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Was the Warcraft Movie Successful and Will There Ever Be a Sequel?


During the mid-2000s and into the early 2010s, it felt like no video game in the world was bigger than the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft. The series that began in 1994 with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans had been going strong for a decade but exploded into popularity with the online game, where it would be referenced and parodied in popular mainstream programs like South Park and How I Met Your Mother. By 2014, there were over one million registered players, so it only made sense for a big-budget feature film set within the world to arrive, and 2016’s Warcraft looked to be the next big franchise.




In 2016, the idea of a video game movie still evoked negative connotations of films like Doom, Street Fighter, or Super Mario Bros. Yet right out of the gate, Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures wanted audiences to see Warcraft as something more. They hired acclaimed director Duncan Jones, known for critical hits like Moon and Source Code, to direct. They secured a talented cast of some of the biggest rising stars at the moment and spent a hefty $160 million on it to bring the richly detailed world to the big screen as no video game had ever before. The end results did not pay off, and Warcraft‘s box office story is one of both defeat and a small victory that could only have happened at a specific moment in Hollywood history.


Warcraft Bombed at the Box Office and With Critics


Warcraft opened in theaters on June 10, 2016, and opened on the same weekend as The Conjuring 2 and Now You See Me 2. Warcraft opened in second place behind The Conjuring 2 by a considerably large margin, as the horror sequel grossed $40 million in its first three days while Warcraft grossed almost half, with $24 million. While it beat Now You See Me 2, it wasn’t by much as that film came in at number three at the box office with a very close $22 million. This was seen as a win for both The Conjuring 2 and Now You See Me 2, as both had a considerably smaller budget than Warcraft, which reportedly had a budget of $160 million plus an additional $110 million for marketing costs.


Word of mouth certainly was not going to help Warcraft. The movie landed 29% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 232 reviews with an average rating of 4.4/10, while the CinemaScore was a B+. Critics and fans said that while the Orc storyline was rather interesting, the human-based storyline felt generic and boring. Many also criticized the movie’s inability to make the deep lore of the franchise accessible to a mainstream audience in the same way that fantasy franchises like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter had. Many felt that the script was too crammed full of easter eggs for fans while making uninteresting characters that the audience could not get on board with.

The bottom quickly fell out from Warcraft. It dropped an abysmal 70% in its second weekend and was out of the top 10 within a month of its release. By the end of its run, it grossed $47 million at the domestic box office, which would normally make it one of the biggest box office flops. Fortunately for Warcraft, its release in 2016 marked an important time in Hollywood history as the overseas box office became an essential part of a film’s narrative. While the overseas gross wouldn’t entirely save Warcraft from being labeled a bomb, it did paint a more complex picture.


Warcraft Did Very Well Overseas (But It’s Complicated)

While Warcraft made a disappointing $47 million domestically, it also grossed $391 in international markets. That means only 10.8% of its box office revenue came from the domestic market, while 89.2% was from international ticket sellers. It was, at the time, the highest-grossing video game adaptation worldwide until Pokemon: Detective Pikachu in 2019, which just happened to be another Legendary Pictures production. At the time of its release, it was only the second Hollywood release to earn $100 million in China without making $100 million in the United States, the first being Terminator Genisys from the previous summer. China made up the most significant market share for the film, as it grossed $225 million at the Chinese box office.


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With its reported $160 million production budget and $110 million marketing budget, Warcraft would have cost $270 million. While it certainly did not make that back in the domestic market, a worldwide box office gross of $439 million would suggest that Warcraft was a film that broke even. Yet the Chinese box office also has more restrictions that don’t necessarily translate to money the studio sees back.


According to the Hollywood Reporter back in 2022, under the trade agreement established in 2012, United States studios are entitled to only 25% of box office sales revenue for their films in China, much lower than the 40-50% in other major movie markets. That means that Warcraft got $225 million from China, but the studio only got about $56 million. This means that while this helped many United States films gain impressive headlines about breaking major box office numbers in China, which enabled them to gross $1 billion worldwide, it also gave a false sense of profitability that Hollywood is not grappling with.

The Chinese box office certainly helped Warcraft from being labeled a total box office failure, as in any other context, a $160 million movie grossing $47 million domestically would be a death knell. The film reportedly needed to make between $450 and $500 million to break even, so even with the generous $439 million worldwide total, it came in under. Reports suggest it lost the studio between $15 to $40 million, but it could have been so much worse if it didn’t have the international box office. Warcraft flopped hard domestically, but worldwide, it did well enough to where it can be called a disappointment.


No Sequel In Sight

Warcraft’s lopsided box office in terms of domestic vs. international put it in a tough position. There certainly were cases of movies that were disappointing at the domestic box office and did well enough worldwide to justify a sequel, like Legendary’s own Pacific Rim, which eventually got a sequel in Pacific Rim: Uprising. However, the same year Warcraft opened, the studio saw high-profile flops like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, which were sequels to higher-grossing movies than Warcraft but also ones that had negative word of mouth of years that meant sequels were coming out for films nobody wanted to see more of. Legendary Pictures likely learned their lesson and didn’t decide to bet again on Warcraft, as they barely made it out of the first one.


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Aside from critical and audience reaction to the first film, the other major factor that might have hurt any future Warcraft films was also the weaning popularity of the World of Warcraft brand. While still popular, it no longer has the same hold on pop culture as it once did. Just two weeks before Warcraft opened in theaters, the developer of the Warcraft game series, Blizzard, released Overwatch, which quickly became one of the biggest games in the world. That quickly faded as, in 2017, Fortnite became the dominant online video game that, for nearly seven years, has been one of the most played games ever.


In 2016, the idea of making a Warcraft movie seemed to be cashing in on a trendy brand, but now it would be following a film that is not fondly remembered and was a box office disappointment in a game series that is now no longer the most played in the world. In an age defined by reboots, sequels, and revivals, there is no doubt that somebody will revisit Warcraft in the future. Be it a new movie, a live-action television series, or a streaming animated project, it is not a matter of “if” Warcraft will return but “when.” The answer, though, might be later rather than sooner.

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