Matt Damon’s ‘The Great Wall’ Is Unlikely to Conquer U.S. Box Office

February 17, 2017, 8:35 PM UTC
Premiere Of Universal Pictures' "The Great Wall" - Arrivals
Photo by Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic

Matt Damon’s newest movie has already made a lot of money overseas, but don’t expect that international success to translate to a big opening at the U.S. box office this weekend.

The Great Wall, the American-Chinese fantasy action film starring Damon, makes its debut in domestic theaters this weekend after already racking up nearly $225 million in foreign box office revenue, including more than $170 million in China, where the movie was released two months ago.

That’s a solid haul for a film that is just now reaching the domestic market, and it already tops the movie’s reported $150 million production budget. But The Great Wall is still not a strong bet to win the Presidents’ Day weekend box office in the U.S. due to a mix of poor critical reception and a controversy over Damon’s casting in the film.

Hollywood tracker Box Office Mojo predicts a domestic haul of no more than $17 million for The Great Wall‘s debut across the long holiday weekend. That would likely leave the film well short of the weekend’s top draw, with the Warner Bros. animated film Lego Batman expected to retain its spot as the top-grossing domestic film this weekend. Box Office Mojo predicts more than $40 million this weekend for Lego Batman, which made $53 million in its opening weekend last week. The Great Wall might not even have the highest-grossing weekend for a new release, with the comedy Fist Fight expected to pull in as much as $22 million in its opening weekend.

Meanwhile, two other returning films—Universal’s Fifty Shades Darker and Lionsgate’s John Wick 2—are also candidates to post strong follow-up box office numbers this weekend after debuting at $46 million and $30 million, respectively, last week.

Developed as part of a partnership between Comcast’s Universal Pictures (CMCSA) and Legendary Entertainment (the movie studio bought last year by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda), The Great Wall was essentially constructed with success in both the U.S. and Chinese movie markets in mind. The movie is set in China during the Song dynasty, with Chinese director Zhang Yimou and a cast full of Chinese actors. But Damon has the lead role (he plays a European mercenary), and most of the dialogue is in English.

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The movie has been the subject of no shortage of controversy for a variety of reasons, yet Damon continues to defend the film from charges of “whitewashing” over his casting. The Great Wall has also been criticized for falling back on the offensive “white savior” trope, with the Chinese characters in the film requiring the bravery of Damon’s white character to defeat an ancient enemy.

For those reasons, The Great Wall already faced some box office challenges heading into this weekend’s domestic premiere. The fact that the film’s critical reception has mostly been lukewarm at best—it currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of only 36%—is yet another reason why Hollywood isn’t expecting The Great Wall to come through with a huge debut this weekend.

Instead, The Great Wall could post a box office performance similar to that of last year’s Warcraft. The adaptation of the popular video game, which was also developed by Universal and Legendary and heavily marketed overseas, made less than $50 million at the domestic box office.

However, Warcraft managed to rake in another $386 million overseas, including more than $220 million in China.