent a disastrous box office performance along the lines of The Legend of Hercules or 47 Ronin. Ultimately, though, demand for a follow-up has dropped precipitously since 2007, so we can safely expect Rise of an Empire to fall far short of its predecessor's memorable run. How far will depend on the strength of WB's marketing campaign in the final two weeks, on top of how well February 28's Non-Stop satiates crowds looking for action just one week before.

The expansion of overseas markets in the last seven years and their continuing support for 3D may ultimately help offset the inevitable domestic drop-off. As long as the studios have kept costs at reasonable levels (no reported budget has been found at the time of writing), profitability will at least be attainable.

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Tags: Zack Snyder, Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Immortals, Wrath of the Titans, Pacific Rim, The Legend of Hercules, 47 Ronin, 300, 300: Rise of an Empire

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