Movie studio Lionsgate had once hoped that its swords-and-sandals epic "Gods of Egypt" would launch a franchise and help fill the void left by the end of its lucrative "Hunger Games" series. That doesn't look very likely now.
The action-packed, special-effects-driven picture, starring Gerard Butler, is expected to gross roughly $15 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.
That would be a weak debut for a picture that cost $140 million to make and millions more to market. Such an unspectacular opening would mean that the movie will have to do especially strong business overseas to justify a sequel, according to analysts.
Lionsgate executives have recently tamped down expectations, saying they have limited the company's financial exposure to the project to less than $10 million by pre-selling the foreign rights and taking advantage of tax breaks in Australia. However, the new movie is probably poised to be a disappointment for the Santa Monica studio, which reached mini-major status in Hollywood thanks to young-adult fare including "The Twilight Saga" and the four "Hunger Games" movies.
"It's not good," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "When you spend $140 million on a film, you're not looking for one movie, you're looking for a trilogy. Lionsgate, in this post 'Hunger Games' world, desperately needs a new franchise, and this is not going to be it."
The company's stock price has fallen significantly since the release of the last of the "Hunger Games" installments in November, and Lionsgate's shares came under added pressure after the company reported worse-than-expected quarterly earnings this month. The shares have dropped about 39% so far this year to $19.81.
Critics' reviews are not yet available for "Gods of Egypt," in which a mortal teams with the god Horus to fight for the ancient throne. Yet the movie suffered from some early bad press. Activists accused the studio of "whitewashing" the story by employing a cast of mainly Caucasian actors to play Egyptians. The company apologized in November.
Still, executives sounded upbeat about the film in a recent conference call with analysts to discuss quarterly financial results.
"We have a great financial model on this film, and we're expecting a solid performance," Lionsgate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer said during the call.
Executives have pointed to other movies on Lionsgate's slate that are expected to drive earnings. Next month the studio will release "Allegiant," the third film in its successful "Divergent" series. The company is preparing to release sequels such as "Now You See Me 2" and "John Wick: Chapter 2." It also hopes to launch a franchise in "Power Rangers" and score a commercial hit with "Deepwater Horizon," about the BP oil spill disaster of 2010.
Facing little competition from rivals, 20th Century Fox's offbeat Marvel movie "Deadpool" is expected to top the domestic box-office charts for a third straight weekend. Two new lower-budget pictures will vie for moviegoers' attention — Fox's ski-jumper dramedy "Eddie the Eagle" and Open Road Films' crime thriller "Triple 9." Both are expected to open to $10 million to $15 million.