Sadly, King Arthur was not nearly as successful as Sherlock Holmes under Ritchie's hand. With an opening weekend of $14.7 million, King Arthur did not live up to Sherlock Holmes ($62.3 million opening weekend) or Game of Shadows ($39.6 million). I'd attribute a bit of that to Robert Downey Jr.'s presence in Ritchie's Holmes films, since the first came while Downey was still hot from his Iron Man success.
With so much box office data at our fingertips these days, it's kind of fun to go back and look at where Sherlock Holmes made money at the movies, and how they ranked with other movies that came out that weekend. Sherlock Holmes for example, was number two for its holiday weekend, even with the largest haul of any Sherlock Holmes movie. So let's take a quick look:
1985 - Young Sherlock Holmes, 5th place for the weekend, $2.5 million.1988 - Without A Clue, 6th place for the weekend, $1.2 million.
2011 - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 1st place for the weekend, $39.6 million.
2015 - Mr. Holmes, 9th place for the weekend, $2.7 million.
Stats aren't as readily available for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Murder By Decree, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, or other earlier Sherlockian classics. Going by weekend rankings, however, Ritchie's latest effort, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, came in third, a rank Sherlock Holmes has only topped with Robert Downey Jr. pretending to be Holmes. A 2003 King Arthur also came in third with a $15 million opening weekend, and third again in 1995's First Knight with $10 million.
Comparing King Arthur's movies with Sherlock Holmes's movies seems to indicate that earlier British legend has a little more steady movie reception than the later British legend. Sherlock Holmes movies seem to perform all over the map and depend upon star power for the big boosts. Had Robert Downey Jr. decided to play King Arthur in 2009 and Charlie Hunnam been cast as Sherlock Holmes for 2017, we might be looking at some very different numbers.
As consulting detective has always been a more subtle art to write and direct than bashing baddies with a sword (Hmmm, and how many Sherlock scripters have try to bring that in to make their lives easier?), there's probably good reason that Sherlock will have a harder time with mass theater audiences than King Arthur. But that's okay, as long as he gets to come out and play some days.
Hopefully the next "some day" will be an eventual big screen reunion for Cumberbatch and Freeman, since the TV hopes are looking iffy at this point. They'd also make a fine King Arthur and Merlin, if somebody would care to give us a true test of the king versus the detective at the box office when that day comes around.
And why the heck not?