Why Rebooting ‘The Scorpion King’ Without Dwayne Johnson Is A Risky Bet
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Why Rebooting ‘The Scorpion King’ Without Dwayne Johnson Is A Risky Bet

Scott Mendelson

When folks showed up for The Scorpion King, it was because of the specific appeal of seeing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reprise his role from The Mummy Returns.

The Hollywood Reporter announced yesterday that Universal has begun development of a “reboot” of The Scorpion King. First, the word “reboot” can mean a lot of things, including that it’s just a shorter and more SEO-friendly word than “legacy sequel” or “continuation” or what-have-you. Second, as always, just because a project gets put into development doesn’t mean it becomes a real movie. As of now, Jonathan Herman (Straight Outta Compton) is penning the script for Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia’s Seven Bucks Productions. It will allegedly be a “contemporary take” as opposed to being a past-tense action fantasy. Most importantly, Johnson will produce but will not reprise his title character but may appear in some other capacity. Uh oh…

Why “Uh oh?” Well, The Scorpion King is barely an IP. By that I mean that when folks showed up to Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King in April of 2002, it was because of the specific appeal of seeing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reprise his role from the previous year’s blockbuster The Mummy Returns (where he cameoed as the climactic baddie) in an otherwise original sword-and-sandals action fantasy. Yes, it essentially made The Mummy into a “cinematic universe” before Marvel made it cool. The film opened with $32 million and legged out to $91 million domestic and $179 million on a $60 million budget. So, yeah, it was a (um) rock-solid hit.

It also spawned four sequels and two video games. The Scorpion King is one of those Universal properties that got at least one theatrical movie and then a slew of direct-to-DVD or direct-to-VOD sequels. Russell Mulchary (Highlander, The Shadow) helmed The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior in 2008, while The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption starred Victor Webster alongside Billy Zane, Ron Perlman, Dave Bautista and Temuera Morrison. I half-remember seeing and somewhat enjoying (in that causal viewing at home fashion) the first two sequels, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power in 2015 or The Scorpion King 5: Book of Souls in 2018.

This new film will seemingly have no connection to those direct-to-DVD offerings, and honestly there is skewed precedent for this. Universal released three American Pie theatricals in 1999, 2001 and 2003 and then released four direct-to-DVD spin-offs in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 before offering a true-blue sequel American Reunion in 2012. All four theatricals earned between $231 million and $288 million worldwide. And yeah, we got American Pie: Girls Rule on VOD and streaming last month alongside Welcome to Sudden Death, another sequel/remake of a previous Universal theatrical flick. Meanwhile, we’ve had four direct-to-DVD sequels/prequels to Dragonheart and 14 Land Before Time movies. So the only thing odd is that this Scorpion King flick is seemingly headed to theaters.

It’s possible that the film ends up becoming an A-level Peacock streaming debut, as that may be something that happens with any number of Comcast CMCSA franchises in the near future. The issue, one that I’m sure Universal and friends are well aware of, is that The Scorpion King’s initial theatrical success was predicated upon the specific circumstances of its production and release. It opened in April of 2002, back when “big” action fantasies like Blade II, The Time Machine and The Scorpion King opening outside of summer or the holiday season were still automatic theatrical events. It also capitalized on goodwill from Universal and Stephen Sommers’ Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz-starring The Mummy series. Not so for this present-tense revamp.

The last “in continuity” theatrical Mummy movie was in 2008, and Rob Cohen’s The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ($404 million global gross notwithstanding) was not well-liked. The notion of Dwayne Johnson starring in a splashy Hollywood blockbuster is no longer remotely unique, and that he apparently won’t star in this one means that the IP itself may have to do most of the heavy lifting. Universal better craft a movie, in terms of casting, directors and onscreen razzle-dazzle (fish out of water action comedy or a Highlander rip-off?), that will be appealing to folks who couldn’t care less about The Scorpion King. Otherwise, moviegoers will stay in and watch The Mummy Returns on Peacock.

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I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all of said subjects for the last 11 years. My outlets for film criticism, box office commentary, and film-skewing scholarship have included The Huffington Post, Salon, and Film Threat. Follow me at @ScottMendelson and "like" The Ticket Booth on Facebook.