Czech epic ‘Medieval’ becomes one of the biggest box office flops in US history

The Czech action film Medieval (Jan Žižka) made a big dent at Czech cinemas this weekend: seen by 104,921 viewers since its Thursday release, only Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the local comedy Vyšehrad: Fylm have scored bigger opening weekends this year.

In the United States, meanwhile, the story is different: taking in a woeful $810,000 across 1,311 screens for a $617 per-screen average, Medieval has become one of the biggest flops ever. It opened at #14, coming in behind the eighth weekend of Jordan Peele’s Nope, while the Airbnb horror film Barbarian topped the box office with a $10 million debut.

Among films released in more than 1,000 cinemas, excluding re-releases, Medieval has scored the 28th-lowest opening weekend of all time at the United States box office.

It gets worse: many films on that list come from 2020 and 2021, and their performances were greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions. Oscar-winning films like Nomadland and Promising Young Woman had worse opening weekends on a similar screen count as Medieval.

If we remove 2020 and 2021 from the equation, Medieval is the 20th biggest flop among films released on more than 1,000 cinemas at the US box office, performing worse than all-time duds like 2015’s Jem and the Holograms and 2009’s X-Games: The Movie.

It’s also the third biggest flop this year for films on 1,000+ screens, only surpassed by the Pierce Brosnan fairy tale The King’s Daughter, which earned $723,802 on 2,170 screens, and the Naomi Watts disaster Infinite Storm, which took in $758,919 on 1,525 screens.

While the United States box office remains down in 2022, the pandemic can no longer be blamed. Top Gun: Maverick, which has earned more than $700 million at the US box office since its release to become the fifth-highest grossing film of all-time, has proven that audiences are willing to come back to the cinema.

Ben Foster as Jan Žižka in Medieval

Medieval director Petr Jákl spoke to local media about the film’s performance from the United States, where he is currently accompanying the film on a promotional tour.

“In the end, we dramatically reduced the number of cinemas in which Medieval is shown to about 1,300. Cinema distribution in America is incredibly complicated at this time, and since Jan Žižka is not known here, it would be terribly expensive financially to promote the film,” he said.

“That was already too big a risk for me, which I wasn’t going to take. Since the film has become very strong in the online world, we will generate most of the profits there.”

Still, Jákl was happy to see the positive reception of Medieval at Czech cinemas.

“I am delighted that such a large number of people came,” he said. “I would never have chosen these dates for Czech distribution, but I had to adapt to America. In addition, I was quite worried that not only covid, but above all the energy crisis, would affect cinema attendance in an absolutely fundamental way. Which unfortunately happens, but there is simply nothing you can do about it.”

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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