‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ failed for one simple reason

Universal clearly thought it had a new franchise on its hands after the success of Rupert Sanders' Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012, but that film's sequel/spinoff The Huntsman: Winter's War has officially withered and died at the box office, bringing in a gross of just $19.4 million in its opening weekend and a smidge over $9 million in its second. Throughout its month-long run in domestic and foreign markets (it opened in several territories in early April) the film has managed to climb to $134 million worldwide, but with few territories left to open in and little juice left in its U.S. release, the film will likely struggle to hit the $200 million mark — or about half of the first movie $396 million haul.

First, the sorta-good news: The Huntsman's production budget is about $55 million less than its predecessor, with a total cost of about $115 million as opposed to the original's $170 million. But that's likely small consolation to Universal, which Variety reports could be losing as much as $70 million on the star-studded blockbuster (at least based on estimates from the studio's competitors). So what happened? 

For one thing, The Huntsman received scathing reviews from critics, finishing with a brutal 16% “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes — quite a drop from the first film's 48% average. But it's unreasonable to chalk up the film's commercial failure to its critical reception alone. 

True, Stewart hasn't exactly lit the box office on fire outside of the blockbuster Twilight franchise, but Snow White and the Huntsman, which hit at the height of her fame, rocketed to commercial success thanks to a fantasy storyline and central love story that catered to Twilight's young, largely female fan base. While Stewart hasn't really cultivated that fan base in the years since thanks to a career reinvention that's seen her tackling roles in more adult fare like On the Road, The Clouds of Sils Maria and the bloody R-rated crime caper American Ultra, those old fans do still exist, and many of them likely would have turned out to see her play the warrior Snow White once more.

While the factors leading to Stewart's departure from the franchise haven't been confirmed, many have speculated that her on-set affair with director Sanders — who also didn't return — was part of the reason. But whatever the case, it was a loss the sequel clearly couldn't weather. Though Universal tried filling the gap left by Stewart's absence with newcomers Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, neither of those actors — not to mention returning stars Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron — are box-office draws in the way that Stewart was. And sans the support of those still very-active K-Stew diehards, there clearly wasn't enough of a fan base left over from the first film to justify the expense of a big-budget sequel.

As Variety notes, the studio's losses will mercifully be tempered by ancillary revenue streams including home entertainment and TV deals, but it's clearly the end of the line for the fantasy series they had hoped to build around the absence of its greatest asset.