Ridley Scott's The Last Duel Bombs At The Box Office As Halloween Kills Dominates The Weekend

It's been a mixed weekend at the box office. The steady shores of the horror genre delivered another hit with David Gordon Green's sequel "Halloween Kills," but Ridley Scott's historical drama "The Last Duel" has been thoroughly glove-slapped by a dismal $4.8 million domestic debut. Those numbers are particularly painful when taking into consideration the movie's $100 million budget, which it now has effectively no chance of recouping.

Variety reports that "Halloween Kills" has scored a massive $50.4 million opening weekend — numbers that are all the more impressive considering that it's not an exclusive theatrical release, but instead released simultaneously on Peacock.

While those are big numbers for an R-rated movie, the success of "Halloween Kills" was to be expected. Horror movies have always been fairly reliable at the box office; their smaller budgets mean that the milestones for turning a profit are a lot lower ("Halloween Kills" will break even very soon, if it hasn't already) and, perhaps more than any other genre, they're best enjoyed on a big screen in a dark room with dozens of other people all jumping out of their seats at the same scares. The "Paranormal Activity" franchise even interspersed its trailers with audience reaction shots, to sell the movies not only on the intensity of their scares but on the specific experience of getting scared in a movie theater. 

In short, "Halloween Kills" was set up for success. "The Last Duel"? Not so much.

Why The Last Duel Is Bombing

Originally set for release in December 2020, "The Last Duel" stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver as 14th century French knights Sir Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, respectively. After Le Gris is accused of rape by de Carrouges' wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), and Le Gris claims to have done nothing wrong, de Carrouges challenges him to trial by combat to determine the truth. As you may have learned from school history lessons or (more likely) "Game of Thrones," trial by combat was seen as a surefire way of finding out who the righteous party in a dispute was, on the basis that the ultimate judge (God) would preside over the trial and determine the winner.

"The Last Duel" bombing at the box office has nothing to do with poor word of mouth. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 86% from critics and 80% from audiences, and it has particularly been praised for its execution of a "Rashomon" style story structure, where the same narrative is shown from three different perspectives (the first act is de Carrouges' story, the second is Le Gris' version, and the third is Marguerite's). /Film's own review praised the nuances of the three central performances that make the shifting perspectives work so well:

"The Last Duel" requires a remarkable amount of self-awareness from each of the film's central figures. They must not only play their character as they see themselves but also twice as they exist in someone else's mind. The precision with which they must shade their performances is nothing short of remarkable

Unfortunately, "naunce" is a bit of a tough sell at the box office, and so are historical dramas. While the marketing for "The Last Duel" can be criticized for portraying it as more of a battle epic than a character-driven piece, this is a movie that was already facing an uphill climb and then had to contend with a year-long delay and a global pandemic. While the box office is close to a full recovery (as evidenced by the success of "Halloween Kills" and "Venom: Let There Be Carnage"), the audiences that are returning skew younger and are primarily interested in superhero movies, action movies, and horror movies.

"The Last Duel" bombing is a shame, since it's likely to make studios even more skittish about green-lighting original, non-franchise movies that fall outside the "safe" genres of superheroes and boogeymen. But that's all the more reason to appreciate such movies when they do make it to the big screen — and by the sounds of it, "The Last Duel" is a rare gem that's well worth seeing.